State auditor’s investigations

The mayor of a southcentral Kentucky town that was the target of a state auditor’s investigation wants to sue the agency and perhaps undermine its ability to examine a city’s fiscal accountability. Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler contends auditor Adam Edelen’s office overstepped its authority. We disagree with Girdler because we recognize the value of the auditor’s office as a watchdog for accountability and transparency.

Edelen’s predecessor, Crit Luallen, who is now Kentucky’s lieutenant governor, described this role for the auditor’s office at the end of her second term in 2011.

“I wanted to use this office in a way that went after some of Kentucky’s historic challenges,” Luallen said in an interview with Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen. “I saw public corruption as one of those.”

Under Kentucky law, the state auditor’s office has certain duties that it must perform and others that it may perform. An annual audit of county offices is required, but many state auditors have also exercised responsible leeway to examine city offices and quasi-government agencies that spend public money.

Despite the Somerset mayor’s argument, which leans toward restricting the ability of the state auditor to examine how tax dollars are being spent, there are numerous examples of special investigations that uncovered fiscal or management practices that were sloppy, questionable or downright criminal.

One example, which local officials requested, was a state auditor’s examination of Christian County Jail records after officials became suspicious of a bookkeeper — who was later convicted of theft.

Other investigations included Luallen’s 2009 probe of Blue Grass Airport, where $500,000 in questionable expenses were uncovered, resulting in criminal charges against four employees. More recently, Edelen has reviewed the number of untested rape kits and made a plea for more federal money to deal with the Kentucky State Police lab backlog. This summer Edelen announced his office was starting an audit to look at the governance and oversight of the University of Louisville Foundation, which oversees a $1.1 billion endowment.

Following the Somerset audit, Edelen said, “… our examination found the city generally ignored city policies and ordinances — if they existed at all — and made spending and management decisions without proper oversight or accountability. The draft paints a disturbing picture of a city management that willfully ignores ordinances and policies, skirts oversight and accountability and conducts the business of taxpayers as a few people at the top see fit. What’s worse, we heard over and over again from city employees that they were afraid to share information with us because they would be retaliated against.”

This doesn’t sound like the kind of audit that needs to be quashed. The Somerset mayor has shown he is on the wrong side of accountability.

Kentucky New Era

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