Just nine days after an arbiter cleared District 1 commissioner Larry Evans of making slanderous comments about District 3 commissioner John Ambrose, Evans got into yet another verbal dust-up with Ambrose at Monroe County commissioners’ meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The most recent incident started near the conclusion of the meeting when commission chairman Greg Tapley asked if commissioners had any comments.
Ambrose said he wants commissioners to be exempt from the county’s new code of ethics, passed in June. Ambrose was the first commissioner to file an ethics complaint when he accused Evans of revealing in a July 18 meeting a claim by a former county employee that Ambrose had made sexual advances toward her. The unsubstantiated accusation had only been discussed by commissioners in closed session, and the new code of ethics bans commissioners from making public matters talked about in a closed meeting. However, retired Towaliga Circuit Judge E. Byron Smith ruled in Evans’ favor at an Aug. 27 ethics hearing, setting the stage for Thursday’s latest dispute.
Tapley told Ambrose that commissioners were only allowed to comment during the “Commissioners Comments” portion of the meeting and said Ambrose’s request to exempt commissioners from the ethics policy would have to be put on a future meeting agenda before commissioners could take a vote.
Ambrose then said he wants the state legislature to amend the county charter to allow commissioners, rather than voters, to select the board chairman. Ambrose said he was fine with keeping an at-large board member voted on by the public but said the at-large member, currently Tapley, should no longer be the chairman.
Tapley then asked if any other commissioner wanted to speak, and Evans was next to take center stage.
Evans recapped his victory in the ethics hearing while saying he learned during the hearing that Ambrose had obtained his social security number more than a decade ago to inquire whether Evans was hiding county commissioner earnings from railroad retirement investigators.
“It was all news to me,” Evans said.
Evans said he learned in 2007 that he was under investigation when a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and a railroad retirement investigator came to his home and told him he was accused of underreporting his earnings. Evans said the investigators believed he had an undisclosed roofing business that did $500,000 to $1 million of business annually. Evans said the investigation was “harassment” and was the result of “nonsense.”
“You don’t take a person’s social security number,” Evans said. “My social security number is out there. There have been people using my social security number. I have a credit freeze, and I pay $29 a month to LifeLock (an identity theft protection company).”
Evans said he didn’t know Ambrose, also a railroad retiree, in 2007 and said Ambrose was upset that Evans didn’t recognize him from when Evans was working in Griffin and Ambrose was running a train from Griffin to Columbus. Evans said Ambrose later stood up in a public meeting and admitted he reported Evans to the railroad retirement investigators.
Evans, who said he was cleared of wrongdoing in the railroad retirement investigation, said, “It’s a bad situation when someone is out stalking you and in your business, gets your social security number and sends it to some federal authorities.”
Since Ambrose revealed at the Aug. 27 ethics hearing that he obtained Evans’ social security number, the District 1 commissioner said (without specifying to whom he was referring) he has forwarded the information to the “necessary authorities.”
Evans said, “I can sleep at night. I don’t hold grudges. I pray not to hold grudges. But it’s hard not to forget someone that don’t even know you is out stalking you and trying to get in your business. This is crazy. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. But I want it to be in the public record. I’ve never done nothing to him. I didn’t know him.”
Evans then curiously speculated that Ambrose had it out for him because of the county line dispute between Monroe and Bibb counties. Evans said he favors continuing to fight the boundary battle and said some Monroe County commissioners, in an apparent jab at late chairman Harold Carlisle, have negotiated with Bibb County officials without board approval. Evans never stated why Ambrose, who only joined the commission in 2015 (years after the start of the county line dispute), would have been upset with his position on the county line.
Ambrose then responded that he was in railroad management and took it upon himself to investigate Evans’ retirement. Ambrose said Evans’ social security number was available in company records.
Ambrose said, “The money that you (Evans) did not take, you didn’t take it, but it was put off to the side, so that when you turned 65 you could recoup what you got when you retired. You didn’t physically take it, but it was there. Had it not been stopped, when you got off disability retirement when you were 65 you’d have been eligible to it.”
After the Evans-Ambrose feud continued for 15 minutes, District 2 commissioner Eddie Rowland said he wanted to motion at the next meeting to remove permanently “Commissioners Comments” from the agenda. District 4 commissioner George Emami said the simplest solution would be for Tapley to use his gavel to halt discussion when commissioners stray into personal attacks.
Emami said of the Ambrose-Evans feud: “This whole thing, in my opinion, it may be relevant, but it’s not relevant to this meeting right now and to the business of the county and was a waste of everybody’s time in this entire room in my opinion. That’s why you’re (Tapley) the chairman. If it’s not relevant to Monroe County, you need to swing that gavel and end the conversation and move on. You don’t need a 30-page document to do your job (in reference to a proposed meeting rules ordinance).”
Tapley, who has previously opposed having “Commissioners Comments” as an agenda item, responded that if commissioners want to be allowed to comment, then he intends to let them speak. He said he won’t restrict commissioners from talking about whatever they wish to address and said Evans and Ambrose had the right to discuss their hearing.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Tapley told Emami. “You can’t ask me to shut down one thing that you don’t like but let other people talk about what you do like. It’s either the commissioners have the right to make comments about whatever they want and let the public decide what’s appropriate or we decide to take commissioners’ comments off of this so that we don’t have this sort of thing in the future, which that’s my opinion. I’m in favor of what Mr. Rowland is talking about.”
Tapley told Emami that the District 4 commissioner is asking him to make a judgment call on what is appropriate to be discussed, but noted that just 20 minutes earlier Ambrose had suggested the commission not even have an at-large chairman.
Tapley asked, “Which one do you want?”
Both Emami and Rowland said they weren’t trying to minimize the importance of the Evans-Ambrose feud but said the county commission meeting wasn’t the place to settle it. The meeting then adjourned.