About this page

The Ballard County Fiscal Court consists of an elected county judge/executive and five elected magistrates. Few county residents attend fiscal court meetings and there is, in my opinion, too little scrutiny of our local government by the voters. In this website I write about the local government, offering a mixture of fact and my opinion. If it looks as if I’m trying to regress to my newspapering days when I was a reporter and opinion writer, I’m not. Lacking a news medium that does this sort of thing I'm hoping that what I write and post here will provide information you may find useful.

County proposes mobile home ordinance

 

August 20, 2017

 

          The Ballard County Fiscal Court is voting on an ordinance that will apply to manufactured and mobile homes.

          I was going to print it here, but the copy I picked up was missing paragraphs 6 through 13, so I will print only the first page of my copy. I would pick up and post the other pages but I’m leaving on a trip.

          I believe the county has published the entire ordinance in the Advance Yeoman. I know many county residents live in mobile and manufactured homes. I am told that such homes already in place will not be affected, but I recommend that if you are concerned, you should read the entire ordinance. You probably can get one at the county judge/executive’s office behind the courthouse.

          There are a couple of poorly constructed paragraphs (1 and 2) and paragraph 4 b seems to suggest the county is adopting an ordinance that applies to the whole Commonwealth of Kentucky, but other that some sentence construction issues, the part I could read seems to be relative straightforward.

 

MANUFACTURED & MOBILE HOME ORDINANCE

 

          This matter having come before the Ballard Fiscal Court; and the Ballard Fiscal Court having being otherwise sufficiently advised:

          IT IS HEREBY ORDAINED BY THE FISCAL COURT OF BALLARD COUNTY COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, that the following restrictions and requirements shall be placed on manufactured and mobile homes located with the County, as follows:

  1. PLACEMENT PERMIT REQUIRED: No manufactured or mobile home shall be erected, set-up, or brought upon property in Ballard County, Kentucky without first applying and receiving a permit for placement and habitation of the home from the Ballard County Judge Executive’s Office.

  2. PERMIT PREREQUISITES: No placement permit will be granted unless and until the owner provides septic or sewer approval from the Health Department and an electrical permit obtained.

  3. CERTIFIED INSTALLER REQUIRED: All installations of manufactured homes and mobile homes shall be performed by an installer certified under the provisions of KRS 227.560. Proof of the certification of the installer must be provided.

  4. CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY: A certificate of occupancy must be issued for a manufactured or mobile home before it is inhabited.

  5. SEAL REQUIRED FOR OCCUPANCY: A manufactured home or mobile home as defined in KRS 227.550, which does not bear a seal certifying that it was manufactured in accordance with the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act and not bearing either a Class A or B seal issued by the Kentucky Department of Housing, Building, and Construction, Office of the State Fire Marshal is not acceptable for residential occupation.

  6. SALE PROHIBITED: Except for manufactured or mobile homes installed within the Commonwealth of Kentucky before July 13, 2004, no person shall sell, lease, rent, or furnish for use as a dwelling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky any previously owned manufactured or mobile home that does not bear a B1 Seal and which is not installed in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions, if available, or ANSI 225.1.

  7. STORAGE: Mobile homes or manufactured homes to be used for storage and not human habitation may be erected and used if that unit has a B-2 seal provided it meets all other applicable conditions herein, except that it need not pass electrical inspection if there is no electricity in the unit and it need not meet plumbing, sewer, or septic tank inspections if it has no running water. The unit may not, under any circumstances, be inhabited….

Foster was responsible for county’s losses

 

August 18, 2017

 

Payments that should not have been made but were, payments that should have been made but weren’t, and loans that were obtained without authorization led to the federal criminal charges against Former Ballard County treasurer Belinda Foster and former Ballard County judge/executive Vickie Viniard. Both former officials have pleaded guilty to the federal charges and are awaiting sentencing.

The charges that relate directly to the county’s loss of money were all against Foster.

          That was the bottom-line message I took away from Ballard County Attorney Vicki Hayden and the four magistrates who addressed the timeline of the events at a special called meeting of the Ballard County Fiscal Court Thursday Evening. Because a larger crowd than shows up for normal court meetings was expected, Friday’s meeting held in the District Court room at the county courthouse.

          Attendees who wanted to make statements or ask questions were restricted to two minutes each.

          The county attorney first learned of possible financial issues as auditors were leaving on August 14, 2015. Hayden was asked to attend the auditors’ exit conference with Viniard. “This was the first time I was ever called in,” Hayden said.

