Special Reports

Library board re-examining CEO's spending, consulting

The Lexington Public Library board is re-examining how its chief executive officer operates, in light of public scrutiny of her credit card spending, its chairman told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

Among other things, chairman Burgess Carey said his board plans to quickly establish a price limit on gifts that chief executive Kathleen Imhoff can buy, and he will decide whether it's appropriate for her to keep working on the side as a private library consultant.

"We work diligently to ensure that tax dollars are spent in ways that benefit the entire community, both today and in the future," Carey told the council. "We acknowledge that not everyone will always agree with our decisions. However, we can always improve."

Carey appeared at a council work session to address a Herald-Leader story on Sunday that reported more than $134,000 in spending by Imhoff over the last five years on national and international travel, meals at upscale restaurants, gifts for library employees and board members, and other items.

City auditors are conducting their own review of library expense spending because most of the library's $15 million-a-year budget comes from Fayette County property taxes.

Council members told Mayor Jim Newberry that they welcomed the audit. They instructed Carey to annually provide the council with the library budget, its end-of-the-year spending report and all of its audits and attached audit materials.

A 2007 library audit raised questions about how library credit cards were being used and warned that there sometimes was inadequate documentation to justify purchases.

Newberry also agreed to a council request to discuss better fiduciary training for civic board members, such as the library trustees, who are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

Councilwoman Diane Lawless quizzed Carey about specific items in the newspaper story, such as $483 in baby gifts that Imhoff charged for her executive assistant upon the woman's return from maternity leave.

Carey said his predecessor as board chairman approved that purchase for Imhoff. At the time, the board considered a $500 limit for such a baby gift to be appropriate, he said.

"So that policy would be changed now?" Lawless asked.

"Yes," Carey said.

Lawless also asked about Imhoff's private consulting work for a Minneapolis-based firm, Library Consultants. Some of that firm's clients buy equipment from the same vendors, such as Tech Logic of St. Paul, Minn., that Imhoff selects for the Lexington library.

Imhoff met Tech Logic officials in Norway on one of her publicly funded trips to European library conferences, Carey said.

It's not clear whether Fayette County taxpayers — by sending Imhoff to library conferences throughout the year — are somehow subsidizing her private consulting work, Lawless said.

"Are there any limits placed on her travel to these conferences, proportioned out for her consulting fees versus her work for the library?" Lawless asked. "How is all that reported to you?"

"The consulting she does, I have just recently become aware of," Carey replied. "That's recent information to me."

In an interview after the session, Carey said he will review Imhoff's private consulting work to decide whether it is appropriate.

To the council, Carey defended Imhoff as an experienced, dedicated librarian while also commending the newspaper for bringing certain spending issues to the public's attention.

"The questions raised by the Herald-Leader are legitimate and have been and will continue to be answered with documented facts, not with cover-ups or excuses," Carey said.

The library board will consider any changes recommended by the council after the city audit is completed, he said.

Councilman Ed Lane offered Carey sympathy, thanked him for his volunteer service on the library board and told him not to worry.

"I don't want you to be too discouraged," Lane said. "Hopefully everything will be cleared up and it will be just fine."

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