Mayor sues city council

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Carter, council caught in battle of who’s right

By Laura Hagan

The mayor of La Grange has filed a lawsuit against the city council, claiming members violated state law in recent months while conducting city business. 

Carter alleges the violations occurred when council members voted to rescind her nomination for city attorney, Graham Whatley, and also while choosing the city’s tax rate.

In September, the council voted 5-3 to appoint Whatley as city attorney. In October, the council rescinded the vote and claimed Whatley didn’t meet the stipulations they set for him in September. 

When the council met Nov. 3, Carter told council members the vote to rescind Whatley’s appointment violated state law and “would not be given legal effect.” 

After her statement, when council member Jason Taylor attempted to ask a question, Carter banged her gavel, called him “out of order,” and asked a police officer to escort him from the meeting. 

When Taylor left, four other council members followed  – leaving too few members for a quorum. 

Lack of quorum prevented the city council from conducting “legally mandated business,” she said, and state law requires regular monthly meetings.

In September the council voted to reduce the city’s tax rate and Carter claims this action has caused a deficit in the city budget. 

Council members chose .20 cents per $100 valuation – though the budget adopted July 7 provided for a .22 cent tax rate. The alleged deficit violates state law providing for the financial administration of cities, Carter claims.

In a sworn statement, council member Lucy Ricketts said she made the motion to approve Whatley’s nomination with a stipulation that he remove himself from a lawsuit against the Oldham County Property Valuation Administrator. 

Ricketts said she voted against Taylor’s motion to rescind Whatley’s nomination because she viewed it as “an attempt to undermine the ability of the mayor to do her job for the benefit of the city and its citizens.”

She said the council’s decision to lower the tax rate caused “significant disruption in the budget” and she believed the budget couldn’t be significantly changed after approval. 

“I believe a number of members of the city council are not aware of the extent of the power limitations of the council,” she said in the statement, “and are undertaking any number of acts in attempting to act as a quasi-mayor and thus taking from the mayor her ability to execute her job as chief executive.”

Council members met Dec. 10 and hired James M. Burd as legal representation. 

Taylor made three motions – all approved 6-0 – including pay for Burd not to exceed $200 per hour and transferring $10,000 from the city budget’s miscellaneous expenses category to the legal fees-city council category. 

Burd said Thursday by filing the petition, Carter is asking the court to determine who acted appropriately – Carter or the council. 

“She’s taken the position that some of the council’s actions are, in her mind, inappropriate,” he said. “...On behalf of the council, I believe their actions are correct. It’s unfortunate that La Grange has to pay the funds to litigate this issue.”

Carter said the petition is the quickest way to clarify the rules.

“If I am wrong I will change,” she said, “and if I am right, we will make the adjustments.” 

Kentucky law provides 20 days for council members to respond to the suit. 


E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.