, Corbin, KY

Local News

March 13, 2014

Interim mayor to be chosen in meeting

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

The second special-called meeting in a week has been announced by the Barbourville City Council for tonight, and the agenda lists a single task — choosing an interim mayor.

During the first special-called meeting Tuesday night, David Thompson was unanimously removed from his office by a unanimous voice vote of all six members of the city council — Darren West, Ronnie Moore, Sherman Lawson, Gary Williams, Wilma Barnes and Janet Hyde.

On that night, council members had planned to discuss and possibly vote on an interim mayor — but unanimously agreed to table the issue. Moore said that if the decision to oust Thompson “is going to be appealed we ought to wait before we appoint an interim mayor — I don’t think we need to do that tonight.”

And the city council’s decision will very likely be appealed, according to Thompson’s attorney, Billy J. Taylor.

The snowball of events began in January after an extensive state forensic audit of the city of Barbourville’s coffers revealed 28 critical findings, several of which allegedly involved the mayor and his wife, Wendy Thompson.

City Attorney Charley Green Dixon was tasked to review the 28 findings and implement the recommendations necessary to eliminate errors.

Then on Feb. 24, a public meeting was held to review the findings and explain what recommendations had been completed and what steps were being taken to correct the others. That meeting brought dozens of city residents who were concerned about the critical findings.

Less than two weeks later, Council members presented Thompson with a signed letter during the regular monthly meeting March 6 asking for his resignation — which Thompson did not do.

Council members were basing that decision on 11 of the state auditor’s 28 findings.

When Thompson did not resign, a special meeting was scheduled for Tuesday to discuss and vote him out.

However, before that meeting, Thompson’s attorney filed a civil action on his behalf against all six council members, charging them with two violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act — violations which allegedly occurred during the decision process to vote Thompson out of office.

Part of that civil action was to file a motion for an injunction to stop Tuesday night’s meeting, but Taylor said Wednesday, “I withdrew my motion for an injunction because (it) was only to prevent (Tuesday) night’s hearing — so it was basically a moot point to have (the motion hearing).”

He’s prepping for an appeal of city council’s decision.

“Resources and time were better spent working on gathering the research for the appeal,” he added.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor and Thompson sat at a table in front of council members, who elected to have London attorney Joe Childers represent and advise them.

The meeting ran for approximately an hour before council members elected to go into an executive session. (Editor’s note: See the Wednesday, March 12 edition of The Times-Tribune for part one of this story.)

Once the meeting reopened, Taylor called the one and only witness for the evening — council member Gary Williams.

During Taylor’s questioning, he began to ask the seven-year council member inquiries concerning the city’s community service workers. The finding alleged that hours were “grossly overstated” and that several of those 25 workers were using Thompson’s wife’s day care — allowing for her to receive nearly $7,500 in state funds in the month of August 2013 alone.

However, before Taylor could ask Williams anything, Childers stopped him and said he could not go into that line of questioning.

“What can I go into?” Taylor asked.

Then he turned to Williams and asked whether he had seen any of the community service workers completing projects in other parts of the city.

“I stand behind the audit report,” Williams said.

Taylor asked whether Williams knew that concerning the community service workers or “is that what the audit determined?”

Williams didn’t know.

“How can you charge (Thompson) with something you’re not even aware of,” Taylor asked.

“I stand by what the audit says,” Williams said.

“He was charged (based on) the audit,” Childers added.

Barnes then spoke.

“This is not personal — it’s not personal,” she said.

Taylor said he was speaking to Williams — to which Childers replied “they can say what they want to — it’s an open meeting.”

It was then decided that Taylor’s questions were irrelevant, and it was sustained by Childers.

“The hearing officer?” Taylor said when Childers, who was the elected officer of the hearing, made the decision that Taylor’s questions were “irrelevant.”

The next finding discussed during this line of questioning of Williams concerned the possible conflict of interest concerning Thompson’s membership on the recreation and tourism boards — which is illegal while he was a seated mayor, according to Kentucky Revised Statutes.

