Perryville council members leave meeting to avoid illegal quorum, Mayor says situation ‘blown way out of proportion’
Most of the members of Perryville City Council gathered together Wednesday morning for a 10 a.m. meeting with state transportation officials to discuss plans for future renovations to the U.S. 150 bridge over the Chaplin River in the center of the city.
But things took a turn when some realized a quorum was present and no council meeting had been properly called.
“At 9:57 (a.m.), I texted (City Attorney) Winfield (Frankel) and said, ‘it’s a quorum and no one wants to leave,” council member Paul Webb said. “It was made obvious to us that (council members) Brian Caldwell and Steve Bailey were not going to leave.”
Eventually, Frankel was called and put on speakerphone to address the room.
“I advised them about the open meeting and quorum rules, and if there’s a quorum, it could technically be called a meeting,” Frankel said Thursday. “That was over the phone, and I wasn’t able to be there, but I was told enough individuals left to destroy the quorum.”
Ultimately, council members Julie Clay and Amber Noakes left before the meeting began.
“Why did I leave?” Council member Clay repeated back Thursday morning by phone. “Because I’m not going to expose the city to an open meetings violation due to the administration’s fault of not notifying the newspaper.”
Noakes could not be reached for comment before deadline.
Mayor Anne Sleet admits she told council members about the meeting, but said the whole situation has been “blown way out of proportion” and it was never her intention to hold an illegal meeting.
“We were discussing transportation business, not city business. They called the meeting, not me,” Mayor Sleet said Thursday, referring to the Transportation Cabinet.
Sleet maintains she only “contacted the council out of a courtesy to let the council know when the meeting was going to be. I didn’t want them to think I have a hidden agenda. The meeting came from Frankfort and Transportation, not me. It was not a city meeting.”
Webb and Clay both said Sleet contacted them about the meeting well in advance. Webb said in a voicemail from Sleet, she asked him to “mark his calendar for the meeting.”
Webb said when he later realized the mayor had contacted all council members about the meeting, he reached out to Frankel roughly an hour before it was planned to begin.
“He was not aware of the meeting, so I asked him how we should handle it because I realized it could be a quorum if everyone showed up,” Webb said. He said Frankel let him know they could not make any decisions or take any actions since it was not a called meeting, and cautioned him that it would be best if a quorum (majority) of council members was not present.
Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney was also present for the meeting; the Transportation Cabinet officials present were Robin Sprague, branch manager of project development, as well as engineer Joshua Samples and project coordinator Troy Hearn.
Sleet said she didn’t understand what the issue was, and the city had met with the cabinet like this in the past — several years back — and the newspaper wasn’t contacted. “I didn’t anticipate this going like wildfire … They’ve been here before, and it didn’t blow out like this, and the paper didn’t come. I did not know what they were going to talk about.”
When pressed again, Sleet said, “I got the message that they were going to discuss the bridge,” which she says has been something in the works for much of her time as mayor.
Webb said after Clay and Noakes left, the meeting did continue, with Cabinet members asking for the council’s input on the bridge design, among other things.
“It’s not city business, it’s the state,” Sleet said. “ … I thought they should’ve known the department was coming to talk about the bridge. I wanted them to know what is going on.”
Sleet maintains she did not call it as a meeting, and “had no idea who would show up.”
“What she fails to understand, is that even though this is the state performing the action, part of the money comes from our own citizens, who pay their taxes. It’s all taxpayers’ dollars,” Webb said. “That’s where governmental funding comes from. And it is city business.”
Webb said yes, he is running for mayor — as is fellow council member Caldwell. “But this is not a popularity contest, and it’s not about my ‘platform running for office.’ It’s about what’s good for the city, and this is what we’re putting out there to the world? We have to work together.”
Caldwell said from his understanding, it was “just going to be a meeting about the bridge, kind of an update on it. I didn’t know who all was going to show up, to be quite honest. Then we all realized it was a quorum. That’s when we called Winfield and clarified that two of us had to go.”
Frankel said Thursday that whenever there’s a question about open meetings, the council should “always err on the side of caution. And I think the council knows The Advocate-Messenger is known for its vigilance about the open meetings rule, as well it should be. And that’s good not only for the community, but the council as well.”
Mayor Sleet was asked to relay the information received and input given during the meeting, but would only say, “Someone recorded it. I’ll have them get it over to you.”
Webb said, “The government has created this opportunity that they have set aside $700 million to repair and replace a thousand bridges similar to the one in Perryville, throughout the state. They have $1.2 million set aside for the Perryville bridge, specifically, and $480,000 of that is federal money, with all the rest from the state.”
In April, the General Assembly gave final approval to the 2018-2020 Biennial Highway Construction Plan, including funding to address the bridge on U.S. 150, over Chaplin River.
“If it stays in the Highway Plan, we will start back working on the project this spring,” Natasha Lacy, public information officer with District 7, previously told The Advocate in April. “We will meet again with the locals to get their input. Currently, we think that the project will consist of replacing the superstructure only.”
Webb said after the meeting concluded, he and the state officials took a tour around the bridge to review it, with the mayor joining toward the end of the tour. During the meeting, he said officials asked if there needed to be a sidewalk with the new part of the bridge, or if that’s something that can be created in a separate project, located beside the bridge. Creating a separate walkway would mean an extra 4 feet of width, improving conditions caused by semi-trucks heading off of Ky. 68, coming from Lebanon toward Danville.
“The traffic on (U.S.) 150 towards Springfield have to back up to allow the semis onto the bridge,” he said. Webb said Cabinet officials counted 18 semi-trucks coming through that specific intersection, just over the course of their walking tour.
Webb said during the meeting, council member Caldwell brought up concerns about making the secondary walking bridge ADA-compliant, as well as making it level with both side streets. A preliminary sketch was shown of the bridge plan, not yet finalized, as well as concerns discussed by council members about whether the bridge would have to be closed off completely during construction or not.
“They’re only taking the top part of the structure off, keeping the pier work of the bridge in place,” he said.
Webb said they were told it would most likely be down to one lane, and plans must be made on how to detour semis temporarily.
“They’re going to talk to the construction guys, and see if it’s possible that they do one side at a time. So we discussed a lot of options that will affect the city,” Webb said. He said officials said the start to finish time of the project would be roughly four months.