City considers suit against KSP

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By Linda Ireland

 Mary Gaines Locke, attorney for the City of Hodgenville, said Monday she is considering filing a lawsuit against Kentucky State Police for return of city documents.

KSP seized numerous records at City Hall as part of an investigation that culminated in the indictments of Hodgenville Mayor Terry Cruse and City Clerk/Treasurer MaDonna Hornback. The records, including recordings, ordinance books, financial files and computers, were kept for months, despite numerous requests for their return, according to Locke.

KSP returned the material on Feb. 21 including a handful of original documents and copies of other items, according to Hornback. The officer who brought them to City Hall asked Hornback to “certify” their return. Hornback refused to do so, as she had not been allowed to verify the contents.

After going through the boxes, a process she said took two days, she discovered documents were missing.

Hornback compiled a list of items that were not returned including several vendor files, ordinances and resolutions, miscellaneous book, bills for 2011-12, and mileage reimbursement.

Cruse and Hornback said KSP did not allow them to watch the documents being boxed up during the investigation – or take photos of the process.

Councilman James Phelps Jr. said the council’s attorney, Michelle Sparks, needed the information as she prepared to advise them in upcoming weeks.

“My understanding from her is that everything – either originals or copies – everything they took was returned,” said Phelps.

(Sparks is representing Hodgenville City Council. Locke is the city attorney.)

“I know what they are saying, but it’s not true,” said Locke.

“So now we’re in a ‘he said, she said’ situation,” said Phelps. 

Phelps asked about two large ordinance books from the 1940s and 1950s. Council members Glenda Wathen and Bonni Clark indicated they recalled them also. Hornback said there were no books like that when she began her position with the city in 2007. There were only loose pages that she put in a file. The file is one of those that have not been returned, she said.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Whitney Meredith said in an email, “All documents seized during the search warrant have been returned to City Hall, with copies of all the originals that will be used during trial. Any issues concerning the evidence will be addressed in front of the Court (on Monday).”

KSP Detective Forrest Winchester, who is leading the investigation, said Tuesday he could not comment on an active criminal investigation.

The court, he said, was the “proper place” to discuss the discovery (documents). 

Mayor Cruse said the matter should be handled by Locke – the City’s attorney – not his personal attorney, Ron Mather.

“I don’t think I should have to pay my attorney to do that,” he said.

The missing documents caused yet another delay in the adoption of a municipal order requiring that information be compiled and given to Sparks.

The council hired Sparks last month to advise them after the indictments of Cruse and Hornback. They tabled a similar municipal order in February after they learned KSP had not returned the seized documents.

The order – if it had been passed – required the City to turn over a certified copy of all current ordinances, municipal orders and executive orders by March 17. 

Certified copies of policies and procedures by department, standard operating procedure manuals, pay and compensation plan for all elected officials, city-appointed officers and other employees, and any rules or directives given by the mayor, were to be provided by April 7.

Cruse and Hornback are facing numerous charges of alleged misuse of the City’s fleet gas card. They have pleaded innocent to the charges.

Last month, the council adopted ordinances requiring all City vehicles be identified with prominent decals and display standard government license plates, and standardizing the purchase order system.

In other business, Richard Frommeyer of American Legal Publishing spoke to the council about hiring his company to “codify” city ordinances. The result would be a bound, indexed edition containing the ordinances and a searchable database that could be accessed from the City’s website.

Frommeyer said codification is required by state law, although there is no penalty for not complying.

The council asked Frommeyer to return next month to discuss a contract.

Phelps, referencing the earlier conversation about the missing documents, noted it will difficult to codify the ordinances if they are not available.