HAZARD — The Perry County Fiscal Court’s monthly meeting was held on March 15. Judge Executive Scott Alexander was present along with all three magistrates; Magistrate District 1 Keith Miller, Magistrate District 2 Ronald Combs and Magistrate District 3 Kenny Cole. Perry County Attorney John Carl Shackelford was also at the meeting, as is customary. Several citizens were in attendance. In fact, all of the seats were filled and some of the attendees had to stand along the walls.
Among the positive reports delivered at the Fiscal Court meeting was Beth Caudill’s monthly review of the Senior Citizens Center, which will be raising funds through rental of the building for events and the upcoming Radio Auction on WSGS. Deputy Tony Eversole delivered the Sheriff’s Report, which was favorable for the Perry County Police Department. Don Howard presented a good report for work at the 9-11 Center, and Benny Hamilton outlined current grants the county is seeking for various projects, which include county cleanup efforts and upgrades to the Perry County Park. The Fiscal Court voted unanimously to approve these reports.
The president of Kentucky Power, Greg Pauley, addressed the Fiscal Court with a power-point presentation, which explained the $81,000 grant Kentucky Power awarded the City of Hazard and the Perry County Economic Development Board earlier that morning. City Manager Grady Varney accepted a check for $56,000 from Kentucky Power for upgrades to the sewer system at the Coalfields Industrial Park. Representatives of the Economic Development Committee also received a check for $25,000 that will fund initiatives to help create jobs in Perry County.
After Greg Pauley’s presentation, the Fiscal Court voted on whether or not to pay the monthly bills. Magistrate Keith Miller immediately objected to the payment of five bills on the docket. Judge Alexander asked for a motion to approve the bills, at which time the County Attorney pointed out that Keith Miller had objected to five bills on the list and therefore no motion could be made until Miller clarified the specific bills he opposed.
Miller questioned the county’s hiring of an attorney. He also claimed that one of the bills from Hinkle Construction had already been voted on and paid at a previous Fiscal Court meeting and the same bill was once again appearing in the packet to be paid.
“I don’t remember what month it was we voted,” Miller said, “But the $39,020, that’s the exact same job. It’s on there twice. It’s the same drilling, and we only done one Beech Thicket job. Do you see it? It’s the exact same invoice; same amount of drilling.”
“That’s a FEMA,” Judge Alexander said, “I’d say they just listed it twice.”
The job in question was for construction work done to a bridge in an area that qualified for FEMA assistance as a result of the 2015 emergency declarations in Perry County. Since the bill had already been voted on and paid, Miller was concerned that voting yes to all of the bills would result in that particular bill getting paid twice. Miller also raised concerns about having proper inspectors on site at bridge construction sites to make sure all construction is up to regulations. The Magistrate voiced his opposition to cutting the salaries of county employees as a method of relieving budget strains.
“The reason I am putting this in the minutes is because, down the line here, we’re fixing to vote to cut somebody’s pay two dollars,” Miller said, “If we’re having a money problem, you know, I’m not going to cut somebody’s pay two dollars. If it’s a money issue, we need to cut other places besides somebody’s pay.”
“We’ve cut a lot of places,” Alexander responded.
The bills were tabled, for the time being, with no vote.
A resolution to begin work on the Fort Branch Waterline Extension Project was read to the Fiscal Court. The Fiscal Court unanimously approved the resolution, as well as the contract with the engineer for the project, which will open the door for work on waterlines in the Fort Branch community to begin.
A declaration of emergency for Jent Mountain Road was also discussed. The emergency declaration coincides with state inspections of the areas that reported damage in Perry County as the result of natural disasters, mostly associated with the flooding of 2015.
“I think to this date in every district; I don’t know for sure, but I’d say we’ve done over a million dollars-worth of projects, for the first time ever,” Judge Alexander said in regards to the state funded emergency work, “This project has never been used in the past. So I just want to make that clear.”
During the Fiscal Court’s approval for the hiring of part time and seasonal staff, the job status of an employee at the County Garage was mentioned again by Keith Miller. Judge Alexander informed Miller that, because of budget issues, the employee would be moved out of the County Garage and his pay would drop two dollars an hour. Miller debated that the employee should keep his current job and salary, with budget cuts coming elsewhere.
