Wednesday’s special-called Bloomfield City Council meeting found an angry crowd overflowing out of the Northeast Nelson Fire Department building as residents showed up with signs in tow calling for Mayor Chris Dudgeon’s resignation after a spate of recent firings of city employees.
About 45 people showed up for the beginning of Wednesday’s gathering, and by the time things finished up, more residents joined the crowd, with several issuing cat-calls during the proceedings and asking for the mayor to step down and for their voices to be heard in a meeting that was closed to public comment.
“I’m here to stand behind Steve” Cambron, the deposed Bloomfield Police Chief, resident Christina Lee said while the council was in executive session. She said she feels the recent firings of Cambron and former City Clerk Karen Biederman were a result of “personal vendettas from the mayor. … This is wrong.”
Wednesday’s meeting was in regular session for about three minutes before Dudgeon and the rest of the council went into closed executive session to discuss lawsuits against the city filed by Cambron and Biederman over their dismissals. They returned 63 minutes later — a period that saw residents sharing their opinions with each other — to finish up the meeting’s agenda, which took just eight more minutes of regular session.
The controversy began brewing two months ago when former Public Works Superintendent Scott Thompson resigned in the wake of an investigation by Cambron into Thompson’s alleged illicit use of city funds and resources.
For the city’s regular meeting Monday, May 15, Biederman said she and Cambron were prepared to read statements questioning Dudgeon’s actions during the Thompson investigation, but Dudgeon cancelled the meeting about two hours before its start. On Friday, May 19, Dudgeon fired Biederman and Cambron. That same day, interim Public Works Superintendent Travis Clark issued his resignation, as did maintenance tech Randy Morrison.
“The City of Bloomfield’s next step forward is to fill the positions we have open, create a good team, and continue to provide services to our customers and this wonderful community,” Dudgeon said in a separate interview Friday. In the meantime, Bloomfield is being assisted by Bardstown’s Public Works department to ensure the safety and maintenance of the city’s water supply.
“We will continue to do so until positions are filled here at the Bloomfield Water Company,” Dudgeon said Friday. “I do not foresee that being a lengthy amount of time but I will do what it takes to make sure our customers have water.”
Clark said he would like to have his old job back — he had worked for the city for 5 ½ years — but only under new leadership.
“I will not work under Chris Dudgeon,” Clark said, “because he is corrupt and has created a hostile work environment.”
In a separate interview before Wednesday’s meeting, Biederman suggested that Dudgeon was trying to “cover up” his actions with regards to disciplining Thompson — she said Thompson and Dudgeon are “buddies.”
“I just didn’t trust him,” Biederman said. “The mayor has been aware for the last four years of Scott Thompson and what he has been doing.”
Jill Richardson was at Wednesday’s meeting distributing signs and talking with other community members while they waited for the council to return from executive session. She said she was concerned that Dudgeon was censoring the community by not allowing public comment at Wednesday’s meeting (special-called meetings do not permit public comment), as well as for removing posts by residents on the city’s Facebook page. An alternate page — Bloomfield Community Page — has sprung up in the wake and has been busy the past several days.
“We certainly deserve to be heard,” Richardson said. “We the people are in charge — we’re the ones who employ these people.”
No action was taken on the matters discussed in executive session Wednesday. Back in regular session, Dudgeon reported that there was no new business with regards to the city’s water company, which elicited a comment of “Because we don’t have one” from a member of the audience. The City of Bardstown has been assisting Bloomfield’s Public Works Department in the interim until new staff can be hired.
At times the shouts from the audience began to drown out what was being discussed by the council, prompting Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa to interrupt, imploring the audience to keep quiet and notifying them of the Robert’s Rules of Order processes that restrict public comment during a special-called meeting.
While Dudgeon never addressed any of the audience’s comments directly during the meeting, he did say, “I know you all are here — I see the signs.”
Towards the meeting’s end, council members were called on for any updates or statements they would like to make, and Scott Stevenson, a newcomer to the council, said, “I think these people should be heard.”
Councilman Ken Lemoine also asked about the city’s ethics ordinance, but Dudgeon instead opted to table that discussion for another meeting.
Following the meeting, Dudgeon hastily left the area, with some members of the audience yelling at him as he left.
“For the community, I would like to say that I love this small town and I have given everything I could to it over the last four years and I’ll continue to do that the next four years,” Dudgeon said Friday. “The City of Bloomfield has had a lot of positive things happen since I took office and there several other things we are planning in the future.”
Cambron also did not respond to texts and calls seeking comment. Since Cambron’s firing, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office has taken over his investigation into Thompson’s activities.
On Thursday, Stevenson said he’s not sure what the council’s next steps will be, and that the mayor’s quick exit Wednesday night doesn’t look good for him.
“It makes him look guilty, like he’s hiding something,” Stevenson said. “… He’s making himself look worse. … It’s not going to be pretty for a while, I think.”
In addition to Stevenson and Lemoine, council members Laura Barnett and John Hammond stayed behind to talk with members of the community and give them a chance to share their feelings.
Stevenson said the council might consider scheduling a special-called meeting to give community members a chance to go on the record with their concerns. It’s expected that the city will need to host a special-called meeting to iron out the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which needs to be approved by June 30. In addition, the city’s regularly scheduled meeting is the third Monday of every month, which will be June 19.
“The best thing for everyone to do is show up to these council meetings and be involved in the community,” Clark said.