The Paintsville City Council and Mayor Bill Mike Runyon discussed making changes to the structure of an ordinance that shaped the Kentucky Apple Festival board during its regular meeting Monday, with members present citing the need for more oversight and transparency in the board’s decisions — with Runyon stating that, if the council was “going to get the blame for certain things, let (them) at least have some skin in the game.

“So, if a certain board wants to make a final decision on something, I personally believe that that should come before the council for a final decision,” Runyon said.

The council unanimously decided to take a look at modifying the ordinance, which Councilman Brandon May said included some vague language that led to what he has heard, from his constituents appears as a lack of transparency, with May stating that he had been asked about the makeup of the board and was not able to provide an answer, owing to a “lack of transparency.”

“One of the biggest things I’ve heard since the cancellation of Apple Day, is, ‘who’s on the Apple Board, how can they make this decision, what’s going on, how do we have events, how do they take away events,’” May said. “Long story short, whether they agreed with whether or not we should have Apple Days this year or not, it seems everybody could agree that there was a lack of transparency with the board itself. Who do they go to in order to voice their complaints or concerns, and I couldn’t tell them off the top of my head.”

May said that the only thing that he was able to track down, with Councilman Bo Belcher’s help, was the original vendor licensing ordinance that created the Apple Festival board, dating back to 1995.

“The only thing I was able to gather, and Bo, I appreciate your help, was, in 1995, there was an ordinance passed, ordinance number 95.006, the Apple Festival Vendor Ordinance,” May said. “From what I gather, the intent of that ordinance was to centralize the authority that issued vendor licenses, which I think is needed, if we’re going to have an Apple Festival. I don’t necessarily think that the Apple Board, in and of itself, is a bad thing.”

May centered his criticism squarely on the ordinance and what he referred to as a lack of guidelines to promote accountability within the composition and decision of the Apple Board.

“What is bad about this ordinance is, clearly, it delegates the council and the mayor’s authority to this board. That’s fine, too, but what it doesn’t have are certain guidelines and things that open it up for that transparency, so my concerns are, who are the board members and how is the board composed, who has the right to nominate and elect, whatever the case,” May said. “If we’re delegating our authority, I think we also have to delegate that ability for them to be just as open and transparent as this council. Whether we’re annexing property or whatever the case, people can come in and voice their concerns and we’re here. I don’t think the same thing can be said of the Apple Board.”

The concern was for the constituents of the county and city to have a say in the goings-on of Apple Day, allowing for an influx of public opinion and ideas, although he didn’t think it called for the dissolution of the Apple Board, but that the ordinance needed work to allow for this.

“I don’t necessarily think we need to do away with it, but, as you mentioned, we have to some way hold them accountable, let the constituents voice their concerns, their opinions and their ideas, and we don’t have that,” May said. “I think, of all the stuff that’s been going on, that’s the one thing everybody is agreed on ... I think we can definitely tighten up this ordinance to, again, single out the utilities, the fire and EMS, whatever the case. It’s okay for them to direct their operation, we get that, but there has to be certain checks and balances ... I would definitely ask this council to take a look at amending this ordinance, or repealing and replacing it, whatever you want to call it.”

All of the council members present voiced agreement with May, and that it was unfair that the city provided much in the way of funding to the Apple Festival but was not allowed to have a say in the board’s decision making process.

“I think, if you’re going to get the blame for something, at least have the opportunity to have something to be blamed for,” Runyon said.  

No one present at the meeting said they were in favor of removing the Apple Board or replacing the Apple Festival permanently, but that they decidedly wanted to have oversight of the festival’s decision making and

“So what we’re going to do is discuss this, as a council, to see if we can repeal or amend the existing ordinance or, if we have to, completely come up with another ordinance that gives you, as a council, some oversight on what decisions are going to be made about the Apple Festival,” Runyon said.

“Just to be clear, my number one concern, mayor, really is the fact that the people that elected all of us, they have no say in what the Apple Board does, and they should,” May said.

Belcher added that he wanted to clarify that the city council had no control over the cancellation of the Apple Festival, and that was the entire intent of the proposed changes.

“I think we can fix it,” May said.

Councilman Rick Roberts asked if there would be masking and social distancing requirements for the event, which Runyon replied to by saying that the city’s recommendation would be for everyone in attendance to follow existing Centers for Disease Control guidelines if in attendance, but that he, unequivocally, would not make a declaration or mandate requiring it, with Belcher speaking up to instead ask that those in attendance take personal responsibility.

“They’re going to be advised to follow CDC guidelines, period. The way I look at this situation, is there are five questions I could ask you — number one, are there vaccines, yes there are, number two, are they free of charge, yes they are, number three, do you live in the United States of America, yes you do, number four, since you live in the United States of America, does that give you the right to be vaccinated or unvaccinated ... number five ... does that give you the right to stay home,” Runyon said. “That’s the way I see it, so, if we have a festival, we will follow CDC guidelines, hand sanitizer, gloves, masks. We are going to ask people to wear a mask. I will not stand up here in front of this assembly right now and file a mandate.”

The Paintsville City Council meets on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Paintsville Recreation Center unless otherwise announced, and all meetings are open to the public.