On Thursday, a special counsel cleared East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert of alleged ethics violations brought against him in May by a private citizen.
Stephen Greer, the special counsel hired by the City to investigate the allegations filed by East Ridge resident Laura Seneker, wrote in a two-page document that Lambert’s acceptance of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions by developers 12 days after the city council held a special called meeting to commit millions in spending to the Exit 1 interchange did not violate the city’s ethics ordinance.
Greer wrote that City Manager Scott Miller urged Lambert to have the special called meeting on June 2, 2017 instead of waiting for the next regular monthly meeting. Miller, the findings state, was concerned about getting planning and development of the interchange going as fast as possible.
In addition, Lambert’s vote on committing $4 million to the project didn’t really matter, as the motion by Councilwoman Esther Helton to adopt the measure passed by unanimous vote of the council.
Finally, Special Counsel Greer found that the June 2 vote did not commit East Ridge to expending any funds. The vote was to approve the construction estimate cost for the Exit 1 project by engineering firm Vaughn & Melton, which allowed the project to move forward.
The bids to the actual project were not let until the following month, and it wasn’t until August 2017 that bids were received and opened publicly.
As for the $5,000 in campaign contributions by three developers and others being received, Greer found that Lambert had sent out invitations to a fundraiser that was slated for June 10, 2017. The invitations were sent prior to the June 2 meeting, Greer noted.
“While an argument could be made that these contributions might reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to reward the Mayor for his past action (i.e, the yes vote to approve the construction estimate cost for the project), which is proscribed in Section I-605 of Ordinance No. 818, in my opinion under the facts recited herein, that would be a strained construction at best of these facts,” Greer wrote in his findings. “Further, what motivated the three principals of this developer to make $1,000 contributions each to Mayor Lambert would be sheer speculation.”
During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Mayor Lambert read a statement which in part said that Greer’s report confirmed what he already knew to be the truth, that the ethics complaint was without merit.
“As with all political issues, I fully understand that it takes time to gather the facts and to get the truth out,” Lambert said in the statement. “Still, it has been very difficult for me and my family to remain silent in the face of baseless and politically motivated accusations. … I look forward to continuing my hard work on behalf of the people of East Ridge.”
Attorney Bill Speek, who is representing Lambert, said that Lambert would take no questions. Speek characterized Special Counsel Greer as “above reproach” and the investigation as “exhaustive.” He said that Lambert cooperated fully with the investigation and answered all questions.
When asked about the June 10 fundraiser where invitations were sent out prior to the June 2 called meeting, Speek said he did not know where the event was held.
Seneker released this statement in regard to Greer’s findings.
“The findings on the Ethics Complaint against Mayor Lambert are what most citizens believed would come out of City Hall,” she wrote in the statement. “And once again, Mayor Lambert demeans his citizens by saying what I did was petty politics. I did what I did because the Mayor got paid for years of service to the Exit 1 developers, including the setting of the June 2017 meeting. The fact that the Mayor can’t produce an invitation to this alleged fundraiser or provide a place where it was held speaks volumes.”