Boyle County votes not to pursue dispatch merger with Bluegrass 911
Published 11:49 am Wednesday, September 27, 2017
The Boyle County Fiscal Court changed course on 911 dispatch plans Tuesday morning, voting 6-1 against pursuing a merger with Bluegrass 911 in Garrard County.
The vote came following discussion of an open meetings complaint filed by The Advocate-Messenger, which alleged the county’s original Aug. 29 vote to pursue a merger with Bluegrass 911 was made improperly during a special called meeting, which had no action listed on its agenda.
Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean argued the county did not violate the Open Meetings Act by taking action, but recommended the court could still fulfill the newspaper’s request that the fiscal court re-vote on the action. The court chose to re-vote, but the result was very different: 6-1 against instead of 5-2 in favor.
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Magistrate Phil Sammons made the motion to re-vote on the action, and Judge-Executive Harold McKinney re-read the motion he made at the end of the Aug. 29 meeting.
“You will recall — I moved the court to clearly state their intent to join the Bluegrass 911 for all dispatch services for which Boyle County Fiscal Court is responsible and direct the county judge-executive and any other staff he deems necessary to begin the process immediately to accomplish that end,” Mckinney said. “And further move the court to combine the license for the public service answering point, commonly called the PSAP, with Bluegrass 911 and direct the county judge-executive to take whatever steps may be necessary to accomplish the same.”
Magistrate Jack Hendricks, who had seconded McKinney’s original motion on Aug. 29, also seconded Sammons motion to re-vote Tuesday.
All six magistrates — Sammons, Hendricks, Dickie Mayes, John Caywood, Donnie Coffman and Patty Burke — voted against the motion this time. Last time, Caywood and Burke had been the two “no” votes. McKinney was the only one to vote in favor of the motion both times.
Dean said McKinney didn’t have to vote — judge-executives are only required to vote in order to break a tie vote among magistrates.
“You can record my vote as a ‘yes,'” McKinney said. “I still think we ought to be at Bluegrass 911, but that’s fine.”
McKinney said while the court had voted not to pursue dispatch services from Bluegrass 911, it also hadn’t taken action to commit to remaining with the current 911 provider, the City of Danville. He pointed to a draft interlocal agreement proposed by Danville as a jumping-off point for continued 911 discussions with the city.
Magistrates said there were several items in the proposed agreement from the city that didn’t sit well with them; they plan to submit their notes and suggested changes to McKinney, who said he will take those suggestions to county officials such as the sheriff, EMS director and treasurer for further input. Then, the county will send its modified interlocal agreement proposal back to the city for consideration.
“I need your responses pretty quick,” McKinney told magistrates. “This doesn’t need to drag on.”
Magistrates agreed that a resolution needed to be reached swiftly.
“We need to come back to the table, we need to talk, we need to work this thing out to the betterment of everybody, and for the betterment of our citizens as much as possible, because they’re the ones ultimately that we’re responsible to,” Hendricks said. “… We should go through this thing, put down some of the things we feel needs to be in this, hopefully take it back to the city and let the city take a look at it — and if they want to tweak it some more, we can do that.
“But at least we’re talking. As we have seen and heard from a lot of different people — that’s what our citizens want to see us doing. They want us talking and working this out. I think we can do that, and I hope we can do it within the next two or three weeks.”
“The first thing we’ve got to remember doing anything on this court is the fact that our taxpayers are the number-one priorities. They elect us to come here and spend their money wisely,” Sammons said. “… That’s one reason I agreed with you, judge — I thought that if everybody went together and went to Bluegrass, we’d save a lot of money, a lot of money — millions. But Danville didn’t see it that way. Therefore, we’ve got to back up and take another look at this old cow.”
Sammons said later in the meeting that Danville “has a good commission” and city commissioners “have the same mindset that we have about serving and taking care of the taxpayers.”
Sammons asked Danville City Manager Ron Scott, who attended the fiscal court meeting, to take his message back to the commission that “we’re all in this thing together.”
“Go back and tell them how we actually feel about this. And don’t be making any extra things that don’t sound good, and tell the little mayor not to be writing any damn notes and putting them in the paper that we don’t like,” Sammons said.
Last week, Danville City Commission voted to authorize the filing of a “declaration of rights action” in Franklin Circuit Court, alleging “official misconduct” by the fiscal court for failing to transfer an estimated $700,000 in 911-earmarked funds to the city. As of Monday night, Danville City Attorney Stephen Dexter said the action had not yet been filed.
