Danville City Commission unanimously voted Monday to appeal an open meetings decision of the attorney general to Boyle County Circuit Court.
The attorney general’s office rendered 12-OMD-179 in favor of the Advocate-Messenger, agreeing with the newspaper’s assertion that Danville City Commission violated KRS 61.815(1)(c) in its purchase of the BISCO building. The decision said that commissioners did indeed take “final action on the purchase of real property in closed session” when July 23 they authorized city officials to select a bidder for an upcoming property auction.
Commissioners and City Attorney Stephen Dexter have all said they do not believe giving direction to city officials is the same thing as a vote. Each commissioner along with Dexter reiterated that position Monday.
“I’m young, but I’m not stupid,” Dexter said.
Commissioner Kevin Caudill said reaching a consensus “doesn’t mean you took a vote.”
Commissioner Gail Louis said she recently attended a training event with the Kentucky League of Cities and that city leaders such as those from Bowling Green had handled property acquisitions in exactly the same way as Danville officials.
Dexter told commissioners that if they did not appeal the decision by Oct. 28 then it becomes binding and a “guiding light for cities going forward.”
Louis, Dexter and Commissioner Ryan Montgomery all briefly discussed the potential ramifications for other cities in Kentucky if Danville does not appeal 12-OMD-179 to Boyle Circuit Court.
“If this is the law, my advice is that the city never again buy property via auction,” Dexter said.
The city attorney said he has spoken to attorneys and city officials from Bowling Green, Louisville and other cities that are concerned the attorney general’s “opinion” will have a significant impact on the ability for elected officials to give the city manager “direction” during executive sessions.
Dexter acknowledged that in the past, city officials have probably discussed matters in executive session that could have been publicly discussed. He told commissioners they would need to at least temporarily change how they conduct business in closed session.
“I don’t see a need to go into executive session over routine personnel matters,” Dexter said.
Commissioner J.H. Atkins said, “In two years we’ve probably been in executive session more than open session.” As Atkins made that statement, Mayor Bernie Hunstad shook his head in disagreement.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, resident Gordon Howe drew the mayor’s ire by asking Dexter and other city officials several questions about how they handled the purchase of the BISCO building. If commissioners did not take a vote during a July 23 executive session, then who authorized VIP Realty co-owner Nina Kirkland - also the boss of Hunstad’s wife Susan - to bid at the Aug. 10 auction, Howe asked.
“Was it osmosis or ESP?” Howe said. “Maybe she had a vision from the angel of maintenance buildings? Who’s kidding who here?”
Howe also asked if Dexter had been in discussions with officials from other jurisdictions about how they handled property purchases before the disputed executive session of July 23. The mayor interrupted.
“This isn’t an interrogation of the city attorney,” Hunstad said.
Howe said, “He’s part of the problem.”
“You’re not going to be allowed to interrogate the city attorney,” Hunstad said.
Howe said, “What is the truth?”
Soon after the mayor repeated his opinion that the public comments portion of the meeting is not for questioning city officials, Howe returned to his seat in the audience. A few minutes later, Howe asked to once again speak. Hunstad initially denied his request, stating there was a motion on the floor to close the meeting. Howe shouted from the audience, “Silence the people.” Hunstad agreed to let Howe return to the podium.
Howe asked Dexter what date city officials cut the down payment check for the BISCO purchase. Dexter said the check was cut on the day of the auction. The check, issued three days before commissioners voted in open session to approve the BISCO building purchase, was for the amount of $123,750, according to information obtained under an open records request.
The meeting closed without further discussion and there was no executive session.