It was learned that Williams had not attended a recreation board meeting while in office. Taylor then pointed out the tourism board’s own bylaws — and had Williams read one in particular, which names the mayor as an “ex-officio,” non-voting member of that board.

That was then entered into the record as evidence for Thompson’s defense.

“(Do you think) Thompson knew it was a violation,” Taylor asked Williams.

“I think he should have,” the council member answered.

“But you didn’t know either,” Taylor replied.

“We’re not over the tourism commission,” Williams fired back.

Taylor then asked Williams to read a portion of the recreation board minutes from the April 2007 meeting, where apparently John David King presented the agreement concerning Thompson’s wife overseeing the water park  and board members unanimously approved the action.

Further evidence presented by Taylor Tuesday came from a meeting held March 9, 2009, which again discussed the management of the city’s parks. It was learned John Knox Mills was part of the board to approve that move to hire Wendy Thompson again, and then-city attorney Ken Boggs reviewed the contract and opined it was a legal agreement.

Taylor asked whether that agreement seemed legally sufficient, to which Williams said he thought so.

“Do you fault the mayor for going on that legal advice,” Taylor asked, and received a “no” response.

Williams then interjected.

“In my opinion, it looks like you’ve done quite a bit of work,” he said, reminding that Taylor had asked for a continuance because he had only 48 hours to prepare. That continuance was voted down by council Tuesday.

After Williams’ comment, audience member erupted in applause.

“You can do a lot in a couple days,” Taylor said.

“That’s what we thought,” Williams replied.

Taylor then returned to the question concerning the March 9, 2009 recreation board meeting — it was learned that member Andre Collins had motioned during that meeting to have the mayor’s wife oversee the parks, and that was seconded by Mills.

Taylor asked Williams whether he knew if that had been done in 2010, 2011 or in 2012.

Williams didn’t know.

Taylor asked whether the agreement with Wendy Thompson was acceptable for the 2012 season.

“It’s not my job to investigate,” Williams said. “I stand behind (the) city audit — it’s not my job to collect evidence.”

Taylor then questioned whether the decision to remove Thompson as mayor was “solely” due to the findings in the state audit, which he said “are based entirely on an auditor’s opinion.”

“The charges speak for themselves,” Childers said.

Barnes agreed.

“The audit speaks for itself,” she said, adding that the results were not misleading. “Who else would there be (to find) that wrong things were done — why (wouldn’t we be able to) take what the auditor says as gospel?”

West pointed out that the auditor’s recommendations were in the process of correction, but that those findings are what council members determined was grounds to remove David Thompson as the city’s mayor.

Williams finished, quoting Edelen’s press release.

“I hope the Barbourville City Council will implement the recommendations in the report and restore taxpayers’ trust,” Williams read, then added. “There’s one way to do that.”

That’s when some city residents stood to speak.

The first man to question the council was Sylvester Dunn, and he asked whether the recommendations undertaken by Dixon had already been discussed and changes made. “That’s supposed to have been corrected and you’re supposed to vote on that, right?” he asked.

Then another resident, Jeree Koehler, defended council members.

“They’re here to represent us (and they) do the best job with minimal pay,” she said. “I resent the fact that some people are being picked on — right’s right and wrong’s wrong.”

Barnes responded.

“The mayor is supposed to be our leader…and if he did not study or open a book (about) what’s nepotism and what’s not nepotism….” she said. “He was our leader.”

Lawson added that the mayor is the “executive officer of the city.”

“He should’ve known what needed to be done,” he said. “That was not presented to us.”

Another resident, who handed out gravel rocks to several audience members when they arrived, discussed to the council members the Biblical reference concerning those without sin cast the first stone. “(They’ve) lost their opportunity to witness to David (Thompson),” the resident added.

“Jesus also said to follow the laws of the land,” a female audience member blurted out.

Barnes again spoke.

“We’re not accusing the mayor of sin,” she said. “(But) we want to be able to walk up and down the street — we shouldn’t be afraid to live in the city.

“It’s nothing personal against him (David Thompson) — but he made mistakes,” Barnes continued. “And he needs to be man enough to stand up (and admit his mistakes) — (not) put it all back on us. Nobody wants to be mean to David — he’s a good person.”

Resident Leonard Lester then spoke, saying there’s “little” city council members can do about the issues, but he “encourages them to do all they can.”

“The audit showed great dangers to the community,” Lester said. “(We need to) remove that danger from continuing.”

He added that the other investigating agencies — the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the state attorney general’s office and the Cumberland Valley Regional Ethics Board — can do their investigations, but “they have not stepped forward and done anything yet.”

“The city council has said if those investigating go on and (have) trials and so forth, (then it) is their responsibility to protect the city for these next nine months (from) what they perceive to be a danger to the city,” Lester added. “This council has a responsibility to protect the city, but we need to put in place the things to be safe as possible in the interim.”

Prior to members of the public speaking, Taylor put forth a motion for a stipulation that all the charges made against Thompson were based on those findings contained in the audit report.

Taylor said “there was no sense questioning” council members if none of them had other evidence other than the audit with which to vote Thompson from office.

Moore motioned to approve the stipulation, with a second from Williams — that vote was unanimous.

It was then discussed that in order for the mayor to be removed, all six council members must be in agreement. Any appeal of the process would end up in the circuit court of the county — in this case, Knox County Circuit Court.

“The council here — it seems to be — no one wanted me here,” Taylor said. “No one wanted to defend Mayor Thompson — he is an elected official as the mayor of the city of Barbourville.”

He noted that council members planned to base their decision to remove Thompson on the state auditor’s “opinion” of the finances of the city.

“There was no fact (presented) here or in any audit,” Taylor said.

He told council members to remember that being elected to their respective offices means something to them — just as it does to Thompson.

He also reminded council members they tasked Dixon to review and implement the audit’s recommendations within 30 days of the audit’s release, adding that most forensic audits “are going to find issues everywhere.”

“Did he make mistakes? Absolutely,” Taylor told council members. “But you all are the judge, jury and executioner.”

He added the point that two of the present council members have been so since Thompson’s election to the mayor’s seat. “I would take into consideration that two council members were here when this went on,” Taylor said. “We can all as elected officials share in the responsibility — (but) your position is different.

“It does’t sound like the council had…authorization to duty for their seat,” Taylor continued. “We have a mayor — and we have a scapegoat.”

He said he knew the hearing was over when the meeting began at 6 p.m.

“When I walked though that door and took the case I was beaten before I ever came in,” he added. “We’re guilty until proven innocent — obviously there’s a problem with that.”

He further added the issue may be something for circuit court to review. “But I don’t want to do that,” he said, and renewed his motion to continue the meeting until after the now-withdrawn motion for injunction was decided.

That didn’t happen.

Taylor told council members that the circuit court would be the “independent finder of fact” and determine whether the procedure to remove Thompson “was done correctly.”

He reiterated his point that council members never presented facts, but only the evidence of the audit report and press release. “I’ll get a fair shake over (in circuit court),” Taylor said.

“No one said anything about you being (Thompson’s) counsel,” Barnes said. “(We did) not have time to get out and investigate — it’s done been done and over with.”

She reiterated her point that council members should be able to take the word of the state auditor.

“That’s right, that’s right,” Moore agreed.

At that point Thompson was given an opportunity to defend himself, but opted to not speak.

“We’re the people owed the explanation,” one female audience member blurted out. “If I were the mayor I’d defend myself.”

Council members then unanimously voted to remove the mayor from office.

Tonight’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be at city hall. Council members are expected to call the meeting, have a roll call, vote on the interim mayor and finally, adjourn, according to the agenda.

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