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Within a span of four days, Spencer County Building Code Inspector Steve Clark was terminated by Judge-Executive Bill Karrer and reinstated by a quorum of the Fiscal Court, but it is still unclear when or if Clark will be permitted to get back to work.
Last Wednesday, a Spencer County Sheriff’s deputy showed up at Clark’s home around 2 p.m. and said Karrer wished to speak with him, Clark told The Spencer Magnet on Monday afternoon after the Fiscal Court voted to reinstate him.
Clark went to Karrer’s office where he was told the county had been tracking him via the GPS on his county-issued cell phone, Clark said.
“My response to that was ‘so?’” Clark said.
Though he was not given a written reason, apparently Clark was dismissed for allegedly reporting hours on his time card during which he was not in the office or performing inspections. However, according to the county’s ty’s administrative code, Clark’s position is a salary/exempt position and such positions do not usually require that certain hours be kept or reported.
Clark says he knew he was being tracked on his phone.
“If I thought I was doing something wrong, I would have done something different,” Clark said. “I didn’t do anything different than what I’ve done the last 11 and a half years.”
Clark’s posted business hours outside his office inside the Planning and Zoning building on Main Cross are from 8 to 10 a.m. After 10 a.m., Clark says he would go perform as many inspections as he had scheduled. No matter how many inspections were performed, be it two or 20, Clark says he kept his phone with him throughout the day to take calls as needed.
However, this isn’t the first time Clark has been dismissed by Karrer. Before Karrer even took office in 2011, Clark said he received a letter stating that Karrer intended to dismiss him as the building inspector, but much as they did this time, the magistrates stepped in to keep him at his post.
The Fiscal Court had a special meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss an unrelated issue — whether to advertise for bids on an ambulance remount — and several members of the local building community attended the meeting in hopes of an explanation.
During special meetings, only matters that are on the agenda for that meeting can be discussed and acted upon.
However, after the meeting adjourned, Magistrate Hobert Judd asked Karrer to provide an explanation regarding the building inspector, and Karrer agreed.
“The county attorney just said, ‘you can’t say much,’ and I’m not going to say much,” Karrer said. “As the county judge, it is my duty and responsibility, if I see something that I think is wrong, as I was told, you must report, you must take action. The other thing is, our former building/electrical inspector is a department head and that is an appointment of mine and, I’m trying to be careful about how I say this, I found that there was false documentation and reporting and very possibly criminal activity.
“With that information that I have and had in hand, I did terminate our building and electrical inspector. I know that puts a bind on the builders and folks like that and we’ll alleviate that situation as quickly as possible, but I could not let it go on.”
Karrer continued by saying he had turned the information over to law enforcement for a possible criminal investigation.
Magistrate Jerry Davis spoke up to thank those in attendance for coming, but advised them the discussion could not continue.
“We’re violating open meetings, the special meetings, because even though we’ve adjourned, you’re a quorum,” County Attorney Ruth Hollan said.
Members of the audience urged the court to immediately call an emergency meeting to address the issue.
Local business owner and realtor Bobby Smith had another idea.
“Why don’t two or three of you magistrates leave and let us talk to him?” Smith said. “Just get up and walk out and see what he’s got to say.”
Magistrates Judd, Mike Moody, David Goodlett and Woodie Cheek obliged, while Davis and Karrer stayed behind.
For the next 20 minutes, Karrer took questions, as well as criticism, from the crowd.
“Did you have any idea that these people in here are working to keep from going broke?” Smith asked. “No, you didn’t because you don’t pay attention to what’s going on ... you don’t care about us. We can go to hell in a handbasket is what you’re saying, Bill. That’s exactly what you’re saying, and if you don’t realize it, that’s your problem.”
Without a building inspector, builders are basically at a standstill because many of their projects can’t proceed without an inspection. New homes require building and electrical inspections. Homes that are being sold and are currently under contract must undergo an inspection. And any time the electricity needs to be turned on or back on, an inspection or permit is required. This also means that families who may have fallen short on their electric bill payments and end up with their power turned off require the electrical inspector’s services before their power can be turned back on.
