By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
The members of the New Albany Ethics Commission have been chosen, and the group has held two organizational meetings, however, the body may not hear complaints filed over matters that occurred prior to its establishment.
A complaint against a high-ranking administration official wouldn’t be heard if the commission doesn’t review past cases, however, Mayor Jeff Gahan said this week the body should still review the matter as he added he’s confident the body would find “everything in order.”
The New Albany City Council established the commission last year, and five members have been chosen for the body: Stephen Kiger, executive director of The Salvation Army Southern Indiana, Ron McKulick, CEO of the Southern Seven Workforce Initiative, New Albany residents John Malone and Doug Grant, and local attorney Claire Hagedorn.
The Floyd County Bar Association, the Hope Foundation, the NAACP, Rauch Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service were the organizations selected to choose the members, as the commission will be charged with reviewing ethical complains for issues that regard public city employees, board members or contracts.
Local businessman Randy Smith submitted a complaint for the commission to review that cited several alleged violations by David Duggins, economic development and redevelopment director for the city, in his involvement in the firing of former New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone Association Executive Director Mike Ladd.
However, since Ladd was dismissed last March before the council established the commission, and since the body’s standards of conduct haven’t been approved, it may not be heard by the commission.
“The commission first needs to pass their proposed standards of conduct which they will enforce and then present to the city council to enact,” City Council Attorney Matthew Lorch said.
“Only after the standards are enacted by the [city council] are those standards enforceable by the commission.”
So will the commission be able to review complaints retroactively once the standards are approved? Not unless the city already had rules in place governing the behavior or transactions that occurred that resulted in the complaint, Hagedorn said.
As it pertains to the Duggins issue, Hagedorn said she’s not familiar with the details of the complaint. However, she said in general, she believes “we can’t go backwards on past” cases unless there’s already a city policy on the books.
“As far as I understand it, we won’t be able to make decisions on prior acts like that,” she said.
Smith submitted 10 complaints against Duggins regarding Ladd’s firing. Included in the complaints, Smith said Duggins falsely accused Ladd of criminal activity when he inferred the former UEZ executive director paid out claims without board approval.
Duggins later said it didn’t appear anything was amiss with past expenses under Ladd’s tenure.
Smith also accused Duggins of attempting to blackmail Ladd by asking a former UEZ board member to encourage Ladd to resign in lieu of being fired.
Regardless of the timing of the alleged incidents, Gahan said this week the administration would prefer the commission hear the case.
“I do think they should hear it, and so does” Duggins, Gahan said. “We both feel like it needs to be heard because I think it will be good for everyone involved.”
Gahan added he will speak to legal counsel about the matter to determine whether prior cases can be heard, but said he’s in favor of allowing the commission to settle the matter if needed.
“We’re confident, and I’m confident that this newly formed commission will find everything in order,” he said.
By design, Lorch said the council has been “hands-off” in allowing the commission to set its own pace.
“Based on some comments made, I would expect we would have their recommended standards back before the council within a couple months, and then the commission would be active for proceedings after the council passes the ordinance enacting the standards,” he said.