Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin may have committed a state ethics violation as a result of an advertisement flyer for River City Fitness that circulated through the sheriff's department. River City Fitness was once owned by Franklin, but is now owned by her daughter.
Franklin said the fliers were distributed to employees in the sheriff’s department before she took office and that she no longer owns the fitness center, but her daughter does.
The state’s ethics law prohibits elected officials from using their office for personal gain for themselves, a business or a family member.A flier that circulated through the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department asking employees to join a fitness center Sheriff Ana Franklin once owned could possibly constitute a state ethics violation.
Alabama Ethics Commission Director Jim Sumner, who does not address specific cases, gave a general assessment of Franklin’s situation.
“It’s not as strong as a person saying you need to do business with my company, but a flier is a subtle implication, especially when a person has a captive audience,” Sumner said. “I would say such a situation would be a potential ethics violation.”
The flier has a header stating “Fitness special for Morgan County sheriff’s office, $25 monthly or $99 for six months,” inviting personnel to join River City Fitness.
“I haven’t done that since I took office,” Franklin said, referring to the fliers, the latest controversial issue surrounding her since she took office Jan. 18.
Franklin would not say specifically who passed out the fliers. Her daughter Erica Franklin assumed ownership of the gym this year, according to Decatur’s revenue department.The fitness center is located on U.S. 31 South.
No complaint has been filed against Franklin.
“A complaint can be filed by any citizen based on credible and verifiable information,” Sumner said. “Anybody who sees something they think is not right and they know some of the underlying facts can file a complaint and we will look into it.”
If the Ethics Commission determines the law was violated, Sumner said, the case would be referred for prosecution.
“If the prosecutor has enough to prove intent, the offense is a Class B felony that could result in two to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine per violation,” Sumner said.
Trail of controversy
Controversy surrounding Franklin began Jan. 19, when she sent a deputy to inform Doug Key, head of the county’s Drug Task Force, that she was demoting him and removing him from the task force.
She fired Key in February while he was on vacation. He appealed the demotion and firing to the county’s Personnel Review Board, which upheld Franklin’s action after a hearing in March.
Key’s attorney has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging retaliation and discrimination based on gender and age.
During his hearing, Key said Franklin fired him as retaliation for her friend, Robert “Bones” Wilson, whom Key got removed from a Huntsville unit attached to the Morgan task force. Franklin denied the allegation.
Franklin’s hiring practices sparked controversy, also. In February, after Key’s firing, she had an item on a County Commission meeting agenda requesting approval to hire a jail administrator at a salary of $42,244.80. She asked Chairman Ray Long to table action on the request.
Commissioners said the position no longer exists and she has to ask them to re-create the job.
The county currently has a hiring freeze.
Most recently, Franklin hired Ronald Livingston, 72, one of her campaign supporters, to a captain’s position that was vacated by Howard Battles, who retired in January.