Tribune-Courier General Manager
In a rare special Friday afternoon session of Marshall County Fiscal Court, commissioner Misti Drew outlined her intentions to file a complaint with the state attorney general against Judge-Executive Mike Miller.
Drew also sought and received approval of the court to hire special legal counsel to investigate Miller’s actions in the matter of an unemployment claim filed by a former county employee.
Drew had called for the meeting Thursday and had advised Miller that if he didn’t call the meeting she would poll members of the court to call the session. Miller complied and called the meeting that same day in time for the legally required 24-hour notice to media.
During the at-times tense meeting, Drew alleged Miller had disclosed “confidential and misleading” information regarding the claim for unemployment benefits to members of the media, including The Tribune-Courier and The Lake News. She stated the information had been discussed in multiple executive sessions of the fiscal court, the latest one occurring June 11.
Members of the fiscal court are permitted by law to enter into executive session for confidential conversations concerning personnel issues.
Drew referenced the publication of a story on The Lake News website and an email sent by The Tribune-Courier to her requesting information for a story being compiled.
The issue at the center of the allegations is the circumstance under which long-time Marshall County dog warden Goldenrod Kirk left the employment of the county earlier this year.
“My concern has been and remains to be why we as a fiscal court were informed that a county employee was retiring, when a county document, signed by the county judge-executive, clearly indicates the he was laid off/terminated,” said Drew, reading from a prepared statement.
“I question the ethics and legality of such and I feel I have an obligation as a county commissioner and as a taxpayer to question this action,” she added.
Drew said a retirement party was held in Kirk’s honor on February 4 and unemployment benefits began on Feb. 3.
Miller said it was “a matter of which terminology you choose to use,” calling the function honoring Kirk an “appreciation” luncheon, not a retirement party.
Kirk had worked part-time for the county for more than 30 years, from 1982 until January 2013, when two part-time animal control officers were hired. Miller said Kirk did not want to continue in his role after the two were hired because his duties were going to change and he resigned his position.
Miller said he had learned from county treasurer Emily Martin of a precedent involving other employees that he believed made the approval of unemployment benefits allowable.
According to Miller, Drew has also filed a complaint with the state’s unemployment insurance cabinet, seeking to overturn Kirk’s claim for benefits.
Drew would neither confirm nor deny that, calling it a confidential matter.
County Attorney Jeff Edwards said his office is required to make the attorney general aware of allegations of this nature when an elected official is involved. He distributed copies of a letter to members of the fiscal court which he said he had submitted to Attorney General Jack Conway’s office on Friday morning.
A motion by Drew for the court to seek legal counsel to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter was passed, with Terry Anderson and Bob Gold voting in favor.
The investigation is needed to “ensure we are fully compliant with all legal responsibilities and to ensure we have not overlooked any possible issues that have occurred in the past and including this matter,” Drew said.
Edwards was directed to seek an independent counsel at least 50 miles away who is unknown to members of the fiscal court and unfamiliar with the issue. Edwards said he would come back to the court with a list of three or four attorneys.
Miller responded to the allegations saying, “This is pretty well public knowledge. It’s being talked about in restaurants and everywhere else. If I said something that I shouldn’t have said (to the press) I apologize to the court and to the community at large.
“In my 39 years (as county judge-executive) I don’t think I’ve ever been charged with ethical violations, but if I’ve done so and done something wrong, then so be it. I apologize.”