A man passed over for an open Madisonville City Council seat called the selection process “suspicious” Monday. Another applicant that wasn’t selected announced that she will run for that seat in November.
“The entire process on filling the vacancy appeared to be sugar-coated, all by design, and to me very hypocritical,” Bill McReynolds told a special called meeting.
McReynolds and Glenda Wade went to Council Chambers, even though Mayor Kevin Cotton was the only person there with everyone else on video conference. Both applied for the Ward 6 seat that Chad Menser was awarded in March after the death of Bobby Johnson.
“You had seven applicants in the room, five council members and only two were nominated,” McReynolds said. “That in itself is a very strange math to me.”
McReynolds, president of the Concerned Citizens Society, accused councilman Adam Townsend of asking a leading question about the residency qualifications of the candidates. He indicated Townsend already knew that finalist Bryson Johnson was not a one-year resident of Madisonville, which is required for the job.
“Mr. Menser... was not asked one single question by any member of the council. Not one,” McReynolds said as he read a statement. That included no residency question, as Bryson Johnson was asked.
McReynolds said Bryson Johnson, his great-nephew, was disqualified “due to a political loophole that I’m sure could have been overlooked.”
McReynolds questioned why council members did not nominate either himself or Wade to preserve African-American diversity on the council.
“They chose to do what was easy and unfair,” McReynolds said. He called the hearing “a slap in the face” of Bobby Johnson, his late brother-in-law, as well as the African-American community.
“To me, there was no democracy in this process — only hypocrisy,” McReynolds said.
In separate written comments, McReynolds added the council should have replaced “diversity with diversity.” Menser’s selection left the council all-Caucasian, and left Circuit Court Clerk Tanya Bowman as the only minority elected official in Madisonville or Hopkins County government.
Wade spoke before McReynolds, calling all seven applicants for Ward 6 “well-qualified.” But she felt slighted by the mid-March hearing as well.
“The African-American community was left without diversity or pride in this process,” Wade said.
Wade used the meeting to announce that she will file as an independent to challenge Menser. She had not done so as of Monday afternoon. The deadline for City Council filings is two weeks from today.
None of the council members responded to McReynolds and Wade. McReynolds described that as a “pin-drop moment” after the meeting.
But City Attorney Joe Evans defended the council’s actions.
“The reality is that it is both a requirement by ordinance and by state statute that all members of the City Council be residents for a period of one year,” Evans said. “This was not a political loophole whatsoever.”
Monday’s meeting began with a moment of silence and tributes for another African-American leader. Former City Council member Raymond Marion died Sunday, May 3. Cotton called him “a huge contributor and leader in our community.”
The other main event at Monday’s meeting was Cotton’s presentation of a city budget proposal for fiscal 2021. City Budget Committee Chair Frank Stevenson said the total is about $73.3 million.
“I’m surprised that we worked it out,” Stevenson said with a laugh afterward.
That’s because the coronavirus has made things more challenging. Stevenson said one example is a possible drop in payroll tax receipts due to high unemployment.
“We know that we’re going to have some loss in revenue as we go forward,” Cotton said.
The proposed budget has a projected surplus of more than $800,000. Yet some costs are going up. The current city budget allows $6,300 per employee for health insurance. The proposed new budget increases that to $10,000.
But Cotton pointed to areas where city officials saved money. For instance, pumps from the Green River Pump Station were rebuilt in Louisville for about $150,000. Replacing them might have cost $1.5 million.
The surplus projection for fiscal 2020-21 is down one-third from last year.
A final vote on the budget is planned at the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Monday, June 1.
In other actions Monday, the Madisonville City Council:
• approved a bid of $646,914 from Scotty’s Contracting and Stone for municipal aid paving. City Engineer Eric Hickman said it was lower than last year, and will allow for more streets to be paved.
• approved a bid of $557,115 from Mid-America Fire and Safety for a new custom rescue pumper fire apparatus. Fire Chief John Dunning said it will replace a truck that’s “wore out” after 20 years, and should arrive by early July.
• held a virtual public hearing on the use of Municipal Road Aid and Local Government Economic Assistance funds totaling $712,500. No one spoke during the hearing.