By Jeff Jobe
Research assisted by Allyson Dix
Edit by Mary Beth Sallee
Barren County is so very close to realizing something amazing if our leadership can put aside political differences and prioritize the issues at hand. If not, voters will go to the polls deciding whether the magistrate and Mayor plan is better for our community or the Hale and Gaunce plan.
Although the Judicial Center and Amphitheater/Farmers Market projects are two completely separate initiatives, they seem to want to be located on the same piece of property along West Main Street in Glasgow.
Glasgow Ordinance 2018-2397 shows 4.31 acres were purchased for $320,000 on October 22, 2018, just two weeks prior to the November 6, 2018 general election.
There are no references in the contract of any agreements made for any specific uses of the land. This property has been a divisive topic the past four years, and if an agreement can’t be made soon, it will move into the next administration with new leadership and new opinions.
City Council July 12, 2021:
The paths of these two groups crossed publicly on July 12, 2021 when Judge-Executive Micheal Hale spoke to the Glasgow City Council regarding what he described as a partnership with the Administrative Offices of the Court (AOC) and the Amphitheater/Farmers Market Project.
In this meeting, Hale detailed how the county would buy all the land the city had and two other properties. Those properties included the Dollar General store and a building recently purchased by the Glasgow Water Company. Hale said the county would then lease what wasn’t used back to the city to be used for the Amphitheater/Farmers Market. He also indicated having spoken to council members Chasity Lowery and Patrick Gaunce and having their support in this partnership.
Mayor Harold MD Armstrong said in this meeting that it was the first he had heard anything about this particular project. He hadn’t heard from Hale, Lowery, or Gaunce. Discussions he had with the PDB was regarding the portion of the property located at the upper end of the lot behind and beside Dr. Mark Kuzma’s office.
Armstrong wasn’t alone in having no knowledge of the projects because Hale had neglected to speak with the magistrates prior to the City Council presentation, and this didn’t sit well with them.
The Barren County Progress (BCP) received calls from magistrates asking if Hale had presented a project to the City Council, and Hale called asking the paper to hold the story stating that other media understood his dilemma. However, the BCP ran the story as it does all others in the same print schedule.
The first glimpse of Hale’s power struggles with the county magistrates began to surface in the August 24, 2021 Barren County Fiscal Court meeting.
“Ultimately, by signing the first MOU* the Fiscal Court has already given the power of the project to the development board,” Hale said.
Carl Dickerson responded, “If I had known all that was in the first MOU, I would never have signed.”
*MOU is a Memorandum of Understanding document that describes a broad outline of an agreement that two or more parties have reached. The MOU communicates mutual expectations of all parties involved. While not legally binding, the MOU signals a binding contact is imminent.
In the same meeting, Hale pushed for a vote to authorize approvals needed to proceed with the bonding by the Barren County Public Property Corporation (PPC), and this failed as well. Some questionable tactics regarding magistrates leaving the meeting were reported in the original BCP story. This board was established at the same time as the PDB and is described as the final say in what Barren County will buy. The PPC is simply the magistrates themselves being the stop before building. This is done to not remove them as Hale has suggested with the MOU.
The magistrates halted the project until they could receive answers, but Hale held interviews saying they voted to pass on the project and was facing breach of contract with the AOC. Hale had the community upset with magistrates, while all they wanted was to understand the process and assure the people that they serve were represented accurately.
Laurie Dudgeon (now Laurie Givens), Director of the AOC, met in a joint public meeting on September 15, 2021 with the PDB and the Barren County Fiscal Court. She explained to magistrates that this was an opportunity to work with the community to build something everyone can appreciate. She spoke of how other counties had chosen to design their judicial center with unique features that fit their communities. She felt there was no problem with Barren County partnering with the City if they choose.
Magistrate Jeff Botts expressed his disappointment with the community being mislead by a news story stating they had voted to stop the Justice Center Project. It was Hale alone in an interview with a local radio station making the false narrative against the squires. They were never extended the same courtesy regarding the issue.
Dudgeon explained the reason the Kentucky Legislature and the Administrative Offices of the Court established the PDB committee giving chairman status to the County Judge-Executive is because this is usually the person most likely to represent the interests of Fiscal Court and want cooperation in the county.
