Ethics panel reviews Oldham property assessor’s family hire

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By Tracy Harris

An ethics hearing for Oldham County’s property assessor continued last week in Frankfort.

Ron Winters is one of 11 property valuation administrators across the state accused of nepotism in a case that began in 2008. If found guilty, penalties can range up to $5,000.

The county PVA is elected to assess the value of property for property taxes.

Winters, in his 10th year as Oldham’s PVA, hired his wife, Barbara. She now serves as chief deputy after being hired as a part-time deputy.

Historically, many PVA officials have employed family members. However, PVAs didn’t become state employees until the late 1990s, when they lobbied for the change.

PVA offices are supported administratively by the state revenue department and are the only elected county officials who are subject to the executive branch ethics code.

After jurisdiction disputes in several courts, hearings began in November with Winters one of the last to appear before the commission.

Winters maintains he’s done nothing wrong.

Winters said PVAs have always employed relatives, and that the Department of Revenue approves all hirings and promotions in his office.

JoJuana Leavell-Greene, the human resources manager who oversees PVA employment, testified that she did not know the Winters are married. Employment forms do not ask if a new hire is a relative.

Winters’ attorney, Luke Morgan, made two motions to conclude the hearing — one for a directed verdict and one to dismiss. Hearing Officer Susan Durant denied both motions. 

Both parties have until March 15 to file written closing arguments. 

The hearing officer has 60 days to review the evidence and issue a recommended order, then both parties have 15 days to file exceptions. The commission will make a final order within 90 days of the recommendation.

John Steffen, Executive Branch Ethics Commission executive director, said the commission will likely rule on Winters’ case in July or August.

Winters has stated if found guilty, he plans to appeal the decision to Franklin Circuit Court. 

So far, the commission has accepted a settlement from Grayson County’s Roger Tomes. 

Tomes, who is no longer PVA, hired his son to work in the office and faces a $1,000 fine.