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I consider myself a well-informed citizen. I read local papers, watch the news on TV and visit news-related sites on the Internet regularly. When I heard about allegations and fraud abuse at the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) recently, I paid little attention. “This doesn’t affect my family or my community,” I thought. I was wrong.
The KACo Web site, www.kaco.org, proclaims that it represents “the needs of county government in legislative matters and offers services to promote the progress of county government.” So what does KACo do? Here is what I gathered from the Web site.
The Kentucky Association of Counties is a taxpayer-funded organization which acts as a county government clearinghouse for counties to purchase property, liability and casualty insurance, workers compensation, health insurance and unemployment insurance for non-elected county employees. KACo lobbies the Kentucky General Assembly on behalf of counties and elected county officials. Also, KACo offers leadership training workshops that provide state-mandated training for our elected officials.
On the surface, KACo’s mission appears to be a useful tool for county governments and officials by providing services and programs to better our communities. Then I read the headline on the July 1 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Criminal Defense Part of KACo Coverage,” it said. Reading the article, I discovered that KACo considers legal fees for elected officials accused of crimes against taxpayers part of a county’s liability insurance coverage. The article then gave examples of cases where KACo-backed insurance plans had paid attorney fees for public officials charged with abuse in their office, including former Owen County Judge-Executive William O’Banion.
Most of us are aware that last September, Mr. O’Banion was indicted for theft and misspending of public money – our money. He decided to take the case before the jury, but in January resigned from office and pleaded guilty to four counts of misconduct – after racking up $51,000 in legal fees, which were paid by the county’s liability insurance plan and ultimately, the taxpayers of Owen County.
The Kentucky Association of Counties provides necessary programs and services to ensure that county governments operate effectively, but how does paying the criminal defense costs of elected officials who abuse their power improve the quality of life for the people and communities they were elected to serve? Who benefits from the questionable practice? Certainly not taxpayers who foot the bill. The people of Owen County deserve an explanation.