Let’s be clear — we do not expect perfection from elected officials and public servants.
Serving in a public service capacity — if done correctly — is tough, complicated and often thankless.
People have different reasons for seeking election to public office. Some do so because they want to better their community and believe they can facilitate that. Some, however, seek office for more selfish reasons — to pad their resume or sometimes even financially or otherwise benefit from public office.
Motive, in the case of seeking public office, matters. And motive not only matters in that case, but it often comes to the surface when the rigors of service really hit hard.
With the City of Martin, questions of motive abound and also may explain why we’re doing such a deep dive into their finances and paying so much attention to this small town.
A few months ago, somewhat due to growing concerns over the city’s eye toward annexation, questions began to arise. In our role as a watchdog for the people — one of our key jobs — we began asking questions.
As a part of that, we asked the Martin city government for a number of records, mainly centered on the city’s finances. Over the ensuing months, we have received records from Martin, but have yet to receive all the records for which we asked.
Recently, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office, which is the initial arbiter for disagreements between government agencies and the public on open records issues, found that, in the case of the records we requested, the city “subverted” or undermined the authority of the state’s open records laws in not providing those records.
We’re not alone. Terry Thornsberry, a key participant in the “We The People” organization that opposes the city’s annexation, also received similar opinions from the AG’s office.
We have been accused of bias against Martin for our searches for information regarding its operations. We would caution that those who attempt to impugn our motives likely have something to hide.
The Floyd County Chronicle and Times is a part of Appalachian Newspapers, an organization operating newspapers in four Eastern Kentucky counties and one in West Virginia. The reporters with Appalachian Newspapers cover municipalities throughout the region.
The records we’ve requested from Martin are not something odd or out-of-the-ordinary for our operations. What is out-of-the-ordinary, however, is the level of obstruction to which we’ve been subjected in Martin.
In many municipalities, our reporters simply ask for these documents at the government body’s meeting and they’re provided. That’s it. There are no redactions, there’s no obstruction. We simply ask and receive. Sometimes we raise questions based on the data, but more often, we simply examine it to do the best job we can to ensure the public is being represented well.
And that’s where motive comes in. Again, elected officials aren’t perfect. They don’t always do the right thing or know everything they need to know to correctly make all the right decisions.
But, if a person’s motive for public service is right — serving, not being served — then, instead of being obstructive, elusive and refusing to provide the public to see behind the scenes, they will attempt to make sure the public is informed.
In Martin, we have had to undertake steps and deal with issues to which many of our reporters — some of whom have decades of experience in covering public agencies — have never been subjected.
Let us again be clear again — this isn’t the case of a news agency asking a city to go over and above. We are asking the city to do the bare minimum of work required to ensure governmental transparency.
And, despite the opinion of the state’s top prosecutor that Martin had not followed the law, the city continues to not provide complete records and has avoided its responsibility under the law.
What we see in Martin is evidence of a government agency that has decided that it is the final authority on what happens with the revenues (mostly collected through involuntary taxes) it collects and the expenditures it makes.
The City of Martin officials, if they ever had a basic understanding of the principles of our representative republic that requires that they serve and answer to the public, not the other way around, have either intentionally or unintentionally lost sight of that.
Make no mistake. We will continue digging for answers in Martin. Why? You deserve to know — that’s why. The City of Martin collects taxes and fees from its residents and those who work in or travel through the city.
You have no choice but to pay these taxes or fees. As a result, the city has a basic responsibility to be open to questions about how they’re using those revenues. And, honestly, the questions at which we have arrived during our examination of Martin raise serious questions about the city, its operations and its ability to operate into the future.
But we don’t see the whole picture. Unfortunately, that’s by design.
Despite, however, the city’s continued skirting of the law and of basic ethical responsibility, we will continue to ask the questions. We will continue to file open records requests. We will continue to attend meetings and publish stories about what’s going on in Martin.
The more they attempt to hide, the more questions raise. And we commit that we will be there to see that the public gets the answers to those questions. That’s not a legal requirement, that’s our duty.