Gov. Matt Bevin did the right thing last week in deciding to find a new partner to spend millions in federal dollars to help Central Kentucky people prepare for and find better jobs.
The Bluegrass Area Development District, which has had the contract for decades, undermined its own case by demonstrating a profound and misguided sense of entitlement to the contract despite abundant evidence in recent years of mismanagement at best and self-dealing at worst.
Federal workforce training funds weren’t appropriated to subsidize the Bluegrass ADD, they were intended to help people prepare for jobs that will allow them to support their families, pay their bills and contribute to their communities. And they are intended to help the region draw and retain employers demanding a well-trained workforce.
Bevin correctly prohibited the Bluegrass ADD from bidding on the new contract.
Most recently, the ADD has been at odds with the state over $898,525 the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, which manages workforce funds in Kentucky, ordered it to repay for money misspent from 2010 to 2013. That was reduced from $2.6 million in costs questioned as a result of a cabinet investigation in the wake of a damning report by the state auditor in 2014.
The ADD has even chosen to defy the cabinet over whether it can use federal workforce dollars to pay attorneys to contest the findings.
Last fall, under the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, and in April of this year, after Bevin took office, the cabinet prohibited the ADD from using workforce money to pay lawyers to appeal the disallowed costs.
The Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board, the local professionals appointed to oversee the spending of the workforce money, also told the ADD not to use any of those dollars to appeal the disallowed costs.
Such defiance would only be acceptable if the Bluegrass ADD could demonstrate success, show its programs trained or retrained thousands of Central Kentuckians for better jobs during the decades it’s been custodian of these funds.
But it can’t. Local employers, many of whom have served on the Workforce Investment Board, have long complained about the ADD’s services.
Kim Menke of Toyota became chairman of that board last year after several members resigned in frustration with the ADD’s use of workforce funds. “The past seems doomed to repeat itself as we continue to deal with the same issues in the same way,” he said in April after the blowup over spending for attorneys’ fees.
Going forward, Bevin and the workforce cabinet plan to find a new provider to take over workforce training in this region for six months beginning July 1. During that period they will open bidding for a longer-term contract that will begin at the first of next year.
This fast-paced effort must focus on transparency, accountability and meaningful measurement to assess progress.
The Bluegrass ADD had lost credibility with its funding sources and the employer community. Getting it out of the public workforce training business is a good first step, but the real test will be in creating a program that translates federal dollars into opportunities for Central Kentuckians eager to to find good jobs.