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Ethics panel OKs fine for Bennett

Settlement requires ex-schools leader to pay $5,000

Bennett

– The State Ethics Commission on Thursday accepted a settlement requiring Tony Bennett to pay $5,000 for an ethics violation and then turned its attention to the revolving door at the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The settlement between the former superintendent of public instruction and the state inspector general was released late Wednesday. The commission had no discussion on the matter.

“He accepts full responsibility for the mistakes he made,” said Larry Mackey, attorney for Bennett. “As a state office holder he held that responsibility with great concern that you serve as an example to everyone. He is with full measure disappointed with this outcome.”

Bennett, who was defeated by Democrat Glenda Ritz in November 2012, did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

Inspector General David Thomas found that Bennett – as a state officer, not an employee – could campaign on state time.

But he couldn’t use state equipment, such as his office, email and computers, to engage in political activity without a policy allowing it. That policy did not exist.

Another case the commission had seemed to give them much more concern.

INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff, a former state legislator, asked the panel to approve a screening process that would eliminate conflicts while he negotiates a possible job with RQAW, an engineering consulting firm that frequently bids on state work.

Woodruff also has served on a selection review team and has signed contracts with RQAW.

The internal screening process has been in place since June 23 when the possible job came to light. Woodruff said the company did not approach him about the opportunity.

Commission members easily accepted the firewall plan to separate himself from any current business with RQAW but seemed concerned that Woodruff wasn’t seeking approval for him to take the job under Indiana’s post-employment restrictions.

Ethics Chairman James Clevenger said he has serious issues with Woodruff seeking a job with a company he has acted on contracts with.

“The next step is going to a difficult one for me,” he said. “If you got a waiver, I guess that’s another matter.”

State law allows an employee’s boss to waive the one-year cooling-off period, which means INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning could allow the move without the ethics commission’s approval.

Browning can’t waive one section of the law that generally prohibits a quid-pro-quo system.

It says a state employee cannot accept employment if the circumstances would lead a reasonable person to believe that the job is given or had been offered for the purpose of influencing the former state employee in the performance of his duties while a state employee.

Woodruff, meanwhile, is under investigation to the inspector general because he did not disclose to ethics officials a land sale for the Interstate 69 project as well as other possible ethical breaches, including allegations of nepotism.

An Indianapolis Star investigation also uncovered six I-69 deals that paid $1.86 million to Woodruff’s uncle and cousins, who then bought land from Woodruff and his family for more than market value.

The ethics commission also considered Thursday a similar case to Woodruff’s involving another INDOT employee. He sought a screen, which was approved but hasn’t asked for an opinion yet on post-employment restrictions.

In other business, the panel cleared the way for Gov. Mike Pence’s deputy chief of staff to return to her private legal practice. She previously received clearance last year but stayed on unexpectedly for one year.

And the group gave a favorable opinion to the inspector general himself – Thomas – who will leave by the end of the year.

He has served 10 years in the position, first being appointed when Gov. Mitch Daniels created the office.

He previously was a county prosecutor, and a new law now allows senior prosecutors to work full time. This would allow Thomas to prosecute cases on a full-time basis. He likely would be tapped by judges to handle cases when conflicts arise in counties.

Thomas said he would not handle any cases investigated by his own office.

nkelly@jg.net

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