Magistrates, P&Z debate disagreements over director hiring process

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Some Boyle County magistrates and Planning and Zoning officials went another round Tuesday in a boxing match over the hiring process for a new P&Z director.

When the bell rang, the fiscal court had threatened to cut P&Z funding by $5,000 — but decided against it in a 4-3 decision.

The meeting of Boyle County magistrates and Planning and Zoning Chairman Jerry Leber began pleasantly Tuesday morning, when Magistrate Jack Hendricks volunteered a compliment.

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“First of all, I want to thank you and all the other members of the commission,” Hendricks said. “You do a fantastic job with no fanfare and very little pay. So We appreciate that.”

Things mostly went downhill from there.

“As you know, we had some questions during the hiring of our new person to replace (current Director) Paula (Bary),” Hendricks continued. “… and we had requested to be present and for some reason quoted in I guess some KRS (state law), you didn’t want that to happen. I would like to know why you don’t want the court or the city commission, obviously, involved in that type of thing. It doesn’t compute well and I don’t understand your feeling behind it.”

The fiscal court previously voted to “appoint” Hendricks as a “liaison” to sit in on things as P&Z’s Personnel Committee worked to chose a replacement for Bary. Leber responded with a letter to the fiscal court, stating he knew of no legal precedent that would allow such a liaison inside the hiring process.

Ben Kleppinger/
Planning and Zoning Chairman Jerry Leber speaks with members of the Boyle County Fiscal Court Tuesday morning.

“The county attorney said that there was no precedent or KRS that would allow it,” Leber told Hendricks. “The city attorney said the same thing; the Planning and Zoning attorney said the same thing, and I, as chairman of Planning and Zoning, want to go with KRS and do exactly what the law says and follow the law.” 

Leber said from a “personal” perspective, he thinks having someone from outside the P&Z Personnel Committee sit in on interviews with candidates could make things tricky.

“If we have people involved in interviews that have no voting power or input on that and questions start coming from those individuals, I have no control over that and to me, that flaws the whole interview process,” he said.

Leber then returned to his point about the law preventing what magistrates wanted to do.

“I could not get any attorney — county, city or Planning and Zoning attorney — to show me anything or provide anything that did allow that by law,” he said. “I assume you all want to operate by KRS. So do I. And if you all don’t want us to operate by KRS, I guess we throw all the rules out and just fly by the seat of our pants.”

Magistrate Phil Sammons tagged in, saying, “The way I understood it … (Hendricks) was not going to be in on the interviewing process; that he was just going to be in on your regular session there. And he was kind of like an liaison. He was a no voting, no-voice person at your meeting.”

“What regular session?” Leber asked.

“He was our liaison, I said, at your meeting, to come back and to report to the court. That’s all he’s supposed to do,” Sammons said.

“Well, our Planning and Zoning meetings are totally open to the public. All six of y’all can come — you’re more than welcome to do so,” Leber said. “There’s no issue with that whatsoever. My understanding was the issue was sitting on the private interviews. That, to my knowledge, KRS doesn’t allow.”

Judge-Executive Harold McKinney, who refereed some of the testier exchanges in the meeting, noted, “I agree with the other three lawyers. I think that you can’t have somebody sit in.”

Sammons said because the fiscal court provides some of the funding for P&Z, he thinks P&Z should be more deferential to the court’s wishes. Boyle County provides $65,000 annually for P&Z, while Danville provides $75,000 and P&Z collects around $85,000 in fees.

“It’s not like the general pubic coming in,” Sammons said. “This body ought to have a little more input than what we feel like we’ve had.”

“Like I’ve said the door has been open for any input you want to share,” Leber responded.

“I’m talking about even on your interview process,” Sammons continued. “It looked like we’d have been able to at least listen to what’s going on if we’re paying for Planning and Zoning to be there.”

“I guess I struggle with that use of that term ‘paying for,’” Leber countered. “Because I think the taxpayers are paying for it — y’all are just the vehicle that sends it.”

