Fayette County Commission wrangling over open records, staff complaints

Fayette County commissioners (L-R) Randy Ognio, Steve Brown and Charles Rousseau in file photo.
Fayette County commissioners (L-R) Randy Ognio, Steve Brown and Charles Rousseau in file photo.

The Jan. 25 meeting of the Fayette County Commission was smooth sailing until commissioner comments, when Commissioner Steve Brown leveled a number of assertions in the direction of County Administrator Steve Rapson and hinted of issues he would bring forth in the coming months. Those comments drew other remarks from commissioners Chuck Oddo, Charles Rousseau and Randy Ognio, some of which held an opposite view from the position Brown espoused.

Above, Fayette County commissioners (L-R) Randy Ognio, Steve Brown and Charles Rousseau in file photo.

Referencing his providing government documents to the news media near the beginning of his remarks, Brown said, “When I give government documents that are subject to the open records law to the news media or citizens because I believe something is wrong, I do not expect local officials and implicated staff members to be overjoyed. I have been handing government documents to the news media for years. There have been a couple of times where I had to elevate my disclosure and cooperation to the state level to put an end to some local government debacles such as the water quality crisis, the County Administrator not acknowledging public works contracts in public meetings as state law requires and disruptive behavior concerning voter fraud in the home of someone on the Board of Elections.”

Brown turned his comments to the dissemination of information.

“For years, the county government was operating under an extremely loose set of policies and procedures that not everyone in the county government, elected officials included, had full access to. I have duly cited experiences in meeting minutes over the years where the County Administrator has significantly overstepped his bounds. How commissioners have responded to these incidents since 2013 has concerned me deeply,” Brown said.

Fayette County Manager Steve Rapson in file photo.
Fayette County Manager Steve Rapson in file photo.

Brown said a straw-man argument was created by Rapson to say he only had to share information with the chairman of the Board of Commissioners and that he could act on behalf of the Board with only the chairman’s permission. “As expressed in his employment contract, the County Administrator is contractually bound to the entire Board of Commissioners and is obligated to keep all commissioners fully informed on all issues whether the Chairman decides to communicate or not,” Brown said.

Brown while not specifying any upcoming action said, “To my colleagues on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, the public is going to see what we are made of in the coming months. We all signed off on the values statement in the back of our meeting chambers. I have expressed my concerns about the board’s ability to follow it in the past.”

Brown in his comments commended Commissioner Charles Rousseau for assisting in “peeling back some of the abuses.” And Brown commended Chairman Eric Maxwell for promoting fairness and openness in meetings.

Brown at the end of his comments said, “I hope we’re not going to put up with these things. I hope we’re going to take some action. I hope we’re going to be responsible to the taxpayers of Fayette County. I’ve got a year left. I hope by the time I’m done we can say we took care of business. There have been a lot of times we covered it up, a lot of times we looked the other way.”

Fayette County Commissioner Charles Oddo. File photo.
Fayette County Commissioner Charles Oddo. File photo.

Oddo after Brown’s comments had one of his own. Similar to Brown’s comments, yet from a completely opposite perspective, Oddo, too, took no prisoners.

“This was a totally disappointing commentary,” Oddo said of Brown’s remarks. “This county has been run very well. You were the chairman for two years and I heard nothing, no complaints. Nothing has changed since then. This is the most transparent county I’ve ever seen. This coming from a fellow who was putting up signs and was trying to make people think there were anonymous people trying to beat me. Where are the ethics? Everybody out here is supposed to be trying to do something your way? Except you?” Oddo asked Brown.

Rousseau weighed in next.

“Let me unequivocally state that I have never, nor will I, knowingly participate in anything associated with a cover-up or turning a blind eye when I have knowledge of it. I have not. My intention is never to do that. There are a lot of things that go on that I don’t think people understand in this government with respect to our legal, fiduciary responsibilities which carries a lot of weight. No one has ever shared any information with me or asked me to withhold information or deny something has existed,” Rousseau said.

“Since 2015, when I joined this body I have labored to work collaboratively with my colleagues through disagreement and difficulties as well as the good times, through agreement. That is my charge. That is my responsibility. I (continue) to pledge to the people of this community that I will never knowingly participate in anything that’s associated with destroying your trust or that is illegal,” said Rousseau.

In the absence of Maxwell, Ognio rounded out the comments, leveling them toward Brown and noting that the board will deal with the issues Brown surfaced as he presents them in the coming months.

“I have to respond to what Commissioner Brown said, about cover-ups. Now he’s wanting to go back to 2013. He wants to attack the way the county does business. He wants to micro-manage it. The fact is, we have an administrator, whose duties are to look over these issues. No where in there does it say that his duties are to report employee conflict to the commissioners. We have a human resources staff that does a great job working with the administrator and handling these issues. The issues for the most part have been dealt with, and now Commissioner Brown wants to make an issue of it. If that’s the case there needs to be a change, and I don’t think we want this board to be micro-managing 700 people.

“He talks about open records. There are open records procedures. Those procedures required somebody to submit a request for the records, and those records have to be looked at and redacted before you send them off to the news reporter,” said Ognio. “I have great concerns with a member of this board just sending these documents without going through the redaction process. I think the staff and administrator have been doing a great job. We’ll deal with the issues (Brown) brings forward as he brings them forward.”