Special Reports

Beshear says he will sign accountability bill for KACo, KLC

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly approved a bill on Monday that would require more accountability and transparency for the embattled Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentucky League of Cities.

Senate Bill 88 now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear, who indicated in a statement that he will sign it into law.

"I have made high ethical standards a centerpiece of my administration, and this bill continues those efforts," said Beshear, noting that "a top priority of any taxpayer-supported institution is the ethical and pragmatic stewardship of public dollars."

The legislation follows reports by the Herald-Leader and state audits last year that showed the two organizations spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, meals and entertainment, including expenses at strip clubs. The executive directors of both groups eventually stepped down.

The amended bill would make KACo and the League subject to open records and open meetings laws, give their boards a code of ethics and allow the state auditor to review their books. The bill also would require the two organizations to post their expenditures online.

KACo and the League provide lobbying, legal advice, insurance and project financing for local governments and receive taxpayer funds in the form of dues and payments for insurance and financing services.

League President Mike Miller, mayor of Jackson, said in a statement that the bill "will help ensure that future boards and staff adhere to the high standards our city members expect and deserve."

"Our board is committed to taking every action necessary to restore the faith and confidence our organization has valued over the past 80 years," Miller said.

KACo executive director Denny Nunnelley said his group "supported" the bill.

Auditor Crit Luallen said in a statement that it was important for lawmakers to formalize key recommendations she made last year after auditing the organizations.

"It is a positive step for taxpayers that lawmakers showed unanimous support for a measure that will ensure greater accountability and transparency for two organizations that provide important services to local governments," Luallen said. "We thank those legislators who worked closely with this office to make the legislation a reality."

Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican who helped push the legislation, said it will give lawmakers and taxpayers "more confidence in the operations of both organizations.

"Hopefully, this will help both organizations regain the public trust as well as a legal framework to keep them from getting in the same kind of trouble that they found themselves in last summer," Thayer said.

Earlier in the legislative session, each chamber unanimously approved competing versions of legislation to make KACo and the League more transparent, but neither chamber was willing to consider the other's bill.

The proposal was revived last week when the House attached the proposal to Senate Bill 88, which initially dealt only with contracting for health departments.