More city oversight of library promised

ralessi@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2009 

Some Urban County Council members pledged to more aggressively guard against unchecked spending at quasi-government agencies a day after the city released a scathing audit of the Lexington Public Library.

Such reforms could include the creation of uniform policies for all boards that city leaders appoint, as Vice Mayor Jim Gray suggested Friday. "These patterns just repeat themselves in the absence of good solid rules and accountability," he said.

Council members also might have to occasionally review the financial books of the organizations, as several council members mentioned. And they'll have to wield their bully pulpits more aggressively to chastise boards that aren't living up to their oversight responsibilities, said Julian Beard, the 4th District Councilman.

"I think there's going to be more supervision by the council," he said.

Council members spoke more forcefully about the city government's duty to oversee quasi-government agencies after absorbing a more than 240-page city audit of the library that was released late Thursday.

In it, auditors confirmed instances of excessive spending previously reported by the Herald-Leader and discovered improper use of former chief executive Kathleen Imhoff's library-issued laptop.

Auditors found 1,522 images of "adult material" on the laptop, which Imhoff said must have been viewed by someone else at her home, although she didn't say who.

Such misuse of library property was inexcusable, council members said Friday.

"That's alarming," said 6th District Councilman Kevin Stinnett. "In this day and age, who would have the audacity to do that?"

Most council members said they were prepared for many of the findings regarding unchecked spending after the Herald-Leader detailed in April that Imhoff, who was fired in July, spent more than $134,000 over five years on travel, meals and entertainment.

And they praised the library board of trustees for embracing some reforms, such as moving to reduce the number of staff credit cards from 23 to five in May.

"Certainly, it seems like the board is taking strong steps to put good policies in place moving forward," said 3rd District Councilwoman Diane Lawless. "I'm glad they stepped out of their initial defensive place and (realized) 'we have a real problem here, and it's serious.'"

Larry Smith, the recently-appointed chairman of the library board, said the library staff and board view the audit as closure to an embarrassing saga for the institution, which gets most of its $15 million from property taxes.

"They feel we're nearing the end of this, and we'll make the recommend changes and the board will strengthen and revise some policies," he said.

In response to some of the specific recommendations of auditors, Smith said the library board:

■ Will seek legal advice from the Attorney General about whether employee bonuses questioned by the auditors is allowed under state law.

■ Will select an information technology consulting firm in January to review and suggest improvements to the library's computer policies and safeguards.

■ Has already conducted a random check of library computers to search for other instances of improper use. The review came up clean, he said.

Smith said the board also reviewed the $897,411 in spending since 2003 that the auditors outlined and felt that "the vast majority of that was not questionable."

Still, council members said the over-arching issue of lax oversight by boards must be further addressed, particularly since other agencies, such as the Blue Grass Airport, have had similar problems with excessive spending.

The council is expected to approve a new oath of office for appointed board members and a requirement for them to attend orientation training that will explicitly outline their responsibilities.

And the council will be more diligent in making sure the right people serve on the boards, said 7th District Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie.

"Even though the mayor appoints them, we're the ones who are responsible for voting on them," she said, adding that the council won't hesitate to hold up nominees until they are fully vetted.

Appointing board members has typically been the extent of city leaders' oversight ability.

"We've had trouble navigating this to begin with because of the status of these pseudo-government entities," Beard said.

"We can't order them to do X, Y or Z," but the council can publicly call them out for oversight failures, he said.

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