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Perryville budget wasn’t passed properly, council member alleges

A city councilman in Perryville is questioning the validity of a critical budget vote taken back in June during a special-called meeting.

Paul Webb, who is running for mayor, says the vote to pass the first reading of the budget for the city taken on June 18 was illegal because there was not a quorum present.

When the budget came up for a vote, council members Webb, Julie Clay and Joanne Reynolds voted against accepting the first reading. After heated discussions ensued with community members, Clay and Webb attempted to adjourn the meeting, then walked out.

Later, Webb and Clay told The Advocate-Messenger they didn’t leave due to a dispute over the budget, but because of how the meeting was being conducted and the “disruption and threatening nature of two citizens.”

Clay, who was on the Main Street Perryville Board at the time, had been urging the city, along with Webb, to put forth funding for MSP; some residents said it was a conflict of interest due to her position on the board. The day after the meeting, Clay said she resigned from the board.

After Clay and Webb left the June 18 meeting, it continued with council members Reynolds, Steve Bailey and Brian Caldwell voting against adjournment and then for the budget.

Mayor Anne Sleet only votes in the event of a tie.

A quorum is a majority of a legislative body, such as a city council. State law requires such bodies to have a quorum present in order to take action.

Webb said when he questioned how a vote could be taken without a quorum after the fact, he was told by City Attorney Winfield Frankel and Sleet that three council members still constituted a quorum because one seat on the six-member council was vacant, due to former council member Jerry Houck’s resignation.

Webb said even though a seat was vacant, there are still six seats on the council, so he believes four members were needed for a quorum.

Webb reached out to Chris Johnson, municipal law attorney with the Kentucky League of Cities. In an email, Johnson responded to Webb, “KLC has consistently been of the position that a quorum is the smallest number of people who must be present at a meeting so that official decisions can be made; specifically the minimum number of members — a majority of all members — who must be present …” The email went on to say, “In Perryville’s case, there are six council seats. The fact one is currently vacant does not impact the fact that six is still the number of all member seats used to determine a quorum, which would be four, to discuss city business.”

When reached for comment about how the dispute might be resolved, Johnson would only say, “KLC can only give legal information. We cannot provide legal judgement or recommendations. We defer to the city attorney’s sound legal judgement in all municipal law matters.”

City Attorney Frankel says he made the determination the group was a quorum under the mayor-council plan of government, and sent a memo out shortly after the budget vote explaining to council members why. He says a quorum is a majority of a legislative body, and according to KRS 83A.010, a “legislative body member” means a city councilperson in any city organized under the mayor-council plan.

“Using this statutory framework, I decided that we had five members of the council, with Mr. Houck’s resignation, and that after Julie Clay and Paul Webb left the meeting, we still had present three members,” Frankel says. “That gave us a quorum, or 60 percent present, and the meeting continued with a full audience of citizens.”

“We pay a membership to KLC because they are the go-to organization when we have questions about certain things dealing with the municipality,” Webb says. “They know their information better than anybody out there. That’s why we pay them for our membership.”

Frankel says he realizes “KLC says ‘all available seats,’ but my reading of the statutes is different. If they’ve cited a basis for this opinion, statutory or court ruling, then I will stand corrected. However, I haven’t seen anything …”

In Webb’s email to Mayor Sleet and City Attorney Frankel, he claims that “any actions taken in that meeting and subsequently after that meeting concerning the fiscal budget ordinance is invalid and anyone acting on such an invalid ordinance is held liable, and the city has every right to regain any losses. We need to remedy this situation immediately.”

“I did vote in favor of the passing of the budget,” Webb says, in reference to July’s meeting where the second reading and passing of the budget was held. “But it was because I was under the assumption that the first reading was a quorum. I didn’t have all of the information at the time.”

Webb says there should be another first and second reading of the budget ordinance to rectify it. He plans to have an item added to the September regular meeting’s agenda in order for the council to discuss the issue.