Ethics Board hears complaint on city official

Mar. 15—A complaint filed against a city official comprised last week's meeting of the City Ethics Board — a hearing that was requested to be public by the defendant in the complaint.

The complaint was filed by former London Mayor Troy Rudder on December 8 — just three weeks before Rudder's term as Mayor ended. The complaint alleged that City Council member Kelly Greene had engaged in misconduct by a city official during a training conducted on November 15, 2022 by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC). A second facet of the complaint claimed that Greene tried to bribe Rudder during a meeting between Greene and Rudder on May 5, 2022.

Rudder was represented by attorney Todd Kennedy, while Greene's attorney was Ned Pillersdorf.

Maryann Stewart, attorney for the city's Ethics Board, presided over the hearing and asked any witnesses for the hearing to exit the room. Marcy Berry, city clerk at the time of the two incidents, and Jane Dyche, chair of the Ethics Board, were the two witnesses for Rudder.

Berry testified that Greene had questioned the KLC trainer about Open Meetings laws and Open Records requests. Berry said the training centered around revising the city's personnel policies but Greene questioned the trainer regarding text messages and conversations with other council members outside of the regular meetings, stating she had deleted such texts from her personal cell phone.

Dyche recused herself from the first hearing but did make a statement as she exited the room that she had heard Greene make statements during the training about Open Meetings. She was not, however, ever sworn under oath as a witness in the hearing. Dyche did return to the Ethics Board panel after the first hearing and sat in on the second phase of the complaint.

Part of the complaint states that Greene deleted text messages with fellow city council members — a claim that Greene adamantly denies. That action is defined in the complaint as destruction of city records.

During the first section of the complaint, Ethics Board member Jim Hays questioned whether Greene's cell phone was a city-issued phone or if it was her personal phone. Greene said her cell phone was her personal phone, not one issued through the city, although Mayor Randall Weddle now had cell phones issued through a city plan for all council members.

Greene denied the claim, stating that she had questioned the trainer on those issues because "there were two new council members there and I wanted them to know." The complaint further charges Greene with destroying city records by deleting messages between her and other council members.

Greene added that she was not one to text, instead preferring to have phone conversations. She did admit to talking with other council members individually regarding city business, but denied ever having over three council members together at one time. With 6 council members, a meeting of 4 members would constitute a quorum — which is prohibited under Kentucky law as a violation of the Open Meetings law. She also denied the claim that she had deleted messages with fellow council members on her personal cell phone.

Under questioning by Kennedy, Greene said even during conversations with fellow council members, she never tried to sway their vote, nor express hers.

"I might say something like, 'I'm not for that.' But I never said how I'd vote in the meetings," Greene replied.

The second part of the complaint accuses Greene of bribery. Former Mayor Rudder said that Greene visited his office on May 5, 2022.

"She said if I'd get rid of Larry (Bryson, City Attorney) that I could stay in peace until I retired in December," Rudder said.

During the April meeting of the London City Council that followed a scathing special audit report by the State Auditor, Greene asked Rudder and Bryson to resign their positions. Greene said she visited Rudder's office to speak with him.

"It was a very emotional time and I felt bad," she said. "I didn't really want Troy to leave. I've known that family and have been friends with them for years."

Rudder said Berry was in his office when Greene came in that day and that the conversation was recorded.

At some point in the conversation, Rudder mentioned that his having to hire an attorney for a hearing before the Ethics Board — stemming from a complaint filed that was based on results of the audit report — was costing him $6,600 and that he had already paid out $5,000 of that. It was then, he claimed, that Greene said she could talk to the council members about offsetting his attorney fees.

That recording was played back before the audience for the hearing. In the excerpt, Greene stated that she wasn't sure, but perhaps the city council would authorize payment for his legal costs, adding, "If it's legal."

Under questioning by Pillersdorf, Rudder said he had never had any legal fees in his role as Mayor in his 16 years in that capacity.

"I guess because of my honesty and integrity," Rudder said.

"What I understood was if I fired Larry Bryson, she would see if the council would pay my legal fees," he added.

Greene said she made no secret that she wished Bryson would step down but that council members had been told to try to negotiate their differences — which prompted her request to speak with Rudder on May 5.

Stewart asked Rudder if Greene had mentioned the legal fee reimbursement before the council, while Ethics Board member Jill Edwards asked if Rudder had any doubt of what Greene's intentions for the meeting between the two. Rudder again said he felt the meeting was to receive reimbursement of the legal fees on the condition that he fire Bryson.

Greene pointed out that at the time of the special audit — which centered on city funds expenditures, hiring and pay practices, spending of the city tourism tax money by the Mayor, nepotism and several other issues — the city had no active Ethics Board in place. Rather, the Ethics Board was re-established — with all new members — on the recommendation of the audit report, as were job descriptions, pay grades and pay scales, proper employment records and applications, documentation of expenditures of city tourism funds and several other issues.

Kennedy waived making closing statements in the issue, but Pillersdorf told Ethics Board members that Greene had simply exercised her right to free speech — both in questioning the KLC trainer during the Nov. 2022 meeting and in speaking with Rudder regarding the controversy of her request for his resignation. He emphasized the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech.

"Putting a member of the city council to the ethics board brings up free speech issues," he said. "The problem is, Mrs. Greene is being harassed for asking totally unrelated questions at a training. She had the absolute right to do that. If public officials can't ask questions without being brought before the ethics board, that would prevent others from asking questions."

Again, he emphasized the right of free speech.

"It's a matter of free speech for her to say, 'I don't like how the city attorney is doing.' What's wrong with that?" he said.

The ethics board then went into executive session to discuss the issue. After 30 minutes, those waiting outside the meeting room were told that the board has 30 days to make a decision and that the parties involved in the case would be notified by mail of that decision.