Some question legality of fiscal court special meeting

-A A +A
By Shannon Brock

The Spencer County Fiscal Court last Wednesday set the salaries for elected officials who will take office in 2015, but questions have risen as to whether that meeting was legal.
Typically the court’s first meeting of the month is held on the first Monday at 9 a.m. However, on the first Monday this month, County Attorney Ruth Hollan had to attend a mandatory meeting elsewhere, so the court voted at its Oct. 7 meeting to move the first meeting of the month in November to Nov. 6.
No action was needed on the salaries for the judge-executive, sheriff, county clerk or PVA. Those salaries are set by the state. Currently, the judge, sheriff and county clerk are paid $78,988.97.
However, salaries were set for several other officers and are as follows:
•County attorney — $23,500
Currently, the county pays the county attorney $14,800 per year, which is reported on a W-2, and is billed for extra hours, which are reported on a 1099 form. At the request of auditors, the county can no longer issue both a W-2 and a 1099 for the county attorney, so the court needed to set one salary to include all hours worked. In 2010, the county attorney billed an extra amount of $8,741.20. In 2011, $9,815 extra was billed. In 2012, $8,485 extra was billed. And thus far in 2013, $4,781.25 extra has been billed.
On a motion of Magistrate Hobert Judd, and second by Magistrate Woodie Cheek, the court voted 4-0 to set the attorney’s salary at $23,500.
Magistrates Jerry Davis and Mike Moody were absent from Wednesdays meeting.
• Coroner — $7,000 (and Deputy Coroner — $3,500)
Currently, the coroner is paid $6,000 per year. The court voted, on a motion of Judd and second by Cheek, 4-0 to raise the coroner’s salary to $7,000. Deputy coroner is not an elected position, but the court voted to go ahead and set it proportionally to the coroner. Beginning in 2015, the deputy coroner’s salary will raise from $3,000 to $3,500.
• Jailer — $22,000
Because Spencer County doesn’t not have a jail, the part-time jailer’s salary is set by the court. Currently, the jailer’s salary is at the minimum allowed by law, $20,000. On a motion of Judd, seconded by Cheek, the court voted 4-0 to raise the jailer’s salary to $22,000.
The following salaries were left unchanged for the 2015-19 term:
• Magistrates, $7,800 each, with a $3,600 expense allowance.
• Circuit Court Law Librarian, $600.
• Surveyor, $0.
• Constable, $0.
In the past, salaries have been set at a later date. However, Judge-Executive Bill Karrer said he wanted to set the salaries now so that those who decide to file for office will know what they will be paid if elected.

The court also voted to include a cost of living adjustment as issued by the state for all of the elected officials, except for the magistrates.

Legal or illegal?
As noted, Davis and Moody were absent from Wednesday’s meeting. Karrer said during the meeting that he had received no notification of why either was absent.
When the meeting concluded, Davis was standing in the parking lot across the street from the judge-executive’s office and said he did not attend the meeting because it was illegal.
Davis claims that through conversations with the assistant attorney general, he learned that the meeting was illegal first of all because the regular meeting date cannot be moved unless outlined in the county’s administrative code. The admin code only provides a date for moving meetings that conflict with holidays, Davis said.
“A regular meeting can’t be rescheduled because of the administrative code,” Davis said. “It can only be moved for how it’s stated in the admin code.”
So, Wednesday’s meeting would have been a special meeting, which requires 24-hour notification.
Karrer sent out the notification of the meeting and the meeting agenda via email nearly 48 hours in advance.
However, Davis said he has not signed a form indicating that email is an accepted form of notification of special meetings. He also said that no agenda or notice of special meeting was posted on the door of the meeting room.
The fact that the court voted 5-0 on Oct. 7 (Cheek was absent) to move the meeting doesn’t mean anything, Davis said. If a vote conflicts with the admin code, the admin code rules.
Asked why he voted in favor of moving the meeting, Davis said at the time he did not know it was illegal to move it.
“If you don’t know it’s an illegal meeting and you go, well, you don’t know,” Davis said. “But once you know, you better not show up.”
Moody said his reason for not attending the meeting was very similar and that he also spoke with an assistant attorney general.
“All indications from her are that it was illegal,” Moody said.
The county’s admin code only specifies when meetings can be moved for holidays, Moody said. The reason given for this meeting — the county attorney’s absence — is not listed, he said.
“I know there’s no way to cover every instance,” he said. “And I think Bill [Karrer] and everybody involved made every reasonable effort to make sure they were doing it right … but you can’t do it.”
A message left for Karrer was not immediately returned.