Hypocrisy about city audit records

Oh, come on.

For more than two months, Lexington officials have insisted that the sanctity of the audit process prohibits release of a beleaguered city employee's criticisms of the Newberry administration's insurance purchasing.

Now it turns out the sacred shield of confidentiality was busted by the mayor's top aide, Joe Kelly, when he informed the city's chief lawyer, Logan Askew, of the nature of the supposedly confidential criticism made of him in 2009.

In recent months, the city's attorneys have refused open records requests from councilwoman KC Crosbie and this newspaper for the relevant documents.

But before that, Askew filed an open records request and was given a document that identified Patrick Johnston as the city employee who had criticized him. At that point the sacred shield of confidentiality was pretty much in pieces.

Did we mention that the administration recommended eliminating Johnston's job?

None of that has deterred city officials from continuing to cite the need for confidentiality in the audit process as an excuse for stonewalling the council and public. As recently as July 21, an internal audit board member lectured about the "chilling effect" if city employees can't have complete faith that what they report to auditors will remain confidential.

Bruce Sahli, director of the city's internal audit division, has said that complying with a council subpoena could make it more difficult to do future audits if employees are concerned that their comments and notes may be read by people outside the Office of Internal Audit.

Terry Sellars, a private attorney hired to represent the Office of Internal Audit, has declared that the relevant documents belong to a private auditing firm, that they are preliminary work papers not subject to the Open Records Act and that the elected Urban County Council was a "third party" to the city audit and therefore unqualified to see the allegations.

Remember Sellars, who gave $1,000 to Newberry's re-election campaign in May, said all of the above after Askew had been given a document denied the council by the department that Askew heads.

Those advising Mayor Jim Newberry should remember that sometimes it's the cover-up that gets you in trouble.

As for the audit process, there's obvious merit in the idea that city employees can report concerns knowing that what they report will be known only by the auditors.

Clearly, Johnston was not afforded that protection.

We recently called on the council to reform the internal audit board to eliminate any perception of favoritism on the board toward the mayor.

The council also needs to take a broader look to ensure the internal audit procedures are proper and consistently followed. The internal auditing process should be a tool to protect the public's interest, not a weapon to punish dissent.