Two county commissioners who voted to rezone property in the 5600 block of Greenhaw Road from an agricultural to an industrial district to allow a rock quarry did not have a conflict of interest, according to County Attorney Ben Lynch.
County Mayor David Alexander said he requested Lynch to look into potential conflicts of interest involving Commissioners Chuck Stines and Adam Casey because they have potential ties to Tinsley Asphalt Inc., which requested the rezoning.
Stines’ father is an employee of Tinsley Asphalt Inc., and Casey rents a building from Tinsley.
“In my opinion, there is no conflict of interest in regard to Commissioner Chuck Stines’ case simply because Commissioner Stines’ father may be employed by the applicant for the rezoning,” Lynch said in a letter forwarded to all county commissioners. “Likewise, I see no conflict of interest in regard to Commissioner Adam Casey who evidently rents a building from the applicant for rezoning.
“This opinion is based upon information which was supplied to me by the county mayor regarding these matters.”
Lynch said the basis for his opinion stems from whether a money trail would exist, linking the commissioners in question to profiting by supporting the rezoning.
“The courts of Tennessee have held that if the official in question has no personal financial interest in the outcome of the matter, raising the question of conflict of interest, there is no violation,” Lynch said, adding later: “There is no allegation that either could possibly profit personally from the rezoning.
“In other words, there must be a personal financial interest in order for there to be a conflict of interest. We must follow the ‘flow of money,’ so to speak — who profits from the transaction.”
Lynch said he consulted with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, and Gary Hayes, manager of field services and county government, concurred with his legal opinion.
Lynch said that even if a conflict of interest had been determined, subsequent action could have been taken to ensure a proper legal outcome.
“Additionally, according to Tennessee Code Annotated, any commissioner who feels that a conflict of interest exists may declare such conflict and abstain from voting, and that commissioner’s vote shall not count for the purpose of determining a majority vote,” Lynch said.
He said that Tennessee Code Annotated states that if a conflict of interest surfaces and the member does not inform the body of the potential conflict, the vote would be void if challenged in a timely manner. He added that timely manner is defined as at the same meeting and prior to any other business being transacted.