William Wharton, the longtime executive director of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, has been fired for keeping information about the group's financial difficulties from its board of directors, according to the group's former chairman.
Rabbi Marc Kline, who was chairman of the commission until the end of 2009, said Monday that Wharton was fired December 14 after the commission "repeatedly" asked him for information about the commission's finances, but did not receive it.
If the commission had received the financial data, "we could have pursued other avenues to obtain funding," he said.
Kline said the commission is "struggling" financially. However, he said he had already left his office for the day and did not have specific financial information at his fingertips. Treasurers for the commission could not be reached for comment.
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Wharton declined to comment Monday.
The group receives funding from the Urban County Government— $190,000 in fiscal year 2009, according to the city's budget—as well as from the federal government, specifically Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is set up to investigate complaints of discrimination, monitor hate and bias incidents in the community, and provide outreach and education to promote intergroup relations.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry referred questions regarding Wharton to Kline.
"I don't mean to characterize any of our financial problems as William's fault," Kline said. "But to be an active working board, you need all the information on the table.
"We needed to be more than a rubber stamp," he said.
"There is nothing to indicate that William has done anything to warrant any further investigation," he continued.
Kline said the problems went beyond the lack of financial information given to the commission.
"There have been concerns about communication and information, how much we knew and how much we should have known about all of the workings of the commission, " he said.
"William has served for 20 years and had grown accustomed to doing things a certain way," said Kline. "It was time for us to move in a different direction than William could take us.
"His heart is for social justice. He is a strong mentor. But there were issues regarding management skills."
The commission's attorney, Ed Dove, issued a statement saying "the decision to end its employment relationship with Wharton was a difficult one."
"During Mr. Wharton's tenure, the Human Rights Commission became a respected agency in Fayette County and in the Commonwealth, protecting the rights of all individuals to be free from discrimination," Dove's statement said. "The commission appreciates all the hard work of Mr. Wharton and wishes him well in his future pursuits."
Biby Tinajero, the newly elected chairwoman of the group, said that a search committee will be formed to select a new executive director.
Until a new director is hired, Ray Sexton, the commission's compliance director, will be the acting executive director.
"The commission is confident that Mr. Sexton will enhance the high quality of professionalism our constituents deserve," the statement from Dove said.