After a walk-out by a member who called the proceedings a “witch hunt,” the Allen County Ethics Commission on Monday ruled that probable cause exists to believe County Councilman Paul Moss was guilty of a conflict of interest when he telephoned Sheriff Ken Fries following a June traffic stop.
A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Nov. 30.
Board Chairman Tom Hardin, an attorney, said he believed Moss' actions met the conflict-of-interest test contained in the county's 2005 ethics ordinance. As a county councilman, Moss has authority over the sheriff's budget and such a call could be inferred as an attempt to influence special considerations not available to the general public, Hardin said.
But board member and former Allen Circuit Judge Tom Ryan suggested the matter would be better handled by the Sheriff Department's Internal Affairs Division or the County Prosecutor. After unsuccessfully attempting to have the board drop the complaint against Moss, Ryan engaged in a heated discussion with Hardin before walking out.
Board member Wendy Stein then voted with Hardin to schedule the hearing.
Former county employee Philip Pease filed conflict of interest complaints against both Moss and Fries but the board dismissed the complaint against Fries because the ethics policy specifically exempts employees who are covered by a separate conflict-of-interest policy. Fries is covered by the Indiana Sheriff Association's ethics policy.
Moss was stopped June 2 by a county policy officer, apparently because the car was swerving. Moss, who later said he had not been drinking and may have swerved while texting, refused a breath test at the scene and called Fries. Moss said he called the sheriff simply to speed up the process of taking him downtown for a more accurate test, and Fries has denied ordering his officer to grant Moss special treatment. But Moss was ultimately let go without taking any test, prompting the complaint filed in June by Pease.
For more on this story, go to www.news-sentinel.com later or read Tuesday's News-Sentinel.