Recently, in this space, we called for the Martin City Council to pump the brakes on a planned annexation, mainly due to fundamental flaws in the process by which the city was attempting to take in hundreds of acres of property.
And, typically, we try to stay out of telling an agency how it should rule on policy matters, instead preferring to facilitate a discussion between elected officials and those they’re elected to serve and spur them toward listening to the people.
However, at this point, we feel it is proper for us to join the chorus of voices the city government continues to choose to ignore in saying that the city needs to abandon this annexation attempt, perhaps permanently.
There are numerous reasons why we believe this is the best course of action, but, unfortunately, much of it hinges on what we don’t know.
It’s common practice at this newspaper and our sister newspapers across Central Appalachia that when we attend public meetings, and those agencies approve financial reports or take actions that impact the financial state of the governmental body, we simply ask for copies of those.
In most cases, that results in the agency’s record-keeper turning over those records and us looking over them and filing them or using them for future stories. This isn’t a special item to which we as a news agency are entitled. In fact, in a perfectly transparent government, the agency should be willing to do the same for any other member of the public who requests the records.
In Martin, that hasn’t been the case. This newspaper is currently involved in an ongoing unfulfilled records request from the city that is now before the office of Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, at our request, because of the city’s foot-dragging and improper actions in regards to records.
We requested several pieces of financial documentation from the city and initially received only one — the report showing the city’s expenditures and revenues for October, November and December. The major issue is that those records were submitted to us with several redactions, including, inexplicably, the balance.
Last week, we received a copy of that same document, this time with the balances being shown. And that’s where one of the red flags arose. Those records seem to show that, at least in those three months, the city never finished the month with a positive financial balance.
Because there are still a number of records that we’re still waiting to be provided that would allow us to put together a story on the city’s financial condition, we can’t fully report on that. We’re hopeful, however, that Beshear’s office’s involvement will result in us receiving some of those records that will fully flesh out what’s going on in Martin and bring it out into the light.
The glimpse we’ve seen appears to show a city that is not in a good financial condition, and may actually not be in a functional financial condition, which is now attempting to take on more property.
If the city’s financial condition is indeed what this little bit of documentation appears to show, then Martin should not be considering taking in more businesses and residences, but instead should be figuring out how to cut down expenses and take other actions that doesn’t shift the burdensome result for the city’s financial irresponsibility onto taxpayers.
That’s doubly true of taxpayers who clearly have no desire to become a part of the city.
And that brings us to another point of concern — the lack of knowledge on the city’s purpose in annexing this property.
We simply don’t know.
No officials, particularly Mayor Sam Howell, who should be out-front and up-front about the matter, have answered the question, “Why?”
Is the city simply attempting to bring in more money? If that’s the case, then we would argue that the documentation we have been provided, which again, lacks a lot of context due to the city’s refusal to comply with open records law, shows that Martin does not need to take on more financial responsibility until it gets its own house in order.
It’s time for Martin to stand down.
This annexation attempt has been fraught with intentional secrecy and bungling since the beginning and it’s time for the city officials to do the right thing, stand down on the annexation and be transparent and financially responsible.