Editorial: City officials' ignorance of law on sale of public property is indefensible

August 09, 2004

How can the Danville mayor and city commissioners know if they are doing things properly and according to the law when they don't even know what the law is?

That was the question that occurred to us last week when we read that city officials were not aware of new state law governing the sale of surplus real and personal property.

The question is more than speculative because the City Commission apparently is discussing the possibility of selling land on Duncan Hill that apparently was donated to the city many years ago for use as a cemetery. (Note the frequent use of the word "apparently" because all of the city's discussions have taken place behind closed doors and the public cannot really be sure what they are discussing.)

Anyhow, in an article that appeared in The Advocate Aug. 1, both Ed Hays, the city's attorney, and Terry Crowley, a city commissioner, said they had not read the new state law, which specifically points out how such transactions as the sale of the city-owned cemetery should be handled.


According to the law, before selling or disposing of property, a city must make a written determination describing the property, its intended use at the time of acquisition, the reasons it is in the public interest to dispose of it and the method of disposition. The law also says that unless the land is transferred to another public agency or for economic development, it must be advertised for sale and sold at auction or through sealed bids.

There's nothing in the law at all about meeting behind closed doors for months with a private developer or the developer's representative to discuss the project before any public determination is made, as required by the law.

The city's attorney has argued that the closed meetings were justified and is likely to continue to make those arguments, with which we disagree. What concerns us now, however, is that our city government is not keeping up with the laws under which it must operate.

Both Crowley and Hays should have been kept up-to-date by the city staff on the new laws coming out of the state legislature session this past spring. It would have been easy enough for the staff to find out what the new laws were.

The Kentucky League of Cities keeps its members updated throughout the legislative session on the progress of laws affecting cities and posted on its Web site in May a "2004 Legislative Update." Included in its table of contents was "HB 438: Disposition of Surplus Property."

The City of Danville pays the League about $2,300 a year for its many services, which are no doubt worth the money - if the city staff takes advantage of them. With the League doing all of the legwork and research for the city, there's no excuse for the city staff not knowing what the law is - and giving the city commissioners and the city's attorney a heads-up about changes they need to be aware of to do their jobs properly and legally.

In this case, ignorance of the law is indefensible.

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