FRANKFORT — Republican attorney general candidate Todd P'Pool has been warned twice by Kentucky officials for not keeping adequate records that justify the time he bills the state for working on child-support collection cases as Hopkins County attorney.
Officials warned P'Pool in 2008 and again in 2010 that he was not keeping adequate records of his work enforcing the state's child-support laws, according to documents obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader through an Open Records Act request.
P'Pool's campaign defends his record-keeping and performance in child-support cases, noting that P'Pool has increased child-support collection in Hopkins County by 37 percent since being elected in 2006, has passed previous audits done by the cabinet and has won two outstanding performance awards from the state.
"If the cabinet had a problem with what he was doing, why would they give him two outstanding service awards?" said David Ray, a spokesman for the P'Pool campaign.
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P'Pool is challenging incumbent Democrat Jack Conway in November for the state's top law enforcement job.
As county attorney, P'Pool has a contract with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to enforce child support collection in Hopkins County. County attorneys have a staff of caseworkers and lawyers dedicated to pursuing parents who do not pay child support.
According to his contract with the cabinet's Child Support Enforcement unit, P'Pool is paid $55 an hour for his work on child-support collection.
P'Pool sends the state his hours each month but is not required to send in the log of child-support cases on which he works. The log is supposed to be maintained in his office and made available to the state's contract review staff during annual audits.
P'Pool was warned as early as 2008 that he was not keeping case logs during an annual review. The audit found that P'Pool had at one time kept accurate records of cases he worked on, but that practice stopped because the office thought it no longer was necessary.
In a July 2008 letter to the cabinet, Shaun McEntire, a member of P'Pool's staff, said the problem had been corrected.
"We have reinstated this practice that had mistakenly been stopped," McEntire said in the letter.
More than two years later, state officials again chastised P'Pool for not maintaining documentation to support the hours he billed the state.
In a letter dated Dec. 9, P'Pool was told by Steven Veno, the state's deputy commissioner for child support enforcement, it had recently come to Veno's attention that case logs were not being maintained in Hopkins County.
"It is important that those logs are maintained and made readily available to this program," Veno wrote.
Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said it was discovered in November that the case log form called CS 21.1 was not being maintained by P'Pool's office.
Before July 2010, county attorneys were required to keep a log of cases and other back-up materials in their offices to document hours the county attorneys billed the state, but they didn't specifically have to use the CS 21.1 form. After July 2010, there was a change in all county attorneys' contracts that required them to use an updated version of the form.
During an April compliance review, auditors found that P'Pool was not using that form from July to December. The cabinet then sent P'Pool another letter in May asking him to use the updated form.
"The letter noted that the time worked was not correctly documented to the corresponding case work as required by the form," Midkiff said.
In response, P'Pool sent Veno a letter June 3 saying he had provided the previous CS 21.1 form on a monthly "basis for the past four years" without any notice that the form had been changed or updated.
But Midkiff said P'Pool has never been required to send the CS 21.1 forms to the state. Ray, P'Pool's campaign spokesman, said P'Pool meant to say he had sent the state a different form that contained the number of hours he worked.
When the Herald-Leader asked P'Pool's campaign to provide copies of CS 21.1 forms or any other backup documentation that showed which child-support cases P'Pool had worked on, Ray said he was told that the documents contain sensitive information and that the office was concerned about releasing them.
The Herald-Leader then sent a formal open records request to the Hopkins County attorney's office for any CS 21.1 forms or other back-up documentation — such as court dockets — to show that P'Pool worked the hours he billed the state from July 2008 to December 2010.
In response to the Herald-Leader's request, the Hopkins County Attorney's Office said the forms "do not exist for this time period and the annual audit(s) of our agency did not indicate such requirement."
Since the December letter, P'Pool has sent the CS 21.1 forms to the cabinet, Ray said.
When asked whether the cabinet was confident that P'Pool had worked the hours he had billed the state, Midkiff said that "the hours reported are appropriate for the case load and county size" and that there is no information that would indicate "these hours were not worked."
Questions about P'Pool's hours were a key issue during his successful 2010 re-election campaign for county attorney.
Democratic opponent John Whitfield questioned why P'Pool had consistently billed the state for the same number of hours for months. For example, from July 2009 to January 2011, P'Pool billed the state for 39 hours each month. His predecessor, Robert Moore, rarely billed for the same hours each month in 2006, according to records obtained by the Herald-Leader.
P'Pool, in 2010 campaign advertisements, countered that the reason the hours were the same every month was because he was on salary.
A flier paid for by Friends of Todd P'Pool said: "Truth: Todd P'Pool earns a salary of $28,000 per year for child-support enforcement, and it's audited and approved by the state."
Melissa Wideman, a spokeswoman for the Conway campaign, questioned why P'Pool said he was on salary when he was not.
"It is troubling that Mr. P'Pool has twice been admonished by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for not keeping track of his hours, and he lied to his constituents when he said he was a salaried employee," Wideman said. "Just about every county attorney knows you have to keep track of the hours you work in order to bill under this program."
The P'Pool campaign said his hours were sometimes the same for several months because he is allowed to take the total amount of time he spends on child-support enforcement each year and charge the average each month.
"A fixed salary for Todd allows us to better manage our budget, and this issue has been reviewed and approved by the cabinet multiple times," Ray said. "We pass every audit and we will gladly share our accounting and award-winning results with anyone."
Midkiff confirmed that county attorneys are able to charge an average number of hours.
Ray said he did not think P'Pool was inaccurate in the 2010 campaign advertisement. Averaging hours is like being paid a salary, he said.