Special Reports

Council pushing for library reform

The Urban County Council must end the spate of credit card spending controversies at civic agencies, most recently at the Lexington Public Library, two of the council's members said Monday.

Councilwoman Diane Lawless said she'll use Tuesday's council work session to start a discussion about more than $134,000 spent over five years by Kathleen Imhoff, the library's chief executive officer.

The library board of trustees, like many local civic boards, is nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council, and gets public funds.

Lawless said the city should establish oversight and fiduciary training for board members so they can understand their responsibilities.

"I'm very concerned that we can just go from one scandal to another, first at Blue Grass Airport and now at the library," said Lawless, a former accountant and retired non-profit manager.

In February, after a series of Herald-Leader stories, State Auditor Crit Luallen found more than $500,000 in questionable spending by top airport officials, leading to resignations and a criminal investigation.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who pushed for the state audit of the airport last fall, said he agreed that the public should not have to put up with more spending questions.

"Diane Lawless managed a non-profit for 25 years in this city, so I'll listen carefully to what she has to say about these growing issues," Gray said.

The Herald-Leader reported Sunday that Imhoff — with little oversight by the library board — used her library credit card to pay for national and international travel, meals at upscale restaurants, gifts for library employees and board members, and other items.

City auditors, acting on a tip about improper expense spending, went to Imhoff's office at the Central Library last week to secure boxes of financial records.

"When our internal audit is complete, we will evaluate the findings and determine what measures may be appropriate to correct an apparent pattern of spending that concerns many Lexington citizens and concerns me as well," Mayor Jim Newberry said Monday.

The library board remains committed to Imhoff and thinks all her spending is appropriate, board chairman Burgess Carey said.

But Lawless said she was dismayed to learn how Imhoff spends some of the library's $15 million-a-year budget, most of which comes from Fayette County property taxes.

"Things like gifts for the board members because they're volunteers," Lawless said. "Well, it's a volunteer board. You shouldn't be there to get gifts."

Lawless said she also worried that the library board disregarded a 2007 warning from its auditors, who were fired months later. The auditors had warned that library credit cards were being used for purchases other than work-related travel costs and emergencies, in violation of policy, and that documentation for some charges was inadequate.

"The accountant in me is a stickler for policy and procedure," she said. "It's impossible for me to understand how the library board could hear a warning like that from its auditors and then, A: fire the auditors, and B: not scrutinize the credit card spending."

The library has said that its audit committee decided to change audit firms in 2008 because it had been using the same firm for several years.

For years, Carey and other board members declined to review Imhoff's credit card spending, calling it unnecessary. Carey reversed himself earlier this month and said he will begin to monitor Imhoff's bills.

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