Magistrates received a letter in their mailboxes at the county office on Tuesday that sets new rules for fiscal court meetings – the only problem is, the rules are illegal.
County Judge Executive Larry Russell Bryant wrote that beginning April 25, “our agenda will be straight forward with a motion and a second if there is no motion it will die for lack of a motion. If there is any discussion about the agenda items it needs to be done in my office before the meeting since there will be no floor for discussion from now on.”
The Community Voice has reached out to the law firm of Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP, whose attorneys are experts in Kentucky’s open meetings and open records laws. A telephonic meeting is scheduled with attorney Michael Abate for in the morning, but Abate has already made it clear that the letter “puts in writing his plans to violate the OMA (Open Meetings Act.)”
Kentucky open meetings law are very specific that elected officials may not conduct business outside of public meetings. There are some topics that can be taken to closed session, but in general, the law says all meetings of any members of any public agency where public business is discussed shall be public meetings. That includes when there is less than a quorum when a meeting is held for the purpose of avoiding the requirements of a public meeting.
Bryant’s letter goes on to say that he will “start the countdown of laying off county employees.” Bryant and magistrates have been very verbal about their disagreement of establishing a 1 percent occupational tax. Bryant proposed the tax during a fiscal court meeting and all magistrates but Terry Hadley voted no. Some magistrates have apparently offered a counter-proposal, however, but Bryant is opposed to a plan that includes an increase in property tax and a smaller occupational tax instead of a 1 percent occupational tax.
Regardless of the debate for a new tax, the county’s budget is currently balanced and Bryant did not report in his letter why he believes the county needs to begin laying off employees. Bryant can lay off employees but must follow the county’s policy and procedures, which requires him to allow the county 30 days to respond to his plan.
Magistrate Daryl Flatt shared the letter on Facebook this afternoon with the following statement: I don’t normally post issues on social media but I felt that the public needed to see this. Earlier today I received a phone call from another magistrate and said that I needed to check my mailbox at the judges office and this was in it. Anyone that has kept up with the meetings would know that they have been heated. I would like to make it clear that the county does not need to lay-off workers and we are paying our bills. I think the community doesn’t need to be kept in the dark on issues and this is not acting like a democracy. This is ridiculous.”
The Community Voice will follow this story and attempt to interview Bryant and magistrates as well as address the legal questions the letter raises.
By Sharon Burton