The city of Lexington enters into thousands of purchases and contracts worth millions of dollars each year. Taxpayers should be able to trust that the competition for all that business is genuine and aboveboard. They should know that the city follows safeguards to get the best deals possible.
Enough doubts have been raised about the Newberry administration's recommendation in 2007 to award the city's insurance business to the Kentucky League of Cities to merit investigations by state Auditor Crit Luallen and a special committee of the council.
Luallen announced Thursday that she would investigate, while Vice Mayor Jim Gray appointed seven council members to the investigative committee unanimously authorized on Tuesday by the council.
It's possible that these formal investigations could have been avoided if the administration had been more open with information when council member KC Crosbie and others started raising questions.
Instead, the administration appeared to stonewall while dismissing the questions as politically motivated. As more information has dribbled out, including e-mail exchanges between city officials left anonymously at the Herald-Leader, serious questions about the propriety of the decision have arisen.
For example: Was there pressure within the administration to stack the decision in KLC's favor? Why between Aug. 30, 2007 and Sept. 11, 2007 did KLC lower its bid enough to undercut its competition? And why was certain information that might have hurt KLC's chances withheld from the council?
At the time, Mayor Jim Newberry had been on KLC's executive board for about six months.
The administration has released figures showing that the city's insurance costs have decreased since KLC got the business. That information merits closer analysis to discover whether those savings were the best the city could do.
In 2007, Patrick Johnston, the city's risk management director, communicated to Law Commissioner Logan Askew several reservations about KLC's insurance operations and ethics. His concerns later proved to be well founded. But Johnston was overridden. He also reported his concerns about KLC to city auditors who concluded there was nothing there for them to pursue.
Now the Newberry administration is trying to eliminate Johnston's job. The mayor has said the change is part of ongoing efforts to increase efficiency at city hall.
But taxpayers also need to trust that civil servants aren't punished for raising legitimate concerns about administration decisions.
That these questions arose in the midst of a hard-fought contest for mayor between Newberry and Gray does not diminish their validity or importance.