Owensboro's mayor is temporarily suspending his proposal to cancel the city's membership with the Kentucky League of Cities while he waits for the League's board to change its spending and compensation policies.
Mayor Ron Payne said he had become increasingly concerned about the League's spending on travel and meals, high executive salaries and a move two weeks ago to stop providing documents to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The non-profit organization, which receives money from cities in the form of dues and payments for insurance and financing, reversed itself last week and agreed to provide the newspaper with records.
"When I look at the Kentucky League, they represent the cities in our state and they should be setting the example in terms of transparency and accountability," Payne said. "So I was very much concerned about this and still am."
The Herald-Leader reported last month that the top three League executives have charged more than $300,000 for travel, meals and other expenses since 2006. In 2008, travel by all League employees cost about $457,000. Sylvia Lovely, the League's executive director, has seen her salary grow by 25.5 percent since 2006 to more than $315,000 a year.
Payne said he had planned to recommend to the Owensboro City Commission at its Tuesday evening meeting to cancel the city's $14,000 in dues and start shopping for another insurance carrier. He decided to delay action on the issue after League officials called him Tuesday morning.
Mayfield Mayor Arthur Byrn, a member of the executive board, said he explained to Payne that the board was considering changing some of the League's expense and oversight policies.
"I urged him to give us six months because all this is fairly fresh in terms of the process that we're going through," Byrn said. "We are committed to doing what was right by our members and by the other entities that bought insurance from us."
Lovely also called Payne Tuesday morning after finding out about his concerns, which were outlined in Tuesday's Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.
"I just wanted to make sure he knew we were very enthusiastically working on our policies and guidelines," Lovely said. "I think he felt good that we were working hard on that."
Owensboro, Kentucky's third most populous city, pays nearly $600,000 in insurance premiums to the League, Payne said.
Payne said he removed his recommendation to leave the League from the commission's agenda and will wait to see what policy changes result from the League board's review and an investigation by State Auditor Crit Luallen.
Luallen announced last week that her office would review spending and finances at the League and Kentucky Association of Counties after the Herald-Leader published reports detailing hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel, meals and other expenses at both non-profit organizations that serve local governments.
"At this point, I think the fair thing to do is wait," Payne said. "There may be other things out there that we may not be aware of. I'm very anxious to see what Crit Luallen finds as to how the League is operating."
For Payne's concerns to be allayed, the League must be tighter with cities' money and the board must get more aggressive in overseeing operations, he said.
Payne said Lovely's salary and those of 17 other League employees who earn more than $100,000 should be re-evaluated.
"Those salaries, in my opinion, are out of line for a support organization and a service organization, such as the League," Payne said. "And given the economic situation, those are excessive."
Lovely said the board is evaluating the compensation packages.
"I'm not going to get into that," she said when asked whether she would recommend salary cuts.
Lovely said she has received many comments from local officials since the Herald-Leader's first stories about the League's expenses were published last month.
She said many officials have praised the League for offering affordable services, such as insurance and legal advice, at a cheaper price than they can get elsewhere.
Others have expressed concerns about the League's expenses and board oversight, but Payne was the first to openly suggest canceling a city's membership, she said.
"I haven't heard anything else to that level," she said.
Byrn said he hoped other city leaders who have thoughts about severing ties to the League will bring concerns to board members and give them a chance to make policy changes.
"Certainly it's their League as well as it is our League," Byrn said. "I know I speak for all of those people that we don't have anything to hide and are proud of what the League has done."