Court rejects part of ethics board’s recommendation in coroner nepotism case

Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio



Friday, July 25, 2014 (Edited 11:30 p.m.) — Nelson Fiscal Court met in special session Thursday morning to weigh the Joint City-County Ethics Board’s recommendations in regard to County Coroner Field Houghlin’s decision to hire his daughter, Rebecca Houghlin, as a deputy coroner earlier this year.

In its decision, the ethics board recommended Field Houghlin be fined $1,000 and that he reimburse the county for Rebecca Houghlin’s $300 monthly salary and training expenses.

The court voted 4-1 to accept the recommendation to fine Houghlin $1,000 for violating the nepotism section of the county’s ethics ordinance. However it rejected the ethics panel’s recommendation to have Houghlin reimburse the county for his daughter’s salary and training expenses.

In an interview Friday morning, Nelson County Judge Executive Dean Watts told the Gazette the county would have incurred those expenses for whoever had been hired as deputy coroner. While Rebecca Houghlin served as a deputy coroner, the county had the benefit of her training and services. The court didn’t agree it was necessary to penalize Rebecca Houghlin, Watts said.

“I thought it was a very reasonable decision,” he said.

Magistrate Jeff Lear cast the sole vote against accepting only part of the ethics board’s recommendation, stating he felt the court should have accepted the ethics board’s full recommendation.

Watts said an additional outcome of the ethics board’s investigation is that his office will improve documenting when oaths of office are administered and by whom. “Oaths of office can be administered by a notary public,” he said. “It isn’t limited to my office or the county clerk.”

Nelson Fiscal Court also finalized its settlement agreement with the City of Bardstown over the 2005 lawsuit over garbage collection. Watts credited Mayor Bill Sheckles with “cutting through the red tape and helping come up with the solution”

The agreement ends the lawsuit filed after the city annexed residential areas served by the county’s solid waste program. The city claimed it would take over garbage collection in the newly annexed areas, and the county government disagreed.

The settlement allows the county to continue garbage collection in the annexed areas, with the county rebating approximately $2 to the City of Bardstown, which will handle additional solid waste pickup like leaf removal and bulky item pickup.


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