KACo president wants to win back trust

Rick Smith, a Clark County magistrate, became president of the Kentucky Association of Counties in November.

A few weeks earlier, Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen had released a report, saying that an audit conducted by her office found more than $3 million in questionable expenses over a three-year period.

Thursday, Smith issued a statement about what KACo needs to do to “win back the trust of our fellow Kentuckians:

“I begin my tenure as president of the Kentucky Association of Counties mindful that there are significant challenges ahead for our organization.  First and foremost is the challenge we face of winning back the trust of our fellow Kentuckians.

“That task is made easier because of the commitment of my fellow Board members and the KACo staff to adopt and implement significant changes that will make the organization more accountable and transparent.

“KACO’s Board of Directors took some significant steps toward ushering in a new era of accountability for our organization when it unanimously passed comprehensive management policies and a Code of Ethics in September of last year.

“New policies defining reasonable costs for meals and travel are in place.  Strict reporting requirements for reimbursement have been adopted along with new policies for the use of credit cards.  A procedure for conducting quarterly internal audits was created.

“With the Board of Directors focused on making KACo a model of accountability and responsibility and a new CEO in place committed to making sure those policies are strictly adhered to, I am beginning my year as president with confidence that we are on the right track.

“Eventually, I want 2009 to be remembered as the year KACo began the process of becoming a model for other associations to emulate rather than the year the organization came under the scrutiny of the media and the state auditor’s office.

“The auditor’s report addressed what it says were significant shortcomings in the way KACo has managed its affairs in the past.  However, the report’s challenge to “maximize the benefit and return to the counties” is one area in which KACo earned praise.

“The report affirmed that KACo is doing a good job providing programs and services that have saved counties substantial sums of money.

“By all accounts, KACo has provided quality services and savings to the counties through its programs,” said the report, even while it noted that our mission statement does not address providing services in an efficient manner.

“Any shortcomings of the KACo mission statement are easy to correct.  It is far more important that we demonstrate in deeds and actions our determination to continue the high standards of service that have marked our past even while we change management procedures that will assure that we do so in more a responsible and efficient manner in the future.

“We are also working closely with members of the General Assembly on legislation that would more clearly define the responsibilities of quasi-governmental organizations like KACo.  There is very little in the proposed legislation with which we have much disagreement and we are working with legislators to address all of their concerns.

“KACo has already adopted a Code of Ethics that the House version of the legislation would require and we have substantially addressed some of the other issues that legislators say need attention.  We recognize that there is still work to be done and keeping KACo focused on those issues is part of my challenge as President in the coming year.

“Another priority for this year is improving the way KACo communicates with our members and the public at-large, such as putting greater emphasis on electronic communications and applying interactive communications tools.  Better communications will facilitate the process of making KACo more accountable and transparent and is a necessary step if we are to achieve the level of trust to which we aspire.

“We have come a long way in a few months thanks to the leadership of my predecessor, Mike Foster, Christian County Attorney, my fellow Executive Committee members, and the determination of the entire Board to confront our shortcomings and make sound and significant changes to address them.

“By focusing on what we have done well in the past and changing the things that need to be changed, we will forge a new future for KACo, one in which I am confident that we will earn back the respect of our fellow Kentuckians.”

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