Frustrations about actions taken without a commission vote spilled into the Allen City Commission’s special meeting on Tuesday, during which two city officials threatened to resign if things do not improve.
The commission voted to hire a part-time police chief after a lengthy discussion, offering him $12.50 per hour — less than the $14 per hour he requested. Commissioners Elmer Parsons and Commissioner Junior Gibson voted in favor of hiring him part time at $12.50 per hour, and, voting against it, Commissioner Dr. Eilene Kinzer told them, that based on what he said during the interview, he probably would not accept that rate of pay.
As of print deadline, that officer had not accepted the job.
The city has been operating without a clerk since about June, when former clerk Krystal Spurlock resigned, and former Police Chief Thomas Gearheart resigned in September, telling officials via letter, “Due to the current situation within the city government I do not feel association with the City of Allen is beneficial to me, or my reputation.”
James Keeton of Paintsville accepted the police chief position in Allen in January for $14 per hour, part time. He declined it, however, after calling Parsons and speaking with him on the phone four days after the commission voted to hire him.
“He told me that he’d been talking with the mayor and they decided that they was just going to pay me, like, $10.50 an hour. And I said, ‘Well, you was there and voted on it, the night that they done it, so, I just felt like that there’s a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t know about. I just didn’t want to get involved in that kind of politics with them,” Keeton said in an interview this month with the Floyd County Chronicle and Times.
That discussion, and Parson’s announcement that he hired a part-time clerk without a commission vote, was at the forefront of the frustration voiced during the meeting.
While reading bills into the minutes, Kinzer pointed out two checks totaling $926 for Gina Vaughn, a woman hired as a financial clerk in Allen in October for $10 an hour.
When Vaugh was hired in October, Kinzer said commissioners were informed she would only work a few hours during evenings to get the city’s financial paperwork in order. She asked how she is now working, as Parsons reported, for $8.50 per hour, three days a week at city hall.
Kinzer asked how many hours Vaughn worked to earn one $350 check. When Parsons told her it was 52 hours, Kinzer pointed out that would equal less, per hour, than minimum wage.
“Sharon (Woods) said pay her this much because the lady that does the (payroll) work for the city, Monday was holiday and the girl didn’t get paid,” Parsons said. “So, we’ll work it out.”
Then, Parsons told her it was for 48 hours, and Kinzer asked whether she was clocking in and out during work hours.
“We just guessed at this right here because the lady that does the payroll was out of town,” Parsons said. “So we may owe her money or she may owe us money.”
When Kinzer asked if that’s $7.29 per hour, Parsons informed her that she gets $8.50 per hour, saying that’s minimum wage. Kinzer asked why there’s a discrepancy between what she was paid and her hourly rate.
“I just explained it to you,” Parsons said.
“So, you just guessed?” Kinzer said.
Parsons repeated, “I just explained it to you. The lady in Prestonsburg ... is out of town. The girl needed to be paid, so Sharon (Woods) said pay her $350. When Angie (Kidd) gets back, she can go work it out. We’ll either pay her what we owe her or she can pay us what she owes us.”
He reported that the 48 hours she worked was for six, eight-hour days.
“Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 8 until 4, 8 to 3:30,” Parsons said. “She doesn’t take any lunch either, so.”
When Kinzer pointed out that Vaughn was only supposed to work “a few hours a week,” Parsons told her, “But we brought her back in and hired her three (days) for $8.25, three days a week.”
He insisted there was a vote to hire her in November. Kinzer said that did not occur.
Parsons told her that Vaughn attended the December meeting.
“She did not come to the December meeting,” Kinzer said. “That was the interview meeting that we had. She did not come there. She was not at the December meeting and before the December meeting we agreed that she would go just for a few hours in the evenings, but not work that many hours. This is why we’re going to get off on our budget. So, she’s not approved to work that many hours at all ... Until we have a meeting that she’s voted on, she’s not allowed to be working that much.”
Parsons became visibly frustrated, telling commissioners, incorrectly, that the city does not have a budget.
“I mean, what are you saying, that we should just say to hell with this and let the city go back to bankruptcy, the way it was before?” Parsons asked.
Kinzer said that the city needs to “follow proper protocol.”
“Protocol is to get us out of debt,” Parsons said. After Kinzer told him, again, that Vaughn is not approved to work that many hours, Parsons threatened to call her the following day and fire her.
