Burgin council at odds with mayor regarding attorney decision

Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2017

BURGIN — A special-called meeting of the Burgin City Council on Feb. 21 resulted in more confusion than answers regarding the city’s next attorney.

Long-time city attorney Tom Hensley retired in December and Wanda Dry was appointed as an interim by Mayor George Hensley.

The council met for a special called meeting to resolve the vacancy, narrowing the decision down to Dry and Whitney Johns, said council member Katrina Sexton.

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“There were some differences in their pay and rates for different services,” Sexton said.

Opinions were asked of each council member, she said. 

“When he asked me, I said, ‘Are you taking a vote or just opinions?’ He said, ‘Just opinions right now,’” Sexton said. She declined to give an opinion until they were ready to vote, which she said they did after that.

“Sid Dunn made a motion to take a vote and David Caldwell seconded it. The mayor again went around the table asking for a vote,” she said. 

After all were counted, Sexton said, it came out 4-2 for Johns. 

“The mayor responded by saying, ‘I guess that’s it then,’ and closed the meeting,” she said.

That night, Sexton posted the news on her official Katrina A. Sexton Facebook page she created after becoming a council member. There, she posts news relating to city business. The next day, she found out from Dunn that Johns was not hired.

“The next day Sid Dunn gets a message from Whitney Johns saying the mayor called her and politely informed her that she was not chosen as the city attorney,” Sexton said.

Dunn said he followed up with Hensley regarding the vote.

“He told me that it was because we didn’t make a motion. A motion was made and seconded,” Dunn said. “I believe that if the other candidate was selected, we wouldn’t be going through this.”

Dunn said he tried at the end of the meeting to make an effort regarding Dry.

“After the meeting, I said we should send (Dry) a basket or something … (Hensley) said, ‘No, just leave it alone,’” Dunn said. “Both are great candidates. We chose Ms. Johns because she’s local, she’s unbiased.”

However, Mayor George Hensley had a different recollection of events from the night of the council meeting.

“They misunderstood — there’s no one been hired at this time,” Mayor Hensley said on Tuesday.

Hensley said he was “afraid” to say any more about the situation because he’s “under a lot of scrutiny” for other things going on at the city. Burgin City Council is currently waiting to hold a grievance hearing for former Police Chief Jim Caldwell, who was dismissed at the beginning of the year by Mayor Hensley.

“(The decision) will likely be made at the next council meeting. I want to make sure I’m right before I open my mouth,” Hensley said.

Presently, he said, there are no meetings scheduled prior the next regular meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on March 14.

“If they request a special meeting, we’ll be having one,” Hensley said.

According to the law

Chris Johnson, a member legal services attorney at the Kentucky League of Cities, explained in an email that a city council can hire its own counsel if it has established a line item in the budget for legislative legal services, but Burgin does not such a line item.

Johnson said there are different ways a city attorney can be chosen by different types of governments. But like most city councils, Burgin would likely need to have the council approve funding for the position and have the mayor, in this case Hensley, select the person to fill the role.

Concerns moving forward

Dunn said he voted for Johns because he was concerned that Dry might show favoritism to Mayor Hensley.

“We want someone that’s going to not just be the mayor’s attorney, but also the city’s attorney. There’s a lot of stuff going on between her and the mayor; they never advised the council what’s going on,” he said. 

Dunn said he wanted to break past trends. 

“(Former City Attorney Tom) Hensley would say, ‘Go ahead and do it, we’ll figure it out in court.’ That’s not what we want. We’re in the 21st Century now — we’ve got to get the whole city up-to-date,” Dunn said.

Dunn said he’s worried about the city’s future —  there’s promise for the city to welcome new industry with it’s newly updated infrastructure, but these sort of problems could have a negative impact.

“He’s making it hard for the city to grow,” he said. “We’ve got good citizens. We’ve got a good school system … a lot of companies are looking to move into Burgin.”

Dunn said he doesn’t want to wait until the next regular meeting to vote Johns in. He plans to request a special meeting to take care of it. Then, he said, he wants to move forward.

“I’d rather draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Let’s go forward. Let’s start doing stuff the right way from now on,’” Dunn said. “What happened in the past happened. We can look at it as what not to do and start moving forward with what to do.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.