Herald-Leader Editorial

Free jobs money from ADD control

April 13, 2014 

It's easy, even tempting, to get lost in the sea of acronyms in the ongoing tragedy of the Bluegrass Area Development District.

But in the particular case of the Bluegrass ADD and the Workforce Investment Board, the story is simple.

Federal money that's supposed to be managed openly by local public officials to help job seekers is instead swallowed up by a secretive and scandal-ridden bureaucracy. The WIB should operate independently and openly to better address the problems of the unemployed.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner, vice chairman of the ADD and the chief elected official of the workforce board, must sever these organizations for the benefit of Central Kentucky.

The board exists to make decisions about how to use $8 million in federal funds. The feds require a chief elected official be designated. That CEO appoints the board and decides if grants will be managed in-house or by an outside fiscal agent. Federal guidelines are clear, though, that the fiscal agent works at the direction of the workforce board.

Not in the world of the Bluegrass ADD, according to a blistering report last month by the state auditor.

In that world, the ADD controls the WIB. Under an arrangement devised by the ADD, the highest-ranking public official on the ADD's board is the chief elected officer who in turn controls the workforce board.

To review: an officer of the Bluegrass ADD board appoints the workforce board and decides who will manage its money, which turns out to be the ADD. In the measured language of the auditor's report, "This conflict appears to weaken the WIB's decision-making authority by placing more authority in the hands of BGADD."

Even after the auditor pointed out this flawed relationship and the ADD's stunningly bad performance as fiscal agent, the ADD is fighting to maintain its stranglehold.

This is particularly disturbing now, when joblessness is a pressing problem in the region. The Lexington Metropolitan Statistical Area, which makes up a huge portion of the ADD's 17-county region, recorded 7.4 percent unemployment in February, well above the pre-recession range, and the highest since February of 2012.

Unemployment in the region has traditionally been lower than the nation, but is now almost a full percentage point higher.

Still, David Duttlinger, executive director of the Bluegrass ADD, says it should be allowed to continue handling the job training money.

Burtner, who makes the final decision, told reporter Linda Blackford Wednesday that he was struggling with how to proceed. "This is a very complex, confusing and difficult process."

Agreed. But the right course is clear: The WIB must move quickly — in an arm's-length, transparent process — to choose a new fiscal agent. Anything less is a disservice to the thousands in this region struggling to find decent jobs.

The status quo is unacceptable. The ADD was created to partner with the counties to improve planning, economic development and quality of life.

Instead, it has become a power unto itself, one that calls — rather than coordinates — the shots.

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