Special Reports

Amid airport spending inquiry, other boards examine their expenses

With expenses by Blue Grass Airport officials under the microscope, other city boards are taking steps to improve control of expenses. "Accountability standards are going to rise. And that's not a bad thing, that's a good thing," said Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a Lexington Center board member.

Lexington Center president and CEO Bill Owen said the Lexington Center Corp. board is formalizing a travel policy that employees already follow but that has never been put in writing.

On Thursday, chairman Cecil Dunn asked the board's audit committee and the firm that audits the center's books to review all Lexington Center financial policies and procedures.

Another public agency taking a look at itself is the city's parking authority. On Wednesday, board chairman Kenton Ball told his board members that every six months they will receive a summary of executive director Gary Means' travel expenses.

Means' expenses have been less than $5,000 a year since he was hired two years ago, said Ball. He approves Means' expenses with receipts attached. These are then forwarded to the city's accounting office, which pays the parking authority's bills.

By providing a summary, "Everybody knows what is spent," Ball said. "It protects me, and it lets board members ask any questions they might have."

The housekeeping measures at the Lexington Center and parking authority came in response to the airport's expense problems, said Ball and Dunn.

The parking authority and Lexington Center are components of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. Like the airport, they are quasi-government agencies with boards appointed by the mayor.

Dunn said he talked with Owen about getting a written travel policy soon after the Herald-Leader broke the airport story in November. Board members will need to approve the policy.

Supervisors are responsible for making employees aware of policies such as the one requiring them to use the cheapest fares available when they fly, Owen said. "You're not extravagant with meals. You rent a budget car." He thought it was appropriate to get the policy in writing.

In another measure, Neal Werner, Lexington Center's director of business affairs, will include travel and entertainment expenses as a line item in the financial report he gives each month. That started with Thursday's meeting.

According to records Owens provided, his travel and entertainment expenses for the past two years were approximately $20,000.

"We're pleased with the expenses," said Dunn, who as board chairman approves the charges. "If anything, they may be too small as far as what needs to be done to go to conventions and market this facility."

Board members also were surprised at the modesty of the numbers when they received a detailed accounting, Gray said. "That job is like being a sales representative for the civic center."

Owen said fallout from the airport "impropriety" has been twofold. "It has caused a sense of embarrassment for volunteer board members, and that is a shame," he said. And it has created an elevated sense of scrutiny from the public.

"That's what I'm perceiving," he said. "People are just suspicious as a result of how bad it was at the airport."

Tightening accountability and providing more transparency in how public money is handled "is a good thing," Owen said. "Our board is doing what boards should do."

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