Today the LFUCG’s Committee of the Whole meeting approved (after long debate and no objections) a special investigative commission to look into the allegations that Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration ignored Patrick Johnston’s fraud allegations regarding the Kentucky League of Cities and then eliminated his position.
Linda Blackford has a quick summary up, but here’s my chronological rundown of the meeting:
Jim Newberry was not in attendance, though Linda Rumpke, Logan Askew and Keith Horn were there.
After George Myers gave his summary on last Thursday’s meeting where they declined Newberry’s risk management “reorganization”, the fireworks started when KC Crosbie started her questioning of Linda Rumpke. Crosbie provided the council with information that Patrick Johnston provided her regarding his history with Risk Management in Lexington during his tenure, which prompted Rumpke to jump up and announce that she also had handouts, detailing the “misleading statements” made by Johnston at Thursday’s Links meeting. At which point Newberry’s pal Kevin Stinnett stepped in and wanted to know why Crosbie didn’t have statements prepared from the risk management workers who weren’t losing their jobs. Cry me a river, Kevin.
Crosbie then asked Rumpke if she has read the 1987 ordinance on approving the budget and asked if they were in compliance with it. Rumpke said she hadn’t but assumed that they were, and Crosbie should ask the law department. Rumpke was getting perturbed at this point by the questioning, and Crosbie told her it was OK if she didn’t know, she could provide that information when she obtained it.
This is when LFUCG Law Commissioner Logan Askew jumped up to the podium with a major chip on his shoulder. Askew angrily accused Crosbie of misleading the public by saying that LFUCG had violated the charter (which she didn’t, she only asked about following ordinances). He then viciously implied that KC Crosbie wasn’t smart enough to have found this information all by her lonesome. Then Askew remarkably demanded that Crosbie submit all of her questions to him in writing before the committee. Yes, he demanded to know what her questions were ahead of time. Unbelievable.
Jim Gray then stepped in and interrupted Askew, telling him that it was inappropriate of him to address a council member in such an intimidating manner. He told him to cut it out and treat her with the respect she deserves. Askew promptly shut up and sit down.
Crosbie then continued her questioning of Rumpke, asking her if the administration was soliciting members of risk management to take positions in other departments before the “reorganization” was approved. Rumpke says the didn’t encourage them to take other positions, merely helped them find other positions. Hrm.
Crosbie then asked her when she first became aware of the fraud assessment reports. Rumpke claimed that she never heard about them until Crosbie’s questioning of the external auditors on April 27th. This is when Jay McChord butted in and stated that we should stop talking about this, as the fraud allegations don’t relate to the risk management budget. Gray said the functioning of the department that is being gutted is certainly relevant to the proposal to “reorganize” it, and allowed Crosbie to continue. Rumpke said that she’s never seen the reports, but was told of them eventually by the internal auditor, Bruce Sahli. She said she has never spoken to Johnston about them.
Crosbie then dove into questions about how workers’ compensation claims where being handled. Rumpke said very condescendingly that she doesn’t participate in meetings about this with Johnson, and said that law handles this. She also disagreed with statements that Johnston has made about workers’ comp. Crosbie said she had questions about the two lackeys (my words) from the Links meeting, Dawn and Sweeney, but noted that they weren’t there. Askew claimed that they were “near”, I believe, and could come if their presence was requested. They never came in the chamber today.
Crosbie then asked if the law department was the only one handling workers’ comp claims at the moment, which opened up a can of worms. Rumpke said that reports often flow between departments, but law is where they are currently “coordinated”. Crosbie asked if Johnston, the current RM director, currently has access to these claims, or whether he has been cut off. Rumpke answered that he was cut off, beginning when their first “reorganization” proposal was made, before the council even had approved it. Crosbie noted the obvious that this might, uh, undercut the ability of the director to do his job. Lawless followed up by noting the oddness of cutting his access before the council even had a chance to approve it. Strange, indeed.
Gorton briefly stepped in and noted that she had asked the administration to provide her with a list of ordinances the council was to follow on this matter, and no one has gotten back to her. Rumpke claimed she had. Gorton again said she’s received nothing from her on this, and would like that, kthanks.
Crosbie then questioned the legal department on the legal status of Johnston if the council approved Newberry’s budget proposal “reorganization”. They said that he would be laid off. Crosbie asked if Johnston made any budget recommendations for the department that was given to the administration. Askew said that he did. Crosbie followed by asking if there were any differences in his submitted recommendations and the recommendations that the planning committee received. Askew got defensive and asked if she was accusing him of changing it. Rut roh. I’d assume we’ll find out more about this soon enough.
George Myers then stepped in and presented a May 10th memo by Staff to Council Paul Schoninger. He contacted risk management associations around the country and asked them best practices questions. They said that most have centralized risk management component, which makes them more effective. They said that the administration’s proposal to split risk management will weaken it and make their message inconsistent. This is why Myers voted against this, as it would do more damage than good. And this is George Myers talking. Ouch, Newb!
