A recent report from the State Board of Accounts has tapped county commissioner Tim Ellerman for failing to fully disclose a conflict of interest in regards to construction work done in Warren Estates two years ago.
The alleged misconduct has been under investigation by both by the State Board of Accounts and the Indiana State Police since county clerk David Shelton — before he was elected — filed a complaint with state police in the fall of 2017.
Shelton claimed — and produced video he said supported his claim — that Ellerman's construction company was working as a sub-contractor for Robinson Construction and Excavation in Vincennes.
Ellerman said he “challenges” the state report’s findings and that he never actually profited from the work he did at Warren Estates alongside Robinson Construction.
He said he “donated” the work to the county, something he'd done before.
“I think it ended up being about $1,800 worth of labor, and I donated that to the county,” he said. “(Robinson) was having a difficult time finding a guy to pour concrete that quick, so we jumped in and helped. Now everyone is making a stink about it.
“And why would I abstain from a vote (to pay the contractor) if I wasn’t getting paid any money?' he asked. “It seems like a dead issue to me.”
The State Board of Accounts cites Ellerman for failing to file the proper conflict of interest form for that Warren Estates job and for not recusing himself when it came time to pay the claim to Robinson Construction.
The report also, however, makes note of mistakes made by other county officials in that conflict of interest disclosure forms were regularly not filed or acted upon by elected officials.
State law mandates that elected and appointed county officials file conflict of interest disclosure forms both on an annual basis and in the event of a specific instance of conflict, one where the county official has a “pecuniary interest” — like if he or she would benefit financially.
Only the annual disclosure form was filed by Ellerman in this case.
County officials say the ISP conducted an investigation into the possibility of criminal wrong-doing on Ellerman’s part. Those findings were eventually handed over to a special prosecutor in Daviess County, Daniel Murrie, who eventually issued a letter to county officials in January of this year saying he “declined to initiate any prosecution” in the matter.
The state’s report, likewise, does not make mention of any penalties that the county or Ellerman will face as a result of its findings.
Ellerman, too, called the investigation “political,” pointing to yet another instance of he and fellow commissioners Kellie Streeter and Trent Hinkle — all of them elected as Republicans — seemingly unable to get along.
“They’ve pushed it and pushed it, and it’s a political deal,” he said of his fellow commissioners and Shelton. “I don’t understand it.”
Asked if he’d do anything differently, Ellerman said he’d be far less likely to “help” the county out by donating labor in the future.
“I’m let down,” he said. “When I look back, I probably wouldn’t do it again. Why should I go out and help if this is what’s going to happen?
“That’s what all this tells me.”
The State Board of Accounts' report also taps the county for the absence of certain policies, specifically a policy outlining the procedure for hiring a contractor for a project expected to cost less than $50,000, or “small purchase” hiring.
This particular project at Warren Estates only cost about $28,000, but the state notes that Robinson Construction was hired by the county commissioners without a policy in place for awarding such contracts.
The state has guidelines on small purchases — specifically that they can forego the biding process as long as they seek at least three quotes — but the county must either adopt that policy or a stricter one as it sees fit.
Auditor Mike Morris, former county sheriff who took over the office this year, taking former auditor Lisa Madden’s place, said he’s busy trying to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
Just this week, members of the county council filled out updated annual conflict of interest disclosure forms, and a claim from the county Parks and Recreation Dept. was tabled by the commissioners recently until one of the parks board members filled out the proper paperwork.
Morris said, as auditor, his job is to “absorb” the state’s findings and “follow up to make sure all of the elected officials have submitted the proper forms” from now on.
“And anyone with a possible conflict of interest, I’ll seek them out and make sure the proper paperwork is signed and sent to the state of Indiana,” he said. “That will protect this office, the citizens of Knox County and county government (officials) as well.”
Morris, too, said he was going to look into adopting the proper policies and procedures associated with awarding smaller contracts for county work.
“We’re doing things differently now,” he said.