Fayette County

City takes steps to cut ties with group tied to Bluegrass Area Development District

The city is considering severing ties with a workforce training group connected to the beleaguered Bluegrass Area Development District.

If the full council votes to leave the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board and Mayor Jim Gray agrees, the city could use the federal money to start its own job training and workforce development efforts targeted specifically to Lexington, backers of the plan say.

Councilman Chris Ford, who has been an outspoken critic of the Bluegrass ADD since a scathing state audit showed management problems with the area planning organization, made the motion at a meeting of the Social Services and Community Development Committee on Tuesday. The motion recommends that Gray not sign an interlocal agreement with the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board.

Ford said Tuesday that the council began discussing issues with Bluegrass ADD and its job training programs in 2012. Tuesday's 6-1 vote by the committee was not done in haste, he said.

"We have exhausted all efforts to be patient with the Bluegrass ADD," Ford said. "There are still areas in our community that are not being served as well as they could be."

Ford said that if the city leaves the Workforce Investment Board, the city would have until fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, 2015, to develop its own program. That could include starting its own workforce investment area.

Ford said during Tuesday's council meeting that other cities in Kentucky — including Bowling Green — are also looking at starting their own workforce investment areas and leaving their area development districts.

Gray said Tuesday that he supports considering options to ensure that Lexington makes the best use of federal job-training funds.

"We're interested in working with council and other partners to find an approach that works better for Lexington," Gray said. "New federal law provides us with new opportunities to provide professional workforce training that responds to the changing needs of local businesses so we can match training and jobs. That's a win for everyone."

Councilman Kevin Stinnett agreed.

Stinnett said the city has already set aside $1 million for a jobs program to keep and attract high-tech jobs.

"We are leaving money on the table," he said. "There's a much greater opportunity here."

It's not clear how much money Lexington would receive from the federal government if it leaves the Workforce Investment Board, which is the fiscal agent for federal job-training money for the area. Fayette is one of 17 counties that are part of the Workforce Investment Board, and it is the only county that has not signed the interlocal agreement.

Ed Lane was the only council member to vote against the motion during Tuesday's Social Services and Community Development meeting.

Lane said there have been criticisms of other government groups that the city does business with, including Blue Grass Airport and the Fayette County library system. The city worked with them to fix problems, he said.

"The airport and the library got criticized, and we have worked with those organizations to allow for restructuring and reorganization," Lane said.

The resolution will have a first reading at Thursday's council meeting.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner heads the Workforce Investment Board under the current agreement with Bluegrass ADD. He said he did not know about Tuesday's meeting. Two weeks ago, he and Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson met with the committee about the new proposed interlocal agreement and had what he described as a good discussion.

The new agreement was drafted in August with the help of Workforce Commissioner Beth Brinly. Instead of putting all Workforce Investment Board decisions into the hands of one person — currently Burtner — the proposed agreement would require decisions to be voted on by all 17 government heads in the Bluegrass Area Development District, 16 county judge-executives and Gray.

The federal funds total about $8 million a year.

"I don't know where that leaves us" if Lexington does not sign the agreement, Burtner said. "Well, I do know; it means the old, flawed interlocal agreement is still in place, and I guess we'll have to operate under that."

Problems with the Bluegrass ADD's control of federal workforce investment dollars came to light in state Auditor Adam Edelen's investigation of that organization. In particular, auditors noted that the Bluegrass ADD had written the agreement between the two bodies, making the Bluegrass ADD's executive board chairman or vice chairman the chief elected official of the Workforce Investment Board. That person chooses all members of the workforce board and makes all important decisions, although the workforce board has a chairman of its own.