Politics & Government

Selection of workforce grant administrator fair, Bluegrass ADD director says

The Bluegrass Area Development District building at 699 Perimeter Dr. in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, March 8, 2014.
The Bluegrass Area Development District building at 699 Perimeter Dr. in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, March 8, 2014. Herald-Leader Staff

The director of the Bluegrass Area Development District said Monday that his agency is the most qualified to administer a multimillion-dollar federal workforce grant, following a decision last week by some of the district’s leaders to let the agency administer the 18-month grant.

“We’re a local unit of government, we’re a part of the region,” said David Duttlinger, whose group won the bid to administer federal workforce funds on behalf of the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board. The Bluegrass ADD, which also coordinates regional planning and aging services for 17 counties in Central Kentucky, has been administering federal workforce money for 42 years.

A request for proposals to administer the grant said it involves $11.4 million to be distributed from Dec. 2015 to Sept. 30, 2017, but it also includes carry-over funds from 2014 and 2015. Duttlinger said Bluegrass ADD expects to spend about $4.8 million of the grant in 2016.

Two other organizations submitted bids to administer the grant. The head of one those groups, Community Action of Kentucky, said last week he wanted more information about the scoring process, which gave the area development district’s proposal the highest scores in all categories but “fiscal integrity.”

The process was also questioned by Mayor Jim Gray, who is one of two “chief local elected officials” who oversee the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board. Gray asked for interviews with each bidder, but was denied. Kim Menke, the new chairman of the workforce board, said he also had questions about the process.

“My concern is what was the real process and what were the real criteria?” Menke told the Herald-Leader last week.

Some of those questions stem from a 2014 examination of the district by State Auditor Adam Edelen, who said the district’s relationship with the workforce board was rife with conflicts of interest.

After the audit, the state created a competitive bidding process to administer workforce service grants.

Previously, the chairperson of the Bluegrass ADD board, which includes the top elected official in all 17 counties, selected Bluegrass ADD to administer the grant without seeking bids. Now, there’s a competitive bidding process, and elected officials from the counties made the final selection last week. Gray was the only “no” vote during a meeting Thursday of the local elected officials.

Two members of the Bluegrass ADD board make other key decisions about the workforce program. Gray is one of the two because Fayette is the most populous county in the 17-county region. The other is currently Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney, who was elected to that post by the other judge executives and is treasurer of the Bluegrass ADD board. Those two select the Workforce Investment Board — mostly made up of people from private industry — and approve the workforce board’s budget.

All the judge executives are on the Bluegrass ADD Board and make up a majority of the the district’s executive committee. They also made up a majority of the bid scorers, Duttlinger said.

“The reason why there is no conflict of interest is because it’s no longer possible for the Bluegrass ADD chair to be the chief elected official over workforce,” he said.

Duttlinger said only 22 percent of the Bluegrass ADD board are judge executives.

The district employs nine people who are dedicated to workforce development, Duttlinger said. The district can take as much as 10 percent of the grant monies for administrative fees, but in the past, that’s only been 7 percent. The other 3 percent is returned to programming, he said.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford