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New county ethics panel member preaches what he teaches

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Members of the Allen County Ethics Commission, from left, Wendy Stein, Tom Hardin, Abraham Schwab and secretary Rhonda Rice gather in their meeting Friday.

– The Allen County Ethics Commission welcomed its new member Friday.

Abraham Schwab, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at IPFW, replaces Thomas Ryan on the three-member commission after Ryan walked out of a volatile commission meeting Oct. 29 and emailed his immediate resignation.

Schwab teaches ethics classes at IPFW, including medical, business and professional ethics and applied ethics practicum. He told ethics commission members Tom Hardin and Wendy Stein that he specializes in applied ethics.

“Well, as you know, the ethics ordinance was ‘applied’ in the last few months, so your expertise will be welcome,” Hardin said.

The commission was in the spotlight last year with an investigation into an ethics complaint filed against two county officials, stemming from an incident June 2, when Allen County sheriff’s officers pulled then-County Councilman Paul Moss over at 2:30 a.m. in a car that smelled of alcohol. Moss refused a portable breath test and then called a vacationing Sheriff Ken Fries on his cellphone. The sheriff spoke to one of his officers at the scene, and Moss was allowed to find a ride home with no charges filed against him.

Moss was accused of seeking special treatment and was scrutinized by the commission, but the panel ruled that Fries was not subject to the county’s ethics ordinance because the matter fell to the Allen County sheriff’s internal affairs division.

At a final hearing in November, an apology from Moss prompted a dismissal from the commission. Moss’ term ended Dec. 31.

The issue raised questions about who must adhere to the county’s policy, how long the ethics commission can take to rule on matters and what form of punishment can be handed out when an ethics violation occurs. Commission members Friday said they are discussing those issues with County Commissioner Nelson Peters, who wrote the 2005 ordinance.

One possibility discussed was having a county staff person appointed to investigate matters, making it easier to deal with laws requiring open meetings but also removing criticism that the ethics commission is both prosecutor and judge.