Herald-Leader Editorial

Agency must move urgently on reform; Bluegrass ADD needs to ensure transparency

June 27, 2014 

It's easy to understand state Auditor Adam Edelen's frustration with the glacial pace of change at the Bluegrass Area Development District, which manages economic development money for Central Kentucky

In March, Edelen released a scorching report on the agency, citing specifically a rental deal in which the Bluegrass ADD — financed almost exclusively with public funds — has more than paid for a building without ever gaining title to it.

Edelen said then that the Bluegrass Industrial Foundation, run by a former executive director of the ADD, should deed the property to the ADD.

That still hasn't happened, although the agency's executive board will likely approve the transfer when it meets next week, according to an attorney for the Bluegrass ADD.

The executive committee must not only approve the transfer next week, it must also insist that it be completed quickly.

As Edelen pointed out in testimony Wednesday to the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government, the public has paid for 699 Perimeter Drive in Lexington and so should have the deed to it.

The ADD has occupied the building since 1994 and has paid more in rent than the $1.4 million purchase price.

The executive committee should also dissolve the Bluegrass Industrial Foundation, headed by former Bluegrass ADD executive director Jas Sekhon.

It's not at all clear the benefit the public has gained from money funneled from the Bluegrass ADD to the foundation, but clearly it has benefited Sekhon, paying for his trips to numerous conferences.

At least as troubling as Edelen's remarks were those by members of the River Park Neighborhood Association, the group that first raised questions about the agency when it planned to start a felon re-entry program in the neighborhood.

Although that project has been abandoned and the building sold, members of the association have continued to keep an eye on the ADD and told legislators about their ongoing concerns.

Neighborhood leaders Charles Payne and David Vinson said conflicts of interest and poor transparency continue to be problems at the agency. "I still don't think they've gotten the message," Vinson said.

With an annual budget of $24.4 million, 90 percent of it from state and federal sources, they need to get the message.

David Duttlinger, who served under fired executive director Lennie Stoltz II and has since been named executive director, says all the concerns raised by the auditor will be addressed as detailed in a response the ADD developed to the auditor's report.

But Duttlinger and the public officials who make up the ADD's board need to understand that quick, decisive action to change both the structure and the culture at the ADD — including insisting on full transparency in all its activities — is essential to any hope of restoring trust in this agency.

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