Field Houghlin: The Real Story!

By Doug Alexander

My name is Doug Alexander and I am the Editor of the Kentucky Ethic. I have used and will use T.P. as my alias for Editor. It stands for Thomas Paine. For the last seven years, up until my retirement a couple of months ago, I was Chaplain for the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office. Not many people know that I was a volunteer, and spent thousands of dollars to serve the people of Nelson County. It has been well worth it. I have been richly blessed being part of many of your lives in difficult times. I also assisted in the founding of the Nelson County Chaplain’s Response Team and was elected President of the Bardstown/Nelson County Ministerial Association for this year. I also have resigned each of these positions. I retired and resigned these positions that are dear to my heart and were my call to ministry until now, I felt called to confront this particular ethical issue and now many additional ethical issues.

Why am I speaking out? I do this to stand up for truth and maintaining the public trust.

Earlier this year, I became aware of a new breach of public trust by County Coroner Field Houghlin and Dean Watts. I have for some time known of several incidents of public trust that have been violated by Field, and have attempted through several channels to get his attention, and assist in change. I have had a decent working relationship with him and according to others, he thought highly of me. I also worked with his daughter Rebecca, but mostly worked with his deputy Brian Pappenfuss. I worked closely with the Coroner’s office, as a volunteer when it came to handling the deceased and in death notifications.
I am speaking out about only those things that are public, I am not going to violate any chaplain confidential information. Everything I am going to discuss was done in public settings. There are also other witnesses to these events, they are not willing to come forward because Field and Dean have been known to be downright mean and sometimes vengeful when opposed.

I am going to attempt to discuss this in chronological order to avoid confusion.

In 2008, I was appointed to the Ethics Board by Dean Watts. The county and city had been forced to get their act together on an Ethics Ordinance that had been ignored for the most part since its origination in 1995. The Legislature had mandated that all governing bodies have ethics legislation. I started working with an entirely new appointed group of individuals and was elected vice-chair. One of our first tasks was to send a copy of the Ethics Ordinance to each elected official. This would have included Field Houghlin. There is public record of this. The Board soon were presented with a couple of cases and it became immediately apparent that this was a poorly written ordinance.

I went to Dean Watts with my observations. I specifically spoke to the areas of nepotism, private gain for public service, and misuse of public office. Dean patronized me, said the legislation was fine, it had been ran by the Attorney General’s Office and I got the big brush off. I at that time decided, in my opinion Dean did not take this ordinance seriously. It has since been proven by his actions. I had someone tell me recently that Dean gets what he wants no matter what it takes and the ethics ordinance gets in the way of that, I tend to agree. I resigned from the Board and then wrote an editorial for the Kentucky Standard that some still use to defend themselves when complaints have been filed without just cause. In fact, our county attorney used the article, when he felt unfairly attacked on a complaint filed against him, not that long ago.

I have since 2008 continued as Chaplain to work side by side with the coroner and our community. The current problem with nepotism began as everyone knows when there was an opening for Deputy Coroner, following a firing of the replacement for Sonny Greenwell. Field was having a tough time filling the position, I even volunteered as did at least one other individual. The other individual who had much more training, experience, and was definitely a better choice than I, was used as a volunteer when needed as far as I know. He recently resigned after all the recent nepotism issue.

I first found out about the appointment of Rebecca either just before her training or during her training. I let the source of the information know immediately that this was a violation of the ethics ordinance and was told he knew that. He also told me he had shared that with Field, prior to her appointment. Field knew or should have known, this was a violation, he received a copy of the ordinance at least once and I believe possibly by registered mail in 2008 or 2009.

I first met Rebecca in her role as Deputy Coroner on the scene of a double fatality on Rt. 245. Field introduced us and we waited while the deceased who were entrapped were freed. I made small talk with both he and Rebecca as we stayed out of the way of first responders. Field was talking about Rebecca and I felt comfortable approaching the ethics issue and did. “Field you know your appointment of Rebecca is in violation of the Ethics Ordinance.” He got quiet, mumbled something about having run it by Dean, and he said it was no problem. He then avoided me the rest of the evening, hustled the deceased off the scene as soon as possible, and left KSP and I in the fog about death notification to the family.

