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Conflict of interest discussion held by county commissioners after Allen ouster from law enforcement committee

St. Joseph County Fifth District Commissioner Dennis Allen (left) and Board Chair/Sixth District Commissioner Ken Malone (right) discussed the surprise ouster of Allen from the county’s Law Enforcement Committee during a discussion on conflicts of interest during Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting of the county commission. (Photos via St. Joseph County)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

CENTREVILLE — Nearly a month after Dennis Allen’s surprise ouster from the county’s Law Enforcement Committee, a discussion was had among county commissioners regarding conflicts of interest, while Allen blasted the move made last month.

The issue was brought up by Seventh District Commissioner Terry Conklin during Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, as commissioners asked County Administrator Teresa Cupp to research possibly adding into the board’s rules a statement regarding conflicts of interest as it pertains to sitting on a committee that directly relates to an office a commissioner may run for.

Conklin said he was doing some research on conflicts of interest over the last few weeks, and said it was important to come across as transparent as possible when it comes to those.

“I think it’s important that we come across to the county that we are one unit, and we’re not going to try to hide anything, and we’re going to try to be transparent,” Conklin said. “I’m not going to agree with everybody here all the time, but I’ll agree to disagree, and when I leave the room, I’m going to support whatever the board decides. I think we’ve done that.”

He said, looking at the relevant section of  whenever there’s a conflict of interest, those commissioners possibly affected by a conflict of interest should excuse themselves.

“We should’ve never been in that situation we were in last month, and it bothers me a lot,” Conklin said. “I think it’s important we leave this room as a whole that where we may agree to disagree, but we’re going to support the people of this county.”

Conklin brought up the issue in response to a surprise vote made by the county commission in April to oust Allen, the Fifth District commissioner, from his chairmanship of the county’s Law Enforcement Committee.

Allen, who is also running in the Republican primary for sheriff in August, was voted out of the committee he has been on for the past several years by a 4-3 vote after a motion was taken up during the Commissioner’s Comments period, spurred on by Third District Commissioner Rusty Baker.

According to a report from the Sturgis Journal, Baker alleged during the April meeting that Allen used his position as chair of the Law Enforcement Committee to access proprietary records from the Sheriff’s Department, something Allen denies. A campaign video released on Allen’s website in the weeks prior to the meeting appeared to show what the Journal described as “unflattering information” about sheriff candidates Jason Bingaman and Chad Spence.

Bingaman, the current undersheriff for the Sheriff’s Department, had commented during public comment at the beginning of the April meeting, seemingly addressing the campaign video.

“It has come to my attention that we have a sitting commissioner that is making disparaging remarks about the department and the quality of work coming from it,” Bingaman said. “To me, there is a clear conflict of interest for a sitting commissioner to be making these remarks and yet remaining this board’s choice to chair the law enforcement committee.”

Bingaman also added that the county could face potential liability from some of the comments made in Allen’s campaign video, saying he believed some of them to be “in direct violation of the law.”

Conklin, according to the Journal, said during the April meeting he felt Allen was in a situation – being on the Law Enforcement Committee while running for Sheriff – that he felt was a conflict of interest, something Baker also agreed with. Conklin, Baker, and commissioners Jared Hoffmaster and Ken Malone voted in favor of Allen’s removal, while Allen and commissioners Luis Rosado and Rick Shaffer were opposed. Malone’s vote was the tiebreaker.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Allen reiterated that April’s vote was a “blindside” and that he didn’t know any type of motion was going to be made to remove him from the committee. Allen said he has never spoken about the campaign during the county commission meetings, and claimed the board “forgot” their responsibilities, calling out Malone in particular.

“Our responsibility is primarily policies, budgets and so forth, and when you infuse yourselves into political campaigns – not me, but the rest – based on comments made from one of the other candidates,” Allen said. “Mr. Chairman, I think you may have set a precedent now when someone comes up and is not happy with whoever’s sitting on that board or a board, whether it’s just cause or not, because I don’t see anything that I did that was just cause, other than running for sheriff. I’ve never spoken about that once in these chambers ever since I ran 14 months ago.”

