Fiscal Court revote erases arguments

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Editorial: April 21, 2013

ISSUE: Fiscal Court’s revote on government move

OUR VIEW:  ‘Do-over’ was right decision

Hardin Fiscal Court conducted a second meeting to receive public input and allow magistrates an opportunity to recast a vote on the plan to relocate county government offices. Although those in attendance who spoke in opposition will continue to view relocation as the wrong move for county government, Fiscal Court’s decision to hold a second meeting certainly was the right decision to make.

Not only should the April 9 session set to rest any question of a possible violation of state open meeting laws, it provided another opportunity among many for the public to make its opinion heard.

The second meeting resulted from a complaint by local attorney Ben Humphries. In a letter submitted to Fiscal Court, Humphries stated the county failed to properly notify the public of a Feb. 26 meeting time change. During that meeting, magistrates voted 8-1 approving hiring local engineering firm ICON Engineering & Inspection Services and moving county government offices to property owned at Ring and Rineyville roads in Elizabethtown.

The meeting time was moved forward 90 minutes to 2 p.m. to allow magistrates and county government staff opportunity to attend a memorial service for long-time Planning Director Chris Hunsinger.

Humphries expressed his position that the time change failed to allow adequate and convenient opportunity for the public to attend. He further stated the change from its regular time designated the Fiscal Court meeting as a special session under state law, prohibiting magistrates from discussing or conducting any county business not specifically outlined on the posted agenda. Relocating county offices, Humphries said, fell outside the agenda item about hiring Icon.

To correct the matter, Humphries said Fiscal Court should properly notify county residents of a direct vote on relocation of county government offices as an agenda item during a regular meeting. That’s just what magistrates did.

Rather than dispute Humphries’ accusation Fiscal Court violated Kentucky’s open meetings laws, possibly extending the relocation debate further through legal arguments at taxpayer expense, Fiscal Court announced the April 9 session on the issue. Magistrates provided supporters and opponents, including Humphries, opportunity to speak on the relocation.

The second vote was not an admission of guilt. Rather, it simply erases any argument about wrongdoing.

When the time came for casting the revote, magistrates affirmed their prior vote by the same 8-1 margin. Magistrate Bill Wiseman again was the sole dissenting vote.

No one should fault those in the public with opposing views about the relocation of county government. When it comes to taxpayers’ business, sizeable decisions such as this rarely, if ever, receive complete public support.

Folks are certainly entitled to disagree with the decision their elected officials made on this topic. Some might disagree enough to voice their opinion again at the ballot box during the next election. That’s fine.

But that cannot be said of those who have the opinion Fiscal Court attempted to circumvent state law and somehow hide from the public the vote to relocate county offices. That view is simply wrong.

Public discussion about the potential of constructing a new county government center began more than five years ago. The issue has been the topic of public discussion and political campaigns.

It’s been the subject of ongoing news stories, many letters to the editor and periodic columns since 2006. Appropriation of money to design the facility were outlined in the county’s current operating budget, vetted and approved by magistrates during public meetings, and publicly reported on through the pages of this newspaper.

A view that Fiscal Court attempted to slide a vote past the public without providing an opportunity for input can only come from one who has either been disengaged in the topic over the passage of time, or is outright disingenuous in their view.

Raising arguments at this juncture in the process, frankly, could fall into the category of being too little, too late.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.