On Monday evening the Grayson city council passed a new blighted property ordinance in a special session. That special session came less than a week after last Tuesday’s regular session, where they held the first reading of the newly revised ordinance.
The Carter County Times was the only media in the room at either of those meetings, and we report on both those meetings in this issue.
Monday’s special session, however, was really just a continuation of the previous regular meeting, being composed entirely of items which were on the agenda of the previous meeting, but tabled until this special session.
Last Tuesday, as the hour grew late, and discussions of adding more reports to future agendas led to comments about the length of meetings, councilman Willis Johnson snapped back at the mayor that the council members, both appointed and elected, had chosen to serve the city. Johnson said if that meant sometimes having longer meetings so they knew what was going on, and could use that knowledge to serve and inform their constituents, that was part of the job.
The mayor, in response, made salient points about the overtime funds paid for department heads to attend meetings and submit reports already, and how those funds could be better utilized for underfunded services like the library.
The length of meetings (they are often tediously long) isn’t the point of this editorial, however. Neither is whether more reports and info would be a good thing (they absolutely would be) or if the money paid for personnel to submit reports in open council could be better spent elsewhere in some cases (it absolutely could as well).
They are all good points that city council and the mayor should consider. There may be a compromise in there, such as written department reports which could be summarized and shared through social media posts, published on the city website, or offered for publication in the paper. We would absolutely use such summaries, the same way we do with arrest reports and indictments. If there are questions based on the report, council could add the item to their agenda and request attendance for clarification.
But solutions to long meetings aren’t the purpose of this editorial either.
The purpose of this editorial is what happens when these agenda items get pushed back to a special session so soon after a regular session. When they aren’t passed as emergencies, but still get passed without sufficient transparency or opportunity for the public to respond because the first and second reading are so close together.
The Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS), Section 83A.060, regulates the enactment of ordinances. KRS 83A.060(4) requires two separate readings except in cases where an emergency is declared and an ordinance can be passed on first reading. In either case the ordinance cannot be enforced until after it has been published in the paper of record (KRS 424.270), so if you read the newspaper, you’re going to have the opportunity to find out about it before it impacts you.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is that even if you know about it, you haven’t had the opportunity to speak on it. You haven’t had the opportunity to ponder it, sit with it, digest it, decide where you stand, and take it up with your elected representatives.
That’s the point of a second reading requirement. It gives everyone – from the elected officials who will make the choice to the people who vote for them – the opportunity to consider, study, and decide what they will support. It gives everyone the chance to know about it before the decision is made.
Councilman Johnson, as fierce a watchdog as his predecessor Jerry Yates, during both meetings said he had some reservations about the ordinance, and how it could potentially be abused. Though he did ultimately vote with his colleagues on approval, Johnson still had concerns. But if any of his constituents come to him with the same concerns now, it’s too late for him to change his vote. It’s too late for him to bring that concern to his colleagues and attempt to sway them.
It’s too late, because it’s already been passed.
Let’s be clear, we’re not necessarily opposed to this ordinance. If it does what it’s designed to do, it could help improve the city. And in this case, the community has had plenty of time to chime in on the blighted property ordinance already, before it was revised and returned to council to begin the process anew.
What we are concerned about are the increasing number of special sessions, and how they could be used to abuse the system. Like councilman Johnson and his concerns about the blighted property ordinance, our concern isn’t that someone has been attempting to abuse the system with these back-to-back meetings. It’s that it could be done down the line.
And not just in Grayson, but at the county level or in Olive Hill.
It’s entirely possible to be in compliance with the letter of the law, but not the spirit. We strongly urge our local governments to adhere to both, and keep the special sessions like this recent one to a minimum.
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