Council squabbles over pavilion, ‘transparency’ issues
Versailles City Council Member Laura Dake Tuesday said only one of the meetings of the committee charged with planning a downtown pavilion had been properly posted and the council needed to be more transparent overall.
Her name with the subject line “Transparency Issues” was on the council’s agenda, and before she spoke, Council Member Owen Roberts asked her to speak from the podium, rather from her seat at the council table. The Sun has no record of other council members being asked to speak from the podium since at least April of 2014. Mayor Brian Traugott said Dake could speak from her seat, which she did.
Dake cited a Aug. 16 article in the Sun about a special meeting two days before in which the council voted 5 to 0 to undo a unanimous July 17 vote to pay two Lexington firms a total of $24,500 to serve as the design team for the proposed downtown pavilion and marketplace.
She said what she read in the article was only a slice in the story, which featured remarks from Pavilion Committee Chair Ann Miller acknowledging that the committee didn’t formally vote on the deal before the council approved it. The article also quoted Mayor Brian Traugott terming the mistake an “inadvertent lack of posting of a meeting.”
“The complete story is that none of the meetings were posted for the Pavilion Committee, except one in January, and I guess this most recent one, to go back and say ‘yes’ to bringing the survey forward in the July 17 meeting,” Dake said.
She said she was also frustrated because she had trouble obtaining information on the committee’s activities, and had expressed concern at the last council meeting about the posting of all committee meetings. However, at that meeting, when that subject was discussed, neither she nor any other council member made a motion to post them online.
“This is really about all of us,” said Dake. “My questions in the larger sense are, ‘If I can’t, as a city council person, get information when I ask for it, and I can’t get complete information, how likely is it that a community member will be able to get information?’ What else are we not telling people? We need to be more transparent.”
Dake said when the council voted to move forward with the two firms, she reluctantly voted ‘yes’ rather than abstaining because she wasn’t ready to explain herself at the time.
Miller didn’t respond to Dake’s comments, but Traugott did. He said nobody gets dinged by misinformation more than him, and that he wanted the world to know about the good things happening in Versailles. He then listed more than a dozen of those things, including job creation, lower taxes, streamlined governmental operations, improved police and fire protection, and a “world class” sewer infrastructure.
“The distrust of government … (is) because we’ve just spent 10 minutes criticizing a committee. I’ll stick by the ‘inadvertent error’ in my quote. I don’t think it was advertent, and I’m certainly not Ms. Miller’s defender, and she’ll admit that. But all the good things we’ve done; we’re now going to have two weeks of Woodford Sun articles about this – at least two weeks, maybe three – that’s why people distrust government.”
At that point, Traugott paused, Dake began to respond, and Miller told her, “Don’t interrupt.”
Traugott said though Dake’s comments mostly involved the Pavilion Committee, the matter reflected poorly on him.
“You find someone more accountable than me in local government in the state of Kentucky on social media, in person, midnight calls, texts – you name the issue, I don’t duck it,” Traugott said.
“So you’ve made it about you, and that’s really not what this is about,” Dake said.
She said considering the estimated $1.75 million cost of the pavilion, “A committee getting ready to spend a lot of taxpayer money needs to be open, transparent and accountable.”
Council Member Ken Kerkhoff asked City Attorney Moore if the council rectified its error last week by rescinding the $24,500 contract. Moore said they did. Kerkhoff said that the projected cost of the pavilion “sends out the wrong message” because if private sponsorship and naming rights don’t pay 80 or 90 percent of the cost, “it’s not going to happen.”
After the meeting, Traugott said council committee meetings have always been properly posted, but he didn’t know until last month that “subcommittees” like the Pavilion Committee, which includes non-council members, require the same posting.
The council voted 5 to 0 to approve three ordinances keeping property taxes at the same rate. Real property will be taxed at 5.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, personal property at 9.78 cents, and motor vehicles and watercraft at 12 percent. Council Member Mike Coleman was absent.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at keeping unsolicited materials off of lawns and out of storm sewers. The ordinance requires them to be placed on the front porch, through a mail slot, securely attached to the front door, in a distribution box or personally with the owner. Violations could cost $200, and the city’s Code Enforcement Board will hear appeals.
The ordinance mirrors one passed by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council inspired by complaints about the Lexington Herald-Leader’s free, unsolicited Wednesday “Community” section dropped on driveways throughout Central Kentucky. Last meeting for Fugate
Traugott praised outgoing Versailles Police Chief James Fugate, who will retire at the end of the month and was attending his last meeting as chief. He praised Fugate for a variety of achievements during his time as chief, and Fugate was given a standing ovation. Asked if he wanted to say anything then, and later, at the end of the meeting during department head reports, the soft-spoken Fugate declined. Traugott joked, “If Fugate says his 100th word here, he gets a door prize.”