The Kentucky Association of Counties should stop paying to advertise during University of Kentucky basketball and football games as part of efforts to rein in spending, say several officials, including the organization's president.
KACo, which provides lobbying, training, insurance, financing and legal services to Kentucky's 120 county governments, has spent more than $200,000 since January 2007 on radio ads during UK games, according to KACo's invoices from IMG Communications, Inc.
The commercials tout both the services county governments provide citizens and the ways KACo supports counties.
"My initial recommendation on that is just not to do it," said KACo President J. Michael Foster, the Christian County Attorney.
Foster said that as president, he could halt the advertising and would probably do so at KACo's next regular board meeting, scheduled for September.
"I don't want any contract signed or anything until the executive committee and the board approves it, particularly something of that amount," he said.
In the past, the board approved a line item for marketing, but KACo's staff determined how it was spent.
Foster has been systematically tightening financial controls since he was elected president in November. He called a special KACo board meeting last week and announced he was taking away all individual staff members' credit cards.
The Herald-Leader reported last month that KACo's top five staff members spent $600,000 in two years on travel, meals, sports tickets, gifts and other expenses at a time when local governments have been struggling financially.
KACo receives $134,000 in county tax dollars each year in dues, in addition to payments counties make for insurance and financing services.
KACo's ad spending meant they were qualified for a table at the Big Blue Sports hospitality tent. They also received eight tickets to each of UK's home football games in 2008, said Kim Bucci Shelton, interim general manager of Big Blue Sports Marketing. KACo didn't receive basketball tickets, she said.
According to invoices obtained through Kentucky's Open Records law, KACo spent nearly $53,000 for ads during the 2008-2009 UK basketball season and $108,762 between September 2007 and April 2008 during UK football and basketball broadcasts. An additional $40,805 was spent on ads during UK basketball broadcasts between January and May 2007.
KACo has paid for little other media advertising over the last 30 months, spending $2,850 for six months of Internet ads on WKYT-TV's Web site and $3,740 for television commercials on WKYT during the 2007 and 2008 elections. WKYT aired 24 KACo commercials free during its Kentucky Newsmakers program between June and December 2008, listing the spots as for a service or religious organization, according to the documents.
The radio spots during UK games mention KACo's mission and explain the range of services counties provide.
"A lot of people don't know what county governments do," Foster said. "They don't realize they have to pay to maintain, in (Christian County's) case, almost 600 miles of road; they don't realize the counties, and not the cities, have to operate the jails and incur that expense."
But there are other less expensive ways to get that message out, he said.
State Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union and former Boone County jailer, said he was outraged when he first heard KACo was spending the counties' money on those ads and asked several county commissioners to look into it four years ago.
"They are public dollars," he said of KACo's funding. "Why in the world would you advertise county government at taxpayer expense?"
Schickel, who is now the co-chairman of the legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, said the best way for KACo to advertise its services would be to go to county fiscal court meetings.
LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, a long-time KACo board member, said there were other, cheaper, ways to spread the word about KACo.
"Our ad dollars would be better spent doing a monthly edition of the County Line (magazine) that would include innovative ideas used by counties and a monthly accounting of KACo operations," Turner wrote.
County Line is printed bi-monthly at the Herald-Leader.
Turner said KACo doesn't have to advertise to the general public because the insurance and financing it provides are only available to the counties.