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The public hearing for possible removal of Hodgenville Mayor Terry Cruse on Thursday night at the city’s civic center was continued to another date after hearing only one witness, which was no surprise to either party.
Cruse is accused of engaging “in conduct that has damaged the integrity, image and dignity of the mayor’s office and the city of Hodgenville and that such conduct rises to the level of misconduct and willful neglect of his duties as mayor justifying the removal of office,” according to a public notice. Removing the mayor from office requires a unanimous vote from city council.
Ron Mather, attorney for Cruse, and Michelle Sparks, attorney for the city council, admitted they never expected to conclude the hearing in one evening.
When the two parties met Monday with hearing officer Douglas George, a retired 11th Circuit Court judge, a second date was predetermined.
The next hearing is set for 9 a.m. May 15.
Sparks began the meeting entering into record copies of Kentucky Revised Statutes, city ordinances, documents from a Kentucky State Police investigation of Cruse and City Clerk MaDonna Hornback and other city documents.
During the presentation, Mather asked to approach George to discuss many of the documents Sparks entered into record. The presentation took approximately 90 minutes.
“I know it was a little bit boring of sorts, because we’re preserving the record,” she said. “It was a necessary evil.”
She said if Cruse is removed, he has the right to an appeal and she saw it necessary to have the documents on record.
After the presentation, Sparks called Cruse to testify. After a recess, Cruse invoked his constitutional right to remain silent.
“We hated to have to put in the right to remain silent,” Mather said, noting the testimony could be used in a pending criminal case against Cruse.
“There’s two sides to every story and it will eventually come out,” Cruse said after the hearing concluded.
Sparks also called Hornback, but she was not present.
“If they would have testified, I could have enlightened the public and the council,” Sparks said. “There are some major inconsistencies with the facts and the law.”
Mather called one witness, Hodgenville Police Chief Steve Johnson, who testified Hornback’s son was using the city’s gas card with Johnson’s permission. Johnson said Hornback’s son was a drug informant and his compensation for information was fuel.
Mather said before putting Johnson on the stand for this testimony, he consulted with Hornback and her son and they agreed to allow it.
On Thursday afternoon, Mather filed an injunction to postpone the hearing in LaRue Circuit Court, but it was denied.
He said the short amount of time given was not enough to prepare and schedule witnesses.
“This hearing was put on us with fairly short notice,” he said. “To try to get ready for that in less than two weeks is awfully hard. They’ve been working on it for a long time.”
Now Mather plans to file a motion in LaRue Circuit Court requesting rulings on whether the hearing has subpoena powers, if certain council members can be called as witnesses and whether the council is the proper entity to hear an ethics violation case.
He said his case becomes more difficult to present if witnesses can refuse to testify, such as the KSP detective and auditor who filed the report against Cruse and Hornback.
“(It) makes it very difficult,” he said. “His report is being accepted into record without me being able to cross examine. I am battling a phantom witness.”
Before the meeting, Cruse attempted to recommend three individuals to Hodgenville’s defunct board of ethics, but the motion failed for lack of a second. Cruse and Mather said the only body able to hear the case is an ethics board.
“The mayor thinks certain members of the council are willfully neglecting their responsibilities by not putting one in place,” he said. “I don’t know how they can justify their actions.”
According to ordinance, when the ethics board is established or after any vacancy, the mayor can appoint members within 60 days with the council’s approval. In the case of a vacancy, if the mayor does not make an appointment within the allotted time, the board of ethics fills the vacancy.
Cruse, who is in his second term as mayor and is a candidate for sheriff in the May primary, faces nine counts of abuse of public trust; one count of theft by unlawful taking; two counts of campaign contribution restrictions/expense limits; and two counts of second-degree forgery. Hornback is charged with 54 counts of abuse of public trust and one count of theft by unlawful taking.
Each charge is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, if convicted. Cruse and Hornback filed not-guilty pleas following the indictments.
Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or email@example.com.