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 Council Discusses Banner Debt

February 4, 2009 - Just before adjourning its last regular monthly meeting, the Knightstown Town Council spent a few minutes discussing the $55,212.46 in attorney fees and court costs the town owes as the result of losing a high-profile public record lawsuit to The Banner in 2006.

Council member Clyde South had already made a motion to adjourn the Jan. 15 meeting when fellow council member Steve Nelson brought up the issue. Nelson asked whether the council needed to be doing anything to address how the judgment against the town and the town’s insurer, issued last August by Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis, will be paid.

Clerk-Treasurer Judy Haines told the council that the town’s 2009 budget included appropriated funds to cover the expense, but noted that the budget has not yet been approved by the state. If necessary, she said the town could borrow money from its utilities to satisfy the debt.

While he said he understood the frustration that led The Banner to run a “Final Notice” parody about the town’s nonpayment on the front page of its Jan. 14 edition, Council Vice President Terry Geurin said he took issue with a couple of points. First, he said he disagreed with the newspaper’s belief that the town has the money to pay the judgment now, noting that the town wasn’t even able to pay its own attorney the smaller amount he is owed at this time.

Second, Guerin said he thought it was “unfortunate” that The Banner had made no mention of the town’s insurer with respect to the judgment. In the order issued last August, Willis said the town and its insurer are jointly and severally liable for the $55,212.46, which means that until its paid, both are fully responsible for the entire amount.

Nelson said he just didn’t want people to think the town was reneging on its obligation. Guerin said The Banner was aware that the town’s attorney, Gregg Morelock, is currently negotiating with its insurer to determine how much each will pay toward what is owed

(Note -- The Banner reported in a story in its Jan. 7 issue that these negotiations between the town and its insurer were mentioned by Guerin during a special council meeting on Dec. 29. Also, the Jan. 7 story, and others prior to that, noted that the town and its insurer are jointly and severally liable for the full amount of the judgment. -- Pub.)

Saying he had not been going to say anything about this issue, South said, “I’ve about had it with the sort of shenanigans that are being employed by The Banner.” He characterized what had appeared in The Banner as “half-strung stuff” and again repeated that he was “tired of their shenanigans.”

Morelock did not attend the Jan. 15 meeting, so no update was provided on his negotiations with the town’s insurer. Council members also provided no indication as to how much longer they intend to go without making any effort to satisfy the judgment against the town.

In other business, council members received amended copies of the town’s personnel policy manual, which had been the subject of a special meeting a week earlier. However, because Morelock was not in attendance, the board took no action to adopt the amended manual.

Council President Valerie Trump told the council she would make council members’ committee assignments for 2009 at their February meeting. Acting on a recommendation from Mary Miller, director of the Knightstown Public Library, the board OK’d the reappointment of Vickie Rhodes to another four-year term on the library board.

Nelson told the council he had several people call him to complain about trash around the recycling bins on County Road 775-West, across the street from Knightstown High School. Saying the winds from the west are blowing the bin lids open so that trash can blow out, he suggested turning the bins around to face the other way.

Guerin said he would call the Three Rivers Solid Waste Management District and check on their schedule for picking up the recycling, and would check on whether Three Rivers could provide separate containers for glass, plastic and paper. In a related matter, he reported that the state plans to cut all grants for recycling services and said the legislature is considering requiring public hearings before solid waste districts can continue their user fees for recycling services.

“It’s not a question of if we fix it,” South said of the problem of trash around the recycling bins. “It’s when we fix it. ... We can’t be trashing the place up for the sake of recycling.” Works Manager Mel Matlock said he would look into the issue also.

The council voted at the Jan.15 meeting to transfer $20,000 from the town’s wastewater utility’s depreciation fund into its operating fund. Haines said the transfer was needed because the operating fund was in the red at the end of 2008.

Matlock told the council that a sewer rate study had been done in 1999 or 2000, but that the rates were not raised at that time. He said the last increase was in 1993.

Nelson said he thought the town needed to have a study done on its sewer rates to determine if an increase is needed. South said he thought the council should take a look at the figures and do an “in-house study” before hiring someone else to do it. Utility Clerk Linda Glenn told the council she thought she could have some numbers for the council by their February meeting.

Guerin advised Matlock that were possibly as many as 15 street lights out in town, and that there were some stop signs that need to be repositioned so that they’re facing the right direction. He also said the council and Matlock need to discuss the latter’s role as building inspector and the procedures used and need for consistency.

Council member Bob Weber asked Matlock if town workers are following Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for the workplace. Matlock said employees sign a paper saying they’ll follow OSHA rules.

Guerin also asked Matlock about why town workers were not applying sand to roads during their day shifts instead of doing it at night when they earn overtime. Matlock said it can’t always be done during the day because it’s necessary to wait until the snow quits before putting the sand down.

Matlock also told the council he was still awaiting a new appraisal from Mike Riggs on the old town court building on East Main Street. He said someone has expressed interest in buying the property, but did not identify them.


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