"Catbird" speaks out

Dinwood resident Kathryn “Catbird” Isaac tells the Martin City Council, “Your one hand’s feeding the other hand. You all ain’t got a clue what’s going on in here.”

It appears that Martin will start the new fiscal year on July 1 without a new budget, and the city attorney informed the city that it’s okay. 

On June 25, the council also discussed holding a private work session to discuss city business, which would be contrary to Kentucky Open Meetings laws. 

Council Member Bonita Compton and community members asked if Martin would have a new budget in place when the fiscal year ends on Sunday. 

“Your year ends Sunday. I always thought you’re supposed to publish a proposed budget before you start into the next year,” meeting attendee Terry Thornsberry said to the council. 

“Well, you’re supposed to, but it’s not absolutely mandatory,” City Attorney Doug Adams said. “Sometimes, sometimes cities are a month, two months behind in getting that approved, and there’s not an issue with that.” 

Thornsberry asked when the city would amend its current budget to reflect actual expenses. 

“Have we done that?” Compton asked. “Have you all done that?”

“I don’t do budgets,” Adams said. Other council members said a budget proposal is the clerk’s responsibility. 

“The council doesn’t do that. That’s up to the city clerk,” Council Member James Reynolds said. 

Council Member Charles Justice agreed. 

“It has to be done by the city clerk and also the person that does our taxes,” he said. 

“But you have to approve it, Mr. Justice,” Compton told him. 

He responded, “Yeah, but they’ve got to work it up first.” 

She responded, “Well, we’ve got to get it worked up. I mean, that’s taxpayer’s dollars. I don’t want to go to the pen.” 

State law (KRS 91A.030) requires the “executive authority,” or mayor, to prepare the budget proposal and message and present it to the city council no later than 30 days prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. If a city fails to adopt a budget ordinance, the budget ordinance for the prior fiscal year “shall have full force and effect as if readopted,” the Legislative Research Commission reports online. 

No significant action was taken at the meeting. It turned into more of a conversation between city officials and community members, and it ended with visitors praising officials for talking openly about the need to address issues that were recently reported in the Floyd County Chronicle and Times.

Once again, the council tabled approval of bills. The Martin City Council has not approved bills since March, Compton said. She said a bill list she received showed the city has an $8,000 deficit and asked whether city tourism was paying electric bills because they were not listed on bill lists she received. 

That was one of numerous questions she posed at this meeting.

Most of the discussion centered on things Compton said should be discussed at a work session. She raised the topic with questions about the city’s gas cards and cell phones — things she questioned in April. 

“In thinking of all of that, I think we still don’t have a resolution on our gas cards and how that we’re using our Fleet cards, but I think that all gas, if at all possible, should be bought in the town of Martin,” Compton said. 

“I agree,” Council member James Reynolds told her. “Sometimes, it’s not possible, when we have to send people out of town to transport, if mean, if there’s a reason, and a good reason, I can understand that.” 

Compton said the city should track who is using the cards, talking about the city paying for gas purchases in Arizona and Texas. 

“Yeah, that doesn’t need to happen. I agree with you 100 percent,” Reynolds said. “That’s the first I’ve heard of that.” 

Compton said the city should be more accountable. 

“Well, we’re sitting taking people’s tax dollars, so we need to be held accountable to where it’s being spent,” she said. 

Gas card issue were among several issues Compton said she wants to address at the work session.

“Also, I would like for this council to have two working sessions,” she said. 

Reynolds suggested that having a quorum may violate Open Meetings laws.

“I’m fairly busy most of the time, Bonita. I’ll help in any way I can, but I thought if more than — if we all got together as a quorum, it was considered a meeting.” 

“It is,” Compton said, “but we can have a working session, am I correct?” 

Adams asked for clarification.

“There’s no action taken, right? You’re just asking for discussion?” he asked. 

Compton told him, “I’m asking for the council to come together — you know, when I go down my list, and I will not, I’ve got a ton of things here. I looked at our bills. How is our electric bills being paid? I don’t see any invoices going out. Is tourism paying the electric bills for the city? I’m just saying. Our vehicle inventory. Do we have that? And who is authorized to-? We do have to have a working budget, I do know that. Another concern is about the ball park.”

She said the city could be held liable for spraying weed killer around the fence at the park and she wanted to know if someone was checking the park, talking about people leaving needles in public areas. No answer was provided.

She also raised questions about the city council not approving the hiring of employees — a task that is given to the mayor in mayor-council forms of government — and about the city’s liability insurance.

“These are just items that I would like to see talked about in a working session,” she said. “And it’s nothing that, it could very well be done here, but I think that these people out here deserve to know what’s going on in this town and how we’re covering and what we’re not covering.”

She asked whether city employees are given background checks and was told Martin does not perform background checks or drug screens. She asked that heads of the Martin Housing Authority, Martin Tourism, Martin Police Department, Martin Water and Sewer and Martin Fire Department provide monthly reports to the council. Again, no action was taken. 

“I would like to have a working session to discuss some of that,” she said. 

Council Member April Gayheart suggested a weekend work session, saying, “We do need to discuss this stuff before the meetings” because it’s “not fair” for the public to come in to a public meeting and not get answers to questions.

