Smither, Johnson spar over committee meeting
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting of the Versailles City Council, Councilmember Aaron Smither defended the decision last week for the Downtown/Tourism/Communications Committee, which he chairs, to go into to executive session. The committee met the previous Thursday with Frost Brown Todd, the firm the council voted to pay $15,000 to explore public-private (P-3) partnerships to pay for the Precinct Project, a plan to reuse the old police station on Court Street.
Smither said it was a good meeting with “subject matter experts” and said his call that the committee go into executive (private) session was appropriate. Councilmember Lisa Johnson, a member of the committee, disagreed, saying the stated purpose of the meeting had nothing to do with an acquisition or sale of property (which are among the reasons a government body can vote to go into executive session). Smither said he was advised by a Frost Brown Attorney to do so, and asked the opinion of City Attorney Bill Moore. Moore said it was appropriate to go into executive session and that the option to do so is “universal in that type of meeting.”
Johnson replied that the stated purpose off the meeting was to discuss the RFP (request for proposals) process, not select a bidder. Smither said the committee was in planning mode with Frost Brown Todd, reiterated that the firm’s attorney advised him to go into executive session, and said he was trying to avoid future legal problems.
The meeting began with a presentation by members of Bluegrass Greensource, a nonprofit organization with goals of litter abatement and beautification in Woodford and seven other counties.
The group’s executive director, Noel Osborn, said the organization was founded in November 2019 and its first project involved a $2,500 grant to purchase cigarette receptacles for downtown Versailles, Big Spring Park and downtown Midway. She said a survey after the urns were installed showed 36 percent fewer cigarette butts. Bluegrass Greensource has also pledged funds for landscaping around the soon-to-be finished overlook deck behind the main branch of the Woodford County Public Library.
The group’s Main Street Clean Sweep last September (pushed back from April due to the pandemic) involved 13 volunteers picking up 162 pounds of litter, Osborn said. The presentation closed with Bluegrass Greensource Chair Gregory Butler asking the council for its continued support. Councilmember Laura Dake, a member of Bluegrass Greensource, said the city budgeted $167 dollars for the group this fiscal year (with the county and City of Midway also contributing that amount) and thanked Public Works Department employees for installing the cigarette receptacles.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing council work sessions to be held the second Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m.
Another ordinance that would remove the requirement that committees meet at least quarterly and push back the three-day requirement for committees to make their minutes public was discussed, but no action was taken. Mayor Brian Traugott said he’d reviewed how several other cities handle standing committees and asked the council’s opinion on the city’s practice of having six standing committees. Johnson said she liked the present arrangement, in part because it allowed each council member to chair one committee. Smither said he didn’t see any harm in exploring another way to do it. Traugott said under present law, there’s no requirement that the mayor let each council member chair one committee.
Councilmember Laura Dake asked what precipitated the discussion. Traugott replied that he wanted to help the council work more efficiently. Dake recommended that the ordinance, which also changes the name of the Communications/Tourism/Downtown Committee to the Downtown/Tourism/Communications Committee, be discussed at its inaugural work session next Tuesday.
Fire department grants
Acting Versailles Fire Chief Brandon Brown received the unanimous approval of the council to accept a $10,000 grant from the Kentucky Fire Commission that will pay for gloves, hoods, boots and other gear for firefighters. He said he hopes to be able to announce a successful bid for a $20,000 COVID-19 relief support grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the council’s next meeting and asked council members to cross their fingers.
The council unanimously approved a motion to pay CDP of Lexington $5,000 for a Code Enforcement application to be used by the city’s code enforcement officer and coordinated with the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission. After the first year, the company will charge $2,000 annually.
Traugott said the most recent update from Bluegrass Community Action, which handles the private assistance portion of the city’s COVID-19 relief program, showed $3,419.66 was given since the council’s last meeting and, overall, more than $39,000. The funds must be applied for and are used to pay delinquent rent, mortgage and utility bills.