Lexington plans audit of human rights agency

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry called for an audit of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission on Tuesday.

In a letter to the human rights group, the city's law commissioner wrote that the audit was called for, given the group's "financial problems ... coupled with the termination of the commission's executive director."

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.

Logan B. Askew, the city's law commissioner, noted in the letter to the human rights commission that the health insurance premiums it 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, they were being used to pay the general operating expenses of the commission, the letter said.

Raymond Sexton, interim executive director of the commission, told Askew that the commission had not received an anticipated state grant and had experienced delays in receiving federal and state funding, according to the letter.

Askew said that he is recommending that monthly payments the commission is set to receive from the city be reduced for three months by the amount owed for health insurance.

The commission has agreed to provide additional financial information to the city, the letter said.

Sexton could not be reached late Tuesday to comment on the city's audit.

The Human Rights Commission will meet Wednesday to discuss the agency's financial situation, said Tracy Dennis, vice chairman of the group.

Wharton, the former executive director, said in an interview Tuesday that he disagreed with a statement by Rabbi Marc Kline, who was chairman of the commission until the end of 2009, that Wharton had failed to provide financial information to the governing board.

Wharton would not elaborate about what financial information he provided.

"There are ups and downs in any tenure," Wharton said. "I've been part of the commission for a long time. I have the best interest of the commission at heart."

On Tuesday, Sexton said that the commission's 2009 fiscal budget was about $440,000. He estimated that the current operating deficit is about $50,000.

The commission investigates complaints of discrimination, monitors hate and bias incidents and provides educational outreach. It receives funding from the Urban County Government — $180,500 in fiscal year 2010 — and from the federal government.

Sexton said the agency's discrimination investigations have not been affected by its current financial difficulties.

However, he said it is no longer able to pay for mediation sessions to resolve complaints about housing. Nor has it been able to participate in education and community outreach at events like the Roots & Heritage Festival, where a fee is required.

Sexton said that the commission may also have to cut back on training employers and landlords about discrimination.

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