published Friday, June 24th, 2011

Attorney general clears Polk votes

By Paul Leach
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BENTON, Tenn. — A Polk County commissioner who is employed by the county’s school system still may vote on education issues as long as he publicly acknowledges the conflict of interest before voting, according to Tennessee’s attorney general.

A June 16 opinion by Attorney General Robert Cooper affirmed that because Daren Waters worked for the Department of Education before he was elected to the commission, he can vote on issues involving his employer. But under Tennessee law, Waters must announce before his vote that he has a conflict of interest, Cooper said.

“Daren Waters is a good county commissioner and a valuable citizen who works hard to be informed about all of the matters affecting Polk County and its residents,” Polk County Attorney James Logan said in a Thursday news release. “I am pleased that Attorney General Robert Cooper and the staff at the Attorney General’s Office have confirmed the opinion which I rendered.”

Commissioner Sheena Gaddis asked at a Sept. 16, 2010, meeting whether Waters’ new job as a teacher’s aide presented a conflict of interest in regard to school system budget votes. She cited conversations and correspondence with Gary Hayes with the County Technical Assistance Service, the University of Tennessee’s program for promoting better county government.

“I’m not being hateful, just following the law,” Gaddis said at that meeting. “It’s like somebody sitting on the board voting on their own payroll.”

Gaddis is a Republican and Waters is a Democrat. Waters declined to comment Thursday. Gaddis could not be reached for comment.

Logan told commissioners Sept. 28 that Waters, who worked for the schools before he was elected in 1998, could vote on school budget matters so long as he announced the conflict.

Logan said Thursday he was surprised he was not consulted before state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, asked for an attorney general’s opinion.

“I hope that this will bring an end to the inquiry,” Logan said in the Thursday release. “The law was and remains clear and incapable of any other conclusion.”

Paul Leach is based in Bradley County. Contact him at paul-leach-press@gmail.com.

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