Sammons acknowledged that the fiscal court is responsible to taxpayers.

“I don’t know how to resolve that issue unless we break the law,” Leber said. “If an attorney can clear that up for me, I’d be more than glad to —“

“I don’t think anybody here is suggesting that we break any laws at all,” Hendricks interjected, rejoining the fray.

“What are we suggesting then?” Leber asked. “How do we go about doing it? Y’all clear it up for me.”

Hendricks said an ordinance change could be in order, and then went on to note that P&Z’s bylaws would allow for an elected official, like a magistrate, to be appointed as a P&Z commissioner.

“I have no issue with that,” Leber said.

“We were trying to have a meeting — that’s what I requested and some others requested — to have a meeting with you guys to discuss issues that we had a problem with,” Hendricks said, bringing things back to his point. “As you know, you and several others are either appointees of Boyle County or the city. Why could we not get a meeting with you guys to discuss our issues with what happened in this particular hiring process? I asked for it several times and I thought the judge (McKinney) moved it to you, but you guys have never come forward.”

“With all due respect, the only meeting that occurred was one of the Planning and Zoning members called the judge and asked that we meet,” Leber said. “And we met with the judge and the mayor and the personnel committee met. I assumed if y’all wanted to meet with us, you all would have called and said, ‘hey, we’d like to meet with ya’ll.’

“… Nobody ever called and asked to set up a meeting with us, I just read in the paper you wanted to have a meeting, so I’m waiting — or I assume Paula is waiting — for the phone call to organize or set up the meeting, because I assume the party that wants to have the meeting would arrange it. But the only meeting that occurred — we took the initiative to call the judge and ask for a meeting, and we had that meeting with the judge, and with the mayor and with the personnel committee.”

“We weren’t in on any interviews,” McKinney clarified. “I don’t think someone can sit in on a closed session unless they are pertinent to that session, so we didn’t do any of that.”

“I assumed if you all wanted to meet with us, you would have given us a date, a time and a place,” Leber told the magistrates.

After a brief lull, Magistrate John Caywood spoke up: “I think there was a miscommunication probably as part of this. The court did ask for a meeting, but I think it just got miscommunicated.”

“Who did the court ask?” Leber said. “Who physically asked?” 

“We spoke of it at this meeting,” Caywood said, explaining that it seems the breakdown happened after the meeting. “… That’s history, so let’s go on.”

Caywood said he believes Bary has done a good job in her 20-plus years with P&Z, but with her retirement on the horizon, it looked like an opportunity to change some things.

“This was an opportunity to look at P&Z and say, ‘we’re bringing in somebody new and let’s hope they’re there 20 years,’” he said. “If we’re going to make any tweaking adjustments, let’s take a look at making them now.”

That’s why the fiscal court had wanted to be involved, Caywood said.

“From everything I’ve heard, you’ve hired a person who is very capable,” Caywood continued. “I look forward to meeting that person.”

Caywood then brought up the issue of P&Z’s expected carry-forward balance for the coming fiscal year.

“We look at bank accounts of agencies that request funding. Yours is substantial,” he said. “Do you want to make any comments on how last year was with revenue vs. expenses, and why you’re looking for all of the same amount of dollars that you were looking at last year, when you had a pretty good year last year — am I right? Income over expenses was pretty good last year?”

P&Z Administrative Assistant Jennie Hollon, who attended the meeting with Bary, told magistrates P&Z had a carryover balance of about $69,900 a year ago, and anticipates a carryover of about $44,000 this year.

“We definitely need at least that much to sustain through the winter. Between October and January we usually drop about $50,000 to $55,000,” she said. “We’ve done that at least the last three years. So we must have in the budget at least that much so we can sustain the drop.”

Hollon said in past years, P&Z has not had enough carryover and has had to ask for funding ahead of time to get it through the winter. This year, P&Z doesn’t anticipate having to do that because staff turnover led to some savings.

