Magistrate called ‘nosy’ for asking about public committee meeting

Published 7:10 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

A magistrate was told he was “being nosy” and asking too many questions Tuesday during the Boyle Fiscal Court meeting, after he attempted to get feedback about a subcommittee meeting held Monday. After pressing magistrates who are part of the subcommittee, he was then directed to “read the paper” to find out what happened.

Following a joint meeting held Feb. 4 between the city and county to discuss the master parks plan, a “working group” was created, consisting of Danville city commissioners Kevin Caudill and Rick Serres and Boyle magistrates Phil Sammons and Tom Ellis. Officials wanted the committee to meet and discuss the next moves for Parks & Rec, including vacant board seats and the open director position over the agency, then report back to the two bodies with recommendations.

Officials concluded those decisions needed to be dealt with before they can move forward in implementing any of the recommended changes outlined by Brandstetter Carroll, the consulting firm that completed the parks study.

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Although it wasn’t clear after that meeting what the next move would be, the group set a meeting for Monday at 4 p.m., apparently determined Friday afternoon.

Tuesday, when the court came to the section of the agenda on committee reports, Magistrate Jamey Gay asked for an update about the meeting held Monday with the subcommittee.

Magistrate Jason Cullen said he was also interested in hearing an update, adding, “and we have yet to talk about the board. I anticipated that we were going to talk about that now, because we tabled that last time.”

There was no answer to either question.

“So, are we holding off until … ?” Cullen trailed off, looking around the room for a response.

Judge-Executive Howard Hunt said, “Yes, we are holding off.”

“I think we need to table that,” Sammons interjected.

“ … until there’s further clarification,” Hunt continued. “The working group is still a work in progress.”

Hunt said recommendations should be available by the next fiscal court meeting.

Cullen asked how the Monday subcommittee meeting came about, and how other magistrates were notified it was happening.

Ellis said, “It was in the newspaper.”

“When was it in the newspaper?” Gay asked.

“Today,” Sammons replied.

Ellis and Hunt both said, “Friday.”

Gay asked for clarification. “The fact that there was a meeting, or …”

Ellis said, “The fact that we were meeting.”

The meeting notice was not printed. An email was received by the paper from Hunt’s office Friday afternoon indicating a “subcommittee would be meeting” Monday, with no committee name or purpose. The Advocate was present at Monday’s meeting after a citizen called in that  morning notifying the paper of its purpose, hoping a story would be printed detailing the discussions. That story was printed Tuesday.

Gay reiterated he was simply asking for an update on what happened at the public meeting.

“Read today’s paper. It’s in there,” Ellis said.

“We’re at a stand-still. We got another meeting next week,” Sammons said, adding that magistrates would be given more information at the next fiscal court meeting.

Ellis said, “Yes. We definitely don’t want to expedite things.”

Gay said, “This is the time we have discussions and conversations about — there’s nothing that needs any discussion or any thought from this body, in general?”

Sammons replied, “Not as a body, right now. I don’t think, do you, judge?”

Hunt said, “I don’t think there’s any recommendation because we haven’t moved forward with any considerations.”

“We don’t have anything! Nothing to discuss,” Sammons again asserted.

Ellis said, “When we do, it will come before this body and, separately, the city.”

“OK, well, I guess, then … what are you negotiating that this body hasn’t given you any direction of what to negotiate with and about?” Gay said.

“I think everything we talked about is in the paper today,” Ellis said, to which Sammons added, “Just check the paper.”

Gay, seemingly puzzled, said, “OK, well, I’d like to find out from us rather than …”

“Hey, you’re being nosy,” Sammons said. “And we don’t have any information to share at this point, really, do we judge?”

“I don’t think there is any information to share at this point,” Hunt reiterated. “It was just discussions.”

“We’ve had a discussion — let’s just put it that way — with the city,” Sammons said. “There’s no recommendations either way on either party. But we are in the meeting mode. Period.”

Gay asked when the group will meet again, to which Sammons replied, “Monday. That’s a closed meeting.” Laughter erupted in the room.

“That’s a joke,” Ellis said to a reporter.

During Monday’s subcommittee meeting, the question was posed as to whether a reporter could be present for the discussion.

“That’s just Phil being Phil,” Hunt said. “It’s not a closed meeting.”

Cullen asked if Bryce Perry, the new board chair for Parks & Rec, was present.

“I was told he was, but I wasn’t at the meeting,” Hunt said.

The discussion

Although no formal recommendations were passed forward by the Parks & Rec subcommittee, there was quite a bit of detail given Monday about making an agreement with the City of Danville to take over the Parks & Rec agency, as well as for the city to purchase the county’s share of Millennium Park.

Members of the subcommittee and City Attorney Stephen Dexter came with a printed document that outlined what the county wanted to offer.

After the meeting convened, Commissioner Serres was asked how the outlined proposal came about; he said there was a meeting with the mayor, judge-executive and the city manager.

“They came up to an agreement to move forward with Parks & Rec,” he said.

There were discussions held about land transfers, a restructuring of the board and what the county was prepared to offer annually to maintain the park.

“We agree the city should have it (the county’s half of Millennium Park) and we’d like to be compensated,” Sammons said Monday to the subcommittee.

Dexter said there “were still details and finances to work out between the city and county,” and he would have “another draft of proposals ready” when the subcommittee meets again Feb. 18.

That agreement will then be presented to both city and county government bodies to vote on.

Tuesday, when contacted for comment after the fiscal court meeting, Sammons said he didn’t feel he and Ellis needed to go into detail and deliver any updates. “It could hurt our negotiations with the city,” Sammons said.

When pressed about why he couldn’t share the same information that was relayed to the public through the newspaper coverage, Sammons said the fiscal court meeting had already run long, and he knew “too many questions would be asked. We didn’t need to get into all that stuff.”

After the meeting, Gay said the response he received to his questions was perplexing.

“Confusing, at best, to me — that whole interaction,” Gay said. He said he did not understand the intention behind the two magistrates’ refusal to share information.

“It’s my understanding that’s what the ‘committee reports’ section of the meeting is there for. We all deliver updates about what was discussed during our committee meetings, which is what the rest of us did,” he said.

Later, Gay had time to “read the story in the newspaper,” as he was told to do by Ellis and Sammons. “Now, it confuses me even more as to why they couldn’t have just relayed that to us. There were quite a few details discussed.”

Magistrate Cullen was also at a loss.

“The point of those meetings is to do the public’s business — in public,” Cullen said. “If we have questions, this is the time to discuss it. I don’t get it.”