The issue of making a bid to acquire the McRoberts Elementary School property has been put to rest by Letcher County Fiscal Court.
The McRoberts School bid has become increasingly controversial since the court’s April meeting, with accusations of bid rigging being leveled by County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward against District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who represents Jenkins and McRoberts on the fiscal court.
Fleming said he was accused of bid rigging by Ward, and added that he believes Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton also wrongfully accused him of breaking the law. Hatton replied that he had not accused Fleming of violating the law, and said he had consistently advised the court that it was a bad idea to ask the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education to reject any and all bids submitted for the McRoberts School and enter into negotiations with the court for the property.
At the court’s April 21 meeting, Fleming made a motion to ask the Jenkins School Board to reject all the bids that were to have been submitted the afternoon of the court meeting, and to enter into negotiations with the court to allow it to purchase the property for use as a senior citizens center and for other community programs. At that meeting, Ward said he felt uncomfortable asking the board to reject legally submitted bids. Hatton cautioned the court against the idea. However, the court voted unanimously to allow Ward to look into the possibility of negotiating for the purchase of the old McRoberts School provided that all bids submitted to the Jenkins board on April 21 were rejected. The court hoped to use the school as a replacement site for the Boone Fork Senior Citizens Center.
At the April 28 meeting of the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education, the board did vote to reject all the bids that had been submitted. Fleming, who attended the meeting, asked if there would be an opportunity for the court to negotiate the purchase of the building after the bids were rejected, but School Board Attorney Tim Crawford said that under Kentucky law, the property would have to be advertised for bids a second time with all bids having to be considered. After Crawford’s statement, Fleming did not attempt to pursue the matter any further.
Since that meeting, the controversy over the matter has grown. Fleming hired Prestonsburg Attorney Ned Pillersdorf to represent him against charges of bid rigging and questioned Hatton about his statement. Hatton maintained that his involvement in the matter was to advise the court not to enter into negotiations. Hatton said he sought advice from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Offi ce and from the attorney for the Kentucky Association of Counties, Rich Ornstein, whom Hatton said is an authority on municipal law. He said Ornstein agreed with his assessment of it not being proper for the county to pursue the purchase of the school. Hatton said he had not accused Fleming of committing a crime, but said the matter could be investigated. He added that his first duty was to protect the county.
“ I gave an opinion that we shouldn’t put in a bid,” said Hatton. “I don’t know if it is illegal, but we can investigate it.”
Fleming maintained that he had done nothing illegal, and said he would like to see the matter formally investigated so it would be clear him of committing any crimes. Pillersdorf told the court Fleming had not done anything illegal, but added that the dysfunctional manner in which the matter had been handled had created the likelihood that the McRoberts community might lose the property.
McRoberts resident Paul Ed Narramore told the court that the community needs the school and that it has been paid for many times over through the school taxes McRoberts residents have paid. Narramore asked the court about $100,000 in coal severance tax receipts that was set aside for repairs and maintenance for the Boone Fork Senior Citizens Center several years ago. Fleming said the money is still in Frankfort and cannot be used for anything else. Narramore said that he had been told that if the money is not used it will revert to the state. But County Finance Officer Doris Jean Frazier said the money is locked in until June 30, 2015, and if the county can show cause, an extension will probably be granted for the funds.
Pillersdorf told the court that bid rigging is defined as trying to make a financial gain by tampering with a bid price, and that simply had not happened. Fleming then moved that the court submit a bid for the property and suggested that if his motion passed, the fiscal court undertake a required appraisal of the property immediately. District Two Magistrate Terry Adams seconded the motion, but the vote was three to two against, with Ward, District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson, and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams voting no and Fleming and Terry Adams voting yes.
In a related matter, the court voted to halt plans to demolish the Boone Fork Senior Citizens Center until an alternative site can be found for the seniors who had used the center. The court will look at moving the center to the McRoberts Community Center or the Hemphill Community Center as well as attempting to find another building. Fleming said if that happens, the fiscal court can turn the old center over to the City of Fleming-Neon, which wants to use the property as a site for a park.
In other business, Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore reported that Kentucky Heritage Artist Doug Adams will have the sculpture for Fleming-Neon ready for presentation at the city’s July 4 celebration.
Adams has also competed his mural “Bad Branch Creek” for the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital. The mural is located on the entrance to the left of the front desk.
In other business:
• The court voted unanimously to approve an agreement with LKLP for the purchase of a new van for use by senior citizens. Under the terms of the agreement, the court will pay $4,267, or 10 percent of the cost.
• The court also voted unanimously to approve the project documents that are necessary to qualify for a Community Development Block Grant of $498,000 for the extension of sewer lines into Craft’s Colly.
• The court voted unanimously to advertise for bids for crumb rubber for use in playground equipment in county parks.
• The court voted unanimously to dedicate the following roads to veterans: G. Bennett Drive, located off US 119N to Sergeant Jack K Holbrook, U.S. Army; Valley Branch by Gordon Fire Department to Private First Class Jerry Lewis, U.S. Army; and Creek Road off Highway 343 in McRoberts in memory of Specialist 4 Jesse G. Burke, U.S. Army.
Bank balances for county agencies as of May 1:
• General Fund $390,588.08
• Road and Bridge Fund $567,528.96
• Jail Fund $66,758.51
• LGEA Fund $609,505.38
• Senior Citizens Fund $101,331.71
• Forestry Fund $16,019.33
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $413,747.81
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service $64,046.04