Judicial Center/Park Project halted by Fiscal Court
By Jennifer Moonsong
Metcalfe and Barren
In last week’s August 24th Barren County Fiscal Court meeting it was both lengthy and chaotic when it came to the new judicial center.
The new courthouse, a $32 million project being proposed to be paid for by the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), has been discussed publicly for just shy of a year, although Barren County Judge/Executive Michael Hale repeatedly references having been working on this project for almost a year and a half.
The Barren County Judicial Center Project Development Board met for the first time to delegate positions and begin talks about a new judicial center for Barren County with a published date of October 24, 2020.
The AOC is the operational arm of the Judicial Branch and supports court facilities and programs in all 120 counties, with its main campus in Frankfort.
Magistrates Carl Dickerson, Mark Bowman, and Tim Coomer expressed concerns during this most recent meeting. Dickerson, who claims to have been provided limited knowledge of the project, was the most boisterous of the group.
“All due respect, the first I saw of this was a month ago, and I am on Fiscal Court. I want to know if we will be involved in the future?” Dickerson asked.
Dickerson’s time reference has been confirmed to when Hale took the project to an open meeting of the July 12 Glasgow City Council.
“I can assure that every member of this court has my cell number, and notices for the meetings are sent out, and they are open to the public,” Judge/Executive Hale responded. “We welcome anyone who wants to come to that meeting, especially if you sit on Fiscal Court. I showed this to you guys. It’s the only concept…I do represent this court. If you have questions or want to look at sites, let me know.”
(This was Judge/Executive Hale’s same response with elected officials asking public questions when pitching this project to Glasgow Mayor Harold Armstrong and Glasgow City Council during their July 12 meeting).
Mark Banister of AOC and Attorney Daniel Briscoe were present via teleconference for the meeting as well to answer questions.
“Will the court have any input if we do this addendum? As the public properties board member, I pose that question,” said Bowman.
“Basically, the project development board makes the decisions on behalf of Fiscal Court,” said Banister.
“At the end of the day, if we decide to do this project $32 million, will the AOC pay for this?” asked Magistrate Bowman.
Banister replied that bonds would be sold to pay for the project via AOC.
“We represent the citizens of this community… It’s our responsibility to hear the concerns of the people in this community and express those concerns…It seems to me we are turning this entire project over to six people in the AOC if we sign this, and I have a problem with that. Is that correct?” asked Dickerson.
Banister explained that for all the concerns being voiced, this long-term project is a long time from completion, even with the court’s full agreement.
He detailed that finding land, purchasing land, designing the building, and construction could be a three to four-year projec
“We don’t have any land options, (we) would like to see more options,” Dickerson said. “(We) Would like to see what suits the community.”
One community member, David Dickerson, was also present to voice concerns and ask questions. He is a past Barren County Judge/Executive and Cabinet Secretary for the former Governor Matt Bevin.
Dickerson asked if any money or deeds had exchanged hands and asked if there had been a verbal or written agreement to buy the property of Dollar General on West Main and Glasgow Glass Company.
“There have been discussions, but there have been no papers and no agreements,” replied Hale.
“Is the Glasgow Glass Company (property) still owned lock stock and barrel by the Ferguson family?” D. Dickerson questioned.
“I was informed that the property has been bought by the Glasgow Water Company,” Hale said. “I have no idea when they bought it.”
Dickerson stressed that a government entity now owns the property and that the conversations and purchases have taken place since discussions regarding the new facility have been underway.
(Neither agency shows public votes to allow Young or Hale to negotiate any transactions).
“I’ve had discussions with Mr. Scott Young (the former Director of the Glasgow Water Plant), and he said he would like to be part of this project, but he would also like to construct some type of building close by for his construction crews,” Hale responded.
“I’m going to put the brakes on you right now and say that Scott Young probably needs to be part of this discussion,” said Hale. “This is not Q&A. What we agreed to was for you to make public comments.”
(Young confirmed he was approached by Hale. He indicated to him that they had bought the property for a specific purpose, but he wouldn’t want to stand in his way. Young said, “I took the conversation to my board in closed session for information purposes as it relates to the disposal of property and no action was taken.”)
“Then I just have one comment, doesn’t involve a question, it’s a straight-up comment. David Dickerson said. “I urge all the members to vote no on this addendum until more information is provided. I think a no vote is appropriate.”
Banister asked specifically what court members have concerns about.
“It is the location and the construction of the building,” replied Magistrate Dickerson.
Coomer asked if this meant that the county would be entering into an agreement with the city, and Hale replied that it was merely a concept and that no agreements have been made.
(In the July 12 Glasgow City Council meeting, Hale referenced having discussions with Councilman Patrick Gaunce, Chastity Lowry, the special project Downtown Park Committee Chairman Wes Simpson, and a few others, indicating they were the only people with interest enough to phone him.)
Dickerson expressed concerns about downtown commerce and said that he felt something other than a courthouse and city park might be a good fit for that location to draw people to the downtown area. Banister suggested that Magistrate Dickerson come to the public property committee meetings to stress those concerns.
Magistrates Dickerson, Coomer, Jeff Botts, and Kenneth Sartin voted “no”, while Magistrates Trent Riddle, Billy Houchens, Mark Bowman, and Judge/Executive Hale voted “yes”, creating a “tie” vote. A tie vote doesn’t give support to move forward. More details and discussion is expected at the next meeting.
However, even after this vote, comments continued.
“All of these questions should have been asked before today,” Riddle said. “We can muddy the water forever and ever…Are we moving forward or not?”
“In the scope of things, this is going to be a good thing for the city of Glasgow in the County of Barren,” Hale said. “Representative Riley and Senator Givens fought so hard in the legislation to get this money for our county. Who is to say they’ll want to help us do anything else if we go back on it? As far as court members, you can be as involved as you want to be.”
“In a sense, a Court has agreed to build a building…These are the steps we have to take,” Hale added. “Ultimately, by signing the first MOU*, the Fiscal Court has already given the power of the project to the development board. Magistrate Dickerson said, “If I had known all that was in the first MOU I would have never signed that one”
- Definition for MOU is a memorandum of understanding document that describes the broad outlines of an agreement that two or more parties have reached. MOUs communicate the mutually accepted expectations of all of the parties involved in a negotiation. While not legally binding, the MOU signals that a binding contract is imminent.
After more than a 3-hour meeting so far and several minutes more of a smooth flow in approving routine unchanging tax rates the court chose to adjourn, and take a 2-minute break prior to going back into open session of the Barren County Public Properties Corporation.
(The same members make up this meeting).
This meeting was called to order and it was determined that magistrates Billy Houchens and Kenneth Sartin were not live in the meeting.
Hale said that they were waiting for Houchens to return. He said both men had been contacted but only Houchens would be returning.