Limestone County District 4 is weeks away from finding out who its next commission representative will be, and the candidates have been no stranger to local news media this week.
Documents were sent to The News Courier and other area news outlets last week alleging an ethics complaint was filed against current commissioner Ben Harrison and that the Alabama Ethics Commission had concluded its investigation, with a hearing set for Wednesday.
Due to secrecy laws surrounding the Ethics Commission and ethics complaints, the only people directly connected to the investigation who provided verification of the complaint against Harrison were Harrison and his attorney, Mark White of White, Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham.
When asked last week, White told The News Courier that there was "absolutely nothing concerning Commissioner Harrison that causes me any concern."
"It's a privilege to be a lawyer, and it took me almost 30 minutes to realize this is a total, complete, political piece of pond scum," he said of the complaints, adding that whoever did file a complaint was likely unhappy with not getting their way and trying to use the press as a result.
Wednesday’s regularly-scheduled meeting of the Alabama Ethics Commission was set to be livestreamed, as most of the commission’s meetings are, before being posted to YouTube for archival purposes. However, on the day of the meeting, the Ethics Commission said it had technical difficulties that prevented the meeting from being viewed by anyone not attending in person in Montgomery.
That meant, following the meeting, the public found itself once again relying on hearsay and statements to the press by Harrison or his legal representation to find out what happened. They said there were three complaints total, and each of the three was dismissed by the Ethics Commission.
The News Courier was able to verify only part of that information. In an email from Alabama Ethics Commission Director Thomas Albritton, Albritton stated simply, “The cases were dismissed, and that’s all I will say about the matter.”
Ultimately, this leaves it up to the voters to decide, as Harrison has released a lengthier statement, again alleging political attacks against his campaign by his opponent and specifically naming a Limestone County resident as the person who filed the complaint. His opponent in the District 4 race, independent candidate LaDon Townsend, also released a statement.
Harrison said he was “cleared of any wrongdoing” and called the Ethics Commission hearing “a total victory.” He said he couldn’t speak about every aspect of the complaints filed, but that he could talk about the “false and misleading accusations” that led to them.
“At least two of the ethics complaints were initiated by Greg Poss, who was the 5th District Democrat Campaign Coordinator, and also heavily involved in my opponent’s campaign,” Harrison said in his statement. “... I suspect that my opponent’s campaign and the Democrat establishment wanted to see my name dragged through the mud before the election on Nov. 3rd.”
Records show Poss was arrested in July on multiple counts of negotiating with a non-negotiable worthless instrument. He remained Thursday in the Limestone County Jail.
As for Poss’ involvement with the Townsend campaign, Townsend was quick to deny the claim.
“That guy is not connected in any way in my campaign,” he told The News Courier on Wednesday. “... He has not contributed any money to my campaign. He has not done anything for me.”
Townsend said he was introduced to Poss at a campaign kickoff event. Poss also reached out to the Townsend campaign via Facebook, something Townsend said many voters have done since learning of his campaign. He reiterated this in a statement released Thursday morning, firing back at Harrison with his own accusation of political attack.
“My opponent has tried to ruin my name and credibility several times during this campaign by associating Greg Poss with my campaign ...,” Townsend said in the statement. “I, LaDon Townsend, do not know Greg Poss on a personal level.”
Harrison and Townsend each accused the other of using political party affiliations in their attacks. Harrison said he was surprised to experience such antics in Limestone County, which is primarily represented at the local and state levels of government by Republicans, but that “as a Donald Trump delegate, I was warned these types of attacks were likely to be used against me.”
Townsend initially announced as a Republican candidate, hoping to run against Harrison in the primary election, but his candidacy was challenged and ultimately denied. The News Courier reported in December 2019 that a letter from Eric Redd to the Alabama Republican Party had accused Townsend of not being a “true Republican” because he supported a Democrat in a separate local election and was supported by at least two Democrats in his campaign for the District 4 seat.
Redd ran for the position of Limestone sheriff in 2014 and 2018 as a Republican, losing to Democrat and incumbent candidate Mike Blakely each time.
Townsend said Wednesday that the Limestone GOP “tagged” Poss with Townsend when he was kicked off the Republican primary ballot. Screenshots obtained by The News Courier in December 2019 and resubmitted Thursday show interaction between Poss and the Townsend campaign, to the extent that Poss was a voter who showed support for the Townsend campaign by attending events and reached out to Townsend’s wife on Facebook.
Both then and now, Townsend and his wife have denied any additional or deeper connection, including denials that Poss worked for the campaign in any sort of official capacity.
Throughout the back and forth between the political candidates, Poss remained a key character that hadn’t yet joined the conversation. He reached out to The News Courier to change that Thursday evening.
He said he wasn’t surprised to find his name in Harrison’s statement, and Harrison wasn’t entirely incorrect — Poss did file two of the ethics complaints, and he had planned to file more.
“I guess it’s about who you know in this county to get cleared,” Poss said. “... If a citizen does this, they get in trouble for it, so what makes Ben Harrison above the law?”
Poss said one of his complaints accused Harrison of milling roads in District 4, then bringing the old pavement to the Wahl family as a gift for their support during his political campaign. Noah Wahl is chairman of the Limestone GOP, while John Wahl is vice chairman of the state GOP.
He said the other complaint accused Harrison of using fuel that was paid for with taxpayer funds and meant for county vehicles and equipment to fuel personal vehicles. He admitted wanting to file another complaint regarding Harrison’s wife’s employment with the Limestone County Board of Registrars, which handles voter registration and information.
Poss said he spoke with an investigator from the Alabama Ethics Commission but, due to his arrest in July, could not attend the hearing. He believes that played a part in the decision to ultimately dismiss his complaints.
“I think me not being able to go and give my side of the story is why they cleared him of this, but if you have photos and stories showing you the proof, how can you not do anything about it?” he said. “It just goes to show you the type of politics going on in Limestone County.”
As for his campaign work, Poss said his work with Democratic campaigns happened years ago, not recently. The Limestone County Democrats confirmed Poss worked with them as a campaign supporter about two years ago but said he has not worked with them since. There are no Democratic candidates in the upcoming election for Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, either.
When it comes to supporting Townsend, Poss said he did so as a concerned voter only.
“I met with LaDon at a chicken stew kickoff that he had,” Poss said. “I said, ‘I want to support you, because we need someone different elected in District 4.’”
His decision to support someone besides Harrison stemmed not from Harrison’s political party affiliations but from personal interactions between Harrison and Limestone County residents, including Poss and his family, Poss said. In addition to meeting Townsend at a kickoff event, he said he messaged Townsend’s wife on Facebook for more information about the campaign.
He denied meeting Townsend before that event and said, while he supports someone other than Harrison representing District 4, he did not work for Townsend’s campaign to make it happen.