Friday, October 27, 2000

Lawbreaking not indicated by auditor

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — The city needs better record-keeping procedures and tighter control of city credit cards, according to a letter from the state Auditor of Public Accounts to Mayor Steve Clark.

        But there was no indication in the two-page assessment dated Oct. 25 that the irregularities cited, while likely inappropriate, were in any way illegal.

        Mr. Clark had requested an examination by the state auditor into what were thought to be questionable spending practices by former members of city council.

        In the letter, Brian Lykins, director of the Division of Examination and Information Technology, addressed three areas that his office had investigated:

        • Multiple checks payable to a city official, signed by that city official, and countersigned by a stamp of the previous mayor's signature.

        • Two checks signed by a city council member and a city official, payable to city council members.

        • Several purchases with a city credit card.

        The investigation dealt with credit card purchases at restaurants including the Gatehouse Tavern, Hooters and Outback Steakhouse that Mr. Lykins said “appeared inappropriate.”

        Among the credit card bills in question were purchases at Gatehouse Tavern from 1996 through 1998 of $2,767, $2,654.34 and $3,202.65 for Christmas parties, “one of which clearly included the purchase of alcoholic beverages,” the letter stated.

        Mr. Lykins said the purchases generally lacked proper documentation as to a business purpose. He also pointed out that, “While it appears the city had ample cash available, there were numerous instances of late fees and finance charges on the credit card statements.”

        Examiners from the auditor's office were back at the Villa Hills city building Thursday for another on-site check. A final report will be provided to Mr. Clark detailing the auditor's findings and making recommendations. “If the auditor thinks we have a problem, then we probably need to make changes in how we keep records,” Villa Hills city attorney Lawson Walker said Thursday. “I don't know if we have problems. I have had no contact with the auditor's office. But I'm sure that city officials will follow the advice of the auditor.”

        Mr. Walker added that no one should assume that any of the issues raised in the investigation amount to illegal acts. “At worst, I think we may have a situation where too many people have had free use of city credit cards, and that needs to be reviewed,” he said.

        Attempts to reach Mr. Clark and former Mayor Denny Stein for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

        Mr. Stein and members of council defended the spending at the last council meeting where Fort Wright attorney Jeff Harmon displayed the credit card billing records.

        Mr. Stein said everything being investigated can be explained, pointing out that council members reimbursed the city for several expenditures including charges at the Drawbridge Inn where Gatehouse Tavern is located.

        The auditor's investigation comes at a time when factions in the city and on city council are battling over expenditures.

        The Kentucky Attorney General's Office and Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Don Buring began investigating Mr. Clark this summer after it was learned he sent a check for $25,025 to a Florence concrete company.

        The money was supposed to go for sidewalks. But any project over $10,000 must be put to public bid. The check was sent without council's knowledge, members have said. Mr. Clark has denied any wrongdoing.


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