After discussion among the three magistrates about the many needs each of them have for road projects in their districts, all three magistrates came into agreement and voted to keep the employee at the county garage at the same salary, contrary to what had been originally proposed.
After all business on the agenda had been covered, the floor was open for the public to speak. There was discussion about using one of the baseball fields at the Perry County Park for a softball league. Eddie Campbell stood before motions could be made to adjourn the meeting.
“I’d like to speak here before we make our departure,” Campbell said, “I was in the process of offering you guys some information that I think even you are aware is important to all of us. We have a few individuals here who pay a lot in taxes. We all pay taxes. The gentleman who was here earlier made a good point. He touched on two points; help and accountability. And he talked about how badly we need help, and we better than him are aware of just how badly we need help. We need to help ourselves. It’s hard for us to make the point for somebody else to help us if we can’t help ourselves. In his same speech, he mentioned accountability. Each of us has that responsibility to hold you guys accountable. I was very disappointed last month when you adjourned the meeting, when you knew we had some pretty high impact information that you needed to hear. Mr. Combs, I am disappointed in you for seconding the adjournment of the meeting. We all have a job to do here, and the biggest job among the five of you is to keep each other honest. It’s our job to keep you honest too, if you aren’t going to do it. Now, let’s get into this. The money that you guys have paid…”
“Let me clarify,” Alexander interrupted, “all of this information, he comes here and gets. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
“I got into a point with the money you were spending with the contractor, Mr. Brashear. We talked about that last time. You were paying $1,600 a week for contract work to replace employees who were relieved of their duties at $15 an hour. Then we got into the subject of you contracting Mr. Gibson, putting in 15 window unit air conditioners at $28,159. I talked to the top inspector in the state and he said, Eddie, window units, that’s anybody’s prerogative. I have no control over certification as to who can install window units. Point being, though, there is an issue with the fact that he was paid $29,159 to do those installs, when, as far as I can find in the records, none of you guys had any voice or any input or approval or any discussion of that deal before it was done. It’s your responsibility to not do that job until these guys approve it. You spent four years in Frankfort. You understand lawmaking.”
“Yes, I do,” Alexander responded, “and I don’t agree with what you’re saying but I’ll give you five minutes.”
Campbell highlighted laws pertaining to business relationships the Fiscal Court pursues. Campbell alleged that some of the court’s business partners were not in accordance with state laws.
“This money is not to be played with,” Campbell said.
“I agree, but that’s been eight minutes,” Alexander said, “I’m going to see if these other people have something to say.”
Two gentlemen sitting in the back of the courtroom stood when Alexander called upon them. Both men stated that they were willing to give their speaking time to Eddie Campbell.
“I pay about $300 thousand dollars a year in taxes,” said Glenn Baker, one of the gentlemen the judge called on to speak, “And from this stuff he’s telling me, we’ve got a right to come in here and have conferences with you guys.”
“You do, but this ain’t an open debate. This ain’t a town hall meeting. It’s a Fiscal Court meeting,” Alexander said.
“We definitely want to meet with you and talk with you, and there will be several of us,” said Baker, “It won’t be just five, and we’re going to tell you what all you are doing wrong. And we’re going to straighten it out, and we want you to know that. And this man, he deserves more time. There will be more speakers next time”
“That’s fine,” Alexander said.
“Why will you not listen?” Campbell asked the judge.
“This is not a stage,” Alexander said, “I make a motion that we adjourn.”
Campbell approached the bench, pointing at Alexander, and continuing to argue for the judge to listen to what he had to say.
“I promise you this is going to change, and we will start with those illegal road funds,” Campbell said, standing directly in front of the judge’s bench.
Judge Alexander urged the magistrates to adjourn the meeting and he left the courtroom. After Judge Alexander left, the magistrates made the proper motions to adjourn the meeting.
The Hazard Herald will have an update on actions taken and allegations made at the Fiscal Court meeting.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.