Discussion of city workers being used to do work for private citizens and businesses was a heated topic of discussion at Monday night’s meeting of the Providence City Council. The topic came up just over a year after council members voted to approve a measure banning the practice, which could likely be considered a violation of state law.
The matter in question was the use of city employees and equipment to hang a Donald Trump flag at Smith Metals on US41A.
“I had called you (Mayor Doug Hammers) about city workers putting up a flag on a business property,” said council member Myra Bell. “Someone had called the city a month and a half prior to ask for help hanging a flag and never got a response. When are we going to stop treating people differently?”
“I’ll take the hit for that one,” Hammers said. “I was just trying to help somebody.”
“Its okay for you to go against the ordinance?” Bell asked.
“I wasn’t thinking about the ordinance,” the mayor said. “I thought they just needed to reconnect a cable and it would just take a couple of seconds.”
“Are we going to start following the rules, or are we just going to do whatever we want to do?” Bell asked. “Its okay to help people. But we need to start treating people the same in Providence, Kentucky.”
She then questioned city attorney Ben Leonard about the penalty for violating the ordinance.
Leonard didn’t have an exact answer to the question, stating that the matter was handled differently depending on the severity of the violation. He clarified that violating the city’s ordinance was not the biggest concern, the matter could become serious if it was deemed to be a violation of the Public Purpose Doctrine.
“There is a whole division in Frankfort that handles those violations,” he stated.
Under state law, municipalities are limited as to how they can expend tax payer dollars by the Public Purpose Doctrine. Under that law, governmental funds, including the use of manpower and equipment, is only allowed to be used for non-official government business when that work serves a public purpose. That purpose could include any project that promotes the public health, safety, morals, general welfare, security and prosperity of local citizens. In some cases that purpose could result in financial or other benefits to a business, but the primary goal of any such expenditure has to be the good of the public, not the prosperity of the business.
The other main topic of discussion on the night was the Providence Christmas Parade, which a group of volunteer citizens have taken up after the Providence Tourism Commission was forced to cancel the annual event due to the state department of tourism’s COVID-19 restrictions. Those restrictions strongly urged all tourism boards to cancel any and all public events for the foreseeable future. The Providence Christmas Parade has been held annually since 1959.
While the Tourism Commission is a city agency, funded by the city’s three% restaurant tax, the organization answers to the Department of Tourism not the city council. Their decision to cancel the parade was based on orders from the state, not the city.
The group organizing the parade, however, does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Tourism. As the city of Providence does not have any existing ordinances governing parades held within the city, the council also has little legal control over the plan. Mayor Hammers suggested that the Providence Police Department be used to police the parade in an attempt to keep the public safe. He also suggested that the city assist organizers in an attempt to get road closure permits, a suggestion that the council voted unanimously to support.
Councilman Chip Palmer then suggested that the city require organizers to get hold harmless agreements signed, which would release the city and organizers from liability in the event that something were to happen during the parade. The motioned was seconded by Keith Farrell and passed with a 5-1 vote.
The one nay vote belonged to councilman Mark Turner, who pointed out that the city had never required release forms to be signed by any other parade in the past. Although the Tourism Commission falls under the city’s umbrella for liability and event insurance, that group has only been in charge of the parade for a handful of years. Before that the Providence Chamber of Commerce had hosted the annual event.
Parade organizer Jennifer David added that she had helped with the Providence Elementary Veterans Day Parade on several occasions, and that event had also never required release forms.
One local resident was on hand during the meeting to speak out against the parade. Mary Cline expressed the opinion that the parade should not be allowed to happen due to growing concerns over COVID-19.
“We’re struggling,” she told the council. “We’re in a red zone. The children are the ones who enjoy the parade and they don’t understand social distancing. How can you keep people apart? I just hope that we’re all still here next year.”
Hammers told her that this was an outdoor event, which gave people added protection against the virus, adding that he believed people would be responsible and look out for their own safety.
Contact Matt Hughes at email@example.com or 270-667-2069.