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Longtime Unicoi Co. commissioner quits to avoid business conflict

June 20th, 2013 7:42 am by Brad Hicks

Longtime Unicoi Co. commissioner quits to avoid business conflict

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission met Wednesday afternoon to consider items related to county employees’ insurance, but no action was taken due to the lack of a quorum.

However, one of the commissioners took action of his own prior to the start of the meeting by submitting his immediate resignation from the commission.

Longtime Commissioner Doug Bowman notified County Mayor Greg Lynch and fellow commissioners of his intent to resign from the commission and the county’s Planning Commission. Bowman, who represents the county’s 1st District, provided Lynch and other commissioners present for the meeting with a letter of resignation. Bowman was in the Unicoi County Courthouse prior to the start of the meeting, but did not attend the meeting itself.

Bowman’s letter, which was addressed to Commission Chairman Mickey Hatcher, states:

“After the comments made at the April county commission meeting about Bowman & Sons Construction submitting a bid on the 911 renovations project, it became apparent that I would be forced to choose between my family business and my service on the county commission. This choice was very easy. It would not be fair for my service on the commission to deny my brothers the opportunity to bid on work in Erwin. The county attorney said we would be able to bid, as did the engineer. The response was not favorable from the commissioners and county mayor. There are many people in the 1st District more qualified to serve than I am. I hereby submit my resignation from the Unicoi County Commission and the Unicoi County Planning Commission effective today, June 17, 2013.”

Bowman holds ownership stake in the Erwinbased construction company Bowman & Sons Construction. At the April meeting referenced in Bowman’s letter, the commission was set to consider the renewal of a capital outlay for previous renovation work at the Unicoi County Jail Annex. Four of the five commissioners present when the item was considered voted in favor of the renewal, while Bowman initially voted to abstain.

Because only five on the county’s nine commissioners were present at the time of the vote, five votes would be needed for the item’s passage, as a majority vote was required. According to the minutes from that meeting, when Bowman was asked why he had abstained, Bowman said “he would like to be able to bid on the work.” Commission Vice Chairman Bill Hensley asked Bowman if he would be willing to reconsider his vote, after which Bowman voted in favor of the renewal.

“I think, in my moment of frustration, the fact that we were not going to be able to get it done and I wasn’t sure how that was going to go accountingwise, I said something to the effect of ... it alluded to the fact that maybe if you’re going to be in that, then maybe you don’t belong as a county commissioner,” Lynch said of the response referenced in Bowman’s letter. “That wasn’t really aimed at J.R. Bowman & Sons Construction Company, but that particular night it would have been OK to vote for that, and he did.”

The work Bowman wished for his family’s company to bid on is planned renovations to the jail annex facility to house the county’s emergency dispatch center and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s investigative offices.

“This was just a note from a project that we had already done, and it really wouldn’t have affected him bidding on this next project that’s coming up,” Lynch said.

Bowman said Wednesday evening that the letter he provided to county officials “sums up” the reason for his resignation. He also said construction work in Unicoi County is difficult to come by, and he wanted his family’s business to have the ability to bid on projects without controversy.

“My family business took priority over the county commission,” Bowman said.

In December 2010, the Unicoi County Ethics Committee reviewed a conflict of interest complaint made against Bowman. His family’s company had won bids to complete some work at the jail annex, and it was alleged Bowman had acted unethically by serving on the commission while working with the company awarded these bids. The committee found that Bowman held less than 20 percent of ownership interest in the company, and that he had previously abstained whenever Bowman & Sons Construction was awarded county projects. The committee opted not to pursue an ethics violation against Bowman. Lynch said because Bowman was found to be a minority owner in his family’s construction company, it was determined the company could bid on projects without conflict.

Lynch said Bowman’s resignation is “unfortunate,” as he brought experience and knowledge to both the County Commission and the Planning Commission. Lynch said he spoke with Bowman after being notified of the resignation, and Bowman will likely remain with the planning commission until July.

“I regret this has happened,” Lynch said. “Of course, I wouldn’t want to do anything to deny the Bowman family the opportunity because Bowman Construction Co. has been a staple in the community. They’ve built many buildings and hired many local people, and have been a major economic provider for our county by having projects that they would get.”

Lynch said he is unsure of the procedure to fill Bowman’s seat on the county commission at this time. He said county officials will discuss the matter with County Attorney Doug Shults to determine how the vacancy will be addressed.

“Hopefully, we’ll get another commissioner who is knowledgeable of the government to a certain extent and maybe has some experience where they’ll be an asset to the County Commission,” Lynch said. “I hate that Doug has had to do this, or did this. Of course, I wish him well, and I hope his family continues to get lots of business and continues to provide employment for his family and others in the community.”

Hatcher could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

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