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Friday, May 14, 2021

Latest on DAV Property: City Decides Not to Appeal Meetings Decision; Files Complaints Against Schools Attorney

Footage from the May 10 meeting in Cold Spring. 

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Cold Spring officials have taken to social media to share letters outlining complaints against the attorney working for the Campbell County School District.

by Robin Gee

Once city of Cold Spring officials signed a deed agreement between the city and the Disabled American Veterans for purchase of the DAV property at 3725 Alexandria Pike, it seemed all systems were go for the city to achieve its ultimate goal of bringing a health care facility to the area. The city had hammered out agreements with developer Al. Neyer and with St. Elizabeth Hospital.

RELATED: Cold Spring Closes on the Purchase of DAV Property

Yet, it has not been smooth sailing, and even now what started as competing interests between the city and the Campbell County School Board has turned into a fight. After the city announced its purchase of the property, Campbell County schools Superintendent David Rust penned a public letter explaining the school district’s interest in the property and its great need for a second middle school in that end of the county.

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It did not appear the schools were backing away from their claim to the property. They had filed for eminent domain and that issue has still not been resolved. It is making its way through the court system. 

City decides not to fight open meetings complaint

At its meeting this week, Cold Spring City Council went into executive session to discuss one of the legal challenges that came up as a part of the struggle over the DAV property. They decided not to appeal a decision by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron that the city had violated open meetings rules at two meetings in December 2020.

In January, the Campbell County School Board filed a complaint against the city concerning council meetings that were held on December 17 and 30, 2020. School officials complained that in those meetings the city met without allowing capacity for the public to attend, took action in executive session without noting that would happen on the agenda and live streamed only a portion of a meeting.

RELATED: Campbell School Board Raises Issues With City Meetings on DAV; Council Meets to Discuss

The complaint rose to the attorney general’s office who ruled the council had violated open meetings laws in the two meetings in question.

After receiving notice of the school board's complaint, city council members threw out any decisions made at the two December meetings. They met at a later date to discuss and vote on any issues anew that had been involved. They did admit there had been technical difficulties with some of the live streaming and so decided to move to in-person meetings. Some council members who did not feel comfortable meeting in person were allowed to continue remotely. Meetings were taped and posted at a later date.

In February, council voted to appeal the decision. Yet, after discussion in executive session at their May meeting, council reversed its decision to appeal. Penalties only go into effect if the attorney general ascertains that the violations were willful. Violators are charged $100 per day until results of the meetings in question are nullified. The city attorney noted that the situations that arose at the two meetings were not willful and that all decisions made in those meetings were overturned and later voted upon.

RELATED: Cold Spring Votes to Appeal Decision on Open Meetings Violations  

City files complaints against school board attorney

Also this month, Cold Spring City Attorney Brandon Voelker, said he discovered issues surrounding the school board’s attorney Jason Reed. He said he suspected Reed of crossing the line between his public role as Staff Attorney III and his private practice. He filed several open records requests with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to dig into the matter.

Cold Spring Mayor D. Angelo Penque sent a letter to Governor Andy Beshear and to Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet, outlining his and Voelker’s concerns about Reed. At issue, he stated in his letter was his concern that "The employee, Jason V. Reed, is a hearing officer, charged with deciding cases impacting the lives of Kentuckians, yet as an employee believes the rules do not apply to him."

He went on to list what he felt were abuses including the use of Reed’s work computer and email account for his private practice. 

Cabinet for Health and Family Services responds

The letter landed eventually on the desk of Wesley Duke, general counsel for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. He responded with a letter outlining the situation and assuring Mayor Penque that his office was taking the city’s complaints seriously and looking into the matter.

Duke listed the many requests by Voelker for records, and said he and his staff are working to fulfill those requests. He noted that, "When I was first contacted by Mr. Voelker in January, 2021, I reached out to Mr. Reed’s supervisors to discuss the allegations that were made regarding outside work and determined that Mr. Reed had followed the regulations regarding notifying the Cabinet of his outside employment."

He added that "during this process, my office discovered some records on the employee’s work issued machine that resulted from legal work outside of his employment..."

He said, following that discovery the matter was turned over to the Cabinet’s Office of Human Resources Management for an internal investigation, and that investigation is ongoing. 

Taking to social media

After receiving Duke’s letter, city officials posted both their complaint and the letter response from Duke on the Cold Spring City Facebook page and on the city website. In a post with the letters, Mayor Penque outlined the city’s complaint against Reed and noted that an investigation was ongoing.

His comments reflect a growing animosity between city officials and the attorney, "Mr. Reed has constantly sought to criticize the City of Cold Spring, falsely accusing Cold Spring of collusion regarding the DAV property, disregarding the public working to bring health care facilities to Cold Spring since becoming Mayor. While Mr. Reed seeks to make up false allegations against Cold Spring, what is not false is that he is a state employee, who has utilized state resources for private benefit. This conduct would not be allowed in the City of Cold Spring and hopefully the investigation referenced will insure it is also not tolerated on the state level."

Cold Spring Council member Lisa Cavanaugh also posted the letters on Facebook but took the opportunity to make the case why she felt the city’s purchase would both benefit the city and the schools in the long run.

"... This facility will greatly benefit the entire community...including the schools: An $80 million to $85 million project would generate an estimated $123,200 to $130,900 a year in new property taxes. Projected payroll for up to 240 full time employees with an average salary of $85,000 to $95,000 would annually generate from $205,000 to $230,000 a year in new payroll taxes.The city would also collect approximately $5,000 in Insurance Premium taxes."

Fort Thomas Matters reached out to Reed and to Dr. David Rust, superintendent of Campbell County Schools, about the allegations, but we have not yet had a response. We will share an update as this issue unfolds. 

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School Board Asserts The Right to File for Eminent Domain

In a related issue, last week Fort Thomas Matters obtained a copy of the Campbell County School Board’s response to an earlier suit filed by Cold Spring officials in December 2020 demanding that the schools drop their eminent domain action. The city has since purchased the property. 

RELATED: Cold Spring to File Suit Against School District Over DAV Property

In its response to the Circuit Court, the school board claims that by filing a lis pendens before that sale and while it was still a private property, it made clear that there is litigation pending on the property, and so the city knew about this but purchased the property anyway. Should the courts rule in the school’s favor, the city would have to accept that decision. The school is, therefore, refusing to drop its request for eminent domain. 

The situation remains unresolved as the public awaits decisions on the eminent domain filings and the charges against the school board attorney. It may be summer before we learn the fate of the Disabled American Veterans property.

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