Local residents who tried to call Allen City Hall this month were most likely greeted by a busy signal.
That’s because the city’s phone and internet service has been disconnected for weeks — one of many problems discussed Monday that prompted talk about the possibility of dissolving the city.
“The bill’s been paid. I don’t know why they haven’t turned it back on,” Commissioner Elmer “Fudd” Parsons said as he tried to call Mayor Sharon Woods during the meeting. He reached her on a cell phone, and she repeatedly asked for the meeting to be adjourned because she couldn’t hear what was being discussed.
“Since the clerk quit, they’ve kind of let things go to disarray in there, including getting things disconnected, so,” Allen Police Chief Tommy Gearheart said in an interview Tuesday.
Officials reported that City Clerk Krystal Spurlock quit without giving a notice, in June — after the commission voted to lay off a maintenance employee and move all others to part time. That action came because Allen won’t receive state funding until it files financial reports that have been delinquent for years.
On Monday, commissioners tabled the approval of meeting minutes from May, June and July and bills for July, Aug. and September.
Commissioner Dr. Eilene Kinzer said, “Looks like this was it, that we haven’t made any bill payments since—what is this?—in July.”
“Everything was cut off,” Parsons told her. “We caught it up last of this month.”
On Aug. 29, the city paid about $749 for the Superfleet gasoline card, $53 for Sandy Valley Hardware, $773 to Gearheart Communications, $37 to Slone Janitorial and about $1,364 for two electricity bills. The bank statement provided Monday said the city had $27,000 in its account in July. Woods said, however, that the city has about $44,000.
She said the city was “left in a bad situation” when Spurlock left. In the past month, Woods and Commissioner Clyde Woods have also been dealing with health issues that have left them both unavailable for city business.
At the meeting, officials reported that city phone and internet had been disconnected for weeks and the city’s gas card had been cut off. Gearheart said he personally paid about $100 on gas for the police cruiser and other needs before deciding to not work because he wasn’t sure if the city had liability insurance.
“Well, Right now, I haven’t been working because the gas card’s been cut off and I don’t even know if the liability insurance has been paid. That’s just one of them things I want to be sure of, that I’m assured the liability insurance is current,” he told the commission.
Woods reported the gas card is “active now.” That’s when Parsons asked her, “Sharon, I thought Thomas was let go. He ain’t been here in eight weeks.”
City Attorney Beth Shortridge reminded Parsons that employee discipline must be approved by the commission.
“You can’t just tell the police they’re fired. You have to have a meeting. You have to have a vote on that,” she said.
Parsons told her, “Well, he needs to show up some time. It’s been eight weeks since you’ve been here. That’s what I, that’s the complaints I’m giving.”
Shortridge defended Gearheart, saying the city can’t expect him to pay for the city’s gas.
When Gearheart said there were $1,000 in late charges on the gas bill, Parsons raised his voice, telling Woods on the phone, “He’s saying the late charges on the fuel bill’s been over 1,000 bucks since he’s been here. He’s complaining about you, boss. I think we need to let the guy go.”
Commissioners talked over each other. The conversation was not audible. It calmed down when Woods suggested a special meeting.
That’s when Commissioner Josh Kinzer mentioned recent absences by Commissioner Clyde Woods, who has been ill. He said with only four members on the commission, votes could end in a tie.
Woods told him. “That’s exactly right. I was told you’d bring this up.”
She said she would talk to County Clerk Chris Waugh about filing a “vacancy that would come available by Clyde resigning.”
“I don’t think we’re going to find anyone to fill it,” Josh Kinzer said.
Shortridge said she will have to research state laws to confirm the process of replacing a commissioner, and the conversation drifted, again, to Gearheart’s employment.
He told the commission that he just wants to be assured that the city has insurance coverage.
“I just want assurances because the phone’s cut off here, the internet is cut off here, everything’s been cut off. … Nobody’s been paying anything, so I’m just needing reassurances that—“
Parsons interrupted him, telling Woods, “He’s downing you, boss.”
“I’m not downing anybody, Fudd” Gearheart said.
