by Heather Tomlinson
City officials have been accused of vote-buying after a move to apply a one-time credit in February to utility customers.
During Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting, Mayor Eddie Girdler presented a written complaint, sent from Alice Ping to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, to councilors.
Girdler said Ping “accused everybody of vote buying.”
Ping is the wife of local developer Brook Ping — a leader of the “unified government” movement and a frequent critic of Girdler.
Alice Ping’s complaint is based on a decision by city council, handed down during the Jan. 13 meeting, to offer a one-time $30 credit to city utility customers — those that use city water, sewer, and/or natural gas — who live in the city. They also voted to offer a one-time $15 credit to natural gas customers located outside the city limits.
The $15 credit also applied to Ferguson residents currently receiving a city utility service.
The offer didn’t apply to businesses.
Ping’s formal complaint was received by the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance on Feb. 28. That complaint followed a letter, sent from city hall to affected customers, earlier that month informing them of the credit.
“We realize that the cold weather is a hardship on all families and customers,” states the city letter. “We hope that the ... credit on your utility bill will, in some small way, help each family and customer during these hard times.”
Ping’s complaint received a response from the state, written on March 7. According to the letter, Emily Dennis, general counsel with the registry of election finance, informed Ping that her complaint did not “... recite facts which support the allegation of a violation of a campaign finance statute or administrative regulation.”
Dennis said that no further action would be taken on Ping’s complaint.
Ping stated in her formal complaint that the credit was only for customers inside the city limits — despite the fact that $15 credits were applied to utility customers outside those limits.
Ping suggested the credit was “targeted” to city voters only. But city officials’ move to offer a $15 credit to those affected customers outside the city limits means the credit applied to non-city voters as well.
Ping also stated in the complaint that the city had not given such credits in years that did not involve upcoming elections.
“... This has been the worst weather we’ve had in decades and to say we shouldn’t help our city residents to get a credit on their utilities is unbelievable,” said Girdler on Monday. “This is a county resident who believes that we shouldn’t give things to our residents but they can take everything we’ve got.”
Ping also stated that the city offered the credit to those who may only be on city water “ ... which would not have seen any increase due to cold weather ...”
Girdler is running for re-election and will be running in the primary on May 20 against current City Councilor Jim Rutherford and businessman Alan Keck. The top two vote-getters will face off in the November general election.
“I like helping people,” said Rutherford on Monday. “It’s an honor ... if I thought that there’s shenanigans going on, I wouldn’t support it or vote for it. ... If I don’t have a problem I don’t think too many other people should have a problem either.”
Councilors Linda Stringer, Jerry Wheeldon, Jimmy Eastham, Jerry Girdler, Mike New, Donna Hunley, John Ricky Minton, Jim Mitchell, Pat Bourne, Jerry Burnett, and Tom Eastham have filed for re-election.
“I’ve probably heard more positive comments on this than anything we’ve done,” said Wheeldon.
Ping’s letter also accuses Girdler of providing “free food to potential voters in a meet and greet session paid for by the taxpayers.”
That was not discussed during Monday’s meeting, but Girdler on Friday said the city had a “Customer Appreciation Day” in February at Rocky Hollow Park that included hot dogs and other food items.
Dennis, the general counsel for the state’s registry of election finance, suggested that Ping file her complaint with the city’s ethics board.