“Folks, we’ve got to sit down and come upon some resolutions here,” Compton said, as members tossed out potential dates to schedule the work session. 

Council members said it would be held July 22 at 6 p.m.

Compton asked for topics to be discussed, with members suggesting the financial report, gas cards, city phone bills, department reports, tourism funds, the city financial record-keeping, the tourism director’s work as a city employee, and, among other things, the ball field — a topic that raised concerns from Sharon Caudill, deputy clerk who serves on the tourism commission. 

“Some money is spent that not everybody knows about,” Caudill said. “I could tell you that right now. Absolutely. Today, I give Dwight McKinney a check that upset me rather highly because of the stuff that it had on it, the receipts showed me. I’m telling you.” 

No one asked for more details about the check to McKinney, who oversees a Little League team. 

Compton said she gets upset, too, when she sees Fleet card bills without knowing where the gas is going. Audience member Kathryn “Catbird” Isaac asked who is over the ballpark, and no one could immediately answer that question.

“Your one hand’s feeding the other hand. You all ain’t got a clue what’s going on in here,” Isaac said. “But what you need to do is try to find somebody that’s going to be over it, regardless if it’s somebody on the board, somebody in the house.”

After council members discussed who supervises the ball field, Isaac continued her comments.

“Well, you need to bring your bosses in here so they can answer some questions,” she said. “Now, let me tell you all, I ain’t being mean, but my niece went to prison for a whole lot less (explicative deleted) than what’s going on in here now. So, I’m a taxpayer, and I’m concerned and I don’t have a thing against none of you all up there. You’re good people … And this is our town, and I hate to see it go down in the drain. You’re a good man, all of you, but we need to find out what the problem is and we can fix it.” 

She said volunteers could help.

“I want our town fixed … We’re taxpayers. I’m not saying you stole or you stole. I’m not saying anybody stole, but if somebody’s stealing, then you all should want to find out who it is because eventually, it’s going to come out,” Isaac said. “But what we do have and what we got left, we need to work together and quit (explicative deleted)  and fighting and help each other because I sure don’t want to see my little town go down. It’s our town. It’s not yours. It’s not mine. It’s ours.”

Compton said every council member wants “what’s best for the town.”  

When the conversation turned to irregularities in financial records, Compton said the city needs new computer software. She asked for donations.

“I’m going to ask you as a community,” she said. “We need a bookkeeping system. If we get new software, you might see us out here doing some fundraisers. As Catbird said, we might be flipping some hot dogs and having some apple pies to get money. Because, as you can see, there’s no money. According to this, we’re $8,000 in a hole. But that’s what we got to do. We’ve got to lay this out here.”

She said the names of people with some city cell phones could not be determined. 

“We don’t even know who’s got the cell phones, according to this list,” she said.

Council members could not answer questions about who assigns cell phones or about  water and sewer, a topic that was discussed extensively.

Compton complained about the city council not approving bills since March.

“Are your bills being paid, or not being paid?” Thornsberry asked. 

“We have no idea,” Compton said. 

“Are they paying them without you all approving them?” Thornsberry said.

“Yes. Yes,” Compton said. 

Officials said these topics would be discussed at the work session. 

Audience members asked if they could attend the work session and were told that it would be a private meeting. When informed that a quorum of members requires a public meeting, council members suggested otherwise. 

“In public, you mean?” Gayheart asked. “Then, why are we sitting here now? I mean, why don’t we just- I mean, the purpose of doing this and discussing it is so we can talk issues and things over with each other instead of sitting and doing it all with you all. We’re not hiding anything. We’re just trying to work some things out.”

Compton, who was recently appointed to the council, said she’s “lost” about city business. 

“I don’t think it’d have to be open to the public,” Council Member Harold Case said. 

“No, it don’t,” Council Member Charles Justice said. 

Compton, a Floyd County Schools employee, said the board of education must open its work sessions to the public. 

“That’s the schools. I don’t think you have to on this,” Justice said. 

“We’ll find out,” Compton said, before the topic changed. 

In “Kentucky Municipal Statutory Law,” an informational bulletin published by the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, a public meeting is “defined broadly to mean not just formal meetings, but ‘all gathering of every kind, including video teleconferences, regardless of where the meeting is held, and whether regular or special and informational or casual gatherings held in anticipation of or in conjunction with a regular or special meeting.’” That bulletin notes that state laws require that “the public be admitted to any meeting of a public agency at which a quorum is present, public business is discussed, or action is taken.” 

After the meeting, Adams said he will research the law to see if a work session must be public. He said other cities have private work sessions prior to meetings. 

Reynolds suggested that two or three council members meet to discuss city business on one night, and the other council members meet to discuss business on another night. 

The Kentucky Attorney General’s office has issued numerous open meetings law decisions related to agencies holding a “series of less than quorum meetings” to subvert open records laws. KRS 61.810 (2) prohibits the practice of a “series of less than quorum meetings” to evade the Open Meetings Act. 

In an open meetings decision, 08-OMD-212, the attorney general addressed that issue specifically, ruling that a school board violated the open meetings law by having members go into an office “in small groups to discuss” a topic related to the school district. 

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