It’s time for the cities of Martin and Allen to lay all of their cards on the table.
These two Floyd County cities are struggling right now. They both have financial problems. They both have personnel problems. They both have problems with the services they are and aren’t providing their taxpayers.
And with all of those issues at the forefront, both of these cities also have significant problems providing public information to the public.
This newspaper has had two open records requests seeking financial documents that have been pending in both of these cities since Aug. 9. State law requires local governments to provide public documents requested via open records requests within three days and these laws also permit the immediate inspection of public records when they are sought during normal business hours unless the documents are unavailable for very specific reasons.
We respected a request from Allen for more time to fulfill an in-depth open records request because of significant extenuating circumstances there and the amount of records we are seeking in that city.
We have tried to be patient for Martin’s answer to a much shorter request which should have been available at the time the request was made, but until a meeting this week, officials had given us no response, no reason why they are withholding documents on city finances. Now, we are told we will get access to these documents on Friday. We hope that occurs, but we have our doubts, especially since this week, a deputy clerk in Martin even asked whether a city council member would have to file an open records request to access city records.
We’re going to be honest here.
We’ve been reporting about these city governments for four years now.
We attend meetings. We talk to city officials. We talk to community members. And what we’ve learned is that these community members, these taxpayers, are not happy.
We’ve also seen that several members of both of these local government bodies do not seem to comprehend their duties under the law — not just with open records requests, but also with issues that should be a matter of routine in city government.
Some of them appear to not comprehend that as elected leaders their job, first and foremost, is to protect the taxpayer money that keeps these cities afloat.
This week, not a single Martin council member could answer questions from taxpayers about how much debt the city holds, or who has city cell phones and other things like how the city is paying bills when the check register showed a $15,000 deficit last month and a $55,000 deficit this month. It’s outrageous to think any city is operable without a least one person who knows those answers.
But still, repeated questions about these things are answered with silence.
And when truths are revealed, as they were recently, they are mind-blowing — such as the fact that Martin has been approving bills after they are paid for years and that purchase orders may or may not be a requirement for purchases there. That was one of many unanswered questions that were left after Tuesday’s meeting.
The same kind of issues pop up in Allen, where the commission operates without approving monthly check registers or financial reports and where the former clerk reported recently that at least one contract employee bought things with city money without purchase orders.
There is no excuse for any of these problems in any city. Our elected leaders should do their jobs better than this.
There was a lot of talk at Martin’s meeting this week about council members making allegations about another council member not living in city limits. Similar allegations have also been made in Allen in recent years. And in both of these cities, these allegations have been made against council members who have been more vocal about the need for these cities to be transparent with financial matters.
Also in both of these cities, recent council meetings have withered down to — at points — shouting matches between officials, employees and/or council and commission members. It’s ridiculous.
It’s time for those who appear to be creating distractions in these cities to stop playing games and put all cards on the table.
Audience members in Martin were begging for that this week. They’ve repeatedly asked for the same things for months.
What’s the harm in letting taxpayers know where their funds are being spent?
The residents of Allen, and especially, Martin are begging for transparency. It’s time for officials to stop bickering and start listening.
Yes, we’ve seen a lot of things while we’ve been reporting in these two cities in the past four years and we want to emphasize another very important fact that often gets lost in the bickering.
Both of these cities are filled with and led by people who genuinely care about their cities. And that’s what makes all of these problems even more confusing.
To the officials in Martin and Allen, we plead: If you really care about these cities you are running, do your job.
And please go to the Kentucky Attorney General’s website and read its booklet about the Kentucky Open Records and Open Meetings Acts. It’s called “Your Duty Under the Law.” You can find it quickly with a Google search.
It’s also available right here: https://bit.ly/2mPyjix.