LETTER: City Hall: Decision protected city, estate, interest of family

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Ruth Blair, retired teacher and longtime advocate for those in the Hispanic community, died Nov. 21. After her death, Hodgenville City Hall disconnected water service to two Hispanic families. Mrs. Blair had paid the deposits to have water service to the homes. Her children are embroiled in a disagreement with City Hall over what they perceive as an assault on human rights and disrespect of their mother’s work. City Hall refutes their claim, saying the decision to disconnect the water service was purely financial and no disrespect was meant to their mother.

 Dear Editor:

First of all, I, along with my staff, would again like to give our condolences to the family of Ruth Blair. This was done prior to any events that have been mentioned in Ms. Mather’s letter to you.  

I would also like to say that this letter, nor the actions of my office have anything to do with respect or disrespect to Mrs. Ruth Blair, but simply properly taking care of the business of the City and protecting the interest of the citizens thereof.  

I would like to simply explain our side of the story.  

When we learned of the unfortunate death of Mrs. Blair our hearts felt for the children. I, as well as City Clerk MaDonna Hornback, have both lost a parent. It is hard. Unfortunately for those still living, life goes on. When my mother died she was in the nursing home. I had no time to grieve. I had to immediately remove her belongings from the nursing home (their rules) and take care of outstanding matters of my mother’s, including the utility bills on her home. When MaDonna’s father died she had to pick out a cemetery lot, pay for it with her own money until her father’s estate could be probated and she had to come to work because it was payday and she does payroll. What I am trying to say is everyone has to grieve, unfortunately you still have to take care of business. No one person knows the other’s grief.  

Several years ago a representative from the state came to talk to my office regarding illegal immigrants and the problems they were facing in trying to stop illegal immigrants from coming to the U.S. This representative requested that my office obtain a U.S. government-issued ID from all applicants requesting services with the City. We agreed and immediately started requesting those IDs. As a result some Hispanics were unable to open services with us, because they were not here legally.   

Mrs. Blair began putting utility services in her name. She put a deposit down as she did not own the properties. This allowed the individuals who could not obtain services legally to have services. These deposits belonged to Mrs. Blair and not to the individuals renting the property. When Mrs. Blair passed away the money then became an asset of her estate. The City, in order to protect the City as well as the rights of heirs of the estate, did exactly what all banks do and froze the assets. As a result we turned off the water. The amount due on the water was more than the deposit.  

The day the water was turned off, MaDonna spoke with Kris Blair, the son of  Ruth Blair. It was her understanding that Kris would be the executor of the estate and would inherit the mobile home located on one of the subject properties. (Note: This was on Monday and Kris did confirm to MaDonna that his mother had passed away. MaDonna does not go through the obituaries to find out who has passed away). In speaking with Kris, it was MaDonna’s understanding that the actions in turning off the water were understandable given the circumstances and that he would take care of the matter on Tuesday.   

On Monday evening, while I was at a meeting, my wife called me and indicated that Katy Blair (Cecil) called regarding the water issue and wanted me to call her. I contacted MaDonna and asked her to call Katy back and let her know what was going on. MaDonna called Katy within 30 minutes. During this conversation Katy just kept going saying to MaDonna “What makes you think my mother is dead? Who told you my mother died? What makes you think my mother is dead?” MaDonna attempted to explain her conversation with Kris Blair to Katy with no avail. In my opinion, this showed a total lack of respect of Katy Blair for her mother.  

On Tuesday morning MaDonna called Kris back. She asked Kris if the two of them had a misunderstanding in that it was MaDonna’s understanding that Kris was going to take care of everything Tuesday. He agreed that they had such an agreement and that he had simply not had time to talk to his sisters yet. He then told MaDonna that one of his sisters would be in Tuesday to place the water where the mobile home was located at in his name and that he would be in Wednesday to put down the deposit. This was again our understanding.  

No one came in Tuesday. However, on Wednesday five members of the Blair family showed up at my office and caused a great deal of disturbance to my office staff. Mrs. Mather’s letter stating that a family was without water for 24 hours is mistaken. No one from the Blair family came in for almost 48 hours to turn the water on.  

When I first took office there were individuals who were thousands of dollars behind in their water bill. The City simply could not continue to financially allow this to occur. As a result, City Council increased the cost of the late fee, the reconnect fee and the deposit. This helped resolve a portion of the problem. In the ordinance, set by the council, a deposit is kept until the final bill is paid. Until the bill is paid water service to a residence cannot be turned on. A lien can also be placed against the property for delinquent amounts. This placed a requirement of landowners to insure payment was made by their tenants. In order to protect landowners the City began requesting copies of rental agreements to insure that the person placing their name of the utility bill is known to the landowner. Yes, we disconnect for non-payment. If we do not receive payment we cannot pay the city’s bills. By my office enforcing these ordinances and making sure everyone is treated the same, no matter the race or social standing in the community, it in turn keeps the cost of water and sewer services as low as possible for the tax paying citizens of Hodgenville. 