I also let two other people close to Field and the Coroner’s Office know of the nepotism problem after that on several occasions. Again these people will not come forward and I will not jeopardize them by disclosure of names. I knew about an individual who planned on bringing this issue to the ethics board in spring 2014. I supported them and suggested they do it as soon as possible to avoid as much claim of politics as possible. In the meantime, I had been approached about running for Coroner for a number of reasons by people who were angry with Field. Mainly, how he handled his duties as coroner. I talked to Field about this at his Funeral Home at a visitation for a friend. I also warned him he needed to address a number of issues, including his daughter because there were folks in the community extremely upset with him. Again he said he had it okayed and that he was going to stay low and stay out of the public eye as much as possible. Soon after, if I remember correctly, the Ethics Ordinance complaint was filed.

He may or may not be a good Funeral Director. I have done a few funerals in his funeral home and have found him, and his staff to be nothing but gracious and helpful, but in my opinion, he is not a good Coroner. He also has some major weaknesses in his personal life that interfere with his position of Coroner.

I have always worked hard to work well with others despite our flaws and this is what I chose to do in Fields case. Thus, I continued to honor his elected position and treat him with respect, even with major problems that I continued to attempt to find ways to address. I often got between him and potential problems he was causing. I know we all have flaws and weaknesses, including me. The problem that makes this situation one I can’t ignore at this point is the importance of the willful violation of the public trust. Field misrepresented the facts of this issue to the ethics board. This misrepresentation is what Dean Watts used as his excuse for not following the full recommendations of the Ethics Board. I still am not certain, if the good ole boys didn’t step in to cover his back, he might have face criminal liability in this issue. He claimed it was not willful and thus he got a time out instead of a trip to the wood shed.

He used a lie to make things look better for him and immediately started acting like a victim instead of the offender. He played this role during the PLG debate tonight. You know the scolded puppy look. Field has done this before in his personal life and much of the community knows the issues involved. I hate to be the one to confront this head on and I hate to bring his personal life into this, it is not my normal process of dealing with human weaknesses. It speaks to his credibility though and his belief, because of wealth, position, or whatever, he is above the law. I have been on the police calls or heard calls on the scanner involving him that have been handled quietly because of his position in the community.

The real issue with Field Houghlin’s character and credibility is how he handles his position of Coroner. It is not about us the public, it is about him. His arrogance and bullying in the debate tonight is a good testimony of how he treats people as Coroner, unless he is working them for the funeral home business. I have seen it take excessive time to get a coroner on scene when he is on call. The Deputy Coroner Brian Pappenfuss, not the Coroner, handles most of the calls and is extremely prompt most of the time. I have seen the coroner’s office not respond because of competing funeral home business issues, business over the public interest. He keeps lousy records according to the Kentucky Standard. I have seen him work more in conflict with law enforcement, than as a partner serving the community. I have seen him get into an argument on the day of a murder, with the victim’s family and then cuss out a chaplain, because he didn’t get the deceased and the funeral. I have seen him badger individuals that choose not to use his services. I have seen his anger at not getting the funeral. I have seen him mix funeral home business and coroner issues. I have seen him leave deceased for hours after being told they will be going to another funeral home. It’s legal to leave the deceased, but is it compassionate, appropriate and ethical. He argues it is appropriate and the right thing to do. That this is an industry norm. It may be, but is it right? Believe it or not, I have been kind in not giving specifics. A number of things mentioned in this paragraph may be Ethics Ordinance violations.
On top of all of this, to continue to mislead and betray the public trust by misrepresenting the truth to the Ethics Board, the Nelson County Media, the Community, and again tonight in the debates is just too much. In my opinion, it was a willful violation. Field talks about the support he has received from the community as he was unjustly attacked. Field maybe they just don’t know the real story? In my opinion you have lied and continued to betray the public trust of this community. You put me in a difficult position of letting you get away with it or coming forth. In my opinion, you knew you were breaking the law from the beginning and you did it anyway. That’s called premeditated. In reality you should resign!

Field and Dean will probably once again question my credibility, as they already have. Please threaten me with court, I would love to see you testify under oath. I am imperfect, as we all are, but I have nothing to gain, in fact, my confrontation on this violation of public trust has cost me dearly. My reputation for ethical behavior though is fairly well intact and established, so I will leave it at that.

I am sorry to confront Field in this manner, I have attempted many ways that are less harsh and have hit walls at each place because folks have been told to back off handling this or face consequences. I have attempted to use the biblical model to confront a wrong and am now at the step where I must confront publicly. The Kentucky Standard has had this information from me for months. They were told that they needed to let it die, it had played out enough. The public now has most of the story that I know.

I guess you the public will decide.



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