First, I want to thank the Herald-Leader’s editorial board for pointing out the great work our auditors have done on not only this special exam, but their work as a whole. I have been truly blessed in that our merit and non-merit staff at the auditor’s office are both professional and exceptional.
However, it is unfortunate the editorial board decided to make the uninformed accusation that I politicized the office in releasing our report on the Kentucky Horse Park. In making that suggestion, the editorial board itself decided to make political something which should have been just reporting the facts.
This is the same board who, in an editorial last May, praised the “significant accomplishments” of former Horse Park management at a time our auditors were beginning to uncover evidence of mismanagement and favoritism that the same editorial board now calls “very troubling.” The legitimate concerns about the Horse Park, labeled “insinuations and allegations” by this editorial board, have now proven to be accurate.
In a time when traditional media are under fire for not accurately reporting the news, it saddens me that the Herald-Leader insists on politicizing the facts. I personally appreciate the role traditional media have, and hopefully continue to play in our society. Because of that appreciation, during my campaign I met with the boards of newspapers, including this one, even though I knew I had no chance of receiving their endorsement.
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There are many items I can point to in order to correct the editorial board’s inaccuracy:
The editorial indicates auditors are political, and that is correct for the Auditor of Public Accounts, which is a constitutional office. My office is an elected position, but the merit employees who do the day-to-day heavy lifting when it comes to audit work are not — and should not be — political.
Also, the article notes that Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley is a Democrat, and former Rep. Denny Butler is a Republican. What it fails to mention is that Butler was a Democrat in the state House when he asked me to do a special exam of Department of Criminal Justice Training. My decision to do an exam happened prior to Butler’s decision to switch parties. Both of these officials participated in the press conference on our report because they had requested the exam, and Tilley specifically was instrumental in helping us gain access to information.
As for the Horse Park, the individuals quoted in our press release were again officials who had requested the audit, including the secretary of the cabinet that oversees the Kentucky parks system.
What the editorial board misses is the work of this office in its entirety since I took office last January. I honored my promise to former Auditor Adam Edelen regarding an issue important to both of us, which was to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
After a KET debate, he asked me to continue to champion this cause if I were to win, and I gave my word that I would. I honored that word by working with leaders of both parties in support of Senate Bill 63 during the 2016 session.
After it passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin, I praised the bipartisan sponsors of the bill, as well as my former opponent. In addition, I expressed my appreciation of the work of both Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear in working to resolve this problem.
In our recently released First Volume of the Annual Statewide Single Audit of Kentucky, my office was critical of both the current and previous administrations on the rollout of Benefind. We were also critical of the previous administration for not complying with the law when they awarded the East Brannon Road construction project prior to obtaining the right-of-way, which cost taxpayers $625,000 without receiving additional benefit.
My staff has worked closely with the attorney general’s office on public corruption issues. I have had several conversations with the attorney general, and although we certainly have political differences, I have always told him where we can work together we should and where we differ, we can agree to disagree and move on.
That relationship is imperative to assure taxpayers that government is transparent, ethical and efficient.
While I realize the office I hold is a partisan elected office, the directive I give our auditors is to simply follow the data. That means our auditors don’t target anyone, nor do we give anyone a pass. Instead, we find the data, verify the data, and report the data. It is my hope that those in the media will do the same.
Mike Harmon is Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts.
At issue: Herald-Leader editorial, “Horse Park audit exposes serious woes”