News and Tribune

May 10, 2013

NASH: Lessons from a council meeting

By MATTHEW NASH
Local columnist

Over nearly four years of writing this column, I have attended many New Albany City Council meetings. I had been taking a little break from going because of the emotional toll that it takes on my soul, but I decided to return this week. 

Over time, I have learned a lot from these meetings, but this one seemed like I was back in school.

Most of the lessons that were taught that night came directly from 1st District Councilman Dan Coffey. The first subject discussed was arithmetic. While discussing the jobs that may or may not have been created by certain tax abatements, Mr. Coffey explained how average salaries are determined. 

“You have to use the high salaries and the low ones, too.” I am so glad he cleared that up.

Minutes later, we were magically in grammar class as Mr. Coffey explained that he didn’t agree with the language in the ordinance that created the Human Rights Commission. At the time of his protest, they were discussing changing some of the wording in the original ordinance to clarify some points.  

The language that he disagreed with had nothing to do with what was about to be changed, which led to an awkward lesson in astronomy or human sexuality… I’m still not clear which.

He quickly began tap-dancing around a specific incident that had come to his attention that had something to do with an employment situation which could be affected by the Human Rights Commission. In an attempt to use some sort of code to describe the situation, he announced, “what if you hired Mars, and then it turned into Jupiter?” 

This confused the situation even further for everyone.

It soon became clear that he was trying to say that what if you hired an employee that happened to be transgender? What would happen if within the course of their employment they decided to undergo gender reassignment?

 The point that he was trying to make was that the employee would no longer be the same person. Other council members quickly pointed out that they are the exact same person and whatever gender they should choose should not have any effect on their job performance, and clearly the exact reason the Human Rights Commission was created.  

Mr. Coffey insisted that employers were “human” and deserved to have their rights protected, too.

The final lesson of the night was an accounting lesson and came at the end of the meeting during public comments of non-agenda items, and this came from an actual teacher. Mr. Vic Megenity taught social studies at Scribner Junior High when I attended there nearly 30 years ago. I never had Mr. Megenity as a teacher, but I knew of him when I was a student. He has been active for many years in civic groups including Floyd County Historical Society and has fought hard for historic preservation.

He came to the meeting to speak about his time as the treasurer of the nonprofit Bicentennial Committee that was established to celebrate our city’s 200th birthday. He explained that he was asked to be on the committee and subsequently asked to be the treasurer of the group. He said everything was going well and all monies had been accounted for properly up until October of last year when “the wheels came off.”

He explained in detail a few incidents that occurred that caused him to be concerned. He described circumstances that seemed at the very least, questionable and while he didn’t come out and say it, sounded like they could be criminal. He chronicled how he came to find out that others were writing checks on the commission’s account without his knowledge and how money was collected for an event by credit card and ran through a private checking account.  

He clearly just wanted to make sure that the records were properly kept and that all receipts and expenditures were properly documented and accounted for. He never accused anyone of any specific wrongdoing, to me he just seemed like he wanted to do the best job possible as the treasurer and he wasn’t able to do that because there were too many hands in the proverbial cookie jar.  

 He told of specific steps that he took to try to rectify the situation so that he could do his job properly. He brought his concerns up the chain of command on the Bicentennial Committee, members of the city administration and the mayor himself. Before he was able to get the answers he was looking for he was set to be fired as the board’s treasurer, at which time he resigned.

When he had finished speaking, Mr. Coffey gave a vote of confidence to Councilman Bob Caesar as co-chair of the committee, and said that the council had been given every piece of information that they asked for. No one else had any comments and the meeting was adjourned.

Mr. Megenity’s comments raise some very important concerns. Has the all the money that has been collected for the bicentennial events been accounted for? Why was the treasurer not in charge of depositing all monies? How many people had the ability to write checks on the committee’s account?  

We are nearly halfway through our bicentennial year and I think that it is important that all of these questions are answered soon. With public money being used to fund some of these events, it is important that there is as much transparency as possible. 

The books need to be opened up so that everyone knows that things are as they should be. If everything is as it should be there should be nothing to hide.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com