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March 12, 2014

B'ville mayor ousted

Council members unanimously vote to remove Thompson from office

BARBOURVILLE — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

David Thompson no longer holds the title "Mayor of the city of Barbourville" — that stopped Tuesday night at the conclusion of a special-called meeting of the Barbourville City Council when council members unanimously voted to oust him from office.

But those in attendance learned that could be a short-lived decision.

Council members did list a possible vote on an interim mayor on their agenda, but that decision was tabled.

After the vote to remove Thompson from office was cast and the meeting ended, the city council's attorney, Joe Childers, made a short statement.

"I think the council spoke for itself," he said. "(The actions) tonight are in the best actions of the city."

Tuesday's action came after an audit report released from State Auditor Adam Edelen's office in January listed 28 critical findings, some of which found problems with certain decisions made by Thompson as mayor while his wife managed the city's water park from 2007 through 2013.

During the course of Tuesday's meeting, the mayor was given the opportunity to defend himself against the charges levied against him by council.

"(We) gave the mayor the opportunity (to defend himself)," Childers added. "He refused to — and I think that speaks volumes."

Thompson's attorney, Billy Taylor, said he expected Tuesday's results. "I was not shocked," he said. "The council members were the judge, jury and executioner."

Taylor added the issue would be taken to an "independent" arena for a decision — the Knox County Courthouse.

"I look forward to this process," Taylor added. "(Council members) have based their entire claim on an opinion from the state auditor's office (and had) nothing to offer as evidence other that the state audit — I look forward to the appeal process."

During the regular monthly meeting March 6, Thompson was handed a letter signed by all six council members asking for his resignation — based on 11 of the 28 findings in the state audit.

More than 75 people packed the city hall meeting room Tuesday — it was standing-room only — and all of them kept their eyes glued to the night's actions.

The business of the meeting opened with Thompson sitting at a table before the council members with his attorney, Billy J. Taylor.

All six council members — Darren West, Ronnie Moore, Sherman Lawson, Gary Williams, Wilma Barnes and Janet Hyde — were seated with who eventually became the council's attorney, Joe Childers.

The first action by council members was to unanimously approve Lawson to "officiate" the meeting — West made that motion and it was followed with a second from Moore.

Then Taylor spoke, telling council members he had "a motion regarding that."

He then expressed concern that council was seated with an attorney from London, and asked whether Childers' services had been agreed upon prior to Tuesday's meeting.

But his chance to speak was postponed — the third listing on the agenda concerned a discussion and vote to retain Childers as the council's attorney "to advise council."

Council members then unanimously agreed to do just that, with Williams making the motion and Barnes offering the second.

Each member then signed the paperwork to complete that action.

Taylor then presented his motion, which he said he filed Tuesday afternoon.

He explained an injunction hearing was slated for today, Wednesday morning, in Knox County Circuit Court "to stop this meeting" prior to Judge Tom Jensen's decision on the motion.

"I'm asking council to continue tonight's meeting (to see how the hearing) plays out prior to having this meeting," Taylor said.

"Council will be present," Childers assured. "(But) my understanding is that council wishes to pursue (with the meeting)."

Lawson referred the request of continuing the meeting to Childers.

Childers explained that all six council members received a letter Monday on behalf of Thompson and his attorney — which was notice of Taylor filing a civil action against council members concerning alleged violations of Kentucky's Open Meetings Act. (Editor's note: See the Tuesday, March 11 edition of The Times-Tribune for that story.)

He then read that letter, from Taylor, which discusses the two allegations of Open Meetings Act violations reportedly conducted by all six council members in relation to voting the mayor from his seat Tuesday.

After some discussion of the specific KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes) laws from Childers — KRS 61.846 and KRS 61.805-61.850 centering on the Open Meetings Act — Childers stated the council's opinion.

"'It is the position of council that (there has been) no violation of the Open Meetings Act," Childers said, adding that since the allegations surfaced, council members wanted to have the public session to address them.

Council members were then tasked to formally charge Thompson with the findings uncovered by the state forensic audit.

"I formally charge (Thompson) with violations of the state law and city ordinances (based on) the findings of the state audit," West said, listing the specific numbers of the findings Thompson was charged with — 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19 and 22 — and adding those violations showed misconduct and a conflict of interest.

West then motioned to officially charge Thompson, and Williams seconded the motion. A unanimous approval soon followed.

Taylor then requested a formal charging document for the record, but Childers said the charges levied were the same as what was in the letter given to Thompson March 6.

"That satisfies due process?" Taylor asked, to which Childers replied "yes."

Then Taylor said it "was a matter for the court to decide."

Then for the record, Childers read the letter given to Thompson during the March 6 meeting, which detailed some of the audit findings.

Council members then voted to enter into an executive session. West made the motion with a second from Barnes. Taylor noted that Thompson would waive his right to privacy concerning his removal.

And at 6:57, Childers announced council members were adjourning into the executive session "to confer with my clients."

At 7:21, council members returned from the back room, and one minute later they opened the meeting, with Lawson telling the audience that no official action was taken during the executive session.

Taylor soon began his discussion explaining his need for a continuance of this meeting and decision — on the basis Taylor had only 48 hours to prepare.

He told council members there was no time for any open records requests, or to talk with witnesses or to even subpoena any.

"(There was) insufficient time," Taylor said. "It appears council does not like (Thompson), but he still has rights — like you and me and these people (in the audience) have rights.

"(And) he had the right to remain in office," he added.

Taylor said that 48 hours was not enough time for due process as provided through both the United States Constitution and the state's constitution.

"This has been a railroad from beginning to end," he said. "I haven't had any opportunity to defend his actions or successfully prepare for this."

But Childers disagreed.

He explained the mayor had five days from the March 6 meeting to prepare. Childers further explained the mayor knew of the findings in January and again heard the findings during a special-called meeting Feb. 24.

"(There was) adequate opportunity," Childers said. "The charges were (specified) in the findings of the audit — (that's) over two months' notice."

Taylor returned with that yes, the audit was done in January — but the issue of removing the mayor had not surfaced until the March 6 meeting.

"He was sure shocked Thursday when he got charged," Taylor said, and then asked council members "to please consider the motion" to continue the meeting. "It's clearly an appealable action, but I don't want to waste time or money — the case law and rules are clear."

West motioned to deny the continuance, with a second from Williams — and with a unanimous vote Taylor's motion failed.

Taylor then called his first and only witness of the night — Council member Gary Williams.

Williams has been in his council seat for seven years, he said.

Taylor asked how much time Williams spent personally investigating any of the audit's findings, to which he answered "very little."

Taylor then began to ask a question concerning whether Williams was "comfortable" in seeking Thompson's removal from office — but Childers denied that type of questioning be conducted, saying this meeting was to discuss only the charges against the mayor.

Taylor then asked Williams about the second state audit finding which alleged recurring payments from the general and recreation funds were made to a general contractor, a plumber and an electrician for work that could have been performed for less cost by street department employees.

He asked Williams who oversees the city's general fund, which Williams said he guessed it was the city clerk.

"(So in) 2007-2008 you were a city council member at the time and let this issue go on," Taylor said, but was again stopped by Childers with a request to stick with the specified allegations.

"We're not getting into whether the city council knew or didn't know at the time (whether Thompson's alleged violations had happened)," Childers said, adding if Taylor couldn't just focus on the findings against the mayor, "We're going to stop this right here."

"We didn't know anything about it," Williams said. "We didn't even know they were doing the work — how were we to know about the checks?"

Several other issues were discussed at Tuesday's two-hour and 15-minute meeting, but due to press time, please see the Thursday, March 13 edition of The Times-Tribune.

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