Councilman Julian Beard then stepped up and dropped the bomb. He said that getting information on this from the administration is “like pulling teeth”, and he favors a special investigative committee to look into this. He said this matter is clogging up the Links process, and it is much better to be able to dig into this and get to the bottom of it very soon. He said that they needed unified approach to this, and some may call it adversarial, but what he’s hearing from Newberry’s soldiers is that they’ll answer your question if you ask the right ones, otherwise they won’t give you the information. That’s why an investigative committee is needed. Ka-boom.
At this point, Stinnett interjected that council members should be limited to 5 minutes and wanted a vote for it, but that went nowhere fast.
Askew then again stepped to the podium and asked that Crosbie give her questions to him written in advance (they’re soooo hard!). Gorton said that this was silly, council should have the ability to ask any question they want. Askew demurred a bit, then apologized if he had been disrespectful to anyone.
Crosbie jumped back in with KLC questions, asking if Johnston was in favor of the city’s switch to KLC. Askew says that quotes were presented, but could not “recollect” what they were. He said that he could provide this, but thought that council already received this. Crosbie again asked if changes were made between his summary on this and what was ultimately given to Council. Askew’s answer again was that he “could not recall”.
I think those statements give a BIG hint to what a big part of this entire ordeal is about. Stay tuned on that one.
Beard then formally presented his motion for a special investigation committee made up of the council to look into this whole sordid affair, and the council went into debate over this.
Feigel said that she felt totally in the dark on this, and that with the Herald Leader writing about this and all of the serious allegations being made, we needed to get to the bottom of this and fast.
That’s when Doug Martin stepped in and played his “role” on the council. He pointed out that the Newberry administration has called for external and internal auditors report to be reviewed by a “3rd party” (which Rumpke just announced after Beard’s motion was presented). He said it was a “peer review group” of sorts. He said that this report should come to the council before they do anything. Basically, we should let these hand-picked experts discuss this matter before we do. Right.
Lawless then pointed out that the council itself is being told that they are a “3rd party” by Newberry’s lawyers, and it seems like a lot of people have been given that “3rd party” business. She supports investigative body idea, out in the open for the public to see for transparency’s sake. Though she noted that it is hard to get everyone together in summer months.
Beard noted that the benefit of letting the council comprise this investigative body is that they would have subpoena power that the “3rd party peer review” folks would not have. You are correct, sir.
Then Newberry’s allies started falling in line in favor of Beard’s proposal. Lane said that these allegations were serious and this emergency meeting should get going as soon as possible. We don’t want this going on in the “political season”, as it could get messy. Then Myers said that this concern about the whistle-blower’s “name getting out” is absurd, because we all know who he is and he’d love to release this without intimidation. The real issue is whether our city government protects whistle-bowers from intimidation like this, which is harmful to everyone.
Myers then asked Horn if “he’d like to step to the podium and answer a question about that”, to which Horn replied “not really”, though he did anyway. Myers grilled him about the ridiculous argument from the Thursday meeting from Sellers about how no 3rd party can see Johnston’s fraud report. Horn kind of hemmed and hawed, saying something about needing an “outside” eye since he’s in the legal department, and said Myers should ask Sellers. Myers asked Horn if he had seen it. Horn mentioned an ethics code about not looking at it, but said that with the administration’s “3rd party peer review” process they could, just like the internal and external auditors did. Which makes PERFECT sense, doesn’t it?!
Stinnett said let’s get Sellers down here to talk about it. Horn said “sure”! Well, sometime this week, not right now. Sorry! Crosbie then asked a golden question: Who does Mr. Sellers represent? Horn said he represented city government. Kinda speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
Crosbie explained that she will support Beard’s motion. We need to be transparent and get these answers. We are elected to do this, and if we don’t we are not fulfilling our roles. We’ve already been called a 3rd party by the lawyer that’s supposed to represent us, and this has got to stop once and for all.
Martin then asked for a “friendly amendment” that every member of the council would be required to make up the committee. Beard says getting all 15 quickly is like herding cats and almost impossible at this time of year. Everybody on the council agreed (it should be voluntary for all), and Martin wound up being the only member to vote for it (he kept making a reference to “4 council members” being able to swing vote in the “politically charged environment”… you’re pretty transparent, Doug). With the vote, he slunked back in his chair, pouting. Call a whaaaambulance, dude.
Beard’s motion was then voted on, with no member speaking up to vote against it.
Get all that? Yeah, it’s a lot. But in summary, the council’s investigatory body is convening quickly with subpoena power, and all of the truth is going to come out very, very soon.
Popcorn, Lexington. Popcorn.
UPDATE: Oh, one final thing I forgot. You notice who the one completely silent council member was? Chuck Ellinger. Didn’t say a single word throughout the entire 3 hours. I guess the man who wants to be vice mayor doesn’t want to cast his lot with any side just yet…