Apr. 7—Nepotism, delinquent restaurant taxes, appointment of a city fire chief, and fees for professional trades were some of the items discussed by members of the London City Council during Monday evening's regular meeting.
But the long agenda resulted in an extra long meeting of council members, including an extended executive session that took the meeting into a three-hour session.
The executive session involved several issues listed on the agenda, although after a 90-minute closed session, Mayor Troy Rudder announced that businesses which were negligent in paying their restaurant taxes would receive a letter from the council giving them 15 days to respond. If the businesses fail to contact city authorities in that time frame, the information on the delinquent taxes will be filed at the circuit civil court level for further action.
Though not disclosed during Monday's meeting, City Clerk Marcy Berry said there were several businesses who have not paid their restaurant taxes. When asked for a total amount owed, Berry responded that the amounts vary from month to month — after consulting with City Attorney Larry Bryson regarding the information that could be released from the executive session, as Mayor Rudder was unavailable for comment.
"There is a monthly tax form in which the businesses list their gross receipts," she said. "The businesses calculates the 3% restaurant tax themselves, so we don't know a definite amount because it changes from month to month."
Despite the shutdown of in-dining restaurants during the pandemic, Berry added that the restaurants involved with the delinquent taxes "were not struggling" from the pandemic.
The final reading of an ordinance outlining new ethics policies for city employees was also approved and will be effective on publication in the local newspaper. The new policy restricts city employees and their family members down to the first cousin level from doing business with the city, submitting financial disclosures, and policies of complaints or appeals by employees. The policies and procedures that members of the city's Ethics Committee were also outlined in the ordinance, including filing of complaints to the circuit court level.
That ordinance also addressed the nepotism issues that restrict any city employee, board member or elected city official from having a family member hired on the city payroll. Family is defined as being a spouse or former spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws of any form, children, to the level of first cousins.
The process of city firemen having the final say-so over electing a fire chief also was under discussion. Current City Fire Chief Carl Hacker said the policy needed to be updated from its original wording in an ordinance from the 1920s that allowed members of the fire department to elect their chief. Hacker said the policy had been updated approximately 16 years ago but needed to be updated with the changes and expansion of the fire department.
Hacker said the original policy had only one paid firefighter — the chief — and that the chief would be elected by fellow firefighters.
"It says the Firemen's Club elected the chief, then submitted the forms to the Mayor," Hacker explained. "I think this needs to be changed to make the fire chief accountable to the mayor and the people."
Hacker said he did not want to "hide behind the Club" as in the past, and that the city fire chief should be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council members rather than by a majority vote of the firefighters. With the growth of the city over the years, more paid firefighters are currently on the department so Hacker pointed out that the policy should be updated to include the duties of the fire chief as well as the qualifications for anyone seeking that position.
City tourism director Chris Robinson addressed several issues before council members, including the Hill Street project that will add more parking spaces near the Town Center. Robinson said the extra space could also be used for food truck vendors during special events.
That brought up the topic of making 7th Street a one-way street with the opening of Block 300, as a safety measure. He added that sidewalks on the side of the Local Honey restaurant would also provide more safety for patrons of the restaurant and businesses located along the area.
Surplus equipment from the former Laurel County Fairgrounds ballfields became an extended discussion, particularly the fencing around the existing ballfields. Several council members expressed concern whether the ballfields at the fairgrounds would host tournaments again, with councilman Bobby Joe Parman interjecting that Little League travel ball was a tourism favorite. After an extended discussion on the future of the fairgrounds, Robinson explained that the city tourism wished to establish a committee comprised of seven facets of the community to review the future of that property.
The Laurel County Fairgrounds was formerly operated by the county, but the acquisition of the Levi Jackson State Park from the state to City of London now places it in the oversight of the London City Tourism Commission. Although that committee has not yet been established and plans for the future of that property remains unsettled, tourism members recommended that the fencing, bleachers and a small tractor be listed as surplus property. But council members bucked the fencing being sold at this point, but did approve the sale of other equipment except the fencing.
Council members also heard from Frank Robinette with Cumberland River Behavioral Health, who explained a program to assist first responders with drug overdose cases in the area. Robinette said he wasn't asking for anything from the council except their support in establishing a quick response team of his organization's members, who could be called during a crisis and could assist other first responders with the situation. Robinette received the support of council members in that request.
Another issue before the council on Monday was changing the name of Fountaine Lane to Fountaine Drive. Mayor Rudder explained the request to name the road was originally asked as "Drive" but was inappropriately listed as "Lane." Daniel Carmack responded that the street was so named after long-time pastor, the late Fountaine Jones, with Rudder stating that there was only a house and a mobile home on that street so the name change would affect only those two residents.