Blame not important in response to audit reports, but a real financial and ethical fix needed
The audits released last week by Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon’s office of the 2015 and 2016 financials of the Perry County Fiscal Court were more than eyebrow-raising. They were absolutely shocking.
The findings reported by the auditor’s office included violations of state and federal laws and reporting issues that could potentially have the effect of costing the county far beyond the years in which the current officials will be serving.
We honestly are having trouble saying which of these allegations made by Harmon’s office are most concerning, because many of them individually would be enough to raise a major red flag, if not spark investigations. But taken in total, it paints a picture of a county government that needs to take a serious stock of not only its financial standing, but its ethical standing, as well.
In speaking with Judge-Executive Scott Alexander, his contention was that his administration is not responsible for all of the violations, that many of them stem from the administration of his predecessor, Denny Ray Noble, a Republican who is challenging Alexander in the November general election in an attempt to get back into his office.
We honestly don’t care who is responsible for setting the fire reflected in the auditor’s findings, what we care most about is that they’re fixed.
The dangers are real — allegations of illegal paving, allegations of mismanagement of federal and state funds, allegations of misuse of a county credit card. This is just a small sample of what Harmon’s office said it found and any one of those would be enough to potentially spark a criminal investigation. And, that’s not something to which we’re opposed occurring. A criminal investigation could at least either clear the air or solve the problem by holding those who are responsible to account.
The timing of these findings, or at least the violations behind them, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
After all, in post-coal Eastern Kentucky, fiscal and leadership strength matters in local government and, by extension, it matters to those who would invest in economic development in this community. The communities which will succeed are those which can prove to those inside and outside the community that they can sustain and thrive into the future.
Nothing in those audits paints a picture of a solid government. Instead, it paints a picture of a government that is, if not actively corrupt, in grave danger of being abused by unscrupulous parties.
While Alexander told the Hazard Herald he used the credit card to buy dinner for business owners to attract them to Hazard, we would argue that fiscal responsibility, a strong government above reproach and a solid promise that taxes are not the answer to irresponsibility would be a better tactic for attracting job creators.
It’s working elsewhere and, if Perry County wants to be more than a passing-through point on the way to economic development areas for industry and individual businesses, then the fiscal court must right this ship.
The Hazard Herald does not get into the business of endorsements, so we will not weigh in on whether Noble or Alexander are most capable of fixing these problems or culpable for creating them. We do know, however, that both have, at least for a time, overseen the government as these violations of law occurred.
As such, both owe the voting public not just a promise that they will fix the problem if elected, but a plan, and a pledge, that the past will not reflect in the future. We can’t afford to see another audit like we saw last week and any plan or promise that doesn’t hold up to keeping that from happening again isn’t worth accepting.
Fix the problem or step aside can be the call which applies to any county official who has hands on this situation or who hopes to have hands on the situation without the ability to fix the problem.