Council digging raises questions

Bit by painfully slow bit, a few details are emerging about the fraud allegations relating to the Urban County Government's purchase of insurance from the Kentucky League of Cities.

Tuesday's meeting of a special Urban County Council committee investigating the matter revealed that a couple of allegations made by Patrick Johnston, the city's director of risk management, involved Law Commissioner Logan Askew and Tom Sweeney, the city's claims manager.

Johnston apparently thought Askew pressured Sweeney to use a specific actuarial service and that Sweeney provided the actuarial service with inside information.

Sweeney denied both allegations.

But as usual in this affair, each step toward closure opens up a slew of new questions.

For instance, Sweeney told the committee he was never interviewed by the internal and external auditors who were privy to Johnston's allegations. And Askew has said he had a general conversation with auditors but was not informed about any fraud allegations.

Askew learned about the allegations from Joe Kelly, Mayor Jim Newberry's senior adviser. Askew subsequently filed an open-records request and received a heavily redacted report that identified Johnston as the whistle-blower.

So, if auditors didn't broach the issue of Johnston's fraud allegations with Askew and didn't talk to Sweeney at all, how did they determine the allegations were no big deal? Isn't it normal in investigating such allegations to at least ask the subjects a question or two?

Puzzling, to say the least.

But no more puzzling than this: If top officials in Newberry's administration knew Johnston was a whistle-blower, what possessed them to try to implement a reorganization that would eliminate his position, particularly in an election year? Didn't they know it would blow up and splatter them from head to toe with negative perceptions?

Most puzzling of all, when it did blow up, the administration ignored the lesson taught by dozens of political "scandals" over the years that it is best to hang everything on the clothesline immediately, so the odor can be aired out and perhaps quickly forgotten.

Too bad for the mayor.

This stonewall route that has details coming out bit by painfully slow bit, and even has one city official suing another, just makes Newberry vulnerable to a figurative death by 1,000 cuts.