To the editor:
In light of the front page article reporting of claims that the process was “suspicious” by which the City Council appointed Chad Menser to fulfill the unexpired term of the late Bobby Johnson for Ward 6, I wish to offer some perspective regarding what took place two months ago, and the comments presented this week to the Council.
The article records Mr. McReynolds description of a “pin drop moment” after his extensive comments at the Council meeting, implying the silence somehow was indicative of there being no credible rebuttal to his claims. Personally, his extensive written comments were not available to me before the meeting, much of which he spoke in person, and which he apparently has been preparing for the considerable time since these events occurred. I believed I should not speak without due reflection upon his remarks. Having now done so, I endeavor to share a few observations.
Filling a vacant seat on the Council other than by biennial election is not a routine or common experience, in this case initiated in response to the unfortunate death of our Council colleague Bobby Johnson. In essence, it is a process of appointment, under the state Constitution and the Kentucky statutes, carried out by the remaining Council members. There are no details set forth other than that the council members nominate otherwise eligible and interested citizens, and then vote as to selection. The mayor has no vote in this process, only the Council members.
Two months ago, in approaching that appointment action, it was decided to make public a call for letters of interest to be submitted by March 13, though such is not required or specified. At a special called meeting of the Council that afternoon, seven letters of interest had been received, and a call was made for résumés from these persons who had not already included one with their letter of interest, to additionally inform the members of the Council in their deliberations to be conducted at the regular scheduled meeting of the City Council the following Monday afternoon.
Having received this additional information for review prior to the meeting, the Council on March 16 proceeded to open nominations from among the seven persons that we had before us for consideration. Two were nominated, Bryson Johnson and Chad Menser, and then nominations were closed. Before the vote of the Council was taken, Mr. Johnson was asked about his interest in running in the fall election, followed by a question as to how long he had currently been a resident of Madisonville, having been away from the city of his birth and upbringing. That answer was fateful, as Mr. Johnson had not been back in the community as a resident until the previous summer.
The Constitution and the Statutes of Kentucky clearly specify the qualifications for elective office of age and residency, that latter being one year within the jurisdiction for which office is being sought. Consequently, among the two nominated, Mr. Johnson then was disqualified. At this point, the Council had two options: a member could move to reopen nominations, or the Council could proceed to act on the remaining nomination before them. By proceeding to a vote, the Council was affirming confidence in the nomination process as identifying the two preferred, and — in the affirmative vote that followed — that Mr. Menser was still preferred and acceptable among those expressing interest. We do not know what would have been the outcome of the vote on the original nominees, had Mr. Johnson not been disqualified. Yet I can only imagine how disturbing and painful for Mr. Johnson and his family (and “the African American community”) it would have been for him to have been appointed and sworn in, only to later be removed from office as disqualified for not meeting the residency requirement set for the in the Constitution and the law.
It troubles me that the process for this appointment was deemed “suspicious”, the outcome of disrespect and even contrived or preplanned disenfranchisement of certain persons and sectors of our community. I can appreciate that much negative imagining can be generated through a lack of understanding of the law and process involved, further shaded by one’s own expectations and desires for how things turn out, disconnected from the facts and precedent for such proceedings.
Having seven persons interested in assuming the Ward 6 seat on the council does not mean, for instance, that all these person will be put before the Council for a vote as to appointment. In early 2013, the vacancy of the Ward 2 seat had, I think, six interested persons for consideration, but just two were nominated by the Council, then voting between those two to select Tom Morgan to fill the unexpired term. In the current process, the Council sought background information — résumés — to supplement the submitted letters of interest to have a common base for understanding these individuals, to be more rightly prepared to consider the best among them. With that information, on March 16 the Council was sufficiently ready to make nominations.
Following the close of nominations, two persons having been put forward, the opening for questions of those two led to the disclosure that one of them was not qualified under the law governing these proceedings. There was no “political loophole” somehow maliciously applied to disenfranchise either Bryson Johnson or “the African American community”; it was the adherence to the rule of law and the established order of government. No one presumed that Mr. Johnson was somehow to be faulted in this matter; rather it was an unfortunate development that could not be ignored. His interest in filling out the unexpired term of his grandfather was an honorable, understandable, and not uncommon pursuit in such cases — which standing was recognized by his being one of the two interested persons to actually be nominated for appointment.
Mr. McReynolds stated in his letter submitted to the Council that it seemed unfair that Chad Menser was even allowed to submit a letter of interest to be appointed, and that he was not asked about his residency. I understand no basis for prohibiting an otherwise qualified citizen from being considered in this process because of having previously filed to run for this seat in the subsequent fall general election. The fact that Mr. Menser filed includes his assertion in that filing that he meets the qualifications for this office under the applicable statutes, including the residency requirements. Furthermore, his résumé submitted traces a continuous history that supports that assertion.
On the other hand, Mr. Johnson’s résumé leads to a clarifying question as to his residency, having been away to Lexington for his undergraduate study and then working in Evansville from September 2019. The lack of clarity in that information as to when he returned to reside in Madisonville was the basis for the question being raised — better then than later. I confess that I missed that lack of clarity, and the legitimate question raised, in my review, but I am thankful for the sake of all concerned that it was brought to light.
Most regrettable to me is that Mr. McReynolds has embraced the presumption of ill motive in the proceedings about which they addressed the Council. I firmly believe and trust in the integrity, honor, and respect of my colleagues on the Council, and we seek to maintain those qualities of character in our service to the citizens of Madisonville, even when we may disagree, even vigorously, with one another. I am committed to object to what others may say, propose, or do, but I will not presume the motive and heart of others in expressing my disagreement. I consider this approach to be basic civility in life and relationship.
Councilmember, Ward 5