Looking to make Kentucky’s 15-area development districts more accountable—and better known—to the public, State Rep. Susan Westrom recently filed legislation that would bring the ADDs under the same oversight rules that have long governed other state agencies and local governments.
“Two years ago, the State Auditor released a devastating report about the Bluegrass Area Development District, citing its ‘rogue management’ and the ‘serious, systemic’ concerns it uncovered,” Westrom, of Lexington, said. “BGADD has since claimed it has addressed the problems uncovered by the audit, but just last month, Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner wrote in a letter that ‘the cabinet does not agree with this statement.’ This underscores why I am filing this bill.”
Westrom added that questions about management have also been raised in other area development districts.
“Unfortunately, the actions of a few are tainting the very good work that our ADDs do every day,” she said. “My legislation will make sure we know exactly what that is so we can be sure that every tax dollar the ADDs receive goes to its intended purpose.”
Under Westrom’s bill, ADDs would have to:
· Ban bonuses or any other one-time payments to any ADD employee.
· Protect “whistleblowers” in accordance with state law.
· Advertise an open executive director position with adequate notice and sufficient time for interested candidates to apply.
· Require the ADDs to follow federal and state procurement statutes and regulations.
· Examine all 15 ADDs within the next four years, to determine if their policies and internal controls are adequate. Further examinations would follow if necessary.
The legislation also calls for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to provide a report to the Legislative Research Commission each year regarding their work with the ADDs. Those reports would detail how much the cabinets provided the ADDs and how the money was spent by each area development district.
“Several years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation that shined a brighter light on our special districts, and the result has been a greater awareness of what these organizations do,” Westrom said. “My bill is a step in the same direction. Our area development districts are responsible for so much in our communities—from workforce development to assisting our seniors—but their work is little known by the public at large. By making these districts more open and accountable, we can better highlight their success stories and make sure that any mismanagement or misuse of funds is kept to a minimum if not stopped altogether.”