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  • Hoptown Chronicle

    Hopkinsville Board of Ethics conducts inquiry into a pair of complaints

    By Jennifer P. Brown,


    Five city of Hopkinsville officials — including the mayor and a city council member — each hired an attorney to be present with them Wednesday at a Board of Ethics preliminary inquiry into two undisclosed complaints.

    The ethics board members — chair Susan Fernandez, Jim Monroe and Twan Doan — voted unanimously to halt the inquiry into one matter, labeled Complaint 2024-02, due to a “lack of factual basis.”

    In the other matter, Complaint 2024-01, the board said it found “a minimum factual basis” for a violation to the Hopkinsville Code of Ethics in two areas — one related to conflicts of interest in contracts and the other dealing with complicity to another person’s violations.
    Susan Fernandez, who chairs the Hopkinsville Board of Ethics, is flanked by City Clerk Brittany Byrum and ethics board attorney Michael Cotthoff during a board meeting Wednesday at the Hopkinsville Municipal Center. (Hoptown Chronicle photo by Jennifer P. Brown)

    Mayor James R. Knight was represented by Harold “Mac” Johns, who is based in Elkton and is part of the English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley law firm.

    Also present were:

    • Ward 10 Councilman Steve Keel, represented by attorney Sands Chewning, of Hopkinsville.
    • John Schmitt, a member of the Hopkinsville Code of Ordinance Enforcement Board, represented by attorney Ken Humphries, of Hopkinsville.
    • Richard Hooper, general manager of the Hopkinsville Solid Waste Enterprise, represented by attorney Bill Deatherage, of Hopkinsville.
    • Jenny Delawson, administrative and human resources manager for Hopkinsville Solid Waste Enterprise, represented by attorney Natasha Little, of Madisonville.

    The ethics board attorney is Michael Cotthoff.

    The board has not publicly identified anyone who filed a complaint or was the subject of a complaint. Nor have they released any information about the exact nature of the complaints.

    However, the board chair, Fernandez, identified two “respondents” by the initials J.K. and J.S. when she read a statement about the complaint in which the board found a violation.

    After the meeting concluded, Cotthoff told reporters the board’s decision would not result in a hearing on Complaint 2024-01. Instead, the board elected to use an option in the ethics code that states the board may instead issue a letter of reprimand.

    Section 36.69 (E) (1) states:

    “If the Board of Ethics concludes, based upon its preliminary inquiry, that the complaint is within its jurisdiction and contains allegations sufficient to establish a minimal factual basis to constitute a violation, the Board shall notify the officer or employee who is the subject of the complaint and may:

    “Due to mitigating circumstances such as, lack of significant economic advantage or gain by the officer or employee, lack of economic loss to the city and its taxpayers or lack of significant impact on public confidence in city government issue, in writing, a reprimand to the officer or employee concerning the alleged violation and provide a copy of the reprimand to the Mayor and City Council or city agency.”

    The meeting was unusual by local standards because of the number of parties involved.

    The ethics board meets once a year to choose a new chair, and additional meetings occur on an as-needed basis when complaints are filed or someone seeks guidance on a question about a matter such as a potential conflict of interest. The board’s last meeting was in September.

    Wednesday’s meeting lasted approximately three hours. Most of it was conducted in closed session under the state open meetings law exception for matters that could lead to disciplinary action against an employee.

    The meeting was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., but it was delayed approximately 30 minutes because Doan arrived late. City Clerk Brittany Byrum said he was delayed because he drove in from Louisville.

    Jennifer P. Brown

    Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.

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