KACo must not repeat mistakes

Longtime observers of the Kentucky Association of Counties will be tempted to say "here we go again" upon learning that executive director Bob Arnold has been forced to resign.

And they'll be right, unless the board steps up to stop the revolving door of incompetence and abuse that has been KACo's past.

To avoid a repeat, the board will have to exert the kind of consistent, vigilant oversight that's been so grossly missing at KACo and its counterpart, the Kentucky League of Cities.

KACo's president Mike Foster, the Christian County attorney, seems to get it.

He's made some smart moves to reform KACo's operations, including demanding the resignation of Arnold, on whose watch credit card spending ran wild: $600,000 by five executives on meals, travel and gifts in two years.

Does the rest of the board, including Arnold's apologists, get it? It remains to be seen whether the elected officials who run KACo will be up for a genuine cultural cleansing or will content themselves with one sacrificial resignation.

In fairness, some good things happened under Arnold's leadership. KACo stabilized its tottering insurance business and was able to save counties lots of money on premiums, financing and other cooperative services.

But that's what KACo's supposed to do. It's a sad comment on how low expectations had fallen that just avoiding disaster was seen as success.

After all, county governments were paying for the profligate spending approved by Arnold and his retaliatory firings that cost at least $2 million in settlements and contract buyouts.

Those firings make an interesting contrast to Arnold's departure. After he came on board, nine years ago, longtime employees were abruptly fired with no explanation in apparent retaliation for their criticisms of Arnold's predecessor. The fired employees eventually prevailed at a high cost to Kentucky counties.

Arnold, on the other hand, will float to earth. Under the terms of his contract, he will draw his $178,000 annual salary and retirement benefits through June 2010 while immediately relinquishing his duties and KACo-provided BMW SUV.

Taxpayers in Kentucky, which includes some of this nation's poorest counties, should find great comfort in that.