LANCASTER — Garrard County Fiscal Court voted 3-2 Tuesday to reject the first reading of a revised 2012-13 county budget, for the second time in less than a month citing concerns about the salary of Garrard County Economic Development Director Nathan Mick.
The revised budget presented Tuesday eliminated previously proposed 2 percent salary increases to county department heads and reduced the county’s funding for Mick’s position to $47,000, with an additional $10,000 to be contributed by Lancaster City Council and another $10,000 to be contributed by the Industrial Development Authority. This would bring Mick’s salary to $67,000 per a year, a slight decrease from his current annual salary of $68,500.
Magistrates Joe Leavell and Betty Holtzclaw voted “no.” Magistrate Fred Simpson initially voted “yes,” but as Leavell looked at him changed his vote to “no.” When questioned by Magistrate Ronnie Lane, Simpson denied that Leavell was influencing his vote and said that he simply misspoke.
Fiscal Court will try for the third time in its Monday meeting to pass the first reading of a 2012-13 budget. The first reading on May 14 failed when Leavell brought up concerns about Mick’s salary, which was to be fully funded by the county. At the time, Mick was running against Lancaster farmer Jonathan Shell for the Republican nomination for the 36th District state representative seat. Mick lost the election.
Garrard Judge-Executive John Wilson, who supervises Mick, had publicly endorsed Mick in the election. When Leavell, Simpson and Holtzclaw brought up their concerns with Mick’s salary right before the election, it was a “political assassination,” Wilson said.
Leavell and Simpson voted against the revised budget because they feel the IDA board rather than Wilson should supervise Mick. Both men declined to discuss for whom they voted during the primary election, but said they did not endorse either Shell or Mick because they feel public officials should not take political sides within their party.
Leavell admitted he had not read the budgets for previous fiscal years before voting “yes” because he trusted Wilson’s judgment. However, people kept asking Leavell how much Mick earned and he did not know the correct answer to the question. Also, he thought Mick’s position was partially or fully funded through state grants. Those grants never came to fruition and the economic development department is backed by the county general fund.
Wilson went through the 2012-13 budget line by line during a special three-hour meeting May 2. During that time, none of the magistrates questioned Mick’s salary or any other aspect of the budget, according to the minutes for that meeting.
“There were no issues raised between May 2 and May 14,” Wilson said. “On May 14, one week before the election we had the ‘May surprise.’ This is dirty.”
Another reason Leavell voted against the budget was because the $10,000 slated to come from Lancaster City Council is not definite. During City Council’s Monday meeting, Councilman Brandon McGlone raised concerns about the last minute addendum to its budget.
McGlone said during a telephone interview Tuesday that he simply wanted to have a conversation about why the city was getting involved in county business and was not getting any answers. McGlone is a friend of Mick’s and volunteered many hours during his campaign.
“For me, it’s totally not political,” McGlone said. “All I want is an honest and transparent conversation.”
Lancaster City Council is scheduled to have a second reading of the 2012-13 budget in a special meeting Tuesday, during which McGlone hopes to find out more information. He also wants people to discuss the economic development director position as a business item rather than using Mick’s name.
“Politics, business and friendships all need to be separated,” McGlone said.
Lane, who voted to approve Wilson’s proposed budget both times it came before the court, said after Tuesday’s meeting that separating the person from the position is difficult because Mick’s leadership has done so much good for the county. He believes Leavell's and Simpson’s actions are politically motivated.
“The idea that Mick’s work is not worth funding is a joke,” Lane said. “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”