Parsons continued, “Nothing’s been paid. How long are we going to keep this fellow? How long is the city going to keep this fellow? He’s done nothing for eight weeks and wanting to get paid for it.”
Gearheart told him, “Fudd, I never turned in one hour, bro. Not one hour.”
After the meeting, Gearheart said he was not told he had been fired.
“If any of that took place, none of that was ever relayed to me, and I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about,” Gearheart said. “I took a leave there until they got their ducks in a row. Fuel for the car and so forth.”
He said he took about six weeks off. Parsons said it was eight. Woods said it was seven.
“It may be somewhere in that neighborhood, I don’t know,” Gearheart said. “I worked a couple of days in there, just showing up at the office, but the AC unit went down in there and it was 85 degrees in there. I just said, ‘Enough of this,’ so.”
‘Well, we don’t have a city at this point’
Josh Kinzer suggested dissolving the city, but learned Allen voters must be involved.
“Something I wanted to talk about with everybody was the possibility of unincorporating the city,” he said. “I think that’d probably be our best option here moving forward.”
“Well, we don’t have a city at this point,” Eilene Kinzer said. She asked about steps required to dissolve the city.
Parsons suggested changing the subject and Woods suggested adjourning several times.
“Well, I want to talk about it,” Josh Kinzer said. “I feel like that, as a city … it’s something that we do need to talk about. I mean, ultimately, if we don’t have the support or whatever, we don’t have the support, but I think it’s something that I’d like to talk about.”
Woods suggested calling a special meeting, after which Eilene Kinzer pointed out that the commission has planned special meetings numerous times, and they were not held.
Shortridge explained the process to dissolve the city, saying that 20 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election would have to file a petition with the county clerk in early August.
“I think we’ve got a situation where we can’t maintain it, what we do have,” Josh Kinzer said.
Eilene Kinzer asked whether Woods found the financial documents the state requires.
“Because without those state funds, we can’t sustain the city,” she said. “Were you able to get those documents and send those over to them?”
Woods told Kinzer she will fax those documents to the DLG on Tuesday. She said she would call the DLG and tape the conversation so all commission members can hear it.
Josh Kinzer said unicorporated areas of Floyd County “seem to be better able to deal with the problems that areas like that need to deal with.” He said Allen’s incorporation hampers growth.
“I feel like our incorporation here in a way hinders us because we’re not going to get any help from the county. We’re not going to get any help from the state, that’s just what I’ve been thinking,” he said.
Eilene Kinzer asked about other options,
“So, what do you do with a town that doesn’t have the financial means to continue its business? What are the other options?”
Shortridge explained that a circuit judge could dissolve a city if it fails to failing to elect officers or levy or collect taxes.
Last month, the commission voted to advertise for a city clerk. The city did not make that announcement either in the newspaper or on the city’s Facebook page. Woods and Parsons both mentioned knowing someone who was interested in the job, however.
When asked after the meeting whether the city insurance had lapsed, Josh Kinzer said, “I have no idea.”
“And neither did I,” Gearheart said. “And so, that put me in my position.”
Parsons said it did not lapse.
“It hadn’t really lapsed. We just had to pay it real quick,” Parsons said. “It never, it never lapsed.”
When asked what services the city has provided its residents over the past couple of months, Josh Kinzer pointed out that Parsons has been mowing grass. Gearheart said he’ll return to work part time as long as he is sure the city has insurance coverage.
When asked after the meeting if he was bothered by the way Parsons talk to him, Gearheart said, “It’s like this, over the last couple of years, I have essentially gotten used to the way they operate down there, and it’s not gotten any better. It’s continually gotten worse and I don’t look for it to get any better.”
When asked what he meant by that statement, he said, “Just, it’s chaotic, the way they handle their finances and all of that.”
In response to an open records request this month, the Kentucky Department for Local Government reported that Allen must submit audits or financial statements for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years and a uniform information financial report for the 2018 fiscal year before it receives state funds.
“The City of Allen did not receive a delinquency report because at the time they were marked in error as compliant,” the DLG statement said. “After the auditor’s office informed the DLG of this mistake, the entry was removed from the system and the city’s MRA (Municipal Road Aid) was correctly withheld.”