Former state Auditor Edward B. Hatchett is the pick to take the helm of the Kentucky Association of Counties, an organization that was blistered in a state audit this year for unchecked and rampant spending.
An 11-member search committee of local officials chose Hatchett from among four finalists they interviewed Monday at Lexington's Embassy Suites Hotel. The committee will formally recommend Hatchett to the full KACo board at a special meeting Dec. 28.
"Ed was selected because we felt he is best qualified from a number of outstanding candidates to provide the leadership necessary to earn back the trust of Kentucky taxpayers and build on our strong record of service to our members," said KACo president Rick Smith, a Clark County magistrate.
Hatchett, 58, was the state auditor from 1995 through 2003. If approved, he would replace Bob Arnold, who resigned in September after KACo's spending became the subject of public scrutiny.
The Herald-Leader reported that the organization spent more than $600,000 in two years on travel, meals and entertainment.
Auditor Crit Luallen's review of KACo found more than $3 million in excessive, undocumented or improper spending at the organization, which provides services and lobbying for counties, sells local governments insurance and finances their projects.
Luallen described KACo as fostering a "self-serving culture" in which board members and top staff indulged in expensive dinners and trips.
In a statement Monday, Luallen said, "Ed Hatchett brings the background and experience to lead KACo into the future with an emphasis on increased accountability."
Hatchett, reached on his way to his Glasgow home, said becoming the new executive director would be "an extraordinary opportunity."
To address problems in oversight and accountability for money — most of which flows from county coffers in the form of dues and insurance payments, Hatchett said his first goal will be to enforce policies suggested by Luallen's audit report and approved by KACo's board in recent months.
"We'll create a manual and stick by it," he said. "I'll set about the business of assuring our members that we're going to be member-centric again and return to our roots to give the highest possible return on their dollars."
He said it was too early for him to think about personnel changes or restructuring the organization.
KACo is undergoing a management review and a strategic planning process that are being conducted by two consultants.
J. Michael Foster, the Christian County Attorney who recently finished his term as KACo president, called Hatchett "the right person to fully implement the comprehensive management control policies" the board has approved.
LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, who also served on the search committee, said he expects Hatchett will "return credibility" to the organization and add stability just in time for the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 5.
"Having an executive director on board as the legislative session starts will be good for KACo and the counties it represents," Turner said.
During Hatchett's time as state auditor, he developed a reputation as methodical and thorough, as his office reviewed the books of county officials and some quasi-governmental organizations.
Hatchett said he didn't expect any awkwardness working with officials who once were the subjects of his office's reviews.
Hatchett said he hadn't yet talked with KACo leaders about his salary and details of a contract. Arnold, as executive director, earned $178,000 and, because of a clause in his contract, will be paid that through June. A lawyer by training, Hatchett has served as managing partner and counsel for Blue Spring Creek, LLC, a family partnership that supervises a 900-acre farming operation, real estate and other investments in Glasgow.
More than 50 people applied for the KACo executive director position. The search committee narrowed the field to four finalists, who were interviewed Monday.