Members of this committee are Chairman Micheal Hale, Circuit Judge John Alexander, District Judge Gabe Pendleton, Court Clerk Kristy Fields, Rich Alexander, and Joan Norris.
Circuit Judge John Alexander said, “I have an opinion, but the final decision is yours.”
A representative of the AOC explained, “If the county and the city agreed to use the land they purchase to include a park then the AOC would be willing to join.”
The total costs would be absorbed inside the $32M budget. It is Barren County’s project.
Dudgeon said the plans submitted to the Glasgow City Council at that time were simply one option and others could be explored, but at the end of all the research and site exploration, the final authorization for the Barren County Judicial Center would come back to the magistrates for approval by the PPC. Dudgeon added she believed that the purchasing of the property is the most important thing. The AOC’s position then and now remains consistent, designs can’t come until you know what you have to work with, and property must be secured to know this aspect.
After the September 2021 meeting, it seemed the West Main location had all but gone away. Hale disclosed three other possible sites to the BCP, and the city made improvements to a section of the lot that was Initially indicated would be needed.
New Properties Reviewed:
Other locations identified by Hale were printed in the BCP. A property owned by the Glasgow Baptist Church, the US Bank building, and a building owned by Patrick Gaunce and Steve Newberry on the West side of the Glasgow Square were disclosed and confirmed.
Gaunce later purchased a second building and included it with the building he was already part owner, making it a better group offering. The BCP confirmed this with Gaunce.
West Main Project Is Back:
It wasn’t until July 19, 2022 that Fiscal Court brought the subject back in open session by asking for a vote to authorize the use of eminent domain for the purchase of property identified as site E.
Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
We now know this site is once again the West Main location, and the eminent domain portion was assumed and shared by other media to be for the Dollar General store located at the east side of the City property in front and beside the properties owned by the Glasgow Water Company. The BCP has asked the PDB and other legal professionals if this would include taking the building owned by the Glasgow Water Company and the City of Glasgow if they chose not to comply. They are unsure; it just doesn’t seem right to make a business move and then allow politics of a few to stop it or push it aside.
The Glasgow Water Company is willing to sell the building they own, formerly known as the Glasgow Glass Company and located at 304 W. Main St. It is also minutes from the lot at Water Street and Ford Drive.
Stipulations can be made for a sale, and the water company board indicated they would accept the amount of appraisal, if the property is solely used as a judicial center. They also are asking for a barrier to be constructed to block visitors of the judicial center from using the water company parking lot, and the final stipulation is that all other property needs are finalized prior to closing on their property.
The Dollar General Store has already been contacted. The corporate managers understand that if government wants the building, a best case scenario is to get best price possible. Alexander said in an open meeting they are agreeable and working with the project.
One would think the $32 million allocation for the judicial project was making its way to conclusion following the August 16, 2022 Fiscal Court meeting where all magistrates agreed to buy up to 5.098 acres of land associated with this project. Also, knowing an agreement has been reached with the Glasgow Water Company and a private company with employees is trying to manage the issue.
However, now Hale is speaking against the project, saying the state would not approve the purchase of all the land in an interview with the same radio station following all seven magistrates voting to make the offer to the City. Hale said, on the record, that this was a power move by the magistrates, they wouldn’t be allowed to buy more than needed, and this cost would fall on the county. Records show that on July 12, 2021 it was Hale who pitched buying all the land from the city.
This vote was after a closed session between Fiscal Court and the PDB. All magistrates were in attendance along with Circuit Judge John Alexander, District Judge Gabe Pendleton, and Rich Alexander, who is a partner of Richardson, Gardner, and Alexander Law firm.
City Council August 22, 2022:
On Monday August 22, 2022, the Glasgow City Council voted down the County’s request for the option to purchase property along W. Main St. in a 5-4 vote. The meeting was an absolute disaster with Gaunce ignoring his personal financial conflict because of his publicly announced offering of his own property for a potential site dealing specifically with the vote on the table.
The BCP had previously confirmed with Hale and other members of the PDB in attendance and had discussions with him as well regarding the decision. In a room full of Barren County’s legal and elected authority, Gaunce was advised not to vote. This is indeed a conflict, or at a minimal a perceived conflict, and a standing rule for ethical leadership is to remove themselves even with a possibility of a perceived conflict. If this vote stands, Barren County has dirt on us all.
