During a three-and-a-half hour meeting on June 21, West Jefferson Council covered several topics that elicited criticism or questions from council members, department heads or members of the standing-room-only audience about the conduct of Mayor Scott Hockenbery.
The audience also questioned councils conduct on several issues.
Hockenbery did not attend the meeting. Council President Darlene Steele said he informed her earlier in the day that he was taking vacation time.
Among the issues covered were:
• Cap on development fee
Council voted to put a $25,000 limit on the downtown revitalization fee the village charges on new commercial and industrial development. The fee is $500 per 1,000 square feet. Previously, council treated the total fee amount as negotiable, Steele said, with determining factors being the size of the building and the number of employees.
Audience member Pat Phillips, wife of former mayor Tom Phillips who is among those leading a petition drive to recall Hockenbery, asked if negotiations of the fee must be approved by council. Steele said they do.
In the past, council approved fee reductions for the new distribution centers for Restoration Hardware and Kelloggs. They did not approve a resolution to reduce the fee for the FedEx building, Steele said.
Petitioners have alleged that Hockenbery negotiated a fee reduction for FedEx without councils approval. In responding to the allegation, Hockenbery has stated it wasagreed on by council.
During a public hearing about the fee cap at the start of the June 21 council meeting, Councilman Ron Garver said he was president of council when FedEx was looking to locate a distribution hub in West Jefferson.
“I asked the mayor (Hockenbery) to keep me informed but didnt hear any more from him, Garver said, adding that council never voted on a resolution for the fee reductions for FedEx.
• Investigation of missing petitions
Garver initiated a motion to have the West Jefferson Police Department investigate the case of a missing recall petition. Council voted in favor of the investigation.
Earlier this month, village finance director Jack Herrel, acting as council clerk, submitted to the Madison County Board of Elections petitions circulated by a group of citizens looking to recall the mayor. Upon review of the submission, the Board of Elections found that one of the petitions was missing.
At the June 21 meeting, Herrel said hewould welcome the investigation, but declined to com-ment further on when or how the petition may have gone missing.
Police Chief Dennis Gates is to report back to council with his findings.
• Land Annexation
Council tabled a resolution to annex two parcels totaling 176 acres into the village. One of the parcels is targeted for development of a grocery store. The other, owned by Larry Huston, sits between the grocery store parcel and the village limits. Annexation law requires that land to be annexed lie adjacent to the existing village limits.
Steele said council tabled the annexation decision because of questions the property owners have raised and because grocery store developers have not shown they have the collateral to back up a loan to pay for extension of utilities to the property.
“Weve said from the beginning, theres no way were going to put taxpayers money in jeopardy for this project, said Councilman Doug Eakins.
Russ Miller, representing the grocery store property, said he was told annexation and rezoning would happen simultaneously. Huston said he was promised easy water and sewer access with the annexation, but said the situation changed after he signed an annex-ation agreement.
When asked who made the promises, Huston said one of the people was not present at the meeting to represent himself.
Eakins said council was not informed of the details of the annexation negotiations.
Huston replied,You can blame the mayor, you can blame yourself but you have to be accountable as a unit to the community.
• Credit Card Use
Audience member Paul Holden asked council about the recall petition circulators allegation regarding Hockenberys use of a village-issued credit card. The petitioners say,A review of village charge card records indicates a pattern of purchases made by the mayor do not have a record of receipts or reasons for many purchases.
Herrel confirmed that,In the case of the mayor, there are some receipts we dont have.
Councilman Cory Coburn said he has gone through invoices for village purchases. He said the ledger is not always clear on who used the credit card and at what time.
Council recently passed legislation that sets tighter control of credit card use and requires users to submit receipts within three days.
Some audience members said receipts should be produced at the time the credit cards are turned back in and said the finance department should be more aggressive about tracking down missing receipts.
Steele said the issue of the missing receiptsis being looked into and will be taken up with Ron Parsons, the village law director.
• Null and Void Veto
At their June 7 meeting, council changed the village administrative assistant position from a salaried position to an hourly position. Hockenbery later issued a veto on the legislation, but Steele said on June 21 that Hockenbery missed the deadline to veto the legislation and failed to provide written notice of his reasons for calling for a veto.
Council members Sheila Nelson and Jim King wanted council to vote to override the veto just to be sure. Steele disallowed the motion, saying there was no valid veto on which to act. Nelson withdrew her motion.
After the meeting, Herrel said his department slipped copies of ordinances from the June 7 meeting under the mayors office door on June 9. Herrel said this has been common practice for years. The mayor has 10 days to sign the ordinances. Herrel said Hockenbery did not pick up the packet, so the village delivered it to his home. Hockenbery vetoed the administrative assistant legislation on June 15, but did not supply a written notice of his reasons for the veto. The deadline was June 19.
• Swimming Pool Management
During the course of explaining his response to complaints about inappropriate music played at the pool, pool manager Scott Smith said Hockenbery is his boss.
Nelson said the village charter says otherwise, that the pool manager is to answer to the parks and recreation director, which is Jack McDowell.
“Until Im able to call the shots, I dont want anything to do with it, McDowell said.
According to Steele, Hockenbery changed the chain of command last year when Cory Coburn, now a councilman, managed the pool. Such changes cannot be made without recommendation from a charter review committee and a vote from the public. Steele said she will consult the village law director about the issue.
When asked after the meeting why council did not address the issue earlier, Steele said,We first knew it was a problem when we wanted to have background checks done (on pool employees). Council brought the matter to McDowell, who deferred it to Hockenbery.