City Attorney Beth Shortridge slammed her hand on the table.
“You can’t, and that’s the issue,” she said. “You can’t keep making unilateral decisions. You can’t fire her.”
“Well, to hell with it. I can’t keep up with you guys,” he said. He pointed at Kinzer and Shortridge. “Wait, wait. Wait just a minute, What have you done for the city since you’ve been here? What have you done?”
Shortridge told him, “I’ve given legal advice that is never followed. Never followed.”
The conversation was taking place as the officer who came for an interview for the police chief’s position sat with commissioners at the meeting table.
Gibson told commissioners, “You may have to hire him right now to keep the peace.”
Kinzer, again, emphasized that if the city is taking action without a vote, then it’s a violation of law.
Kinzer asked for an update on financial statements, the work Vaughn is paid to do.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to hire that lady we fired,” Parsons said.
“We didn’t fire anybody. We never made a motion ... So, if miss Gina Vaughn has been working this many hours, where are we at with our financial statements?” Kinzer said.
Parsons told her, “I don’t know.”
The discussion then moved to the call between Parsons and Keeton, with Parsons emphasizing that he did not call Keeton, as previously reported.
“I did speak to him and he said that he felt like there was not, there was a little bit of conflict and there was not consistency in what he was told in the offer vs. a phone call that was made later,” Kinzer said. “So, we just have to make sure that we’re all on the same page.”
Parsons said Keeton called him to ask for keys to the police car.
“I said, buddy, the car has been broke down for four months. We just got the car back two weeks ago, last week. I got it back last week,” Parsons said. “And I told him you’d been hired, but Sharon (Woods) had the last word on the salary.”
Both Shortridge and Kinzer interrupted.
“No, she does not. She does not have the last word,” Shortridge said. “This is a commission form of government. Everybody’s vote here is equal. Sharon is the mayor. Her vote is no more than anybody else that sits here ... In this form of government, a commission form of government, we had a quorum that day, we had a vote and he was hired. It can’t be changed with a unilateral phone call that tells somebody she has the final decision. She does not have the final decision.”
Kinzer emphasized the need for commissioners to be on the same page and said Allen residents deserve a police department.
“My concern is that I do not want a situation like that happening again, where we’re not being transparent and we’re going against the commission,” she said about the phone call. “I’m saying that you also cannot say that Sharon is going to make a final say on a police hire. Sharon is an equal member of this commission. We all have equal say.”
She continued. “So, we have to make sure because I think that the people of Allen deserve better. The people of Allen deserve to have some sort of service provided to them. I wish we could give them a lot of things, but we have a limited budget. One of the things we can provide is a police officer. And so, I want to make sure we have a police officer on staff. I just want to make sure that whatever issues are going on, we’re not repeating our same mistakes. I’d like to make sure that we are all in agreement.”
Parsons asked her, “Are you done talking? Are you finished? You been talking 10 minutes, you want to hire this guy, or what?”
Shortridge said, “We just went through a proper interview who somebody who was later called and got rid of, so, I mean, this has to be transparent. I know there’s nobody here from the city right now, but it has to be transparent. This is an open meeting. It is for people to see what’s going on in their city. It has to be made open. It can’t be phone calls.”
Parsons interrupted her.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
“No, I’m not finished,” she answered.
He pushed for them to just “get on with it,” complaining that they’re arguing and “getting nothing done.”
“The same way that you all came in here and voted for the public in an open meeting and then made phone calls behind and reversed what was done. That’s why nothing was done,” Shortridge said.
Parsons complained that he didn’t make the call, and Kinzer told him it wasn’t about who called who; it was about what was said to make Keeton decline the job offer.
Gibson told commissioners to calm down.
“I think we all ought to take a deep breath and everything and kindly chill out a little bit,” he said. “This kindly reminds me of our country, the way it’s being run today — the Democrats against the Republicans. And we don’t want this going on — I won’t vote for your bills and you won’t vote for mine. You can’t get nothing done that way. We have to be all consolidated, one for all and all for one. And until we do that, we’re not going to accomplish nothing.”
He said he took the commissioner’s position in Allen to try to help the city.
“The reason I took this job without pay was to try to help the city, but, you know, I’m not going to come down here and be in knock-down, drag-outs, you know, and a deal like that. I want to be friends with everybody, but I still want what’s best for the city,” he said.
Parsons also said he’s “about ready to quit” if things don’t improve.