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Cooper to return to Burgin Council

The Harrodsburg Herald of Harrodsburg, Kentucky

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Councilman Wants To Resolve Possible Conflict Of Interest

Burgin City Councilman Chris Cooper says he is not quitting.

At the special called meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, Cooper verbally resigned after a heated exchange of words during an executive session. The session was called to discuss a letter from the Mercer County Ethics Board asking for records concerning the employment of Shane Hensley, son of Burgin Mayor George Hensley.

While Randall Bartleson, chair of the Ethics Board, refused to comment on an ongoing investigation, Mayor Hensley confirmed that's what the letter was about at last week's meeting. Hensley attributed the recent troubles to animosity from a group of individuals he declined to name.

Cooper said he's not one of those individuals. "I do not know who filed the complaint," he said.

However, he has grown increasingly unhappy about the possible conflict of interest and the council's lack of oversight. Cooper said they have not received information about expenditures until after they have been paid, even though the mayor said back at the new council's first meeting in January they would review all expenditures before approving payment β€” a practice followed by most governmental bodies. Cooper said September was the first month when the expenses were broken down.

While city officials said Cooper was correct about the reports not being broken down until the last meeting, they said only items like salaries were presented to council members after being paid.

Everyone agrees on the numbers. Last month, Shane Hensley was paid $2,658.02 in increments ranging in size from $9.31 to $1205 according to documents provided by Cooper. There were nine payments in all, five drawn from the city's general fund, three drawn from the water department and oneβ€”$250 for dumping the city's recycling trailer β€” drawn from sanitation.

According to Mayor Hensley, the city pays his son $35 for each chlorine test the city must run each day. He is paid $625 a month for reading water meters β€” $125 a meter β€” and $25 a day to read the city's master water meter. Shane Hensley collects $50 every time he hauls the recycling trailer to the Mercer County Recycling Center, including gas. He works for the city as a contract laborer on an as needed basis. However, there are no contracts.

Cooper said Shane Hensley has been paid over $36,000 this year in fees.

"He's making it look like something awful," said Mayor Hensley. He said his son is on call seven days a week in the case of water leaks. If Burgin were to pay someone full time to do Shane Hensley's job, the city would have to buy a truck and tools and pay for benefits like health insurance. That person would have to have the necessary certifications to do the job as well. While Shane Hensley is not certified, Burgin's water system currently operates on the mayor's license.

"They would lose that too," George Hensley said. "The use of my license is free, I don't charge the city a dime."

Burgin Treasurer and City Clerk Michelle Russell said Jay Scott, a criminal investigator with the Kentucky Attorney General's Louisville office, visited city hall and asked to look through the invoices.

"They wanted copies of any contracts we'd entered into since George Hensley had become mayor," Russell said. "But we hadn't entered into any contracts."

Mayor Hensley insists there is no conflict of interest in employing Shane according to the Mercer Country Code of Ethics.

"My son was hired by another administration," Hensley said. "I had no ties to the city at all, except for letting them use my license."

He said former Burgin Mayor Dale Turner decided to keep Shane Hensley on an as needed basis because he knew where all the water meters were.

In 2012, after Katrina Sexton complained to the council about Shane Hensley's employment status, City Attorney Tom Hensley explained the city contracted the management of the water department to George Hensley, and anyone working for the department were Hensley's employees, not the city's, and were covered by Hensley's worker's compensation and liability insurance.

Hensley dissolved his company before he was elected to the city council in 2012. He said his son has liability insurance.

Cooper said he is uncomfortable with the mayor writing checks for his son with little or no oversight.

"I pay taxes," Cooper said. "That just doesn't seem right to me."

He has been struggling with how Burgin has been run for a while. In June he abstained from voting to opt out of a contract with Ray West to plow city streets. The idea to allow West's contract to expire was the mayor's. Hensley said the city could save money by hiring a contractor on an as needed basis. (At last week's meeting, the council decided to advertise for bids for snow plowing.)

At the regular city council meeting on Oct. 13, Cooper refused to approve the city's monthly expenditures, saying he didn't want to vote when the city attorney was absent. The special meeting was called mainly to approve expenditures.

Cooper believes the city would save money hiring one full-time employee rather than paying a separate fee for each job. He said it wouldn't even bother him if Shane Hensley was hired for that position.

"I'm not going after a vendetta," Cooper said. "All I have said or done is only to benefit the city and the citizens of Burgin."

What bothers him is the lack of oversight. That's why he's not resigning.

At last week's meeting, Burgin City Attorney Tom Hensley advised him to take a week to reconsider. If he still wanted to resign he should bring it back in written form. Cooper said he thought about it long and hard, but after several citizens and council members asked him to stay, he changed his mind.

"This needs to be fixed," Cooper said.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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