Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
The Daily Independent of Ashland on a defamation lawsuit by two city employees:
Two city of Ashland employees were victorious this week in a defamation suit against former restaurateur Robert Batchelor.
City employees Chris Pullem and Brian Clark sued Batchelor for an explosive, lengthy online posting that Batchelor posted on Facebook. The lengthy missive made multiple allegations that went viral on social media. The posting falsely claimed Pullem — the city’s economic development director — of all kinds of things, from transporting and selling alcohol at fundraising events without paying taxes on sales to allegations that Pullem, on behalf of the city, bought the former Nobil building on?Winchester Avenue and then sold it at a loss after expensive renovations. Batchelor made another false allegation that Pullem illegally sent grant money to out of town associates at three times the rate of local contractors. Batchelor also accused Clark of illegally accessing law enforcement databases to access details on Batchelor’s arrest record and transporting alcohol Clark of illegally transporting and selling alcohol at fundraising events without paying taxes.
The jury determined all of this was false. Simply not true. And, they found Batchelor liable to the tune of $75,000 owed to Pullem and $750 to Clark.
Pullem said his reputation was severely damaged by the Facebook rant. Clark and his wife, Amanda Clark, said Brian Clark was damaged as well.
“I’m obviously pleased with the verdict. It sends a message you can’t just say whatever you want about people and get away with it,” Pullem said.
“It just felt good. I?appreciate that 12 people took the time to listen to us and to understand everything we’ve gone through over the past couple of years,”?Clark said.
Batchelor defended himself in court (never wise, to say the least). His defense was that the posts were critical of government and a free speech issue. The jury rejected this.
Before we get to the real purpose of this editorial, we would be remiss if we didn’t note that this lawsuit was initially funded by the taxpayer. The city of Ashland gave then private attorney Jim Moore $5,000 to explore this lawsuit. Batchelor countersued and the Kentucky League of Cities ended up paying the legal bill for the city’s legal defense, while Pullem and Clark paid for their own portion of the litigation.
We credit Pullem and Clark for paying their way, but to state the obvious, whoever came up with the idea to use city money to fund a civil lawsuit like this made a very serious error in judgment. It is a significant mistake. This is not what taxpayer money is for. The city should put measures in place internally to make sure this type of questionable decision is never made again. One must presume the city’s decision to immerse itself in this litigation opened up the city to the possibility of major legal expenses that it would likely not have otherwise faced. This is our view, and it is formulated on behalf of the taxpayer. We think, in retrospect, that the municipality is very fortunate the Kentucky League of Cities picked up this legal bill whatever that number may be.
The most important fact, though, in all of this, is certainly not about $5,000.
It is about public reputations.
One has the right in this country to not be maligned, their reputations damaged possibly forever, by unsupported, nonfactual rants. There is a very clear message here sent by the jury — you can’t maliciously slur and shred peoples’ reputations without consequence. Criticizing government officials is always fair game. We will support fair comment and criticism all day long, and you can criticize people and be wrong. You cannot, however, do it maliciously, knowing that what you are saying is false. This nation is still a nation of laws and civil rules aimed at upholding societal standards of decency and fairness.
People have a right to not have their names and reputations damaged based on malicious falsehoods.
We are reminded that words most certainly matter. Even on Facebook.
Richmond Register on finding solutions for Kentucky’s pension problems:
In late April, we wrote about how it was up to Governor Matt Bevin to fix the problem of skyrocketing pension costs for Kentucky’s regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies.
Nearly two months later, we believe it’s still up to him to work with lawmakers to help those agencies receive relief before many have to make drastic cuts or shut their doors if a fix isn’t found before July 1.
We have to give the governor credit as he has been working with lawmakers to come up with a solution, but he’s still short votes needed to pass legislation in a special-called session.
It’s time for Gov. Bevin — and lawmakers — to come to a compromise for Kentuckians.
For the quasi-government agencies and universities, HB358 — which Bevin vetoed — would have helped them control costs by freezing the KERS employer contribution rates one more year. Now, the rate is set to increase to 84 percent on July 1.
At the current 49 percent employer contribution rate, the KERS requires a $13.2 million contribution from Eastern Kentucky University. With the increase on July 1, that contribution soars to $22.8 million.
“Given our current budget constraints and funding forecast, this amount is unsustainable,” David McFaddin, senior VP for operations and strategic initiatives for EKU, previously told The Register.
The pension contribution increase for the Madison County Health Department would equal more than $1.3 million and about 12 percent of its annual budget.
It’s not just EKU and the Madison County Health Department that are feeling the budget strain.
Morehead State recently approved a budget with a $7 million decrease for the coming year.
Officials and lawmakers have said the increased contribution could bankrupt more than 40 health departments around the state this coming year with an additional 20 or more the following year.
Even if the agencies survive the pension increase, there would be a decrease in the services provided.
It’s time for Gov. Bevin and lawmakers to find a compromise to keep the agencies and universities providing crucial services. We don’t need to kick the can down the road again, but sensible legislation is needed to help these agencies and universities.
If not, there will be bigger problems than just underfunded pensions for Kentuckians.
The Paducah Sun on how Flag Day highlights the need to take care of American flags:
The opening words of “Our American Flag,” a column written by Dr. James Burns as an “iconic tribute to our flag and country,” are particularly poignant today — Flag Day, the annual commemoration of “Old Glory” — and worth a mention here.
“I’ve been to the moon. I’ve been burned. But more often I’m honored,” writes Burns, a retired University of Florida professor, of the stars and stripes. “I’m your American flag.”
He concludes his piece, which can be found in full online: “I represent the American spirit, the indomitable demand and yearning for freedom, excellence and opportunity. I am not the flag of a ruling regime or royal family. I am the American flag, representing rights emanating from a higher and transcendent authority.”
“Look up to me as you salute or stand attention. . Look up and salute with pride what the patriot poet hailed as a worthy star-spangled banner.”
We only wish everyone in Paducah and McCracken County had the same reverence for the flag as Burns.
Plenty of businesses and public spaces around town fly the flag outside, a laudable, patriotic practice, sure.
But a longer-than-cursory look at some of the flags reveals many are in poor condition, with weather-worn reds, whites and blues; frayed edges; and in some cases, significant tears.
Just in our own sphere from our building downtown, we regularly see two flags flying in prominent locations that are in extremely poor condition, long past due for proper retirement and replacement.
Tattered flags, the editorial board contends, are neither a true representation of American ideals nor the sacrifices to preserve them. Shoddy flags are also a poor look for businesses and institutions that fly them, and the overall community.
This position may seem trivial to some, but not to us. If you’re going to fly the flag — and you should — straighten up and fly them right. Honor and respect are the point, not empty, symbolic gestures suggesting — but not properly exhibiting — patriotism.
Don Cook, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1191 adjutant, told The Sun this week that the average lifespan for a flag flown outside is seven months to a year.
“Once a flag is faded out or starts to be ripping, then it’s time to retire the flag,” he said.
This minor bit of attention, maintenance and cost is a meager price to pay in honoring a country that has given so many so much, the editorial board believes.
Today is a fitting day to start making things right.