Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

August 28, 2013

Who will clean up Kentucky’s rescue agency?


Aug. 28, 2013 — The recent scandal in the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management should be of concern to every person living in this state.

True, the person is charge was forced to resign and his assistant was directed by Gov. Steve Beshear to fix all of the problems.

We wonder if the taxpayers of Kentucky will get any assurance that millions of dollars of state and federal funds – the lifeblood of relief efforts – will be handled properly in the future.

State Auditor Adam Edelen’s staff found shocking examples of altered invoices for purchases, intermingling of state and federal funds with different allowable expenses, and extravagant spending on conferences and executive staff lunches, among other things.

But the most egregious was what was described as “an atmosphere of intimidation and fear” in which staff members told of being threatened with retaliation if they cooperated with the auditors.

Interestingly, it apparently took Gov. Steve Beshear about two weeks to decide to take action after he read the scathing report.

And that reaction came when the report was made public and the startling findings made headlines across the state.

Auditor Edelen shared his report with the state attorney general, executive branch ethics commission and the inspector general of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS is the parent of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles hundreds of millions of dollars in helping states and communities recover from natural and manmade disasters.

In the 2012 fiscal year alone, the disgraced Kentucky emergency management unit received more than $64 million in state and federal funds, much of it spent under great pressure to protect lives and property.

We are concerned that earlier audits raised questions that were not addressed by the Beshear administration.

Someone must have been looking the other way or asleep on duty because the state auditor reported numerous examples of "either material weaknesses or significant deficiencies" in the agency's finances in previous years.

We hope the governor is asking those hard questions of the Department of Military Affairs, of which emergency management is a part.

This matter is much too serious to be brushed aside with one resignation and a press conference speech.

In our view, Kentucky cannot afford to have FEMA or any other relief organization hesitate to send us help because they aren’t sure the money will be handled properly.

Worst of all, this matter casts an undeserved shadow on those dedicated emergency management professionals at the local level who deserve our respect and support.