Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 4, 2013

Pleading guilty

Former Olive Hill mayor admits to selling marijuana

The Independent

ASHLAND — Danny Sparks served as mayor of Olive Hill for more than 12 years, but the only deed for which Sparks is likely to be remembered is the one that drove the well-liked mayor from office. Sparks, who had been mayor of the small Carter County city since 2000, abruptly resigned a little more than a year ago after being arrested by officers for FIVCO Area Drug Enforcement — or FADE — on charges of trafficking in marijuana.

Sparks was accused of selling marijuana to a FADE undercover informant. The transaction took place in a parking lot near Olive Hill Elementary School, leading to an additional charge of trafficking in marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school.

On Monday, the former mayor pleaded guilty in Carter County Circuit Court in Grayson  to a charge of trafficking in marijuana within 1,000 yards of a school, a Class D felony that carries a one- to five-year prison sentence. Under the terms of Sparks’ plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to recommend Sparks be sentenced to two years, and to “stand silent” on the issue of whether he should receive probation, said Sparks’ attorney, Robin Webb of Grayson.

Webb originally sought diversion, under which Sparks’ record would be expunged after five years if he did not commit any other crimes. However, the commonwealth would not agree to that, she said. We agree that this incident should never be erased from the records. Because of his leadership role in Olive Hill, the former mayor needs to be held fully accountable for his misdeeds.

Being a convicted felon also renders Sparks ineligible to run for public office again unless he receives a pardon from the governor. But even if he could run for office, we can’t imagine Sparks could ever again be elected because of his crime.

Following his arrest, Sparks wrote a resignation letter in which he quite accurately said he’d made a bad mistake and failed the city of Olive Hill and its people. However, that letter was never submitted to the city council.

Instead, Sparks officially resigned a few days later by submitting a brief, hand-written letter of resignation  that did not mention his arrest. Instead, it cited “present circumstances” and said resignation would be best for the city, the council and his family.

This case also points to the important role FADE plays in the effective enforcement of drug laws in this region. As mayor, Sparks would have not only known all the officers in the Olive Hill Police Department but would have technically been their “boss.”

 It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for local officers to investigate the allegations against Sparks. But by using officers and informants from other jurisdictions, a buyer was found for the pot Sparks was selling. That is unlikely to have happened without FADE.

The council appointed one of its members, Kenny Fankell, to serve the remainder of Sparks’ term, which expires in December 2014. From our vantage point, Fankell has done an excellent job during his first year as mayor under some extremely difficult circumstances. Serious financial woes have forced the city to increase tax just to pay its bills. Olive Hill’s serious financial problems remain the biggest issue facing the town. Danny Sparks’ tenure as mayor is now assigned to the history books.