Coroner subject of ethics probe – Violations reviewed by DA, may go to ethics panel

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Shelby County’s coroner met with the district attorney this month to review alleged violations that could go before a state ethics panel.

District Attorney Robby Owens said Monday that he has talked with coroner Doug Ballard Jr. and the ethics panel, but he has not decided whether he will prosecute Ballard. The state ethics panel may make that decision, Owens said.

According to Ballard, he never received adequate guidance from the county commission about what the coroner’s duties were. Ballard also said there was discrepancy over whether the coroner is a state or county position.

According to Alabama law, the coroner’s office is an elected position designated by the state but funded by the county.

Last September, Ballard handed an informal resignation to commissioners. He said last week the county owes him &uot;quite a bit of money&uot; for insurance that the county failed to provide.

&uot;The reason I did that was to try to emphasize the coroner’s service in Shelby County is so far behind modern times,&uot; Ballard said.

Ballard, a cattle rancher, works part-time as county coroner along with six part-time deputy coroners. Ballard receives an annual salary of $4,800.

During 2003, there were 459 deaths in Shelby County. This year, there have been 213.

County Commission Chairman Lindsay Allison said the county has a limited budget and that it meets regularly with all county departments to review each one’s needs.

She said Monday that Ballard had certain funding requests and expenses that the county commission disapproved of, since they did not pertain to the coroner’s duties.

Specifically, Allison said that Ballard paid his wife as an employee, including compensation for work, meals and travel. Allison said state law prohibits elected officials from hiring or paying relatives.

&uot;The state statute is very clear. If elected, you cannot hire relatives,&uot; she said.

As a result, the county commission has submitted details regarding Ballard and the coroner’s office to the district attorney.

&uot;What we’ve turned over to the DA are violations of state statute and the state auditors,&uot; she said. &uot;The auditors have standards.

&uot;He’s basically expensed out things we consider inappropriate … He’s paid his wife money,&uot; Allison said.

According to Ballard, the commission changed rules suddenly, and he claims that some county commissioners’ wives work for the county.

Commissioner Larry Dillard’s wife, Marti, and Commissioner Ted Crockett’s wife, Jamie, work as registrars in the Shelby County Courthouse. Registrars are appointed by state officials.

Ballard has two more years remaining in his term. Owens said he has discussed the coroner’s situation with the state ethics commission, and he will decide whether to prosecute or turn the case over.

&uot;What we will determine is whether or not to ask the ethics commission to look into these violations,&uot; Owens said.