(Published in the March 9, 2017 edition of the Community Voice. Online version updated.)
Mayor Curtis Hardwick is facing criminal charges that stem from a decision he made to charge Columbia’s gas customers a fee that was in violation of a city ordinance.
Mayor Hardwick has been indicted on one count of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, over $10,000, a felony, and one count of official misconduct, 1st degree, a misdemeanor.
An Adair County grand jury handed down the two indictments on Feb. 17 but they were sealed until the Columbia Police Department served them to the mayor on Monday.
Police Chief Jason Cross has led the investigation into the case and he and two officers presented the indictments to Hardwick around 1 p.m. Monday at city hall. They then escorted Hardwick to the Circuit Clerk’s office across the street, where Hardwick signed for a $10,000 unsecured bail.
Hardwick is scheduled for arraignment in Adair Circuit Court on March 28 at 1 p.m.
Hardwick said he would not comment on the case until he met with an attorney except to say that, “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I made a mistake. When I found out, I wanted the auditor to report it. We are paying it back. That’s all I know to do,” he said.
When asked if he would step down as mayor, Hardwick said, “Lord no; why would I?”
An indictment is a criminal charge but does not prove guilt, he noted.
When asked about the criminal investigation, Chief Cross said he spoke with the commonwealth’s attorney and the Attorney General’s office after Hardwick admitted to authorizing the charge and acknowledging he did not read the city ordinance. Cross said he heard from council members and citizens who were concerned and questioned the legality of Hardwick’s decision.
“Acting on behalf of the council and the citizens we felt that we should talk to the commonwealth’s attorney, and the commonwealth’s attorney felt that there were criminal elements there with him violating that ordinance. Especially since we are governed by ordinances.”
Cross said Hardwick had signed ordinances pertaining to the gas department before.
“He should have known the council has to raise rates or add rates on by ordinance. It couldn’t be done by one person,” Cross said.
Since the indictments were unsealed Monday, members of the City Council have been speaking with attorneys at the Kentucky League of Cities to better understand their responsibility given the situation.
The Community Voice contacted or left messages for all six council members. As of Thursday, Linda Waggener, Craig Dean and Pam Hoots had responded to calls.
Waggener said Tuesday the council is not ready to respond and does not know what to expect at this point. They are considering the need for a special called or emergency meeting, she said.
Dean agreed, saying they have looked to KLC to help them understand their responsibility and liability in the matter.
“We are making a lot of phone calls to determine what the correct course of action is,” he said.
All three members said a special called meeting may be in order, but they have not yet set one. The council has a special called meeting scheduled for today at 6 p.m. that was set when the regularly scheduled monthly meeting was postponed Monday night. The only thing on the agenda is approval of minutes. A special called meeting cannot deviate from the agenda.
By Sharon Burton
A complete timeline can be read at http://wp.me/p7LU0L-1PY