Certainly we can all agree the Bluegrass Area Development District could serve the public better if all the questions about its fiscal and management integrity were behind us.
Where the disagreement comes into play is what it will take to put those questions to rest.
The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet at the end of March sent the ADD a letter demanding repayment of almost $900,000 of workforce money that was improperly spent from 2010 to 2013.
But management and at least some board members of the ADD seem to think everyone should just quit bugging them. “We believe the state should stop making these serious decisions based on old information,” Executive Director David Duttlinger said at an April 13 executive committee meeting.
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“The state just wants to keep bringing up old plowed ground,” board member Edwinna Baker said, “we have resolved these issues.”
Not according to the workforce cabinet’s 31-page letter. That document included several serious problems detailed in a 2014 report by the state auditor that remain unresolved, including accounting for reimbursements and expenditures, inadequate segregation of duties in the accounting system, and a lack of expertise in managing the fiscal aspects of grants.
And it’s not just the workforce cabinet that has questions about how the ADD manages the $25 million it receives annually, most of it taxpayer dollars:
▪ The federal Department of Health and Human Services has begun an investigation by its office of inspector general.
▪ The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services feels the need to review, on a weekly basis, all the operations of the ADD’s senior services programs.
▪ The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted last week to ask the U.S. Labor Department Office of Inspector General to audit the ADD.
The ADD, under the direction of Duttlinger, who was assistant executive director under the leader forced out by the 2014 audit, is hunkering down, hiring lawyers to contest the demand for repayment and publicists to scrub its image.
For example, shortly after the April 13 meeting the ADD sent out a press release, “sharing this story from KYForward ... in hopes that you will be interested in using it” that portrayed the ADD as remaining, “firm that under new leadership” it had corrected all the issues in the 2014 audit.
The board, author Judy Clabes wrote, “expressed frustration with a process that doesn’t allow the issues to be put to rest,” and voted to mount a legal challenge to the demand for repayment.
What neither the “story” nor the press release pointed out is that KYForward — which calls itself “Kentucky’s online newspaper” — is related to KyForward Brand Marketing, which is under contract with the ADD and has produced glowing profiles of mayors and county judge executives who sit on the ADD board.
This doesn’t inspire confidence in the ADD. Although a spokesperson was careful to say that Clabes may not have been writing the story while on the ADD’s dime, disseminating it as if it might have been a disinterested account by an unbiased newsperson is clearly misleading.
It’s also disconcerting that the ADD is spending money to produce wildly complimentary personal profiles of elected officials who serve on its board. Couldn’t this free, positive publicity undermine the independence board members should bring to overseeing the ADD’s management?
The Bluegrass ADD’s management may be able to use convincing words to hold on to support from its board, but the drumbeat of audits, inspections and investigations will only go away when it has proved itself a truly good steward of public funds.