A New Hampshire man has been named the new executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities, the organization announced Wednesday.
Jonathan Steiner was hired in a unanimous decision of the League's executive board. He comes from the New Hampshire Local Government Center/New Hampshire Municipal Association, where he is deputy director for member services. The association is similar to the Kentucky League of Cities.
Steiner, 45, assumes his new duties Nov. 1. He will be paid $225,000 per year, according to KLC President Elaine Walker.
Steiner succeeds Neil Hackworth, acting executive director of the League, who will retire at the end of the year. Hackworth has filled the job since January, when Sylvia Lovely stepped down after a series of Herald-Leader articles detailed large salaries, big expense accounts and conflicts of interest at KLC.
An investigation by state Auditor Crit Luallen later cited $350,000 in "questionable" expenses that Luallen said allowed KLC leaders to spend money for "their primary benefit rather than providing additional benefits to Kentucky's cities and communities."
In the wake of that controversy, Steiner said Wednesday his first goal at KLC will be to "get out there and build credibility and trust with the membership ... be transparent, be open. If there are things we can do better, I want to know what those are."
One question during the Herald-Leader's reporting on KLC last year was whether records of KLC spending were open to public scrutiny. While the league responded fully to the newspaper's requests under the state Open Records Act, KLC officials said they still thought the records shouldn't be open because the money hadn't come from a specific tax allocation.
The New Hampshire Local Government Center, Steiner's current employer, has been involved in a similar question. The center serves New Hampshire's 234 towns and cities, providing insurance and risk-management services.
For several years, the New Hampshire organization has been in an ongoing court fight with the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire over finances. Among other things, firefighters sought access to Local Government Center employee salaries, with the center resisting on grounds that its workers are private employees whose salaries are not open to public examination.
In January, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled with the firefighters. The high court held that Local Government Center salaries come from tax revenues and therefore are subject to New Hampshire's "Right To Know" law. The court directed the center to turn over the information to the firefighters.
Steiner said Wednesday the salary issue had been a "test case." Many state municipal leagues around the country are under scrutiny as to whether they are public or private organizations, or subject to state open records laws, he said.
Steiner stressed, however, he'll be committed to transparency at the Kentucky League of Cities.
"I think that everything we can make transparent we ought to," he said. "I worry about our responsibility to protect personal information and confidential business information. But other than that I've always been a proponent of speaking my mind and providing information."
He said he did a lot of background checking on KLC before accepting the job and came away impressed.
"I know it's a solid organization with solid employees, and the member cities rely upon it," he said. "They may have hit a few bumps in the road in the past year and a half ... but it's time to close that chapter and move on to a new one. Overall, cities in Kentucky couldn't exist without the work that KLC does."
KLC President Elaine Walker, who also is mayor of Bowling Green, called Steiner "a solid person," a "problem solver" and "an innovator."
"We believe he will be a foundational leader for our association and an inspiring new voice for Kentucky communities," she said.
Steiner received an undergraduate degree and a master's degree in public administration from the University of New Hampshire and a master's degree from Dartmouth College. His wife, Robin, is an assistant school superintendent in New Hampshire. They have a daughter, Isabell.