Yet, Gaunce was permitted to vote, overpowering Armstrong and his attempt to disclose and allow him to abstain. The BCP will follow this as it makes its way through the local Ethics Board and beyond. Personal conflicts are not uncommon in small communities, and there is always a neighbor, fellow employee, or member of your congregation watching and hoping we do what is right.
In a text communication with Lowery on August 21, 2022, she wrote, “I believe both projects can work in this space. I hope we can come together and find a way to provide what is needed to have a beautiful justice center and a green space farmers market, as well as the foundation for future growth in the downtown area.”
Council members Joe Trigg and Chasity Lowery ignored councilman Wendel Honeycutt’s attempt to discuss a Farmers Market option for using the proceeds from the sale, and both Trigg and Lowery have said many times in open meetings they want to help the community get a farmers market and were aware of the plans to earmark the proceeds if passed. Happy Neal votes regularly with Gaunce.
Lowery and Gaunce pushed to allow Judge Alexander to speak. Alexander said numerous times the PDB wouldn’t need all the property to build justice center. He also said in his position and part of the PDB that he wasn’t there to talk about the park. When asked how much he needed, he said he doesn’t know until it is designed. Alexander has told the BCP that the 56,000 square foot building is going to be two floors. So a bigger footprint will be needed than was originally estimated because it was done as a three story building.
It failed because Gaunce was the vote needed to stop Mayor Armstrong and Council members Marna Kirkpatrick, Marlin Witcher, Terry Bunnell, and Wendel Honeycutt from supporting magistrates Jeff Botts, Tim Coomer, Billy Houchens, Trent Riddle, Kenneth Sartin, Mark Bowman, and Carl Dickerson in offering the land for the use of the justice center.
The Magistrates Position:
The Barren County Public Property Corporation voted to offer a 180-day option to buy up to 5.089 acres from the City of Glasgow.
“The option was offered because we don’t know what is needed yet,” Magistrate Trent Riddle said. “We simply don’t want a $32M, 56,000 square foot judicial center stuck in a corner behind anything. It must be front and center.”
Magistrate Carl Dickerson said, “Everyone needs to realize we are making some difficult decisions and must base our decisions on what we know today. Today we know we have voted to shut down a good business in our community with the use of eminent domain. It wasn’t their plan to shut down, and it wasn’t the plan of their employees to lose jobs. We don’t like knowing members of our community will be inconvenienced because of the loss of this neighborhood store. The magistrates don’t take doing this lightly, but we voted unanimously to do it because the PDB said they needed it.”
Dickerson added, “We appreciate the water company being community partners and wanting to help us, and we appreciate Mayor Armstrong for his willingness to give up a lot he had recently built for city vehicles. This is an example of us all sacrificing a little for the good of the community.”
Magistrate Tim Coomer wasn’t happy with what was being said on social media about him and his fellow magistrates.
“It’s just not right,” Coomer said.
Coomer agreed with the sentiments of Riddle and Dickerson adding, “We all left our last meeting excited thinking we were so close to making something happen for Barren County we could be very proud.”
He said they have had discussions of helping the city by offering to trade the old jail property with the city. He has confirmed there are no stipulations stopping a possible land trade because it is already a black topped parking lot. This would help the city by not having them have to build another lot for the garbage trucks somewhere else on the lot.
“The magistrates have no motives other than building an amazing judicial center and would have no issues what-so-ever in using any land left over as a beautiful green space with a park like atmosphere,” Coomer said. “If this put in writing would show our commitment, I would be happy to do all I can to get it documented accurately and approved.”
Armstrong said he was pleased with the discussions of a possible trade of the old jail property to be used as parking for the city garbage trucks. It is already fenced in and is black topped. This would save the city from having to build another one and get them out of clear vision of the justice center site and other businesses and homes.
Magistrate Jeff Botts said he nor any of the magistrates could not talk about the details because many of the issues have to do with discussion involving property and peoples lives associated with them.
“I can’t believe some of the things I have heard and read about us magistrates,” Botts said. “I’m comfortable anyone who knows us wouldn’t believe such things.”
Councilman Gaunce said on social media that it was clear to him not a single magistrate cared enough to come to the meeting.
Dickerson said, “We know first hand how it feels to have issues misrepresented in the public and didn’t want to be part of the community storm Hale was trying to stir up.” He was disappointed any elected official would say such a thing.
Riddle was confused how anyone in the room, when they discussed land, could allow the things said about the magistrates being said.
“All we want is to be certain the $32M justice center has all the room it needs to be done right,” Riddle explained.
They don’t want to land lock it from day one like the current courthouse is and have no room for growth.
Riddle added, “We don’t think our counties biggest project in history should take back seat to anything.”
The upper section of the lot is not at all a swampy area, and the architect company referenced has been contacted and no such opinion has ever been requested or issued. The elevation for the upper end above the Post Office is the high end of this property.
Gaunce wrote on social media: “The 800,000 was based on matching money for the city and promoted by, Ky League of City’s and our Economic Development Board and Chamber of Commerce….” ($800,000 are private funds pledged)
The Kentucky League of Cities, nor the Economic Development Board or the Chamber, have promoted a $2.7M stand alone Farmers Market and certainly not when the Barren County Public Property Corporation would be open to a green space, park and other partnering ideas in the area for free to the city, trading a parking lot and offering net cash proceeds to the city for a Farmers Market if they choose.
Gaunce continued to write, “Don’t think private money would go on (along with) a pole barn in far corner.”
The sketch of the Farmers Market offered by Armstrong in the packet Gaunce saw prior to this post is not a pole barn, and the space offered is actually more than what he is asking for in front of Green Mechanical. Council members Lowery and Trigg saw it as well. He hasn’t provided a recent update on who it is to make up the $800,000 contributions, so they couldn’t be contacted to ask if it is mandated to be in front of the Green Mechanical buildings or not.
Gaunce wrote, “The magistrates wanted an option and ability to purchase land at today’s appraisal value. Then sell it for value after 32 million dollar courthouse was committed. I was born at night just not last night.”
Records show it was Gaunce who bought a property with this a location search underway and offered it to the PDB. Gaunce is the one attempting to use it as a means for a possible personal financial interest.
Assumptions based on facts:
The Hale and Gaunce Plan is intent on keeping both projects located in front of Green Mechanical. They want the city to sell a small portion of land in front along west Main Street, take the city parking lot, Water Company building, and Dollar General. Wes Simpson is the President and CEO of Green Mechanical and was appointed to serve on a committee for Private/Public Park Investigating. This was a three-year term that expired on July 22, 2022. Lowery is the City Council representative on the committee.
They openly speak that the project now consists of a farmers market, green space, splash pad, and concrete pad across the front facing Green Mechanical. Last open estimates put project total cost at $2.7M. With the unnamed contributions of $800,000 and a possible grant the city would apply for, brings the cities price tag down to $1M.
The Magistrates and Mayor Plan seeks the city to sell all the land to give the PDB plenty of room to make the justice center the focus of this project. They have spoken with the Mayor about possibly making a land trade with the old jail property so the city won’t have to build another lot to keep garbage trucks and other city vehicles safe.
Mayor Armstrong isn’t sure what appraisals will come in at, but a safe number is netting $250,000. He shared with Lowery and Trigg he hoped to use the net proceeds and budgeted dollars to build a farmers market on the upper level. He said he has no issues with anything they might want to add to it. The location is higher in elevation and is larger with access to three streets. This plan has no need for private investors. The city going in debt or using reserves from the landfill operation.
Armstrong just wants to help the county anyway he can and appreciates them respecting the city and our needs.
Circuit Judge John Alexander said it best: “The politics of this is not my concern. All I want is to build a justice center we can all be very proud.”
The BCP also agrees, “The magistrates need to get together with the city council, go into closed session away from all the clapping and drama Hale likes to bring, and not come out until they can agree on something.”
“There are examples of county justice center projects in Kentucky with everything everyone is saying they want. Green space, park atmosphere, gathering areas, and even fountains for kids to enjoy. There just isn’t room for what they want but aren’t saying,” said Jeff Jobe, BCP Publisher.