As to the numerous accusations towards my office, my staff, and myself made by Ms. Mather in her letter, all I can say is that her mother would never had disrespected my office, or her family by not telling the whole truth and acting in the manner in which she and her siblings acted in my office on Wednesday. Their actions were video-audio taped and are on record at my office. Ruth Blair never treated my office in the manner the Blair family did on Wednesday, nor had my office ever treated Ruth Blair in such a manner.  

As to the accusations spelled out in Mrs. Blair’s letter I would note the following:  

1. As for being treated harshly, anyone entering my office is treated with respect until your actions dictate otherwise. Ms. Mather and her siblings (with the exception of her brother) came into my office with a chip on their shoulder looking for an argument. The attitude a person comes in with in most cases is the one they leave with. I, nor my staff, are required to put up with rude, disrespectful or potentially violent individuals. 

2. As for someone at City Hall monitoring the obituaries for water cut-offs, Mrs. Blair’s death was confirmed to my office by Ms. Mather’s brother. We do not turn off water to a deceased person’s personal home, unless the bill goes unpaid. These bills are generally paid by the estate. 

3. As for MaDonna turning water off randomly and overstepping her bounds, MaDonna, as the City’s treasurer, is responsible for the collection of all money due the City of Hodgenville, including taxes and water payments. Under her job description she is required to protect the money of all tax paying citizens of the City of Hodgenville.  

4. As for Ms. Mather having a friend at the LaRue County Water District giving her “no bake cookies” and her desire to have me “check out the recipe.” I truly do not know what this has to do with the policies of the City of Hodgenville, the LaRue County Water District or the payment of bills.  

5. As to the Hispanic family being without water for 24 hours it was more like 48 hours as Ms. Mather, nor her siblings came into my office to take care of the bill. 

6. As for not being able to believe that I signed off on the actions taken by MaDonna and that that is not what the voters expect of me, my response is yes to both issues. The action taken was proper and no different than any other. I have been elected as mayor twice and the second time was by a larger margin than the first. From the first day I took office I have kept the same values, same policies and same convictions that, in my opinion, was for the betterment of the City of Hodgenville and its tax paying citizens.  

7. As for the City Council answering Ms. Mather’s calls, I commend them for doing so, as I saw to it that we answer the call. However, the legislative body’s authority does not spill over to the day-to-day operations of the executive authority, pursuant to Kentucky law. As to the county attorney, I am sure if we broke the law I would have been in jail and not writing this letter. As to the ACLU I look forward to meeting with them to discuss the matter. I have instructed Chief Steve Johnson to meet with I.C.E. to discuss federal laws of illegal immigrants.  

8. As for Ms. Mather’s comments that your Mayor and potentially aspiring sheriff not talking to two country girls from Buffalo, I talk to people from Buffalo, Magnolia, Upton, Gleanings, Attilla, and anywhere else you can name. However, I do appreciate Ms. Mather’s confidence in me as your next sheriff, because yes I am a candidate for sheriff in 2014. I feel I have a good chance of winning, as I only lost by 300 votes in the last election, and that was against an incumbent. But no matter whether I am the mayor or sheriff my values remain the same and they are to fulfill the duties of the office I hold, treat everyone equally, no matter their race, creed, or social standing in the community and to be efficient in the spending of money that I am entrusted with. 

9. As for Ms. Mather’s statement that we were waiting for Mrs. Blair to pass away to disrespect her, none of the actions taken by my office have anything to do with respect or disrespect of Mrs. Blair, it has to do with being financially responsible with the taxpayers dollars. 

10. Finally, Ms. Mather warning Hodgenville water customers about a husband or wife dying and the water being cut off is utterly ridiculous. I may not have the same master’s degree of education that Ms. Mather does, but I do have common sense. I hope the next time Ms. Mather comes in contact with me or my office she uses a little more common sense to go along with her level of education.

My office does not discriminate against Hispanics. We simply have a job to do and have to do it legally. The Hispanics Ruth Blair was assisting were not here legally. They are allowed to live here, their children attend school here, but it is questionable if they pay taxes. It is easier for them to pay their bills because on payday they probably do not contribute to all government required deductions required of all legal United States citizens.  

Should Ms. Mather want to continue to help the disadvantaged, I challenge her to also help those U.S. citizens who are here legally and who need help financially. Pay their utility bills, buy them some food.  

Lastly, no matter the situation, whether you agree or disagree, my office will continue to run in a professional manner and take into consideration what is best for all citizens.  

I am admittedly not a politician, and quite frankly, probably never will be. I usually am very factual in my decisions and try to convey them as courteously as possible. I do realize, however, my frankness is not always a positive thing when it comes to longevity in politics. However, at the end of the day I do feel I do my best for the City of Hodgenville and its citizens in protecting their needs and interest. As from the start I have always had an open door policy as it remains today. If anyone would like to speak with me about this incident, or review the taped recording of it, please stop by at any time.   

In the spirit of the season, I wish the Blairs and all citizens peace on earth, good will towards men.

Mayor Terry L. Cruse