Chism says county should pay his attorney fees - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Chism says county should pay his attorney fees

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism would like to see his fellow commissioners step up to the plate by offering to pay his attorney's fees accrued from his concluded ethics investigation.

Chism still harbors resentment for having to go through the process even though he was exonerated of a conflict of interest accusation by a three judge panel in January.

MORE: Ethics charges dropped against Sidney Chism
MORE: Commissioner claims county ethics ordinance violates state law


Chism's tribulations are being used to revise portions of the county ethics code.

It could have been one of those verbal blood-lettings the often contentious Shelby County Commission can produce. Except the same chair usually occupied in committee by Commissioner Terry Roland was empty. However, somewhere his ears must have been burning.

When the commission's ethics code was passed nearly seven years ago, Chism warned his colleagues it could result in the filing of "frivolous lawsuits" and in the process could "damage the reputation" of a sitting commissioner.

Little did he know then what he painfully knows now, through personal experience. The term-limited, soon to be ex-commissioner is convinced there's got to be a better way.

"I'm leaving here," Chism said. "So, you got five commissioners leaving here and for these young commissioners coming on, if they don't straighten it out, it's going to be kind of rough up here."

It was Chism's recently ended six-month ordeal of being accused of a conflict of interest by fellow Commissioner Roland, before being exonerated by a three judge ethics panel Jan. 30, that is serving as a cautionary tale to inspire a tightening of provisions in the original ethics code.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who drafted the first code, is leading the charge in revising it with a series of more specific language in a number of areas, from strengthening the anti-nepotism portion to refining the panel hearing process which eventually cleared Chism.

"So, we're clarifying what the role of the ethics officer is," Mulroy said. "We're clamping down on this hiring independent counsel, willy nilly."

As much as some commissioners obviously felt uncomfortable in dredging up what Chism went through, it was hard to cut off discussion on a topic where the pent up animosity toward Roland, who didn't attend the committee meeting, and the departed former Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne remained an open wound for some commissioners.

"It supposed to have been a hearing to gather facts," Chism said. "But, it got to be a trial because in my opinion Kelly Rayne didn't want to lose the battle."

"There should be something that the body does when a member goes rogue," said Commissioner Henri Brooks.

"We really do need to not just sit by and let the ethics code be used as a political weapon," Mulroy added. "I think you'll hear people speaking up more just because of the experience they've had."

Chism is still hoping his fellow commissioners will take up the issue of paying some of his attorney fees incurred in his ethics battle to clear his name. Meanwhile, his faith in a part of the system remains unwavering.

"I've always said, if you give a judge the facts, he's going to deal with the facts," he said.

This was only the first reading of the proposed changes in the ethics code ordinance. However rather than have it come up in the regular commission session on Monday, it's going to stay in committee until possibly an ad-hoc committee on the subject can be formed.

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