County chairman resigns

Saying that he was free to return to the county board after being cleared in an investigation initiated by two county officers, Steve Knebel said that he has chosen not to do so.
Knebel, a member of the board for 12 years and its chairman for the past eight years, presented his resignation at the end of Tuesday’s county board meeting, reading a two-page prepared statement.
Knebel explained that he was stepping down after he had been investigated for alleged misconduct when he suggested that a county officer fill a full-time vacancy with someone who had been a part-time employee of the county for more than two decades.
He explained in narrative form that in recent years, the county has struggled with its finances.
“During that time a simple truth exists – we as a board have been running the county’s budget without enough money to have all of the things that we have wanted. We have passed budgets that have required county office heads to run aspects of their offices without the level of staff or resources that the office heads would have preferred and, frankly, at levels that the members of the county board would have preferred,” he said.
Seemingly every year, Knebel said, the state has reduced the amount of state income tax money being returned to counties.
“Each year, we have been asked to do more and more with less and less. When we are asked to do more with less, we have asked the office heads to do more with less, and I hope that no one ever overlooks the lengths our elected officials and county employees have gone to meet the challenge.
“The alternative left to us, to get the money that would have allowed us fully staff the county, pay higher wages to the employees and have resources that would have made things easier and more comfortable, was to raise county property taxes.
“And you know my feelings on that; I’ve never been in favor of that,” Knebel said.
“We would have preferred to have had enough money to have given the office holders everything they asked for. By and large, our office holders have been good people and I have considered them to be friends.
“I have never appreciated or enjoyed the conflicts that have been created when we on the board have had to tell the office holders ‘no,’” he said.
“With that said, I can also tell you that I am proud of the work the board has done in keeping the county moving forward without going to the citizens of Fayette County and seeking large tax increases.
“We were elected to serve the citizens and one of our greatest accomplishments has been to not be another taxing body that makes it more costly to the citizens.
“I say this to you now, because recently there have been frictions over budgets,” Knebel said.
“One of the ways we have been saving money has been to reduce the number of county employees by not replacing all of the employees who retire or leave.
“In the last budget, one of the offices that lost an employee was the county clerk and recorder. Two employees left and the county board only approved the replacement of one of these employees. This was the decision of not any single member of the board, but rather the full board,” he said.
“You all should know that I personally encouraged the office holder (County Clerk and Recorder Vicky Conder) to fill the vacancy that the board permitted to be filled with a person who is currently employed as a part-time county employee.
“She has worked for the county in a part time capacity for over 20 years, and I believed, and still believe, that she would have done an outstanding job in the clerk’s office and that her loyalty and service as a county employee meant that she deserved the opportunity considered for the position,” he said.
“The clerk chose not to hire this employee, which was entirely within her right. While I personally disagree with her decision, I have never suggested that it wasn’t her right to hire the employee of her choice.
“At my word, I tell you that there was no connection between the clerk’s choice of employee and the board’s decision to reduce the number of employees in the clerk’s office,” Knebel said.
“However, the clerk made this connection to the state’s attorney (Joshua Morrison) ,and the state’s attorney called for a special prosecutor and a police investigation to investigate me.
“For the past couple of months, the investigation has been conducted and I have fully cooperated with the investigator.
“At the suggestion of the investigator and my attorney, I have stepped back from my duties on the board while the investigation was being conducted,” he said.
“That’s why I was not here (for board meetings) the last two months,” Knebel said, thanking Vice Chairman Jeff Beckman for taking over the chairman’s duties for that period.
Knebel said that the special prosecutor had informed him in writing that the investigation had been completed and that “no charges were warranted.
“I am free now to return to the county board and to continue to serve if I choose to do so,” Knebel said. “I do not choose to do so.
“In all candor, I am not pleased by these recent events. I am not pleased that some of those that did not get my support for budget expenditures thought that having me investigated was the right answer,” he said.
Morrison said he believes that he had sufficient grounds to ask for a special prosecutor. Such information was not available to The Leader-Union by press time on Wednesday.
Knebel said that he has known for some time that this was to be his last term on the county board, as he and his wife are building a house outside the county board district he now represents (District 3).
He closed his statement with general remarks about serving on the county board.
“No member of the county board seeks this office for the pay.
"There is surprisingly little power in being one of 14 members of the board, and I can assure you there is no glory in it.
“The board members give more to the county than they see in return to themselves, and they do it out of a desire to make their local government better,” Knebel said.
“I would like to thank each of you, my fellow board members, for your service to your county and the people who elected you. I encourage you to continue to follow your moral compass and not let party politics or the desires of those who would attempt to strongarm you distract you from doing the people’s work,” he said.
“While I may have a bad taste in my mouth,” Knebel said, “I know my tenure on the board was fulfilling. There were many compromises and solutions to problems facing the county.
“I will always remember the work we have done to provide the people an honest and efficient county government.”
After the meeting, Knebel said that he feels good about his years of service on the county board.
“I always felt that I kept taxpayers in mind,” he said.
“Years before, everything was good. When things get tougher (financially), you’ve got to take action.
“That’s what I felt we did. Not just me; it was the whole board. I don’t have any more authority or power than anyone else on the board.
“I’m one of 14 members; I’m just the spokesman,” Knebel said.
“There have been a lot of things said on how I ran everything, but everything I did was in the interest of the taxpayers.
"We’ve got to do what’s best for the taxpayers,” he said.
Talking about the budget decisions that led to his resignation, Knebel said, “Halfway through the year (and) you’re over budget – do you wait until the end of the year and try to correct it? You can’t.
“You’ve got to take pro-active measures … and that’s what we did,” he said.
“If we hadn’t had that coal money, we would have laid off I don’t know how many employees. It would not have been a pretty situation.
“We were fortunate to have that money, but we’re unfortunate because (we’ve learned) that that money has to be paid back (to the capital improvements fund),” Knebel said.
“The last four years, we’ve talked about the budgets hard. Like I said tonight, ‘Guys, we’ve talked long enough – it’s time to do something.
“That’s what they’ve got to do now,” he said.
I feel wonderful about what I’ve done (while on the board). I’d like to feel that I was respected,” he said.
“I had good relationships with the other board members.”
Knebel mentioned a conflict with another board member on a certain issue. “But, we’re friends today – I respect him immensely and he respects me.
“I feel good about my time on the board. The first thing I wanted to do (when becoming the chairman) was get rid of the politics.
“We can’t do things because we are a Democrat or a Republican – if it’s the right thing to do, the right thing for the county, we should do it."
With Knebel's resignation, Beckman is the acting chairman.

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