Allen opined that the board made its decision based on was things that took place outside of the chambers, not anything discussed during meetings. He also said if he ever hinders or impedes progress of the sheriff’s department in his role with the law enforcement committee, that would be grounds, in his opinion, for the board to remove him from the committee. He then defended his record with the committee.

“In no way, no case, ever, have I ever hindered that Sheriff’s Department,” Allen said. “I’ve voted for everything that they’ve ever proposed, and in fact, I went above and beyond. They wanted $535,000 for 38 doors, I said, no, we need to add another $165,000 to put in new electronics also. … Everything coming to the Sheriff’s Department has been improved or bettered with my leadership on that board. And if you think just because I announced 14 months ago I’m running for sheriff and that’s a conflict of interest and I should be removed, well, sorry, I disagree.”

Allen tried to equivalate a hypothetical ouster from the county’s Physical Resources Committee, which he is also on, to his ouster from the Law Enforcement Committee, which Conklin disagreed with, saying that Allen wouldn’t be running for a public office in connection to that committee. Conklin also reiterated that he believes the Law Enforcement Committee situation was a conflict of interest, which Allen once again disagreed with, dismissing it by saying it was Conklin’s opinion. Allen also stated that in 14 months, “no one said a word” about his chairmanship until the campaign video was posted, which he claimed stated “truths” about the other candidates.

A debate between Allen, Conklin and Baker was had later about where Allen got the information from, during which Allen claimed he “had a brain” when it came to some of the information presented about Spence, and claimed that “a great deal of details was never put out there.” Baker said Allen released information from personnel files in the video, which Allen said Baker was “wrong,” and then Baker retorted, “It’s in writing. On your campaign.” Allen then claimed he “hasn’t seen a file” from the department “since about 2008.”

Conklin then chimed in, saying there should still be something in board policy about conflicts of interest.

“It’s a conflict of interest. And when it comes to it, appearances are just as important as reality, and it’s true, in this instance too,” Conklin said. “If people want to trust us, they have to know we’re going to make a decision based on what we know and the information we’ve looked up or been privy to, and that’s the key word, privy to. I don’t know where you got your information from, I’m not accusing you of anything, I just think we need to have something in this as far as to say, in reality, it makes a difference.”

Malone was called out by Allen during discussion for taking what he called the “hasty” vote to oust him from the committee, with Allen pointing out Conklin, Malone, Baker and Rosado’s direct and/or indirect affiliation with his and other sheriff’s campaigns and asking why all five of them, himself included, did not recuse themselves, which would’ve left only Shaffer and Hoffmaster to vote. Malone defended his decision to take up the vote, saying that the proper procedures to file a motion during a meeting under Roberts Rules of Order were done.

“We had an attorney in the gallery because we had closed session that night. It was a situation that was unusual, so as far as a blindside, I don’t know about anybody else, and I can’t speak for them, but I had no idea the motion was going to come up,” Malone said. “I had a motion and I had proper support or a second of the motion in front of me. In reference back to the attorney, he came up and said we could either table it and think about it or we could move forward on it. I went back to the person that made the motion [Baker], he did not rescind that motion, he asked to move forward with it. He did not lose his second. I had no reason at that point in time to table it. So, it wasn’t a matter of any conspiracy to blindside anything.”

Malone agreed that he had no issue with reaching out to the county’s legal counsel to move forward with drafting conflict of interest language to the board’s rules.

In other business…

  • Commissioners added to their upcoming regular meeting agenda a recommendation and resolution to partner with Branch County for a Materials Management Planning committee.
  • Commissioners added to their upcoming regular meeting agenda a potential agreement with Centreville Public Schools to place a school resource officer in the district.
  • Commissioners added to their upcoming regular meeting agenda a resolution to allocate local fiscal recovery funds through the American Rescue Plan, and separate resolutions to approve a Community Corrections grant and an Animal Control grant.
  • Commissioners heard a presentation about the Property Assessed Clean Energy program.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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