Special Reports

Lexington withholds League of Cities dues

Mayor Jim Newberry is withholding Lexington's membership payments to the Kentucky League of Cities while the non-profit organization resolves a controversy over its spending.

"The mayor has repeatedly expressed his concerns about spending practices at the League," said Susan Straub, spokeswoman for Newberry. "Before any additional Lexington tax dollars are paid to the League for dues, he wants to make sure the appropriate financial controls are in place."

The League's bill was received by the city July 1. Lexington pays annual dues of about $26,000 to the League, which provides lobbying, insurance and financial services to 382 Kentucky cities.

Membership gives Lexington services that include representation in Frankfort, monthly newsletters and training seminars for newly elected officials. Lexington runs its own insurance programs but buys some limited insurance services from the League, Straub said.

Newberry, a member of the League's executive board, has been an outspoken critic of the League since becoming aware of salary and expense levels at the non-profit association.

In July, the Herald-Leader published a series of stories showing that League executives spent $300,000 in three years on travel, meals and other expenses. Executive Director Sylvia Lovely made about $315,000 in 2008 and got the use of a BMW SUV. In addition, the League had spent more than $20,000 at Azur, a restaurant partly owned by her husband, Bernard Lovely.

At the time, Newberry called for a reassessment of League salaries, the use of more economical vehicles and an end to business with relatives of League employees. Sylvia Lovely has stopped using the BMW and suspended any League functions at Azur.

A task force of executive board members is considering the League's rules and regulations. The group's conclusions are due out this month.

Last week, the League released documents to the newspaper showing that it has paid $2.3 million to two law firms where Bernard Lovely was a partner.

After that revelation, Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray said the city should consider withholding dues until the League's problems are resolved.

Sylvia Lovely was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

Mayfield Mayor Arthur Byrn, a member of the League's executive board, said he was disappointed and perplexed by Newberry's action.

"I'm disappointed particularly since Mayor Newberry is on the executive board and he should know how seriously the board is taking the situation that we're in," Byrn said. "I am also perplexed why a board member who should be involved in the solution should pre-emptively withhold their dues knowing full well how serious the board is to address these concerns."

Lexington joins Henderson, where the city commission voted last month to suspend League payments.

After Henderson's vote, Byrn and another board member suggested "other Kentucky cities consider holding their 2010 dues until they are completely comfortable with how we address our internal operations."

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