By KEN SHMIDHEISER, Managing Editor Commonwealth Journal
Organizers for Somerset-Pulaski County United got what they feel was a unfair tongue-lashing from Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler last night.
“The mayor’s reaction was far-fetched, over-reaching and unfounded,” said 15th Dist. Sen. Chris Girdler, a member of Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU), following last night’s Somerset City Council session.
The mayor’s scolding came after Somerset City Council unanimously dismissed the group’s request for about $11,700 in financial assistance to help study the pros and cons of merging city and county governments—a merger that would make Somerset the third largest city in Kentucky. SPCU’s members include a virtual “Who’s Who” of Pulaski County civic, business and government leaders. The study they want will cost $35,000, a third of which they are pledging with hopes that Somerset City Council and Pulaski Fiscal Court will each split the remainder of the cost.
“Why ask the city and county for any money? You want to do a study, do it yourself,” the mayor said, reprimanding SPCU visitors. “Don’t ask the taxpayers to do your dirty work. So if you’re going to come back to us, you better come back with enough information and documentation or you wont be put on the agenda again. Does that make it clear to you all? You all are intelligent. You know better than this.”
(One SPCU member was overhead to say that Girdler had a lot of nerve to express a legal opinion to a group that included four attorneys.)
Brook Ping, chairman of SPCU, requested that SPCU be reserved time on the agenda of the next council meeting in two weeks to revisit the issue—a request which was granted.
During the session, Councilor Jim Rutherford wondered if SPCU is precipitating the study of a merged government as an offshoot of an ongoing city-county dispute over their joint Emergency Medical Service (EMS) system, a contention Ping said was absolutely unfounded.
“This has nothing to do with EMS,” Ping said. “This is about uniting Somerset into a 64,000 population city, making it the third largest city in Kentucky.”
Later during last night’s meeting, Councilor Rutherford revisited Mayor Girdler’s comments taking him to task for his diatribe and basically apologizing to the SPCU members.
“The mayor shouldn’t have scolded you,” Rutherford told the visitors.
“I disagree with you but that’s fine,” Girdler retorted.
The rift between SPCU and the city has escalated sharply since SPCU’s press conference last Thursday unveiling its intentions to study the feasibility of a city-county government merger.
Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that the City of Somerset, in the aftermath of last week’s announcement, had cut off its funding to the Chamber. He declined to specify the amount lost, but when pressed he described the city’s contribution as “world class.”
City councilors did not discuss reasons for suddenly cutting off the Chamber’s funding during last night’s session.
Sen. Girdler indicated he was somewhat surprised with Mayor Girdler’s reaction to SPCU’s request. He referenced Mayor Girdler’s comments from a Sept, 2, 2011, Commonwealth Journal article:
“...there have been some staff discussion about the advantages of merger some services with the county...
“I think in the future in relation to federal and state money it will become necessary to merge some city and county services...
“I think it is time of have good discussions, more dialogue (with the county),” Mayor Girdler said in the article.
SPCU has repeatedly explained that is simply wants to study the pros and cons of a merger of Somerset, Ferguson, Burnside, Science Hill and Pulaski County governments.
“The study is simply that,” said Luke Schmidt, president of L.B. Schmidt & Associates, who is acting as consultant for SPCU. “It is the voters of Pulaski County who will decide if they want a united government.”
Speaking on behalf of SPCU, Sen. Girdler and Ping said the group “absolutely” plans to attend today’s Pulaski Fiscal Court meeting to present its request for financial assistance. Judge-Executive Barty Bullock has already expressed his support of studying a government merger.
“On one hand the city criticizes us for not providing them information about the study, and on the other hand they didn’t even allow us to present them with the information,” Ping said.
Concerning the chances of a study of a united Pulaski County government materializing, Sen. Girdler remained upbeat: