TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Editorials

March 13, 2014

Mayor needs to face the music

In Our Opinion

CORBIN — The city of Barbourville has hit a brick wall — and it doesn’t appear to be breaking down any time soon.

In fact, it almost seems to be getting bigger.

State Auditor Adam Edelen’s office released the results of a forensic audit in January — and the results were highly critical, particularly when it concerned the now-deposed mayor, David Thompson.

Many of those audit findings directly or indirectly related to Thompson’s wife, who managed the day-to-day operations of the city’s water park from 2007 through the end of August 2013.

Many more of them directly or indirectly involved Thompson himself.

While no official state charges have yet to be levied against Thompson — the scathing audit results were enough to send a tidal wave of concern over council members and residents alike.

“Lax controls and oversight.”

“Exerted undue influence over financial activities.”

“The public has no idea how much money these park concessions made or how it was spent.”

These were among the comments made by Edelen in his assessment of the report — and it calls into question many of Thompson’s activities during his tenure as the city’s leader.

Why weren’t receipts kept of concession sales?

Why were payroll expenses reported inaccurately?

Why were time sheets for community service workers “grossly overstated and inaccurate?”

Why were 11 of the 25 community services workers utilizing Thompson’s wife’s day care for childcare services — allowing her to earn nearly $7,500 in state funding just for August 2013?

Why were more than $38,000 in checks — $27,000 of which were payroll checks — co-endorsed by one or both Thompsons and then either cashed or deposited through the mayor’s personal bank account?

“It indicates the possibility that payments to some individuals were not solely for the benefit of the city,” Edelen has said.

It seems there were many things going on that weren’t solely for the benefit of the city — and because of that, it’s time for Thompson to face the music.

And the first few verses of that music happened Tuesday.

During four recent meetings, residents have packed city hall and questioned the council, questioned the mayor, and become more and more concerned about the business of the city moving forward.

Of the 28 total findings, some were sent to the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services for review.

Others were sent to the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General.

Still others have been sent to the Cumberland Valley Regional Ethics Board.

All of those actions were necessary, based on the findings of the audit.

Because of that audit — and particularly, 11 findings in that audit — council members voted to give Thompson the boot and keep him away from the city’s coffers.

Which in light of the city’s fiercely critical audit — was the best course of action for the city.

ONLY ONE FINGER

OF BLAME?

While we truly feel that it’s time for Thompson to stand up and face the music, we also feel there’s a little more blame to pass around.

During these latest city council meetings, the mayor has appeared to be the target of council members.

And in some ways, rightfully so.

As we’ve said, the mayor should be held accountable for his actions.

However, it doesn’t seem logical that Thompson would be the only person receiving the finger of blame.

After all, the city has consistently been served by six council members elected by the residents of Barbourville to be the stewards for the well-being of the city.

As those stewards, they could have — and should have — detected and stopped these problems long before the present council felt compelled to call for the state audit.

And they did feel compelled — one council member specifically pointed out that “not just one…but all six” council members were for the audit.

Which, to us, makes it clear council members felt there was a problem.

But during recent meetings, council members appeared “shocked” and acted as though they were “so surprised” the state audit uncovered what was found.

How is that even possible?

If these men and women on the city council are that unaware and “in the dark” of these issues which go back for several years, then what else are they unaware of as council members and stewards for the well-being of the city?

The biggest complaint heard from council has swirled around the water park — it’s been a hot button issue for some time now.

Thompson’s wife ran the water park for six years while he was mayor — that’s been established, well-documented, and common knowledge.

The decision to allow the mayor’s wife to run the water and ball parks was approved by the recreation board, and signed off by both the city attorney at the time as well as council members.

Signing off on that arrangement was an annual event.

Then on Feb. 24, council members reacted in surprise at the audit findings.

But there’s a catch — and it quietly points blame at the council members wielding the decision-making power.

One long-term council member said during the Feb. 24 public meeting that council members “knew at the time” that hiring the mayor’s wife as the water park manager was wrong.

“I’m just a council member — (but I know) that’s nepotism,” the council member said.

So you knew it was wrong, but proceeded with the action anyway. And further, annually repeated the action, despite continually knowing it was wrong.

So, ultimately, how can they lay the blame squarely on Thompson’s shoulders when they have been voting and approving the situation they claim “they knew” was wrong?

“Who was to question the mayor?” it was asked.

Here’s the answer — you are.

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