FRANKFORT — The state House unanimously passed a bill Friday that would make two statewide groups for county and city governments more open and transparent.
The House voted 95-0 to pass House Bill 325, which would make the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Kentucky League of Cities subject to the state's Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act. It also would require the two organizations, which lobby and provide services to county and city governments, to adopt ethics policies and anti-nepotism rules.
"Think of this bill as a skylight," said Rep. Arnold Simpson, a Covington Democrat who sponsored the bill.
On Thursday evening, KACo held its annual legislative reception—a party with a Mardi Gras theme that featured entertainment and cost KACo between $17,000 and $18,000.
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The measure now goes to the Senate, which has already approved its own slightly different version of the proposal. Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, has been referred to the House Local Government committee.
Leaders of the two chambers must now decide how to combine the two proposals. Simpson said he has had preliminary discussions with Thayer about how the two bills will be combined but no decisions have been made.
"We have an excellent working relationship," Simpson said of Thayer. "I have no concerns about the timing. ... We've agreed to get together and discuss this process."
An amendment to Thayer's bill that passed the Senate included a provision that would require county fiscal courts to show how they spend civil and criminal court fees that are earmarked for the maintenance and construction of courthouses. Thayer's bill would also require KACo and the League to post their expenditures on the Web.
Simpson said Friday that he did not have specific problems with either provision — but said he would listen to any concerns the organizations had about them.
The bills were prompted by a series of Herald-Leader stories that uncovered questionable spending and poor oversight in both organizations. The executive directors of both KACo and the League eventually resigned in light of the stories and later audits conducted by State Auditor Crit Luallen.
KACo held its annual legislative reception at the Frankfort Convention Center on Thursday. The Mardi Gras-themed party featured a band, Cajun food, a juggler on stilts and an open bar. Several hundred people attended, according to people who went.
The party cost between $17,000 and $18,000, said KACo President Rick Smith. The party was bid out, and the lowest bid came from Lundy's, a catering firm owned by former Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan.
Smith said the costs were shared by KACo and its affiliate groups, which include the state jailers, property value administrators, county clerks and other elected officials.
"It's one of the biggest turnouts we've had," Smith said. "We're trying to get more communication and involvement with our affiliates. I think we achieved that."
Thayer said he attended and did not want to be critical of the event.
"It's a good opportunity for local elected officials to have access to legislators," he said. "It was interesting they had a Mardi Gras theme in light of everything that's happened. ... The League's City Night a few weeks ago was much more muted."
Rep. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, also attended the party, where he met with several local officials from his area to discuss coal issues.
"There were a lot of people, and it was hard to see everything," he said. "These receptions are one of the few times we can all sit down and talk about things."