The City of Burgin is suing Mayor-elect Jim Caldwell.
In a lawsuit filed Friday, Dec. 14, with the Mercer Circuit Court, the city is arguing Caldwell has violated a settlement he had previously reached with the city government by running for mayor. The city is seeking $25,000 in damages and an injunction to prevent Caldwell from being sworn in as mayor on New Year’s Day until the matter is adjudicated.
Caldwell served as Burgin’s chief of police from September 1995 until January 2017, when he was fired by Mayor George Hensley. In June 2017, Caldwell sued the city and Mayor Hensley. One month later, he reached a settlement with the city, agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit in exchange for a payment of $50,000.
According to the lawsuit, Caldwell agreed not to “apply for employment with the City” with the agreement that if he violated the agreement, he would pay the city $25,000 in liquidated damages. That amount equals the mayor’s salary earned during a four-year term, according to the lawsuit.
The city’s attorney, Matthew T. Lockaby, of Lockaby PLLC, in Lexington, is arguing that Caldwell violated the settlement twice—by first entering the mayoral race in 2018 and then by not paying the agreed upon damages. Lockaby is asking Chief Circuit Judge Darren Peckler to prevent Caldwell from being sworn in as mayor until the issue is resolved. In the lawsuit, Lockaby writes: “It’s most certain that Caldwell, upon taking office, will voluntarily dismiss this action, preventing the City from pursuing its claims and the Court from adjudicating the merits.”
“I see it as a desperate act of an unhappy man,” said Caldwell. “We will address it as needed with the court but the city council has already stated they do not support this action or the spending of city funds on it.”
Caldwell is referring to last week’s meeting of the Burgin City Council, who voted 4-2 to exclude the $5,000 retainer from the approved expenses. Outgoing Councilwoman Katrina Sexton asked why the council had not been consulted before the city proceeded with the lawsuit.
“I couldn’t believe he ran,” said Hensley. “In my opinion if you sign a contract you should do the right thing and stick to it.”
A hearing has been scheduled in Mercer County Circuit Court for Wednesday, Dec. 26, at 9 a.m.
Whatever the judge ultimately decides, Burgin’s new mayor will have to hit the ground running and make a lot of decisions in a hurry. For one thing, almost the entire city government is gone.
Mayor Hensley’s son Shane, who handles water maintenance, resigned shortly after the election. At last week’s city council meeting, both City Clerk and Treasurer Michelle Russell and Assistant City Clerk Mary Jo Lawson resigned. All resignations go into effect on Dec. 28. This leaves Burgin Policeman Casey Rucker as the only remaining city employee.
Lawson, a former Burgin councilwoman, has been a city employee since 2014. Russell has served the city for over 32 years. “No mayor has been more dedicated than Mayor Hensley,” Russell said.
Councilman Sindicat “Sid” Dunn asked if Russell could write down her duties. She said she would not train her replacement. If a member of the city council wanted to visit the office to learn more about what her job entailed, they would have to call in advance because Russell said she was going to use up her saved vacation time.
The council moved to start advertising for replacements. They also agreed to hire a contract worker to perform water maintenance duties during the interim.
The city council rejected one bid to replace Shane Hensley, from Curtis Wilmott because it was too high.