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Lexington human rights commission says it can't pay its bills

Lexington's Human Rights Commission can't make its payroll, can't pay its bills and can't pay its recently fired executive director what he's owed, board members acknowledged Wednesday.

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, who has requested a city audit of the group, told the commission's board Wednesday night to "take corrective action" even before the audit begins.

"The work of the commission is important, and it must be done well," Newberry said after the meeting. "At the same time, the commission has an obligation to the taxpayers who have entrusted them with resources to ensure that public dollars are spent appropriately."

William Wharton, who directed the commission for 20 years, was fired in mid-December for keeping information about the group's financial difficulties from the board of directors, according to the board's former chairman Marc Kline.

Wharton, who is not being blamed for the money problems, has said that he provided financial information and that he had the best interest of the commission at heart. He said he had no comment about Wednesday night's meeting.

The commission investigates complaints of discrimination, monitors hate and bias incidents, and provides educational outreach. It receives money from the Urban County Government — $180,500 in fiscal year 2010. The commission is awaiting $147,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to documents provided by the board Wednesday night.

At a meeting at city hall, the commission's treasurer, Beth Hartmann, said the commission is working on a plan to make sure past errors are not repeated. She provided some detailed financial information to Newberry, city Finance Commissioner Linda Rumpke and Logan B. Askew, the city's law commissioner.

The commission's budget for the 2009 fiscal year was $440,000, according to its acting director Ray Sexton. The current operating deficit is about $50,000.

The commission can't pay $71,401 in bills, including about $13,000 to Wharton.

Biby Tinajero, the newly elected chairwoman of the group, asked Rumpke for help last night in coming up with a financial plan.

Rumpke said that before the city will release monthly payments to the commission, including the $7,000 needed immediately for payroll, the commission board will have to show city officials how the money will be spent.

Askew said health insurance premiums the commission pays to participate in the city's insurance plan are in arrears by more than $21,000.

Instead of withholding those premiums from employees' pay and remitting them to the city, the money was used to pay general operating expenses of the commission. The commission is negotiating a repayment plan to the city.

Despite the financial problems, city officials said Wednesday night that they think the commission has provided the services it promised.

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