Legal Fees Compensated for Public Officials

Public officials facing ethics can rack up some hefty legal fees, but now they may not have to pay them out of their own pocket.

A rash of ethics complaints against Taylor County public officials has prompted the county commission to pass a new policy to compensate them.

If any person who's appointed to a board has an ethics complaint filed against them, the county will now pay their legal fees.

Taylor County resident Iona Shelton said, "I think that our money should be our money. I think that we have the right to say where it goes. To defend someone who's done something possibly unethical, not really my cup of tea. It's not something I really want to do."

The person will be reimbursed only if they are cleared of the ethics charges or given bad advice.

Taylor County Commissioner Clay Bethea said, "As long as they acted ethically within the law or within the advice that they were given, then the county will make sure that they're made whole."

Commissioner Bethea has battled complaints, one filed by a resident claiming a violation of sunshine laws.

The case was dismissed, but Bethea says repeated ethics complaints have recently caused two planning board members to resign.

"Who's going to get involved in government when they find out that if I go up there and do a public service and devote my time, then all of a sudden I've got a $10,000 bill I've got to go pay. You're not going to get people involved in government," Bethea said.

There have been 10 ethics complaints filed against a variety of county officials.

Bethea says the new policy protects and improves the community.

The commission followed the model of other local policies.