By By Jody Norwood firstname.lastname@example.org
Concerns have been raised at multiple meetings recently about possible violations of the newly appointed Kuttawa tourism commission. City leaders disagreed on some of those issues Monday night.
Members conducted their first meeting Thursday, which attorneys hired by the city admit could be in violation of Kentucky law. On Monday, an attorney for the City of Kuttawa addressed some of the issues concerning the new board.
At a special called meeting Thursday, Mayor Lee McCollum appointed Fred Ahrens, Kartik Patel, Wayne and Melissa Pederson, Jamie Daniel, Harold Henderson and Phil Gilihan to the board. Ahrens and Patel were not present.
After their appointments, board members held a secret vote to elect a chairman and treasurer.
The vote was suggested by Wayne Pederson. Pederson asked the board if anyone had paper to write their votes down.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, that way nobody knows everybody's names," Pederson said.
With five members present, the board cast multiple anonymous ballots to select a chairman, but kept discarding the vote because of a tie. At McCollum's recommendation, the board reversed the initial votes in favor of Daniel, and named Henderson as treasurer.
Gordon Sloan, Assistant Attorney General, said Tuesday that the secret vote was likely outside the scope of Kentucky's opening meetings laws.
"I would say each public agency has to conduct its own rules," Sloan said. "Under those rules, they can't go outside our open meeting laws."
The procedure would make it difficult to keep accurate minutes, a requirement of public meetings by state law. Public agencies are required to record votes, and how members voted.
On Monday, attorney Jackie Matheny Jr spoke to council members and guests in attendance at the city's regular monthly meeting. Matheny addressed concerns over the city's levying of a tax, citing KRS 91A.400. The KRS states that "cities of the fourth and fifth classes may levy an additional restaurant tax not to exceed three percent (3 percent) of the retail sales by all restaurants doing business in the city. All moneys collected from the tax authorized by this section shall be turned over to the tourist and convention commission established in that city as provided by KRS 91A.350 to 91A.390."
Matheny did not speak on the issue of the city levying a tax before it had created the commission, only that the tax had been issued in accordance with the statute. According to information from the Kentucky League of Cities and contrary to previous council statements, the tax collection was most likely in violation of state statutes as the commission was not yet formed.
The city began collecting the tax in February, at least three months prior to forming the board.
Matheny did address concerns raised Thursday that the city and board violated open meeting laws that prohibit conducting any business not specifically listed on an special meeting agenda. The board -- once it was appointed -- conducted several actions not listed on the posted agenda, including appointing officers, discussing bylaws and setting a meeting date.
On Monday, Matheny urged the city to take a mulligan, but did not say it implicitly violated the law.
"In having some discussions here... I think the best way [to advise the city] would be to go back, issue a new special meeting notice, outline in there a precise agenda," Matheny said. "We see this as a no harm, no foul situation. There hasn't been a disbursement of [taxes collected]. Those dollars that were collected from the tax have not been deposited in a bank account.
"It seems a technical violation, if anything."
On Thursday, the city said it had collected more than $14,000 through the tax since February.
Matheny said the city had enacted ordinances to form the board in accordance with state statutes. The attorney also confirmed that the mayor has authority to appoint the seven member board without confirmation of the council. By statute, each seat must be filled by a qualifying member, including representatives from city hotels, restaurants, a Chamber of Commerce representative and two at-large members.
As of presstime Tuesday, the city had not furnished a list of appointments and what specific membership they represent.
Later in Monday's meeting, council member Richard Mitchell moved to abolish the board, citing the city's perceived lack of interest and loss of tourism revenue. The council voted to leave the joint commission in January 2015 and voted to form its own on June 22, 2016, Mitchell said.
"Eighteen months went by before this was done," Mitchell said. "Attempt to seat the commissioners was this week, another five months [from publication of tourism ordinance]. Total time line from departure to attempt is 29 months. Twenty-nine months in my mind is unacceptable.
"If tourism was a real priority to Mayor McCollum and this council, the work should have been completed in a few months."
Mitchell said the "huge delay" had cost $250,000 in tourism revenue based on Kuttawa's previous annual contributions.
"When I asked previously why we withdrew, I was told they -- the tourist commission -- weren't doing things right," Mitchell said. "When councilwoman [Sandra] Starks asked if Kuttawa may be in violation of some KRS, she was told we were looking into this with our attorney and he didn't think so. Why did we hire another attorney and pay for his services?"
Mitchell also criticized the mayor for not placing the commission within 30 days as called for in the original ordinance, saying it took 11 months.
McCollum contended that Mitchell's information was incorrect.
"I just want everybody to understand, whichever way you vote on this, then this is final," McCollum said. "I think the council needs time."
City Attorney Bill Young recommended Mitchell withdraw his motion and allow the city time to draw up an ordinance to dissolve the board that has not been seated according to statute.
"I will agree to postpone my motion as long as we do not seat people and start another process until this [council] feels comfortable having all the information to make a decision," Mitchell said.
Mitchell polled other council members, who agreed by majority that more time was needed, and withdrew his motion.