Credit cards will now be monitored more carefully

jcheves@herald-leader.comApril 26, 2009 

The Lexington Public Library is imposing new restrictions on the use of library credit cards after a Herald-Leader examination of its spending.

The library also acknowledged that in responding to the newspaper's Open Records Act requests, Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Imhoff discovered she owed the library for some past expenses.

After getting the first records request in January, Imhoff repaid the library a total of $596 in expenses related to trips to Norway in 2005 and the Czech Republic in mid-2008.

In a recent interview, library board of trustees Chairman Burgess Carey said he will begin to review the credit card bills of Imhoff starting next month.

Previously, Carey had said that he saw no reason to monitor Imhoff's purchases that closely. "We do review the overall (library) budget, and I am comfortable with it," Carey said of Imhoff's spending in a March 13 interview.

However, Carey recently said he changed his mind because a credit card spending scandal at Blue Grass Airport has led to a criminal investigation and brought more scrutiny to the library and other civic agencies.

"We wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could," Carey said, sitting earlier this month with Imhoff, other board members and one of their attorneys. He added that this is strictly a precautionary measure.

"We don't think we have any problems, but —" Carey said.

"We know we don't have any problems," interjected Imhoff.

"We know we don't have any problems," Carey concluded. "We don't want to have any in the future, and I think it's properly prudent given the economic climate."

Imhoff is one of 20 library employees with an active credit card. She has spent more than $134,000 in five years at the library, for travel, meals, gifts and other items, according to a Herald-Leader review.

Most of the library's $15 million budget comes from state and local taxes.

Until now, Imhoff reviewed the monthly credit card bills of her 19 employees, but the board — her superiors — did not review hers.

In addition, Carey said, the board has adopted new rules for how bills are paid on library credit cards.

In the future, library employees will be responsible for paying bills for cards issued in their names, and they will present receipts to the library for reimbursement.

Previously, the library paid credit card bills directly.

The library's past auditors and chief financial officer raised concerns about how often the credit cards were used for everyday purchases — and how poorly their use sometimes was documented — despite a rule typically limiting their use to business-related travel.

Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a critic of the airport board's initial defense of spending by top airport officials last year, said the library board deserves praise for making changes.

"It's good to see a board chair who is willing to say, 'Hey, we were wrong, we need more accountability,'" Gray said. "Contrast that with the airport, where they just stonewalled."

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