Daily photos by Gary Lloyd|
Lawrence County Commissioner Mose Jones, left, and Commission Chairman Bradley Cross discuss why an emergency meeting was not called after FBI agents seized commission equipment earlier this month. Jones feels a bugging system found in the commission’s office should have been discussed before it was placed.
Lawrence leaders seek answers about investigation
Chairman says spy device may have been placed for officials protection
By Nancy Glasscock
MOULTON — Lawrence County Commission Chairman Bradley Cross said Monday an FBI probe of the commission offices might be “pornography related.”
Assistant County Administrator Karen Harrison might have installed a clock radio with a hidden camera in the commission office to prove she and possibly others weren’t viewing pornography online, Cross said.
“I think that was the reason why it was bugged. That’s my thinking,” Cross said. “I can’t be sure, but that’s my opinion. I don’t know what was on it.”
He said Harrison did not contact the FBI, but she doesn’t deny her involvement in the placement of the clock radio.
Cross said he didn’t know what type of pornography would have been accessed or who would have viewed it.
“All I know is, it wasn’t me,” he said.
Cross said he didn’t know about the apparent bugging system until FBI agents questioned him Sept. 14.
“I was as dumbfounded as anybody else,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”
The FBI seized the clock radio from the commission office and other equipment from Harrison’s office Sept. 13. The office is a private room used by all commissioners.
Harrison has declined comment on the investigation and deferred questions to her attorney, Jim Sturdivant of Birmingham. Neither Harrison nor Sturdivant were at a special commission meeting Monday.
Sturdivant said others in the commission building could have accessed pornography while in the office.
“I don’t have any reason at all to think that (Harrison) was in any way involved in that type of activity,” Sturdivant said during a phone interview. “Based on what I know about this matter, there may have or may not have been other people that were involved in that type of behavior, but she was not.”
Commissioner Mose Jones said regardless of the camera’s purpose, its placement should have been brought up for discussion at a commission meeting.
The Lawrence County Commission hall was packed for Monday’s meeting.
He said County Administrator Linda Harville, every commissioner and the janitor had keys to the commission office.
“Even if someone put that in there to protect themselves, it should have been brought forth to the entire commission because that would have been a personnel issue,” he said.
Jones and Commissioner Alma Whitlow each said they shared Cross’ belief that the bugging equipment might have been used for protection.
“That’s what I’ve been told, so I have no reason to suspect it’s not been the truth,” Whitlow said.
Harrison sent a letter to each commissioner saying she had reconsidered her resignation, Cross said.
Most commissioners said they received the letters Monday.
Cross said Harrison personally delivered a letter to him Saturday.
“She said after reconsidering, she decided she’d work a little while longer,” Cross said. “I don’t know how much longer she was talking about.”
Harrison states in two sentences that she is withdrawing her resignation effective Monday because she had a “change of heart” about leaving her job of more than 27 years.
She said she resigned Sept. 11 for health reasons and because the commission offered her an annual salary of $60,000 to work as county administrator. Harville’s annual salary was $62,000.
Harrison’s last day is Tuesday. Harville is retiring Oct. 1.
Despite Harrison’s attempt to stop her resignation, the commission unanimously approved the resignation and a motion to advertise the county administrator’s job Monday after meeting for about 20 minutes in an executive session.
As chairman, Cross doesn’t vote at commission meetings except to break a tie, but he said he opposed the commission’s approval of Harrison’s resignation.
“It wasn’t handled right,” he said. “They approved her resignation after she has asked to be reinstated. They didn’t go by the personnel policy. You’ve got 14 days to reconsider.”
Jones said he didn’t know why Cross didn’t tell the rest of the commission that Harrison wanted to withdraw her resignation. Jones said Harrison mailed her letter to his home.
“If I was the chairman, and I knew about that Saturday, I would have called all the commissioners and told them about it,” he said. “No one called and told me anything about it.”
Cross said Harrison told him she would give each commissioner a copy of the letter.
“I think you have to hand deliver the letter to the chairman when you have to do something like that,” Cross said. “It never even dawned on me (to call other commissioners).”
Harrison could have delivered her most recent letter to every commissioner in person, Jones said.
“If she gave it to him, then she could have come to each one of the commissioners’ houses and given it to them Saturday,” he said.
‘Clean slate’ needed?
After nine years with the same administrators managing the county’s finances, the new administration needs to start with a “clean slate,” Whitlow said.
The commission unanimously approved a motion to hire an independent firm to perform an audit — a move Cross said was a waste of money. He said the cost to hire an independent firm would be “tremendous.”
The State Examiners Office will audit the county during the next three months, he said.
“We’ve had state audits for the past nine years, and we’ve never had a charge,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with the audit, but I do have a problem with the charge. ... These girls have done a tremendous job ever since I’ve been here and maybe even before. I think you’re getting one issue mixed up with another issue.”
Examiners never questioned the county invoice for the clock radio purchased at the Alabama Spy Shop. Cecil Caine, the county’s attorney, said the bugging system was apparently installed by a previous administration.
Members of the previous administration included Cross, Jones, Hutson Parker, Randall LouAllen and the late Barkley Lentz. LouAllen said he knows nothing about the controversy.
Commissioners John Terry, Harold LouAllen, Whitlow and Jones requested the Monday meeting after Cross wouldn’t call an emergency meeting immediately following the FBI’s search of the commission office and interviews with commissioners.
Cross said Monday he wouldn’t immediately call a meeting because he didn’t consider it an emergency.
“I do know what an emergency is, I just didn’t see it,” he said.
“What could be more of an emergency than when you have the FBI investigating?” Jones asked.
Moulton resident James Latham said he didn’t expect to hear any new details at the meeting, but he was disappointed that the commission didn’t allow the public to ask questions.
“I’m not accusing anyone of any wrongdoing, but it seems like the commissioners are taking advice from a lawyer,” he said.
“A lawyer wasn’t elected to office in this county, and the commissioners were elected. When people have questions they want to talk to elected officials. I felt like we didn’t get any answers today.”
Attempts to reach Harold LouAllen and Terry for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
Terry was reportedly ill.
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