Horgan tagged $200, censured by commission for pot arrest
Ending what has been a bizarre chapter in Fayette County political history, Robert Horgan’s fellow county commissioners fined him $200 and officially rebuked him in a resolution Thursday night for being arrested May 2009 with a misdemeanor amount of marijuana while driving with an expired tag on his personal truck.
Most likely this is the last we’ll hear of the matter until the 2012 election cycle in which Horgan will be up for re-election.
Some of Horgan’s fellow commissioners noted specifically that they have never known nor suspected that Horgan was ever under the influence at any commission meeting during which he was entrusted with making decisions for the public’s good.
One of those commissioners was Eric Maxwell, who immediately after Horgan’s arrest had asked Horgan to resign from the commission. Horgan has steadfastly refused that request and those from several residents.
Maxwell said he has found Horgan “to be contrite and sorrowful” about the matter.
Horgan himself declined an opportunity to address the public at the meeting. He faced a fine of up to $1,000 as the maximum allowed under the current county ethics ordinance.
Maxwell said he had reviewed a list of costs connected to the matter that was compiled by local resident Robert Ross, but the ethics ordinance did not allow the county to recoup those costs.
Maxwell also said the commission, in amending its ethics ordinance, might also want to allow not just a censure or public rebuke of a commissioner, but also a chance for the other sitting commissioners to formally ask the offending commissioner to resign his post.
“How can we make this so our ethics ordinance has some teeth?” Maxwell asked.
Commissioner Herb Frady said he too listened to the citizens who routinely spoke to the commission about Horgan’s arrest. Frady also admitted to “personally admonishing” Horgan “rather severely” in private.
“I told him I thought he violated our ethics ordinance,” Frady said.
Commission Chairman Jack Smith also said he had told Horgan after the incident that Horgan was “derelict in his duties to the voters of the county.”
But, Smith said, since the commission was to sit in judgement of Horgan on the ethics violation in the punishment phase, the commission had to refrain from comment even as citizens continued to petition for Horgan’s resignation.
Horgan’s brush with the law in May 2009 resulted in his arrest, and months later he pled guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving with an expired tag. The political ramifications, however, resulted in a small handful of citizens routinely attending commission meetings and suggesting that Horgan resign due to his transgression.
Horgan, who was pulled over May 23, 2009, on Stanley Road for driving with an expired tag, was also found to have less than an ounce of marijuana after a Fayette County sheriff’s deputy smelled an odor in the truck. According to the incident report, Horgan admitted to having smoked marijuana before he was pulled over.
Horgan ultimately pled no contest to the misdemeanor marijuana and expired tag charges, and he was sentenced to an $800 fine, 12 months probation and 40 hours of community service by Fayette County State Court Judge Fletcher Sams.
Horgan later violated the terms of his probation by testing positive for alcohol and he was subsequently ordered to an additional 20 days of community service and attendance at 30 Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in a 30-day time period.
Horgan also survived a recall challenge when a Superior Court judge in LaGrange ruled in August 2009 that Horgan’s infractions occurred when he was not on official county duty.
The $200 fine and public censure Thursday night were the denouement from an ethics complaint which resulted in a three-attorney panel ruling that Horgan’s actions were violations of the county’s ethics ordinance. Horgan challenged the panel’s ruling in court and lost.
Pat Hinchey, who co-filed the ethics complaint with fellow county resident David Cree, said he was satisfied that justice had been served via the county’s process of handing an ethics complaint against a sitting county commissioner.
“The reason I signed that paper had nothing to do with politics or people,” Hinchey said. “... I thought it was my responsibility because no one else did, to say something, to do what I could, when I felt like we were heading in a direction that it easily could have been overlooked and ‘oh well, it’s no big deal.’”