Commonwealth Journal

November 29, 2012

Somerset gas prices fuel Councilor John Ricky Minton’s gripes

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — A Somerset city councilor begged his fellow officials to stand up against what he claims are illegal gas price practices in the area — and he took  the Commonwealth Journal to task for what he said was a failure to dig into those alleged illegalities.

Councilor John Ricky Minton has been outspoken about what he says are illegal gas price practices in the area. On Monday he again expressed his frustration at what he said is a lack of action by the council and local media outlets in digging into what he sees as illegal business practices on the part of local gas stations and distributors.

“I have griped and I have spoken on this and I guess a lot of people think I’m making a fool of myself, but I’m not going to shut up and I demand that this city council, for the citizens of Somerset, if we have to file some kind of lawsuit or whatever it takes ...,” Minton said to the council — minus Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler, who was out of town.  

Later, Minton directed his attention to the CJ reporter at the meeting.

“This don’t get in the paper every time and I know it’s not your fault,” Minton said to the reporter, “because we’ve got somebody sitting up there who doesn’t care.

“But this paper makes their money from the people of Pulaski County,” Minton continued. “They ought to represent them. They can investigate this.”

Minton stated that gasoline prices in Pulaski County were around 30 cents higher than in surrounding areas two days before Thanksgiving. Minton and Mitchell both said the price of regular unleaded gasoline in Somerset was $3.58 per gallon at two local retailers. They said it was $3.28 and $3.25 in surrounding areas.

Gas prices change throughout the day. According to information from GasBuddy.com taken by the Commonwealth Journal on that Tuesday, November 21, gas prices in Somerset were around $3.25. Minton and Mitchell said the price jumped from around that price to $3.58 later in the day on November 21.

According to information taken from GasBuddy.com on Thanksgiving Day, prices had indeed risen in Somerset to $3.58 per gallon. The CJ reported gas to be $3.49 per gallon in Lexington, $3.45 a gallon in London, and $3.49 per gallon in Mt. Vernon. The state average for that day was reported at $3.40 per gallon.

GasBuddy.com provides gasoline prices in specific cities based on reports from consumers sent in to the website throughout the day. The site does not report only on lowest prices or highest prices found, but passes along all prices as reported by GasBuddy contributors.

As of around 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 27, the lowest gas price in Somerset was reported to be at $3.55 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline. Gas was around $3.41 just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in parts of Lexington and London, and it was reported at $3.49 at around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in Mt. Vernon.

As of around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon (November 28), gas prices were reported to be between $3.55 and $3.59 per gallon of regular unleaded in Somerset. In parts of Lexington, gas was reported to be at $3.46 per gallon as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Gas was reported at $3.37 in London as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, and it was reported to be at $3.49 in Mt. Vernon as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Prices can vary within a city, especially in larger metropolitan areas such as Lexington and Louisville.

“The local paper can ask the reasons,” Minton said. “They can print it. If they print it on the front page every day ... if the paper would print this stuff, dig into it like some papers ...

“(The City of Somerset beat reporter) does a great job. I’m not getting on (her) about it,” Minton continued. “I’m sure she’s got somebody telling her ‘no, we can’t do that, we can’t do that.’”

The CJ has reported on the gas price discrepancy numerous times since 2007.

Minton entered a motion that the council do whatever it may take to get to the bottom of the price difference — and that the city continue to look into selling gas publicly through its bulk fuel facility.

“I don’t care to spend $50,000 or whatever it takes to get into this and let’s put a stop ... let’s show people what’s going on,” Minton said.

Mitchell seconded that motion.

Minton even suggested that the city hire a private individual to look into the gas prices and stated he wasn’t scared of those who own the local gas stations.

“I begged the chickens to come here and sit and try to explain to me and the rest of us,” Minton said.

Minton was referring to an open invitation the city extended to local gasoline station business owners in 2011 to discuss their pricing practices in hopes of shedding some light on the subject. The city asked the business owners to attend a meeting and explain to the councilors and Mayor Eddie Girdler how the pricing process worked. They declined to attend, saying to do so would have violated anti-trust laws.

“If anybody else was robbing people, it wouldn’t be put up with,” said Minton. “... We’ve sat here and I’ve talked about it and nothing’s been done.”

Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese said she would try to locate an expert on the pricing process and do some research on the issue.

 “We need somebody that understands how it works,” Wiese said.

“Let’s don’t come back a month from now and nothing done, let’s get the ball rolling,” Minton said.

Minton asked his fellow councilors for back-up on the issue.

“I think ... everybody ought to stand up to it, not jut me and the two or three others talking about this,” Minton said, who said he’d be glad to hear from someone who can explain that the process is working as it should.

“If they can prove I’ve done something wrong in all of this I’m more than glad to have them come tell me,” Minton said.