Magistrates and Leber then launched into a bout over whether the P&Z office should be open four or five days a week — a fight that has been fought many times before. No resolution was reached.

After the 2008 recession hit and building activity dried up, P&Z scaled back its office hours to Monday-Thursday. For at least two years now, members of Danville City Commission and the Boyle County Fiscal Court have been pushing to reinstate Friday office hours. Leber has said that he doesn’t believe the demand is there to warrant the extra cost, but P&Z is willing to consider a five-day work week — if the city and county will provide the funding.

Danville has allocated $12,500 — half of the estimated $25,000 cost for five-day service — in its proposed budget, as long as Boyle County contributes the other $12,500. Boyle County has not included that additional amount in its budget, and magistrates have said they don’t believe additional funding should be needed.

Caywood wrapped up the conversation with Leber by saying he appreciated having the discussion.

“Some things have been gunny-sacked that you’ve heard today and I don’t think that’s healthy for the relationship,” he said. “… If we don’t talk about some of the things, then they never get solved, they just remain gunny-sacked. So let’s have good communication.”

Leber, Bary and Hollon then left. But toward the end of the meeting, as the court was preparing to approve a first reading of its proposed budget, Hendricks made a motion.

“I would like to at least reduce that P&Z (funding) by $5,000,” he said.

“$5,000? I thought we wanted to do $15,000,” Sammons said.

“Well, $15,000 is what I’d like to do, but I don’t think there —“

“Y’all are making a mistake,” McKinney interjected. “Whatever the motion is, it’s a mistake.”

Sammons seconded Hendricks motion and McKinney asked for thoughts from the fiscal court.

Ben Kleppinger/
Magistrate John Caywood speaks during Tuesday���s Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting.

“I’m not really favorable with the timing, with the new person coming and everything — I think we’ve started down the road getting some things out of the gunnysack on everybody’s back and I want to start that as a positive move,” Caywood said. “I don’t think cutting the $5,000 really accomplishes the message we’re trying to send of trying to be welcoming and not one of ‘we have anger.’ I just don’t think the timing is right for this action.”

Magistrate Patty Burke said there has been a lot of miscommunication, “or not enough communication is a better way to put it.”

“I do not really want them to be working under stress financially and I think we’re going to continue with talking and I think things are going to get better,” she said, adding that if P&Z needs help with its finances, it would put extra work on Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley.

“I think it should be $15,000,” Sammons said of how much he wants to cut P&Z funding. “The general public, if you did a survey, is not too pleased and haven’t been for a long time with P&Z — I don’t if you all realize it or not. They’ve encountered an unpleasant place to do business with, and I feel like in my heart, that we have caused some businesses to go to other counties.

“And I hope that this new director comes in — and you all made the comment that you hate to see Paula leave. Well, I hate to say it, but I’m glad she’s gone, because I’ve heard too many things about her attitude about things and this and that. So I’m glad we’re getting a new horse pulling the buggy. So, that’s the reason I think we should send a message.”

Sammons said taxpayers want the fiscal court to guard their money and make sure it’s not being spent too easily.

“I’m a conservative rascal and I just believe that they need to tighten their belt a little bit,” he said.

“I think it sends the wrong message to a new guy coming in,” McKinney said. “If you’re trying to start a new — completely new dialogue, cutting them is not the way to do it, in my opinion.”

McKinney asked for those in favor of reducing P&Z’s funding from $65,000 to $60,000 to vote.

“Aye,” said Hendricks, Sammons and Magistrate Donnie Coffman.

McKinney asked for the votes of those opposed.

“Aye,” said Caywood, Burke, McKinney and Magistrate Dickie Mayes.

“In my ears, it stays $65,000,” McKinney said.

Ben Kleppinger/
Magistrate Phil Sammons talks to P&Z Chairman Jerry Leber during Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting.