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Perryville council members: We walked out over conduct, not budget

Two Perryville City Council members said they left the city’s special-called meeting on Monday not because of a dispute over the budget — the only item on the agenda — but over the way the meeting was being conducted.

Council members Paul Webb and Julie Clay left the meeting after the two, along with council member Joann Reynolds, voted against the proposed budget without discussion on Monday night.

Before leaving, the two voted to adjourn, with Clay making the motion and Webb seconding it; community members became outspoken and the duo left amidst heated conversations.

But after they left, the meeting continued, with Reynolds and council members Steve Bailey and Brian Caldwell voting to against adjournment. The three then approved adding a $1,000 contribution to Main Street Perryville (MSP) to the budget — a line item that had been heavily discussed prior to Monday’s meeting, but had never been added to the budget despite requests from council members.

The remaining three members also approved a first reading on the budget.

On Tuesday, Clay said she objected to the budget not because of the hiring of a part-time police officer — another topic of heavy discussion during the budget process — nor because of the lack of funding initially listed for MSP.

“My objection is the way the city is conducting itself,” Clay said. “It is the city administration … I thought that (a) majority of the council last time made it specifically clear what they wanted to see happen. We have been making a good faith effort all along to try and iron this out and have been rejected (by) the city administration.”

She said she felt the changes that were proposed after she left should have been reflected in the budget before it was presented on Monday.

Webb said he disagreed with statements Sleet made after they left. She didn’t understand why they were upset, he said.

“We’ve had conversations since May,” Webb said.

He sent a letter to Sleet on Tuesday, which he forwarded to The Advocate-Messenger. In the letter, Webb cited the reasons he left the meeting: budget alternatives were not being considered; the city needed to be paying money for MSP; and the city needed to consider increasing the pay being offered to entice more qualified candidates for the new part-time officer position, among other reasons.

Webb presented his own version of the budget in June. He said on Tuesday that he used the initial budget as a guide and that he was permitted to suggest changes, per guidelines from the Kentucky League of Cities, despite the statements being made in the community that it was unethical for him to create a budget.

“I’m not against public safety or hiring a part-time police officer,” Webb said.

He said he was against rehiring former officer Larry Nunes, who had quit a few years before. Webb said he believes Sleet plans to hire Nunes.

“I do not feel that it’s right to hire an employee who left us without coverage for almost a year … I do not feel like we should reward them by hiring them back,” he said.

Nunes resigned at the same time as former Chief Charlie Parks, amid disputes with Sleet over scheduling. An email sent to The Advocate-Messenger from Nunes in May stated that his departure was related to moving out of state, not a conflict with the city.

Clay said she didn’t understand why the community members present Monday night were angry with her, but the level of animosity furthered her decision to leave.

“I felt intimidated, harassed and threatened in the conduct of my official duties. So I left,” Clay said. “And I will say this — the city administration did nothing to stop it, either.”

During the meeting, community members became agitated and very vocal in saying they felt Clay shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the budget because of her participation on the MSP board. In the past, Clay had disclosed the participation and had said she felt the city should give money to the organization.

Community members also criticized Webb for their perception he was being disrespectful during the meeting. He said that wasn’t correct either, but that it was up to Sleet to maintain control of the meeting, which she did not do.

“Last night, at the meeting, there should not have been anyone talking; there was no public forum. The outbursts and the berating of a council member, because they were attacking Julie Clay — that made me upset, because I felt the mayor could not control the meeting,” Webb said.

He said Sleet has also had problems with employees in the city and he’s reminded her that she has the right to pursue disciplinary action, including termination, of those employees.

On Tuesday, Clay said she has resigned — effective immediately — from the MSP board, because she felt her presence on the board had “become a distraction” from what they were trying to do.

MSP rents the city’s historic properties at $1 a year and then subleases them out, keeping the rental income. MSP is responsible for the maintenance, insurance and upkeep on those properties.

Clay said the city gets tax revenue off the buildings that are occupied from the renters. In the past, the city has discussed the amount of in-kind labor that is done for MSP, without having disclosed a dollar amount.

“One of the reasons I’m sticking in the mud on this is because of fiscal court. I got their message loud and clear,” Clay said. “If we can afford to buy a $500 taser for the police department, why is it like pulling hen’s teeth to get $1,000 for buildings that are falling down?”

Clay said she appreciated the fact that the council did add a $1,000 line item for MSP in the budget, but she thought more could be done.

“I think that’s great and we need to raise about $900,999 more for me to be happy. Whatever a million miles of thousand is, because that’s how much we need to raise,” she said.

Webb said he was pleased that the city chose to include funding for MSP, but also felt more should be included — Webb was planning to include somewhere closer to $2,500.

“There is more room in that budget,” he said, referring to the insurance premium tax, which Webb believes will bring in more revenue than the budget anticipates.

Webb said he also got upset because Sleet ignored requests he had made to put another item on the special agenda, to include the discussion regarding the vacant council seat.

“Maybe she feels the appointed (person) won’t agree with the budget. Ether way, it’s time to get moving with the council. We’re in a stalemate, I believe,” Webb said.

Between the first and second presentations of the budget, there were some issues with the accounting, which showed additional funding in the police salary line item, leading council members to believe there was funding for a second officer in the current budget. At the next meeting, council members learned the funding was not there this year.

Clay said she felt there were some questionable practices going on, specifically relating to the budget and the way it had been presented over the course of the last few months.

“The general public doesn’t understand what all has happened here,” she said.

Clay said a budget workshop would have been a good idea during the process, to clear up confusion for everyone.

“This could have all been avoided. We could have had a budget workshop and they could have laid out the case for another officer,” she said.

Clay said she plans to attend the special called budget meeting on Wednesday.

“The voters elected me to do a job,” she said. “I will continue to do it.”

Webb said he reached out to community members on Tuesday to apologize for the way Monday’s meeting went. Everyone had been receptive, he said.

“They know I’m fighting for something they see is a good, positive thing for Perryville,” Webb said.

Webb also plans to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

IF YOU GO

A special called meeting of Perryville City Council will be held 5 p.m. Wednesday at the city’s community center. The agenda includes second reading and adoption of the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.