Barbourville City Council votes unanimously to remove mayor from office

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 11, 2014 

BARBOURVILLE — City council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to strip Mayor David Thompson of office based on a state audit that found numerous poor financial practices since he took office in 2007.

The council filed 11 administrative charges against Thompson, including that he paid contractors more than $73,000 for work that city employees could have done; failed to seek bids as required in several cases; and had an improper role in his wife being hired for a management job at the city water park.

"These were actions of misconduct as well as conflicts of interest," council member Darren West said at the meeting.

Thompson will appeal his ouster, said his attorney, Billy Taylor.

Taylor said the council had violated Thompson's rights by not giving him enough time to prepare for the hearing.

"This has been a railroad from beginning to end," Taylor said.

Joe Childers, a Lexington attorney representing the council, said Thompson had received adequate notice of the charges.

Taylor said he believed the move to boot Thompson was politically motivated, but council members said that was not true, and that they bore Thompson no ill will.

Thompson's conduct had cost the city money, and the council and many citizens felt something had to be done, said council member Sherman Lawson.

"People are irate about it," he said of the audit findings.

The hearing Tuesday was testy at times.

One Thompson supporter, John Sizemore, put small rocks on the council members' chairs before the meeting, then spoke of the time when Jesus told people accusing a woman of wrongdoing that those without sin should cast the first stone.

Jesus also said to abide by the law, Tamara Sanborn retorted.

Thompson did not testify at the hearing. He had said in his response to the audit that he would fix the problems.

The move to oust the two-term mayor resulted from an inquiry state Auditor Adam Edelen's office released in January. City council members had requested the special audit.

The audit included more than 25 findings of problems on Thompson's watch.

They included that Thompson influenced the hiring of his wife, Wendy, at the water park; that during her management the park did not file state sales tax returns on concessions or report revenue to the city recreation board; and that she might have underreported the number of people working in concessions, which would have increased her profit.

The audit also found that under Thompson, the city and a local board did not follow bidding rules at times and that the city paid far more for some property than its assessed value.

The audit also cited a potential conflict of interest by Thompson, saying he had certified that a number of people required to do community-service work were on the job at the recycling center when in fact they weren't.

At the same time, several of the people had their children at Thompson's wife's daycare facility, which received state payments for caring for them, the audit said.

One day in August 2013, Thompson certified 11 people were at the recycling center, but auditors who visited said there was no one there.

Not all the findings in the audit resulted in administrative charges by the council.

Some audit findings were referred to state Attorney General Jack Conway's office for potential investigation.

Some of Thompson's supporters said that process should have been allowed to proceed before any vote to remove Thompson.

Other residents, however, said it was appropriate for the council to move more quickly in order to restore taxpayers' trust.

After the vote, Edelen noted that the audit resulted in "significant findings of self-dealing and loose governance."

"It's my hope that this leads to more honest and efficient government in Barbourville," Edelen said of the vote to remove Thompson.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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