City hall: tower of irony, confusion

Diane Lawless posed the question of the day at Tuesday's Urban County Council work session.

"Have we ever paid an outside attorney to sue us?" the 3rd District council member asked about a suit filed on behalf of a city official who wants to quash a subpoena issued by a special council committee.

Yes, folks, it's come to this in Lexington's City Hall: The Urban County Government is paying the fees for a lawyer representing a city employee who is suing a member of the Urban County Council, in yet another attempt by Mayor Jim Newberry's administration to forestall an investigation of fraud allegations about the purchase of city insurance.

But wait, there's more.

A second member of the council was one of the people voting to authorize the suit against his colleague, and the council member who is being sued is also a member of the board that voted to sue him.


Well, there's lots more to come, enough to make you think you woke up in Babel the morning those tower builders got a little tongue-tied. So, let's try to walk slowly through it.

A special committee headed by 8th District council member George Myers has been looking into the fraud allegations and whether those allegations had any bearing on a proposal by the Newberry administration to eliminate the position of the city official who made them.

The committee subpoenaed some documents from Bruce Sahli, the director of the city's internal audit division. But the city's Internal Audit Board not only rejected the subpoena, it authorized a suit questioning the legality of the subpoena and naming Myers — also a member of the audit board — as the defendant.

The initial vote to authorize the suit was taken by phone, thus violating Kentucky's Open Meetings Law. The suit was reauthorized in a board meeting Tuesday, with 12th District council member Ed Lane casting one of the votes to sue Myers.

Myers was not allowed to vote, a circumstance Lane defended by saying Myers' dual role was clearly a conflict of interest. But what about Lane's dual role as a member of the audit board and of the council that authorized the investigation? No conflict there? Of course, there was.

At Tuesday's council work session, Myers said the committee now has the documents it needs and has no plans to enforce the Sahli subpoena. But the suit apparently will proceed, and the full council authorized the lawyer advising the special committee to defend Myers.

So, the city is footing legal bills on both sides of this internal dispute.

In a sideshow to this main event, Newberry, whose administration had been stonewalling the special committee from the outset, last week asked the city's external auditor to release the documents at issue.

Why go to the external auditor? Why didn't Newberry (the city's mayor) just ask/tell Sahli (a city employee) and the Internal Audit Board (appointed by the mayor) to give up the goods?

Topping off this tower of confusion and irony, in the midst of this wrangling over documents, Newberry appointed a committee to advance his LeX-Ray initiative. According to the press release, the intent of the initiative is to give Fayette County citizens "X-ray vision" into the world of government spending.

But given the difficulty the special council committee has had in extracting information from the Newberry administration, we wouldn't be surprised if the public's X-ray vision encountered a lot of lead at City Hall these days.