Lesson in board responsibility; library facing results of lax oversight

Some lessons must be learned over and over and over. One of them, apparently, is that being on a community board is not just a feel-good, resume-building ticket punch.

The most recent reminder of this is the controversy over the $927,491 payment an arbitration panel ruled the Lexington Public Library owes to former director Kathleen Imhoff, who was fired in 2009.

This week the library challenged the award in court.

It's the court's job, not ours, to sort out the issues related to Imhoff's dismissal and the validity of the arbitration.

But it's hard to escape the belief that we wouldn't be worrying, and litigating, about this four years later if the members of the library board had been fully engaged during Imhoff's tenure.

An audit released in late 2009 found that in the previous six years $897,411 was charged to library credit cards by various employees and over $870,000 in bonuses had been paid to 200 employees; that over 1,500 "adult materials" were on the library laptop Imhoff used; and that Imhoff pursued unauthorized outside employment using library time and resources.

The details differ but there are more examples — the scandals involving the Blue Grass Airport and the Kentucky League of Cities of the same era as the library; the more recent questionable land transactions at the Bluegrass Area Development District and HealthFirst Bluegrass.

Typically, when these things blow up, someone mentions how board members are simply community members who give of their time, without compensation, to serve on these boards.

The implication is that they can't be expected to read financial statements, ask questions, insist on accountability.

Boards aren't clubs, they're governing bodies, and those are all things they not only should but must do. This is particularly true of organizations that spend public money.

All those who choose people to serve on these boards, such as our mayor and Urban County Council, must make these responsibilities absolutely clear before they appoint or approve them.