Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — Marshall Fiscal Court needed a 90-minute special session Aug. 1 to decide to hire special counsel for representation during a possible investigation of the County Refuse Board.
Judge-Executive Mike Miller opened the session asking commissioners about the investigation. Questions included what agency should investigate the refuse board, what accusations the board and former members face, if the commission needed counsel, who to hire and how to pay for an attorney.
Commissioners Terry Anderson and Misti Drew have questioned the refuse board’s conduct with white goods and recyclable metals. Anderson said the board let over $100,000 of scrap metal be taken by a recycler that did not have a contract. He added he was ignored when he requested a contract and County Attorney Jeff Edwards was similarly ignored when he advised the board to bid for transportation and recycling offenses.
Edwards recused himself from representing the commission as his father Galen Edwards served on the refuse board until recently.
“We have these green boxes that say, ‘Support our county,’ that we empty with county trucks fueled with county gas, and we go and give it away,” Edwards said.
Drew said the first year under the new contract with a recycling vendor netted the county $36,000 and did not require a monthly collection fee of $2,00 from the previous contractor, Ray Langston.
Newton said the contract began with a former board member, Gary Atkins in 1992. At the time scrap metal had no value given transportation costs, and refrigerant removal and disposal.
Anderson said he repeatedly asked for a copy of the contract and was told it did not exist. He reminded Miller of a quote to media describing the deal with Langston as a handshake deal.
“I was not aware of a contract at that time,” Miller said.
Anderson said he doubted the authenticity of the contract until he was asked to turn over the paper by assistant to the Judge-Executive Melanie S. Chambers. She had notarized the document on July 22, 1992, and confirmed the contract as authentic.
Edwards said the existing legal contract might be legal and binding, but not a good deal for the county.
“The Fiscal Court could buy a helicopter, and not have a pilot to fly it, and we’d park it behind the drug store,” Anderson said. “I don’t believe it’s good business practice to lose this much taxpayer money.”
Anderson described the scrap metal and white goods collected as county surplus property and should be bid for purchase. With the $36,000 generated in the first year, he said within the 3 or 4 years he requested bidding as surplus, the county could have raised over $100,000 to pay for current budget shortfalls.
Miller offered a hardcopy of an email from Lisa G. Evans, of recycling and local assistance branch division of Kentucky Waste Management. The document said Evans knew of no legal definition or statutory requirement to consided scrap metal as surplus property.
“Basically, it is scrap metal that has been discarded and can be recycled, but it is totally up to the governing body’s discretion of if they want to recycle, or try to sell it as surplus property,” Evans email read.
Evans could not be reached at her office in Frankfort on Friday to comment on the Email.
Refuse board director Danny Newton said he understood county surplus property to be only items that have been purchased by the county, and depreciated to the point of being considered legally surplus. These items must be sold by law. While items like broken appliances were discarded by citizens and effectively without intrinsic value.
“Up until a few years ago, people were giving scrap metal away,” Newton said. “I don’t know what was over $100,000 when these metals were not even worth hauling away.”
Anderson said he stopped at the waste transfer station and demanded Atkins’ company not take possession of some scrap metal. County employees took took the load for recycling and collected several thousand dollars.
“They knew it was wrong,” Anderson said.
Drew questioned Miller about the City of Benton’s reappointment of Newton to the Refuse Board. She said Miller knew the Fiscal Court would not reappoint Newton who was once a county appointee. Drew said Miller used a loophole to get Newton back on the board.
“Sometimes people do not get enough votes to pass the Fiscal Court for a reason,” Drew said.
Miller said the city appointment was made with at the discretion of Benton Mayor Steve Cary and approved by the Benton City Council.
“If you want to say something about my ethics, let’s get it out now,” Miller said.
Asked if he would be willing to head an investigation, Sheriff Kevin Byars said he would not be afraid to do so, but worried no matter the findings, the fairness of his report could be challenged given relationships with commissioners and other officials. He suggested McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden. After a phone call, Byars said Hayden did not say no, but feared time and manpower demands on his department. Hayden suggested the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation out of the Attorney General’s office.
Miller offered to call Attorney General Jack Conway, but Drew asked Byars to make the call. She said a third party like Byars could better be objective with the circumstances of the inquiry.
Earlier in the meeting, Miller proposed asking the Kentucky State Police to lead any investigation.
“I do not trust the State Police. No I don’t. Not in this matter,” Anderson said.
Drew said she wanted someone with a greater understanding of laws and regulations to determine if any laws had been breached.
While not agreeing on an investigative agency, or reaching a consensus on any infraction, Anderson, Drew and Commissioner Bob Gold agreed to allow Miller to contact Hopkinsville City Attorney Doug Willen and set up a conference call to ask if he would represent the board, and at what cost.
“At the end of the day, taxpayer property was gone and we haven’t got a penny to show for it,” Anderson said. “By stopping their activities, it shows a violation of the law is pretty clear.”