“It would seem prudent in this situation for you to have a backup plan before you took action,” local businessman Murrell Lawson said. “There needs to be someone who is certified to step into that spot and continue business as usual.”
Bobby Smith asked how or why Karrer made his decision at this time.
“How could you be county judge for two years and know what he’s doing and do it all at one time? ... he’s been doing it ever since he’s had the job, whatever you said he’s done. And you knew it,” Smith said.
“That is your charge, but that is not true,” Karrer said.
Karrer told the crowd that he intended to call the state commission of building inspectors and put them on notice that they may be needed in the area. He also said the county would look into hiring a replacement as soon as possible.
“I will do my best to get a state inspector down here,” Karrer said.
Many of the builders present on Friday spoke positively about Clark, saying that he always comes when needed, whether it be on nights or weekends. Some said they know he works at night at home because they’ll give him plans in the evening that he’ll return with a full report the next morning.
Magistrate Davis told those in attendance that he would try to schedule a special meeting regarding Clark’s termination for Monday.
Karrer declined to call the meeting himself, but Davis was able to get the support of Judd, Moody and Goodlett to call the meeting for 1 p.m. Monday.
At Monday’s meeting, only Davis, Judd, Moody and Goodlett were present, along with County Treasurer Doug Williams and County Clerk Lynn Hesselbrock. Magistrate Woodie Cheek was out of town, as was the county attorney. Karrer was in town and his vehicle could be seen parked across the street from his office, but he did not attend the meeting.
Still, four members of the court constitutes a quorum and the meeting proceeded with the present members voting to have Judd preside over the meeting.
Nearly 50 community members attended the meeting, and Judd asked that they remain orderly, which they did.
“The magistrates did not know anything about why this individual was terminated,” Judd said. “We just got word that he had been fired, and we felt like we needed to know because it put the county in a bad situation.”
Upon opening the floor for comments from magistrates, Moody made a motion, seconded by Davis, to make null and void Karrer’s action dismissing Clark.
Goodlett asked if the motion had a specific time constraint, such as until the next meeting when it could be discussed and reviewed by a full court, but Moody said any action taken during the meeting would be an action of the court and the same as if it were a regular meeting.
Judd referenced that Davis had spoken with Rich Ornstein, attorney for the Kentucky Association of Counties, who said the judge did not have the authority to discharge Clark.
Davis said that as a part of the motion, Clark should be paid for the time he has missed and that the keys to the county vehicle and his office be turned back over to Clark.
“We’ve been given no reason, no documentation, no written warnings on him,” Davis said.
Moody pointed out that those items are outlined in section 3.1 of the county’s administrative code, which he read aloud during Monday’s meeting.
Davis also read sections of KRS 67.710, which outline the powers and duties of the judge-executive, specifically sections 7 and 8, which read: “Exercise with the approval of the fiscal court the authority to appoint, supervise, suspend, and remove county personnel (unless otherwise provided by state law); and with the approval of the fiscal court, make appointments to or remove members from such boards, commissions, and designated administrative positions as the fiscal court, charter, law or ordinance may create.”
Section 8 also includes the statement, “The requirement of fiscal court approval must be designated as such in the county administrative code or the county charter.”
A message left for Ornstein was not returned as of press time.
The court voted 4-0 to nullify Karrer’s actions.
Karrer was unavailable when a Spencer Magnet reporter stopped by his office on Monday and a message left for him was not returned as of press time.
However, according to an interview Karrer granted WAVE3, Clark still did not have a job with the county because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
After the court’s vote Monday, Clark became emotional when shaking hands with those who attended the meeting and offered their support.
“It’s overwhelming,” Clark said.
Clark said he would love to get back to work, but he suspects it won’t be that easy.
Clark said he believes Karrer’s decision to fire him was “all personal.” Asked whether he believed the decision was a result a disagreement between the two over whether to have the county’s new radio tower inspected, Clark said he believes it goes farther back than that.
However, Clark said he was overwhelmed by the community’s support.
“Over the last four days, I’ve gotten at least 100 phone calls — all supportive,” Clark said. “I just want to do my job.”