"We're not going to have any surprises. We're not going to pull anything off under the table. We're not going to pull off anything illegal," promised Somerset Councilor and Mayor Pro Tem Jimmy Eastham during Monday's council meeting.
The meeting was bookended by annexation discussion, with Eastham conducting business on behalf of the city while Mayor Alan Keck was out of town, traveling due to a pre-scheduled meeting in Washington, D.C.
Even so, a group of around 60 non-city residents attended to show their support for the growing tide against Keck's proposed nonconsensual annexation. While Keck himself was not on hand at the meeting, City Attorney John Adams said that he believed by the end of the week Keck would be unveiling maps that showed the possible areas to be annexed, and would also be scheduling town hall meetings for the residents in those areas to meet with officials.
Eastham reminded the audience that annexation proposal "is so new, that basically the mayor and his direct staff are the only ones that know much more than anything about it."
Both Eastham and Adams explained that the discussion and decisions would take months, and that nothing was imminent.
"The council hasn't been presented anything yet," Eastham said, adding that at this stage councilors don't know any more than the public.
Eastham moved the citizens comments section of the agenda to the very end, meaning those who had attended with the intention to speak needed to wait until all official city business was conducted.
When finally given their turn, county residents explained their concerns - primarily, the fear of losing freedoms.
Bill Meece, who lives on North Ky. 1247, said that he was well aware of the pros and cons of living in the city since he had lived within Somerset's limits for 46 years. A few years ago, he made the decision to move outside the limits.
"I want you to know, I want you to hear me say, that I want the city to do well and to succeed," he said. "But I don't want to live in the city any more. I want to be able to do with my property what I want to do with my property. I don't want anyone telling me what to do with my property."
Eastham earlier requested residents to keep an open mind and approach the issue with facts in mind.
However, Meece explained, "I cannot be given any more information by anybody that's going to change my mind or change the way I feel. There's no benefit to me that's great enough for me to surrender my freedom to do with my property what I wish."
Bill Lewis, a resident of Koger Circle, agreed. "I own my property. I have no need to be in the city. I enjoy my property the way it is," he said.
Dr. Sandy Schuldheisz, a county resident who lives off of Ky. 1247 and who operates a business within the city limits, told the council she remains open-minded, "but it would take a lot for me to give up my personal freedom of the property I invested in."
She added that most of the comments she has heard from social media reflect that residents are afraid of what they might lose.
"I'm not seeing hostility. I've not seen any of that. It's been more of an infringement on their rights to manage their property."
Spencer Weddle is a county resident who lives off of the end of Slate Branch Road, and has become the moderator for a Facebook Group called Stop Pulaski County Forced Annexation. He addressed the issue of tax increases, calling it "the elephant in the room."
Weddle read comments that had been posted on the groups forum from people talking about being on a fixed income, being single parents or being the parent of special needs children.
Those people, Weddle explained, would be hurt tremendously by the increase on their property tax that would happen in an annexation.
"It's nice to think about expansion growth and all those things, … I'm here to remind you, there's going to be some pain. When the mayor says that we're all going to have to sacrifice, this is what we're seeing right here," he said.
In previous discussions, Mayor Keck has said that raising the city's population up to 20,000 would gain attention from larger retailers and restaurants, attracting more businesses to the area.
But Cary Pickerell, a resident of Hidden Loop, disputed that claim.
"As somebody that, years ago, worked with a big company that had a lot of stores, I know for a fact that they're not going to pay attention to the population number for Somerset," he said.
"These people are looking at the market area. They're looking at Pulaski County, and many of them are also going to look at Wayne County and the surrounding counties. You change the population number on a piece of paper from 10,000 to 20,000, that means nothing to these people. How many people are coming to Somerset? What is their market area?"
Pickerell indicated that those questions and other factors go into a retailer's decision to set up shop in a specific area.