At a work session Tuesday, Lexington Urban County Council members expressed concern at the sudden resignation last week of Commissioner of Environmental Quality and Public Works Cheryl Taylor and that no details have been made public by Mayor Jim Gray's administration.
In a letter to city employees last week, Taylor said she was asked to resign after the city began investigating whether she inappropriately tried to direct city funds to her husband. Gray's administration had no comment about the letter.
Taylor, 54, was one of Gray's first appointees to city government.
Council member Doug Martin said Taylor's resignation was particularly disturbing because the city is under a consent decree from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to overhaul its antiquated sanitary sewer system.
The work on the sewers, costing $540 million, is being managed by the Environmental Quality and Public Works Department.
"Anything that is irregular, or is out of the ordinary, that is in close proximity to this large amount of money is something that gives us pause," Martin said.
No information on Taylor's dismissal has been provided to the council, Martin said, "so we've been left to know what we know from the papers and from gossip."
Martin expressed the hope that the mayor and the administration would update the council soon about what's going on within this department.
Gray said nothing during the work session that shed light on his asking for Taylor's resignation, except to say the decision to terminate an employee "is not made casually."
Law Commissioner Janet Graham said she had advised Gray not to comment publicly on Taylor's resignation. "The mayor's following my advice, and the mayor's staff. We won't be making a public comment on it," she said.
Martin objected. "But we are not the public. We are the Urban County Council," he said, likening the council to the city's "board of directors."
"To not give council any information about a rather serious development with a lot of, frankly, strange rumors going around ... is a disappointment," Martin told Graham.
What about briefing the council in closed session, Martin then asked.
To go into closed session, the council would need to be considering hiring or dismissing an employee, Graham said. "An after-the-fact inquiry would not be the proper subject of a closed session," she said.
Council member George Myers asked Graham to clarify why, if the council confirms appointments made by the mayor, it has no role in their dismissal.
The Kentucky Revised Statutes specifically give the mayor authority to appoint executive branch employees, and the council confirms them, Graham said. But state law specifically "exempts out the legislative body from being part of, basically, the dismissal process for an executive branch, at-will employee," she said.
"In fairness, there's no doubt you guys have authority to do it," Martin said. "But don't forget, we approve your budgets. As a matter of courtesy, it might be nice just to keep us plugged in."
Responding, Gray said, "I discourage the impression anything has been withheld. What we are trying to do is follow the law, respect for the law and the institution we are serving."
Going back to the subject of rebuilding the city's sanitary sewers, council member Ed Lane said his concern was what company would oversee the project.
"We need to get the very best construction manager to oversee this project ... for the eight to 10 years it may take," Lane said, so that when there are changes in personnel, council members or mayors, the continuity of the construction will go forward on behalf of taxpayers, and not be mismanaged.
Richard Moloney, the city's chief administrative officer, reassured the council that the city had met every deadline in following the EPA consent decree. He also said the city was on a "fast track" to find a replacement for Taylor.