Hodgenville tries to appoint ethics board

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Special meeting comes one day prior to hearing for removal

By Gina Clear

In a special meeting one day prior to a public hearing for possible removal of Hodgenville Mayor Terry Cruse for violations of city ordinances, the code of ethics and Kentucky law, the mayor attempted to recommend nominees for the city’s board of ethics.

However, because all council members were not personally served 24-hour prior notice of the meeting, the recommendations never happened.

Cruse attempted to proceed because a quorum was present. The four council members who were served with the notice — Alex LaRue, Woody Handley, Glenda Wathen and Jim Phelps — were present. Phelps and LaRue objected, saying all members of council have to be properly notified so they have the opportunity to exercise their duty.

After the meeting, Cruse said a board of ethics is necessary because the council is not the proper body to prosecute ethics charges.

“They’re accusing me of breaking the code of ethics, but the mere act of trying to prosecute and remove me is breaking it, too,” he said.

Attorney for the council Michelle Sparks said before the meeting Cruse’s timing of the appointments calls into question his motives.

“I think it’s a conflict-of-interest problem,” Sparks said. “Trying to appoint people of his own choosing is a self-serving interest. He obviously has motivations outside of trying to fulfill his obligation as mayor.”

Ron Mather, an attorney representing Cruse, said no conflict exists because the council ultimately can deny appointments.

“Our position is the board of ethics should hear the complaint and if there’s not one in place, it’s time to put one in place,” he said. “The jurisdiction to decide whether an ethics violation has occurred rests solely with the board of ethics.”

According to ordinance, when the 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 will fill the vacancy.

“The ordinance has to be looked at,” Sparks said prior to the meeting. “There’s a problem with the ordinance itself.”

Wathen said Hodgenville had an active board of ethics during her term as mayor from 1994 to 1999.

Cruse said he was unable to find any record of the board dating back to 1994, when the ordinance was drafted.

“For lack of a better term, it’s been abandoned,” he said.

Cruse said he had three residents who agreed to serve, but he withheld their names.

The meeting was rescheduled for 6:30 tonight at city hall, 30 minutes prior to a scheduled public hearing for possible removal of the mayor.

An attempt at Cruse’s removal was initiated at an April 14 meeting, but no legal notice of a hearing was published as specified in state law, which led to tonight’s scheduled hearing.

The public notice says Cruse “has engaged 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 from office.”

Mather said it is possible he will file a request for an injunction today in LaRue Circuit Court to allow for more time to prepare for the hearing.

He said they are not attempting to stall.

“I would like to have the hearing done in a fair manner in a fair amount of time,” he said. “We would like more time to prepare.”

In a city council meeting April 14, Sparks gave a report of a Kentucky State Police criminal investigation detailing a “snapshot” of violations alleged against the mayor and City Clerk MaDonna Hornback.

In the report, she detailed multiple incidents of the 18-month investigation with convenience store surveillance video screenshots and copies of receipts and mileage charts for Cruse and Hornback. The pictures reportedly show both filling up personal vehicles while using city gas credit cards and other documents indicate both received reimbursement for mileage.

Criminal charges are pending based on the KSP investigation.

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 gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.