Livin’ large

Jul 29, 2009 at 5:00 am

Screw it. It’s doubtful anybody’s going to call for my resignation. It’s a long shot someone will even investigate me.

I’m going to become an association executive. After all, unless I run for office or haul my cookies to Wall Street, where else can I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money?

Sure, I’d have to live with the guilt that comes with graft. But I’m certain driving my BMW SUV, the car that seems to be standard for commonwealth association execs, would soothe my conscience. If not I know strippers would take my mind off my troubles.

Granted, an obstacle standing between my new profession and me is the fact that I have absolutely no experience in association executive management. But I’ve been watching presidents, executive directors and board members of the Kentucky Association of Counties and the League of Cities. I think I understand how the financial side works.

“Veni, vidi, Visa!” I came. I saw. I charged! I don’t have to worry about putting outrageous charges on my nonprofit’s credit cards. No one will be checking my expenditures, despite the fact there are, on average, three dozen members on the supervisory boards overseeing these entities. I won’t care about things like fiscal responsibility or ethical stewardship of public monies. When it comes to purchases with the association card: If I want it, regardless of the fact it might have no legitimate business purpose, I’m getting it!

Hey, I’m only copying my mentors. According to published reports, Bob Arnold, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Counties, or KACo, was responsible for — in a two-year period — more than $350,000 in expenses. These included extensive travel, $500-a-night hotel rooms, sports tickets, gifts and meals, and a $7,000 dinner for an unknown number of unnamed people. On many trips, expenses of executives’ spouses were also picked up.

Then there’s former KACo president David Jenkins. At the same time KACo was raising prices for its members, Jenkins blew through association money at casinos, liquor stores and Hooters restaurants, all seemingly in the name of business necessity. Jenkins is disputing charges on his credit card made at two local strip clubs and a Lexington escort service.

Really, who doesn’t like strippers? Not the four Kentucky League of Cities execs who say they didn’t realize they were in a nudie club when they expensed $80 on a receipt that was marked “Dinner.” Innocent mistake. Anyone could miss the prominently displayed red neon letters that spelled N-U-D-E and advertised a “three-pole stage.” Maybe they thought the latter was an ethnic thing.

And not content to just spend money at strangers’ businesses, League of Cities executive director Sylvia Lovely, who draws a $317,000 a year salary, spent $20,000 of League money at a restaurant co-owned by her husband.

Must be nice to live large on the taxpayer’s dime.

Thing is, I’ll have to be diligent in my new association job. When people start to whisper comments like “abuse of public trust” and “misuse of taxpayer funds,” I’ll need to get irritated and assume a posture of false bravado. Even before the completion of a state audit, KACo’s Arnold told taxpayers to “get over it.” Lovely tried to quash the release of financial records altogether.

Lovely indeed.

Of course my new gig won’t always be easy. Last week Jenkins resigned from the board of directors. Lovely’s credit card was taken away. She also stopped using the BMV SUV and sending business to her hubby’s restaurant. Both organizations are instituting new policies for spending and oversight. That’s no fun.

Maybe I should chuck the idea of association management. Career politics is also a way to live it up while Kentuckians foot the bill. Even though the commonwealth is experiencing economic turmoil, at least 50 state legislators — along with a slew of staffers — just last week went to Philadelphia for the National Conference of State Legislators. When a reporter asked for specifics about attendance and expenses, he was told the elected officials weren’t releasing that information.

Didn’t we just pay $60,000 a day for a special legislative session? Guess the Philly trip must be subsequent R&R.

Of course politics necessitates campaigning. I’d need to tool around Kentucky trying to convince people to hire me for a new job. And hey! — like so many officials on the stump now, I could do that while I’m still working the job I was elected to do.