Special Reports

Library board takes away most employee credit cards

The Lexington Public Library is taking away most of its employees' library credit cards, although chief executive officer Kathleen Imhoff will keep hers.

The library board of trustees voted Wednesday to reduce from 24 to five the number of employees who will have credit cards. It was part of a package of spending reforms enacted in the wake of a Herald-Leader story revealing that Imhoff, with little supervision, spent more than $134,000 on travel, meals, gifts and other items in five years.

"I will be reviewing and signing off on Kathleen's expenses every month from this point forward," board Chairman Burgess Carey said after the meeting.

The reforms approved Wednesday include:

■ Canceling the Visa cards of everyone but Imhoff, her executive assistant, the book buyer, the information technology team leader and the facilities team leader. All expense paperwork must be signed by the employee's supervisor; for Imhoff, that is the board chairman.

■ Limiting the amount spent on employee recognition gifts, from $20 for 10 years of service to $200 for 35 years of service. For flowers or other memorial gifts, the limit is $35, not counting delivery costs. (In one expenditure the Herald-Leader found, Imhoff had charged $483 worth of baby gifts for her assistant, with the approval of the board.)

Additionally, the board is looking for a source of funds other than taxpayer funds to pay for gifts, said advisory board member Timothy Sineath. Most of the library's $15 million a year budget comes from Fayette County property taxes.

■ A draft policy — to be finalized June 17 — establishing new limits on travel spending. This would require individual receipts before purchases are reimbursed; finding the cheapest possible airfare; advance approval for trips costing more than $2,000; and "approximate" meal limits of $30 for dinner and $19 for breakfast and lunch combined.

Carey said he next wants the board to draft a policy requiring library employees to get permission from their supervisor before they accept private consulting work outside of their library jobs.

The Herald-Leader reported last month that Imhoff worked for a Minneapolis-based firm, Library Consulting, which advises library systems around the country on their programs and construction.

Imhoff later told the Herald-Leader that she worked for the firm for only 30 hours in 2008 but no longer has a connection to them. Until recently, her name, photo and biography were on the firm's Web site, listing her as one of its consultants. Carey explained to the Urban County Council on April 28 that he had just recently learned of Imhoff's outside employment.

Also at Wednesday's meeting, board vice chairman Joseph Miller told the library staff that he wants the board to get monthly updates on the garage's finances and their efforts to attract more paying tenants.

Board member Ralph Coldiron defended the library's 2005 purchase of the seven-story parking garage next to the Central Library for $3 million in borrowed money, plus $500,000 more used for repairs.

"This was not done irresponsibly," said Coldiron, who, as head of the board's garage committee, led the move to buy the structure.

Coldiron held up a copy of the May 11 Herald-Leader, which reported that the library's appraisal had valued the garage at $1 million, and that it has run a deficit since its purchase, despite library officials predicting it would pay for itself through parking fees.

Coldiron said that no such $1 million appraisal exists.

The Herald-Leader obtained through court records a Nov. 12, 2004, appraisal prepared for library facilities director Mike Lytle by Atlantic Appraisal Co. of Lexington. In that document, appraisers David Madison and Jeffrey Lagrew estimated the garage's market value at $1 million.

An earlier appraisal, prepared for the library in 2002 by R.F. Link Appraisal Services, when the library first considered buying the garage from the state government, estimated the structure's value at $1.3 million. In the subsequent years, library officials said, the garage deteriorated because the state failed to maintain it.

Coldiron also disputed the newspaper's account that the Urban County Government rejected the library's loan request because it was paying more than the garage's appraised value. He said the library decided on its own to bypass the city's financing in favor of a $3.5 million loan from the Kentucky League of Cities.

But in April 2005, when the sale occurred, city officials announced that they were declining to issue bonds for the garage. Bruce Edwards, the spokesman for then-Mayor Theresa Isaac, at the time said the city's decision was based on the appraisals versus the purchase price.

Finally, Coldiron told the board he predicted all along that the garage would run deficits until at least 2012, requiring the library to divert money from elsewhere to close the gap. The deficits are coming right on schedule, he said.

"We only lost $1,300 this last month," Coldiron said.

Imhoff said the garage continues to be plagued with equipment that doesn't work properly, including the entrance gate and a machine to take payments.

"It has been a constant problem ever since we put in that equipment," Imhoff said. "We've tried very hard to make it operational."

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