Fiscal Court Votes To Terminate Former Tourism Director As County Employee Amid KSP Criminal Investigation
Darren Doyle, story and photo:
The former director for Edmonson County Tourism, Rhonda Clemmons, was terminated as a county employee today, in a vote by Edmonson County Fiscal Court as a criminal investigation led by the Kentucky State Police Drug Enforcement and Special Investigations unit is underway.
It was learned at the last fiscal court meeting that the Tourism Commission was behind $22,000 in payments to the fiscal court. An item on last meeting's agenda stated, "Approve to hold previously approved payment of $3,645.28 and future payments until $22,000 is paid in full by Tourism Board as recommended by the County Attorney." The amount of $3,645.28 has been collected by the county in room taxes.
During the last meeting, Judge Executive Wil Cannon explained the current situation with further guidance from County Treasurer Tammi Willhite. Cannon said local room and rec taxes are collected by the Judge Executive's office with all room taxes being turned over to the tourism commission. All in-county businesses that provide lodging are required to pay this quarterly tax. The tourism commission was directed by Rhonda Clemmons, under the authority of the tourism commission board, with Shaska Hines currently serving as chairman. Until today, Clemmons was a full time county employee with salary and benefits but the tourism board paid the county $8,000 per quarter for their portion of her salary. The Edmonson County Planning Commission also contributes to Clemmons' salary and benefits package for her role as secretary there.
Cannon reported at the last meeting that when the commission was asked about the past due payments, Clemmons allegedly said there was no money as a result of the coronavirus pandemic; however, Cannon also said over that time period, the county turned over more than $50,000 in room taxes over to Tourism, much of which was prior to the pandemic.
Today, Judge Cannon said that despite the money being owed to the county by Tourism, the county needed to back the Tourism Commission as much as possible and turn over the current amount to them, in order for Tourism to pay their current bills to survive.
"At this time, I feel that the fiscal court needs to back up Tourism as much as we possibly can because they are a vital part of the economic growth in Edmonson County," Cannon said.
The Judge Executive also added that the Tourism Commission had a current plan in place to get their bills paid, including what is owed to the county and he asked Edmonson County Tourism Chairman Shaska Hines and Treasurer Rene Childress speak to the fiscal court today regarding the situation.
"As Wil has already said, there is a criminal investigation going on, but without getting into all of that, basically, we have a plan on paying back the county all the money that we're finding out is owed," said Mrs. Hines. "As of right now, we owe the fiscal court $22,000 and the city of Brownsville $1800, those are the only two outstanding bills that we're aware of at this time. We plan on continuing to operate with just volunteers at this time, which is by commissioners without a director. At some point when the monies are recovered and the money starts to come back in, we plan on hiring another director."
Mrs. Hines referenced a written outlined plan that was distributed to magistrates and said the commission was bringing in a CPA to overhaul the organization's finances and monitor the books. After the meeting, Mrs. Hines gave a statement to the Edmonson Voice on behalf of the Tourism Commission.
"The board as a whole feels heartbroken. At this time, there is an investigation by the Kentucky State Police as the board has found recent forged checks and ACH (electronic) payments from the board bank account paid to personal accounts. The board has found transactions to Windstream paying an account not owned by Tourism and reimbursements and checks payable to businesses without board approval."
KSP had no information available regarding the current criminal investigation.
Cannon recommended the court continue to turn over the room tax to Tourism in order to help them continue to operate. Magistrate Edd Rich, who was part of the meeting through phone call, made the motion which was seconded by Magistrate Mark Meeks. The motion passed unanimously.
Hines also confirmed to the Edmonson Voice that Clemmons was no longer an employee of Edmonson County Tourism. Despite this, Clemmons officially still remained a county employee.
The court later went into closed session to discuss the county employment of Ms. Clemmons. Once open session reconvened, fiscal court was set to vote on agenda item "Approve to terminate Rhonda Clemmons' employment."
Judge Cannon began the open discussion with the following statement after informing the court that Ms. Clemmons' father passed away yesterday:
"The question was whether or not we need to do this another day or wait another two weeks on it, but I think I'd probably be delinquent in my duties to go another two weeks, and on the other hand, everything in me says to go another two weeks, but it is my job to protect taxpayers in the county and we can't control events outside of this, persons dying and what have you, and it might seem heartless, but my recommendation after thinking it over is to just go ahead with it."
He also opened up the floor for other motions and that the issue could possibly be tabled, but putting it off would cause the county to have to pay another round of insurance for Clemmons and place the county at risk for other record keeping issues during that time period if the court ended up terminating her employment anyway.
"As heartless as it may seem, I see that we have a duty to take care of the business we've been elected to do," he said.
Magistrate James Vincent asked if the termination would be handled by registered letter or by some other means.
Cannon said it would be certified mail as he doubted there would be further face-to-face contact with Ms. Clemmons. He said the county has previously sent certified mail to her and there has been no response. Cannon then asked for a motion.
After a brief wait, Magistrate Johnny Brooks made the motion to terminate her employment.
"I don't see that we have a choice," Brooks said in the motion. Magistrate Edd Rich seconded and all magistrates and the Judge Executive voted in favor except for Magistrate Meeks, who chose to abstain from the vote.
Ms. Clemmons did not immediately reply to messages sent today from the Edmonson Voice.