EMA Director, Commissioners spar over county contract

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A battle between the Director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency and two Shelby County Commissioners has come to head.

Since early May, two Shelby County Commissioners have been in a tug-of-war with Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Nations. The commissioners say Nations should have disclosed his son worked for a company that does business with the EMA.

Now, the Shelby County Attorney is involved.

The battle began when Commissioners Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker asked the Deputy County Attorney to conduct an ethics review.  The commissioners wanted a sworn statement from Nations, asking why he didn't disclose his son worked for ESI Incorporated, a private company doing business with the EMA.

"He should be telling us that this is going on," Ritz said Tuesday.

Nation's attorney countered with a letter saying the Commissioners' request "requires a sworn statement," and Nations "would not be giving a sworn statement."

"Looks to me like he's trying to hide something," Ritz said.

Tuesday, Nations disagreed, saying it was about methodology.

"There was not a duty to report that because he was not in a part of a company that had anything to do with sales or procurement of contracts," he said.

The two sides sent letters back and forth for two weeks, with the deputy attorney demanding Nation's statement, and Nations' attorney calling for proper protocol.

Nation's attorney eventually asked for an "opinion from the county attorney" if the investigation was authorized.

"Sooner or later, he's going to have to answer these questions in form or the other, because if he thinks he can walk into the next County Commission with anything on any matter, and not have this come up if it's not already answered, then he's a rather naive gentleman," Ritz said.

Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn then issued an advice and opinion letter, saying the investigation involved sworn statements from the Mayor to the Sheriff, so Nations should have talked too.

In conclusion, Kuhn said "even if there was a violation of the Ethics Ordinance of failure to disclose, it would not have very serious ramifications."

"We always knew there was not a conflict of interest, and that was confirmed by the county attorney's office," Kuhn said.

Communications equipment provider ESI has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing.  The commissioners eventually signed a notarized complaint, and Nations gave an independent attorney a sworn statement.  That report is being compiled.

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