Update on accusations

Courtesy photo Perry County Courthouse.

HAZARD — An article detailing the March Perry County Fiscal Court meeting was published in the March 22 edition of the Hazard Herald with an assurance to the newspaper’s readers of an update on issues that were discussed during the meeting, which ended abruptly after a debate escalated between members of the public and Judge Alexander. Among the activities brought into question were contracts for services provided by the county government, the termination of a county employee at the beginning of Alexander’s administration, which has led to a wrongful termination lawsuit that is still pending in court and road projects commissioned by the county government. With the next regularly scheduled Fiscal Court meeting set for April 19 at 10 a.m., the Hazard Herald is releasing this update now, so as to help answer questions and possibly prevent further confusion that could lead to disorder or hasty adjournment at next week’s public Fiscal Court meeting.

In terms of road projects, the Hazard Herald’s responsibility to the public was pushed further into urgency by an anonymous source. In March, a source with the courthouse delivered documents to the Hazard Herald, which outline work the county government has funded over the past year with money FEMA awarded to Perry County as a result of the natural disasters that occurred in 2015. The source asked to remain anonymous prior to delivery of the documents and expressed concern for a few of the projects because, according to allegations from the source, the land is privately owned and possibly not directly damaged by the natural disasters that led to Perry County’s declaration of emergency.

Among the projects that were highlighted as questionable on the documents is a driveway branching off of Creekside Bend in the Grapevine community. This piece of road received a new coating of blacktop. Another privately owned driveway in the Lower 2nd Creek community received a drainpipe, which acts as a culvert. Work done to Willies Way in Hazard was also brought into question. Willies Way is a public road. The section of Wllies Way where the government laid fresh asphalt runs on a stretch of road where several businesses are located, one of which is East Kentucky Hose and Supply, a business owned by Judge Executive Scott Alexander. Beech Thicket is another public road that was highlighted because the source believes proper materials might not have been used for the job.

Since the March Fiscal Court meeting, the Hazard Herald has investigated these accusations in an effort to either expose corruption or clear the names of all appropriate parties. Each of the projects that the source brought into question are listed on public record in the courthouse as being paid for with FEMA funds. The Hazard Herald spoke with Perry County Emergency Management Director, Jerry Stacy, about the projects brought into question.

In reference to Creekside Bend, the courthouse has documentation showing correspondence with officials. According to the correspondence, the property at Creekside Bend was blacktopped by mistake. A miscalculation in coordinates is blamed for the mistake. Apparently, FEMA has excused the error based on the reason given by the courthouse. With the property at Lower 2nd Creek, according to Stacy, the job was ordered to be done by Judge Alexander and was turned in to FEMA as part of the projects to be covered under the emergency declaration. According to Stacy’s statement, the work was done as the result of a slip, and is not illegal because the private property repaired threatened to damage a public road. The Lower 2nd Creek job had already been finished at the time of FEMA’s visit to help inspect damaged territory, according to Stacy. If such is the case, the slip in question was not seen beforehand by FEMA officials, but was, instead, approved to be turned in thereafter. The explanation given for Willies Way is that this project involves public property with several different businesses located on the road. According to assessments given by the county about the property, the ditch along Willies Way filled with water during last year’s flooding, which damaged the blacktop along the approximately 170-foot stretch of road, on which East Kentucky Hose and Supply and about 10 other businesses are located, therefore FEMA made the decision that the road should be fixed as part of the emergency declaration. To sum it up briefly, all of these projects were compiled by the county and turned in to FEMA. As a result, FEMA considered the property part of the county’s damage assessment plan and allocated funds to pay for the repairs, as is standard procedure when local governments call on the federal government for assistance that is needed as quickly as possible.

The issues presented by the source and the members of the public, who raised questions at the March Fiscal Court meeting, is whether or not the process was handled not only legally but also ethically. The Hazard Herald reached out to FEMA regarding these claims and a spokesperson for FEMA gave this statement.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. FEMA funded the three projects you asked about under our Public Assistance grant program for repairs to roads and bridges. FEMA provided funding to the Commonwealth through the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management in late 2015 for these projects.

FEMA takes all allegations of fraud seriously and is committed to ensuring that taxpayer dollars go only toward projects that are eligible for Public Assistance funding. We will be reviewing this matter carefully and will take appropriate action if fraud, waste or abuse is evident.”

Road work was not the only issue discussed with the public at the Feb. and March Fiscal Court meetings. The following includes research that has already been conducted and previously published by the Hazard Herald.

Complaints in the Feb. and March meetings were delivered pertaining to what is commonly known as “the bid law.” The bid law brought into question is KRS 424.260, and the law states that local government must place all county commissioned jobs that equal a payment of $20,000 or more up for bids with the public, with certain exceptions granted; exceptions which would not apply to the contracts in question, according to the allegations. As laid out by KRS 424.260, all bids for such jobs must be properly advertised to the public, with any qualified entity able to join the bidding and whichever qualified entity bids the least amount of cost to do a job for local government wins the contract. This law exists to prevent local government from simply handing out high paying contracts to close connections.

During Fiscal Court meetings in Feb. and March, accusations were brought forth of Judge Alexander handing out numerous high paying contracts, with no bids opened for the jobs, which would constitute a violation of Kentucky’s bid laws. One of the highlighted contracts was granted in the summer of 2015 for the installation of 15 window unit air conditioners in the Perry County Courthouse. According to Fiscal Court records, obtained by the Hazard Herald, the payout for this job equaled $28,399, but evidence of a bid placed with the public for the job was not present in minutes from the Perry County Fiscal Court meetings through June 16 of 2015, which is the date records show the payment for the job was made.

Between January of 2015 and November of 2015, public records show that the Perry County Fiscal Court paid an overall total of $100,935.11 to the same contractor, who performed the window unit air conditioner installations, for various jobs, including projects at the courthouse and in the Perry County Park.

Another item of concern includes contracting by the Perry County Fiscal Court for a job which revolves around the termination of a courthouse employee that Judge Alexander has had to address in a wrongful termination lawsuit still pending in court. Judge Alexander has given a dissertation in this case and the court case will resume later this year in Federal Court. A judgment has not yet been handed down.

According to allegations, a contracted employee was commissioned to replace the employee whose position was terminated at a higher rate of cost to taxpayers than what the Fiscal Court was originally paying the employee, who was let go. Public records obtained by the Hazard Herald show that a total of $91,280.89 was made by the Fiscal Court to the contractor in question through November of 2015. This total was not delivered in a lump sum, but rather spread out into multiple payments with the two largest single payments coming on the date of June 16, 2015. On that date, the contractor received a payment of $11,276 and a payment of $10,598 for a combined total of $21,874. There is no specification in the public records obtained by the Hazard Herald as to the type of work the money was allocated to perform.

The Hazard Herald reached out to Judge Alexander for comments back when these allegations were first made. Alexander reiterated the statements he has made during the Fiscal Court meetings that he has operated legally. Judge Alexander’s comment that all of the information that has been used to bring forth these allegations is on public record at the courthouse for anyone to view is also true. It is from the public records at the courthouse that the Hazard Herald has found all of the information used to structure this update.

Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.

Courtesy photo Perry County Courthouse.
http://hazard-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_Courthouse1_cmyk-1.jpgCourtesy photo Perry County Courthouse.
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