Court postpones action on shortfall until Friday

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

December 19, 2013

PRESTONSBURG — Seven days before Christmas, there was little evidence of peace or goodwill in county government, as the Floyd County Fiscal Court met Wednesday to tackle an estimated $450,000 shortfall.

But with the clock ticking down toward a possible default on county bonds, magistrates refused to take any substantive action to plug the hole, choosing to take up the matters during another meeting Friday.

Magistrates tabled 10 of the 19 resolutions on the agenda, including almost every item related to the shortfall, as well as others they said they could not pass until after they make decisions on how to cover the deficit.

In some instances, magistrates objected to how resolutions prepared before the meeting were worded. In the case of layoffs proposed during a special meeting last week, magistrates objected to the resolution identifying which employees would be laid off, saying they wanted to discuss which employees to furlough in closed session.

During a special meeting a week ago, magistrates had indicated they would lay off six parks and golf course workers during the winter, as their job duties were seasonal, and Wednesday’s resolution regarding the layoffs identified Phil Jones, Roy L. Newsome, Bethel Tackett, Clyde Woods, Anthony Stephens and Rodney Ousley as the workers to be affected.

Magistrates voted without discussion to table the proposal, but later in the meeting, the issue resurfaced.

Prior to adjournment, Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall noted that Wednesday’s agenda contained every action the court had expressed it wanted to take during last week’s meeting, but County Attorney Keith Bartley disagreed.

“There is not another person in this room who was at last Friday’s meeting who would agree with you, except maybe your wife,” Bartley said.

“We discussed a lot of things, and the way that you wrote this was just the way that you wanted,”District 1 Magistrate John Goble added.

Goble was particularly concerned with the resolution regarding layoffs, saying “none of the people we talked about” were on it. He then turned to Marshall’s wife, administrative assistant Lois Marshall, with a warning.

“You should have put your name at the top of the list to be laid off,” Goble told her.

After the meeting, Goble said he fully intends to see Lois Marshall’s position fall under the budget ax, and he believes the other magistrates will agree.

Magistrates also put off decisions on selling property, saying they wanted to wait until appraisals were complete, and scheduling an auction of surplus vehicles and equipment, saying they wanted to see a list of items declared surplus.

The court will meet again at 10 a.m., Friday, to take up those issues.

One measure the court did pass was an austerity measure aimed at trimming some costs. Magistrates voted to turn off all county cell phones and park all county vehicles, as well as to turn off lights in county parks during the winter.

Early in the meeting, the strained relationship between Judge Marshall, on one side, and magistrates and Bartley, on the other, were evident, when a motion to go into closed session died for lack of a second.

Marshall announced the closed session “for the purpose of discussing two issues that may require possible litigation.” Magistrates remained silent for a moment, before Bartley told them, “If you have other issues you for the executive session, certainly you need announce what those issues are.”

“I am stating there are only two issues that will be presented in executive session,” Marshall replied.

“I really don’t care what you’re stating, judge …” Bartley responded. “If these magistrates have other issues that they want to announce that they want to discuss, then they can do that.”

Goble and District 2 Magistrate Hattie Owens indicated they would also like to discuss surplus property and personnel in closed session, but Marshall remained adamant.

“At this meeting, I’m saying we have two issues I want to address,” Marshall said.

The motion died for a lack of a second.

At the end of the meeting, Bartley laid the blame for the court’s failure to pass many of the resolutions squarely at Judge Marshall’s feet.

“At last week’s meeting, we discussed just what actions we were going to take today,” Bartley told representatives of the Department for Local Government, as he asked them to return on Friday. “Obviously, that didn’t happen today, and it didn’t happen, in my opinion, because the judge didn’t want it to happen. We have a regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, and as you know, at a regularly scheduled meeting with a regular agenda, there can be actions taken, whether the judge likes it or not, or whether its on the agenda or not. So, if you’re here then and able to answer any questions these folks may have, I think they’ll take all the appropriate steps, to answer all of your concerns. They were just limited today and unable to do so for reasons beyond these magistrates’ control.”

DLG representative Matthew Frolich said he would have to ask his superiors if they could attend, but the cautioned Bartley that the department was not interested in getting between the judge and the magistrates.

“One thing we will not do and we will never do is interject ourselves in politics,” Frolich said. “That is not our job and something we will certainly not do.”

Later in the day, Marshall’s office said the department called back to say they would not be attending Friday’s meeting.