On Sept. 23, a letter to the editor by Danville Mayor Mike Perros was published in The Advocate-Messenger critical of the fiscal court in its handling of the 911 issue. That letter may be the “notes” that Sammons referenced in Tuesday’s meeting.
“… Maybe this is a good move if we stay — and that’s what we’re talking about, staying with Danville,” Sammons continued. “They’re not interested in saving us money, but we are. But we’re going to stay with them and make sure they understand that.”
“We haven’t gotten an agreement yet,” McKinney said.
“Well I know — I mean we’re working toward it,” Sammons said.
Open meetings complaint
The Advocate-Messenger filed an open meetings complaint with McKinney’s office on Sept. 20, alleging the fiscal court improperly took action on Aug. 29, during a special meeting that did not list any action items on its agenda.
The Kentucky Open Meetings Act states that special called meetings “shall be limited to items listed on the agenda.” The Aug. 29 agenda included a single item — “discussion of E911 services for Boyle County.”
The paper asked the court to remedy the alleged violation by admitting it violated the Open Meetings Act and re-taking the action from the Aug. 29 meeting “if it still wishes to pursue the action.”
County Attorney Dean authored the county’s response to the complaint, stating that she disagreed with the paper’s assessment of the situation.
“I am prepared to suggest to the Boyle County Fiscal Court that they essentially ‘re-vote’ the issue of E911 services for Boyle County in their next regularly scheduled meeting,” Dean wrote on Monday. “… I cannot, however, permit any acknowledgment that the action taken at the August 29, 2017, special meeting was a violation of the Open Meetings Act as it is my legal opinion that there was no such violation.”
Dean cited three rulings from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office dealing with other cases where a public agency decided to take action at a special called meeting when they had not put any action items on the agenda.
She quoted one ruling from 2017 that stated “while it may be best practice to indicate that a vote may be taken … it is not in itself a violation of fair notice” to not include action to be taken on a special meeting agenda. Another case from 2002 created a standard that special meeting agenda items should not be “so vaguely worded that fair notice could not be imputed to the public.”
“A vote was not specifically listed on the agenda because such discussion may or may not have led to a vote. This is the nature of an open meeting,” Dean argued in the response. “It is simply impossible to contemplate every possible scenario of what may or may not occur in terms of motions being made and/or votes being cast during an open meeting; indeed, this is one of the very reasons the public may wish to attend such meetings.”
Magistrates themselves were not expecting to vote at the Aug. 29 meeting.
The fiscal court planned for the special meeting at its Aug. 8 regular meeting, at which time they discussed inviting first-responder officials, city officials and others to help answer questions and get facts about 911 service and whether switching from Danville to Bluegrass 911 would be good.
“Because it’s a special meeting, we will only be able to talk about E911,” McKinney said at the Aug. 8 meeting.
Toward the end of Aug. 29 special meeting, McKinney announced he had typed up a motion that same morning and wanted to make it.
Magistrate Burke said at the time she did not come to the meeting planning to vote on anything.
“I came to listen, to hear. And I still have some questions,” Burke said.
Magistrate Caywood said “I’m sorry that I’m just now seeing this,” referring to the typed out motion.
“Well, it’s a motion, John,” McKinney said.
“I understand it’s a motion, but it’s a motion that you have written before and we had no awareness that this was going to be asked,” Caywood said.
“I wrote the motion this morning so that it would be clear, rather than making it and (it be) unclear,” McKinney said.
“When you call for a vote, I’ll be glad to let you know how I feel,” Caywood said.
After the Aug. 29 meeting, Caywood said McKinney’s motion was “out of line.” The meeting had been presented as an informational one — there was nothing on the agenda indicating a vote would be held, he said. And there were too many questions remaining unanswered, he added.
“It was way too early to be forced to make a decision,” Caywood said at the time.
SO YOU KNOW
The City of Danville currently provides 911 dispatch services for all calls placed inside Boyle County. The Boyle County Fiscal Court had been looking into the possibility of using Bluegrass 911, a regional dispatch center in Garrard County that serves Garrard and Lincoln counties, for dispatch service instead.
Had the court pursued the change, it could have resulted in all 911 calls placed in unincorporated portions of Boyle County being routed to Bluegrass 911, while calls made in Danville city limits might still have gone to Danville’s 911 center. Other jurisdictions and first-responder agencies — Perryville, Junction City and the Boyle County Fire Department — would have had to opt to switch to Bluegrass 911 or stay with Danville on their own. The fire department voted on Aug. 22 to stay with Danville.