Bill advances to open KLC, KACo meetings, books to public

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJanuary 28, 2010 

FRANKFORT — A measure that would require the troubled Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentucky League of Cities to open their meetings and books to the public was approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 87 would make the League and KACo subject to the state's Open Records and Open Meetings laws. The measure would also require both groups to adopt ethics and anti-nepotism rules, follow the state's model procurement code and post their expenditures online.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, who sponsored the bill, said his constituents and some members of KLC and KACo are frustrated that more hasn't been done to increase oversight of the agencies since a series of Herald-Leader articles and state audits exposed spending problems at the organizations.

"I think there is a feeling right now that neither of the executive boards are doing enough," Thayer said.

Officials with KACo and the Kentucky League of Cities were not present at the committee meeting on Wednesday.

Later, Jackson Mayor Mike Miller, president of the board of KLC, said the group was encouraged that the bill included a provision that would allow some of its insurance and other confidential business information to remain confidential.

"The executive board is working diligently toward operating in a more transparent environment to increase confidence in KLC," Miller said.

Last week, KACo President Rick Smith, a Clark County magistrate, said he didn't think any such legislation was necessary because the organization has been taking steps to tighten its internal controls and create policies to prevent similar problems from happening again.

Two members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee — Democrats Robin Webb and Julian Carroll — chose to take a pass on the bill, saying they were concerned other groups might unintentionally be affected by the proposal.

For example, Webb said, it wasn't clear if associations that serve county attorneys and commonwealth attorneys would have to comply with the measure.

Thayer said he would consider altering the definition included in the legislation, but noted "you could also make a very strong argument that they, too, should be subject to these rules as well."

State Auditor Crit Luallen said last week the definition included in her suggested legislation — which was incorporated in Thayer's bill — was not intended to apply to other associations for local officials.

KLC and KACo provide services, such as lobbying and legal help, to local governments. They also sell insurance to the counties and cities, which generates millions of dollars in revenue for the two organizations.

Reports by the Herald-Leader last summer showed that the two groups' executives spent nearly $1 million on travel and entertainment in recent years and that their top officials were highly compensated in salaries and benefits.

Also on Wednesday, the committee unanimously approved a measure — Senate Bill 40 — that would require all branches of government to put information about all expenditures online by Jan 1. 2011, and to update those expenditures monthly.

The only branch of government that does not already have its expenditures online is the legislative branch.

Both bills now head to the Senate for a full vote.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Wednesday he believed there would be support to pass similar legislation to improve oversight of KACo and KLC in the House.

Herald-Leader reporter Ryan Alessi contributed to this story.

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