There was an apology, a dismissal and, finally, an end.
In a meeting lasting a little more than 10 minutes Friday, the Allen County Ethics Commission agreed to throw out a complaint against Allen County Councilman Paul Moss for his actions during an early-morning traffic stop nearly six months ago.
The panel only did so, however, after Moss issued a written apology in which he admitted to creating an appearance of impropriety by calling Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries in the middle of that stop.
Moss had refused a portable breath test before placing that call and was then allowed to find a ride home. He was never charged with a crime.
While he did not admit to any wrongdoing or to violating the county’s ethics policy, Moss in part wrote in his apology:
I do deeply regret that my act of calling Sheriff Ken Fries on June 2, 2012 has caused any citizen to question the integrity of our government and fair application of its laws.
The two members of the ethics commission – attorney Thomas Hardin and business owner Wendy Stein – both agreed to dismiss the complaint against Moss, with prejudice.
That means they did not issue a finding as to whether Moss violated the ethics policy and that the complaint cannot be brought before the commission again.
I think the language of the apology is genuine, Hardin said. It is honest, and I appreciate that.
Moss appeared at the meeting with his attorney, Tim Pape, but did not read his apology or make any statements in front of the panel.
His apology was read into the record by the commission’s attorney, Tim McCauley, whom the Allen County commissioners hired as counsel for the ethics commission three hours before the hearing.
Afterward, Moss spoke with reporters in the basement of Citizens Square where he said he was sorry for embroiling Fries in controversy along with him.
As much as anything, I regret bringing him into this, Moss said. I made the call. I take responsibility for it.
Both Fries and Moss came under fire in the days after a sheriff’s officer pulled over Moss’ black Cadillac that reeked of alcohol on Dupont Road at 2:31 a.m.
During that stop, an officer and Moss spoke extensively outside the car. Shortly after refusing a portable breath test, Moss called a vacationing Fries on his cellphone.
After the officer and Fries conversed, Moss was allowed to call for a ride home. The officer made no report about the traffic stop and neither did another sheriff’s officer at the scene. It was never made clear why Moss was pulled over, though he acknowledged later he was texting and may have swerved before being stopped.
After news of the traffic stop broke, Fries said the officer who initiated the stop told him he could not tell whether Moss was drunk.
Fries also said Moss asked for no favors and that he never instructed his officer to let Moss go or handle the investigation any differently than one involving any other citizen.
The sheriff at the time added that it was not unusual for officers to allow some citizens to call for a ride home and that officers typically do not file reports about traffic stops where no arrests are made.
Moss said he was giving his daughter and a group of her friends – who had been drinking – a safe ride home. He said he had consumed a few drinks, but it was the day before at a golf outing.
He said he made the call to expedite the process of getting a more reliable test. He said the traffic stop was taking too long and he did not trust the portable breath test.
The traffic stop came to light because the sheriff’s officers initially asked a Fort Wayne police officer working a drunken-driving patrol to administer sobriety tests on Moss. That officer, who did file a report, was delayed by another traffic stop and asked that Moss be brought to the Allen County Jail for the tests.
When the city officer noticed the sheriff’s officers were at the scene longer than is usual, he called one of them – but not the one who spoke to Fries – by cellphone.
In his report, the city officer wrote: I spoke with Officer Stuckey, who advised me that per Sheriff Fries, we were to disregard any further.
A former county employee filed an ethics complaint against Fries and Moss, alleging the men violated the county’s ethics policy during that traffic stop in regard to asking for and giving special treatment.
The ethics commission met several times over the ensuing five months to discuss the complaint. Questions arose as to whether the commission had purview over the matter or what punishments could be meted out to elected officials if it found a violation occurred.
Two of the then three-member panel butted heads along the way.
Retired Judge Tom Ryan voted from Day 1 to dismiss the complaint against Moss and Fries and often argued with Hardin over the panel’s investigation into the traffic stop. Eventually, the panel dismissed the complaint as it pertained to Fries because he already answers to the Indiana Sheriff’s Association code of ethics.
Last month, Ryan walked out in the middle of a meeting and resigned on the spot, calling the panel’s continued scrutiny of Moss a witch hunt.
Friday, Moss criticized the process for taking too long and added that he suspects officials will use his situation to tweak the policy in the future.
He told reporters he has not thought about a future political office but will serve out his current term, which ends at the end of the year.
Hardin told reporters that Moss’ apology was important for him to hear, and that he thought the call Moss made to Fries, seemed wrong.
During the meeting, Hardin said he was sure everyone involved learned a lot during the lengthy process, then elaborated on that statement afterward. I think we learned that ethics matter in government, he said. We learned that the ethics commission will look at things seriously.
The commission is expected to become a three-member panel by next year when the county commissioners name a replacement for Ryan.
Mossí apologyTrust in government and our elected officials is critical to our exercise of self-governance. The citizens of Allen County deserve elected leaders who conduct their activities in a manner that complies with the standards set forth in Allen County Ethics Ordinance. Throughout my service as a County Councilman, I have attempted at all times to comport myself honestly, ethically and forthrightly, and in compliance with our ethics ordinance.
While I sought no personal gain nor favor and do not believe my actions at issue in this matter in any fashion violated the Allen County Ethics Ordinance, I do deeply regret that my act of calling Sheriff Ken Fries on June 2, 2012 has caused any citizen to question the integrity of our government and fair application of its laws. I understand that my actions that day created the appearance of impropriety. Our citizens have the right to expect its elected leaders to not only comply with their ethical obligations but to avoid appearances of special treatment, and I am sorry that my decision to call Sheriff Fries that evening caused such speculation.
I have been proud to serve the citizens of Allen County these past eight years and look forward to serving them for the remainder of my term.