HUSTONVILLE — Hustonville City Council went into an executive session in apparent violation of open meetings law Tuesday night, before declaring an emergency in order to pass an ordinance giving three employees a 2.5-percent raise.
Toward the end of the city council's meeting, Mayor Marc Spivey said the city council would next be looking at employee raises for the coming year and the city council voted to go into executive session.
When asked what legal reason the city had for the executive session, City Attorney Carol Hill confirmed it was the personnel exemption laid out by state open meetings law.
State law requires governmental agencies like city councils to meet in public, except for specific exemptions, including "discussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an individual employee, member or student."
The exemption for discussing personnel goes on to read, "This exception shall not be interpreted to permit discussion of general personnel matters in secret."
When Hustonville City Council emerged from executive session, it voted unanimously by a roll-call vote to pass the first reading of an ordinance giving 2.5-percent raises to all city employees who had been employed by the city for more than five years.
Spivey said the employees receiving raises are City Clerk Rita Clem, water department employee Floyd Southerland and Hustonville Police Chief Fred McCoy.
On the advice of Hill, the city council then voted to declare an emergency and passed a second reading of the ordinance in order to make the raises take effect immediately.
When asked after the meeting had adjourned if the council had gone into executive session to discuss the 2.5-percent raise, Spivey said "yes," before Hill cut him off and told him anything that happens in an executive session is confidential and he "cannot talk about it."
Kentucky Press Association freedom of information attorney Jeremy Rogers said while the city council followed the correct procedures for entering into an executive session, the council appears to have violated open meetings law by going into an executive session for discussions that should have been open to the public.
"They're just flat wrong," Rogers said. "(The personnel exemption) is only supposed to be invoked for discussions or hearings that might lead to the appointment, discipline or dismissal of individuals."
Rogers also said he knows of no law that would prohibit a mayor or member of a city council from discussing what happened in an executive session.
A city attorney might advise against discussing the proceedings of an executive session, but it would seem no one is legally required to keep those proceedings secret, he said.