Commonwealth Journal

News Live

April 14, 2014

Law targeted local board member

Somerset — A local official currently serving on multiple boards capable of levying taxes could find herself having to resign from one of those entities due to a recently-passed law in Frankfort.

Elaine Wilson, who has served on both the Somerset Independent School Board and the Pulaski County Library Board for a number of years, would be directly affected by House Bill 276, an act relating to incompatible offices.

The act was signed into law on April 7 by Gov. Steve Beshear. It was sponsored primarily by Rep. Ken Upchurch of Monticello, who represents parts of Pulaski County in addition to McCreary and Wayne Counties, and also sponsored by Rep. Tommy Turner, who is himself from Pulaski County.

The bill “applies to any board or individual who serves or who could potentially on two boards that would levy taxes,” Upchurch told the Commonwealth Journal. “It just prevents that from happening.

“It goes against our founding principles of one vote, one person,” he added “ ... It’s intended to apply — I don’t want to say to an individual — but it would affect any individual who is elected or appointed to a board (with the ability to) levy taxes.”

While school boards enact taxes on the populace to help fund the educational setting, the library board may also enact a tax to help pay for the local library’s obligations and expenses.

This became the source of a controversy in 2012, when a push to dissolve the library board threatened to shutter the facility’s doors. For the 2012-2013 year, the compensating tax increase went from 6.30 cents per $100 of real property to 6.40 cents, raised slightly because property values slid this year. Citizens upset by the tax increase started collecting signatures that would eliminate the special taxing district, though because of outstanding debt owed by the library, its branches would have closed, and the assets of the library would have been sold off to satisfy the debt of about $9,507,830 at that time. In late November of 2012, the petition was dropped following movement in Frankfort calling for greater oversight of taxing districts.

Following that incident, Upchurch’s attention was drawn to Wilson and her status as a member of two entities capable of levying taxes on the public.

“I know there was an issue with the Pulaski County Library Board a couple of years ago,” he said. “Constituents of mine in Pulaski County pointed out the board membership of one individual who served on two different taxing authority boards.

“At the time, I was like, ‘That’s an incompatible office,’ but as we researched into the statutes, we found that in that set of circumstances, it was not prohibited and ... I thought that was an oversight in the compatibility clause, so we revised it.”

Wilson said that it seemed as if the new policy was “very specifically affecting me,” without knowing of Upchurch’s comments at the time of that statement.

“I do,” she said when asked if she felt targeted by the bill. “I thought absolutely ... it had to be some blowback from the people trying to close the library two years ago.

“It’s an awfully strange coincidence,” she added. “There are not many coincidences in life.”

When told of Upchurch’s remarks regarding complaints by his constituents about Wilson’s taxing board membership, Wilson said that she had “no response” to him, but did say that “it seems to be a strange thing to do when there’s no harm being done to the community at any level. No harm to the people in the county and no harm to either board.”

Wilson initially said she wasn’t concerned about having to resign from either board because library director Charlotte Keeney that there is an exception for someone who serves on a school board, and that it wouldn’t affect her status serving on both boards.

Upchurch disagreed, saying the bill was intended to apply to both. Turner said the same when asked about the legislation.

Keeney said she had received an email from Wayne Onkst, Kentucky’s Department of Libraries and Archives Commissioner, saying that the law did not affect school board members

Keeney explored the issue on her own, and found that item no. 5 in the bill states that “(no) person shall, at the same time, fill any two appointed offices of special purpose governmental entities as defined in KRS 65A.010, that each have the authority to levy taxes.”

She then read the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) definitions, where a “special purpose governmental entity” or SPGE is defined as “a regional agency created by statute that is independent from the state and local governments.”

The Commonwealth Journal found the definition listed on the Legislative Research Commission’s website (www.lrc.ky.gov) that Keeney said she read, which states that “according to KRS 65A.010(8)(d), SPGEs do not include, among others, cities, counties, school districts, or any entity whose budget and financial information are ‘integrated and included s a part of the budget and financial reporting’ of the local city or county government.”

Another point is that the bill specified filling “two appointed offices.” School board members are elected by the public, not appointed. When it was mentioned to Upchurch that the bill reads as such, he confirmed that it did. He went on to clarify, however, that the intention of the bill is to include both school boards and library boards as entities that are incompatible for one person to serve on simultaneously.

Wilson said she would need to seek more clarification from the library commissioner before making any statement about whether or not she would step down from the library board by the time the law takes effect in mid-July.

“It does not remove them or kick them off of either board,” said Upchurch of the bill. “They (an individual who serves on two incompatible entities) will just have to make a determination at some point in time which one they want to serve on.”

Turner said he thought it was a “good bill” and that it “ought to spread those opportunities (to serve) around for other people.”

Wilson said that after finding out about the bill, she contacted state senators to voice her disapproval, but found that they primarily supported the bill. She also asked the governor to veto the legislation, but that didn’t happen either. She did note that she’s appreciative of the support that Pulaski Judge-Executive Barty Bullock has given to her and the library board, however.

“Judge Bullock came to (the last) library board meeting and told us what a great job we were doing and how well we were doing with our finances and ... what a service we were providing to the community,” said Wilson. “I guess if he has the opportunity, he’ll speak up for us too, and we really appreciate his support.”

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