          The auditors identified problems with reimbursements to Foster. During her time as treasurer, she overpaid herself $27,945 in health reimbursements, according to a forensic auditor. She eventually reimbursed that amount to the fiscal court.

          This information was referred to the state attorney general for criminal charges, Hayden said. The impression I got from listening to the speakers Thursday is that the state AG’s office drug its feet through most of the investigation.

          “We all thought there was nothing to be prosecuted except the reimbursements,” Hayden said.

          But then they began finding other things, and began the process of filing for reimbursement through Foster’s bond.

          And a state investigator told the local officials that the FBI would be assisting on the case.

          Belinda Foster resigned on January 1, 2016. It was discovered that she kept two sets of books, one that was correct and one that hid the losses.

          As officials began to look in Foster’s office in June of 2016, they found “piles of paper, closets full of paper,” Hayden said. During the search for information to go on the proof of claim (the paperwork to be filed with the bonding company), some pieces of paper turned up showing that the county had paid on loans. “I didn’t know about the loans,” Hayden said. “I realized the loans were unauthorized.”

          Eventually, documents showing several loans that were taken in 2013 and 2014 were discovered. These loans were obtained by Viniard without knowledge of or authorization by the fiscal court.

          The unauthorized loans were taken out by Viniard because there was no money available to pay operating expenses. Drains on money included the seizure of county bank accounts by the IRS, which had not received money due it.

          According to Hayden, the fiscal court probably would have voted to authorize the loans, five of them totaling more than $1 million, but legally could not approve them retroactively. Viniard had applied the loan proceeds to go into the general budget.

At a special called meeting of the fiscal court, Viniard was given the option of resigning or of being charged with committing crimes. A tearful Viniard asked for a few days to think about it, and at the end of that period, she refused to resign.

Viniard hired a deputy judge/executive, Todd Cooper, who since then has been appointed to complete Viniard’s elected term of office. Gov. Matt Bevin made the appointment, after Cooper switched his party from Democrat to Republican.

Not long after Cooper began the duties of deputy judge/executive, Viniard stopped doing her job. She took medical leave. She was paid full salary for about seven months even though she did not work during that period, according to one magistrate. She drew her salary until she resigned.

Viniard resigned on June 30, 2017. The state planned to file state charges against her on July 6. Since the state charges could be brought only if she were still in office, she effective avoided the state charges. The significant of that is she would have lost her state pension if found guilty on state charges, but will be able to receive the pension despite pleading guilty to federal charges. The pension system must be very complicated; no one seems able to tell how much Viniard’s pension will be.

One of the people who spoke at Thursday’s meeting pointed out that even though Foster’s crimes appear to be the ones with the greatest impact on county funds, most of the talk (and I assume includes the things I’ve written) has focused on Viniard. I think there are two reasons for that. One is that Viniard was the elected county judge/executive and Foster was an employee. Most of us hold elected officials to higher standards. The other is that Foster ’fessed up, pleaded guilty last December, and reimbursed the county for what she had taken. Viniard continued to proclaim her innocence and insisted she would face a trial by jury. She continued until about a week before that trial was scheduled, August 7, 2017.

Left unanswered Thursday was the question, “Why did Viniard obtain those loans without going to the fiscal court for authority?” Only she can answer that.

Addressing the point a couple of paragraphs above about the focus on Viniard instead of Foster, I’ll point out that on September 1, 2016, I posted information that was part of the proof of claim affidavit listing payments Foster made and didn’t make. For a reminder to those who may not have read or may have forgotten, and for others who did not read it back then, I will repost it. It’s long but informative.

Here it is:

From Sept. 1, 2017:

Belinda Foster was appointed treasurer by the Ballard Fiscal Court on May 1, 1995.  She voluntarily left her employment on January 1, 2016. During her time as treasurer, she overpaid herself $27,945 in health reimbursements, according to a forensic auditor. She has reimbursed that sum to the fiscal court.

          The evaluation of the treasurer’s work product is ongoing by the FBI, IRS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Kentucky Department of Revenue, Kentucky Retirement System, Ballard Fiscal Court, and Ballard County Attorney’s Office.

          She is alleged to have overpaid herself for vacation time and unauthorized overtime. And there’s a claim of $13,608.50 for incentive bonuses she should not have received.

The county filed at the end of June of this year a “Proof of Claim Affidavit” against the commercial bonds issued by Liberty. So far, the county has received a check for $350,000 and is expecting to receive another check for $150,000 soon. The total amount of the treasurer’s bond was $500,000, but the claims are for more than that. The county still doesn’t know how much it owes the IRS and Kentucky Retirement Systems.

These “Claims” are the amounts the county has identified as justification for reimbursement by the bonding company.

          The list of claims is long and I will try to shorten them as much as possible while still making it clear what they are for. All of this is from the attachment to the Proof of Claim Affidavit.  I have in places left enough information to give an idea of the basis of the claims but then just listed the claims without the narrative that accompanied them. (Because of the amount and because it’s the IRS, which I assume is justification for the FBI to be involved, I’m moving the IRS claim to the top.)

 

Internal Revenue Service:

 

As Treasurer, Foster was responsible for calculating, preparing and paying federal tax withholdings and filing reports and returns.  Foster, without knowledge of the Ballard Fiscal Court, paid withholdings late, paid inaccurate sums, and filed late and/or inaccurate reports and returns.  Foster received registered letters from the IRS of intent to levy against the county’s bank account.  Some of these were never opened.  A review of the IRS documents revealed that Foster paid $85,184.38 between 2009 and 2015 in interest and penalties without knowledge of the Fiscal Court.  These payments were coded as “Miscellaneous” payments, instead of the standard code used for federal tax payments.  Some of these payments were paid via levy.

In addition to the penalties and interest listed above, Foster failed to file federal tax reports for 2015 and failed to pay correct federal withholdings for 2015.    Penalties and interest have accrued.  However, at the time of filing of this claim, we are awaiting notice of the amount. 

Claim:  $85,184.38 plus undetermined amount

 

OTHER CLAIMS

 

There are several areas of loss that occurred between January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2016.  These were unknown to the Ballard County Fiscal Court until raised in an official audit by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2014….  The audit was not finalized and published until February 16, 2016.

One of the focal points of the audit was the County’s health reimbursement account.  When serious issues – to the point of criminality – were revealed, the auditors began to search more deeply into other areas.

Even though the county is audited annually, these auditors discovered deficiencies and weaknesses that went back to 2009.   Many issues listed below previously were undisclosed and undiscovered by prior audits.

 

Health Reimbursement Account: 

 

The Ballard Fiscal Court established a health reimbursement account for employees who did not take health insurance through the county’s benefit package.  Reimbursement checks were written by Foster to individual employees upon presentation of medical receipts up to the monthly allowance.  (The amount of reimbursement varied from $7,608 to $3,600 annually between 2009 and 2016.)

Treasurer Foster was responsible for receiving employee medical receipts, approving or rejecting them, maintaining a ledger for each employee, and writing health reimbursement checks….

The Auditors found that “Employees were overpaid the annual amount contributed by the County, including the County Treasurer. The ledgers, cancelled checks, bank statements, and receipts were reviewed by a forensic auditor who found that Foster overpaid herself $27,945.00 in health reimbursements.

 

County Employee Retirement System:

 

The audit found that retirement was not properly withheld from employees’ checks and was not property reported or paid into CERS.  The Ballard County Fiscal Court submits a claim against Foster’s fiduciary bond for her mishandling of this employee retirement accounts.

 

The County is required to pay an annually established percentage into the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) for employees who work 100 hours per month.   In addition, every eligible employee is required to pay 5% of their pay into CERS.

It was the treasurer’s responsibility to accurately calculate the amount owed by each (county and employee), to make the accurate contribution into each employee retirement account, and to timely file reports with the Kentucky Retirement System.

Over the past five years, several employees have received letters from the Kentucky Retirement System that their accounts were not fully funded. The treasurer was responsible for paying the correct percentage as an employee benefit into CERS.  The treasurer was then responsible for deducting 5% of the eligible employees’ paychecks.  The totals were to be reported and paid within ten days.  If not timely paid, the county was assessed a penalty of $1,000.

Between January 2009 and December, 2015: (One employee’s benefits were not paid and inaccurate earnings were reported for at least one employee, resulting in too much being paid into retirement. At least one employee was drawing state retirement while an employee of the Sheriff’s Department.  Because of this re-employment, the county was required to make the statutory contribution on his behalf.  However, he was supposed to be exempt from the 5% payroll deduction. The treasurer paid in the wrong amounts for the county’s contribution AND deducted the 5% from his paychecks.  The sum of $1,124.40 was withheld from his paychecks.  He is due a refund from the county for this amount wrongfully withheld. In March, 2016, the county had to pay the sum of $7,130.48 into CERS as its percentage of the employee’s retirement.

A retired state employee is entitled to health insurance, but when the employee returns to county employment, the employer is responsible for reimbursing Kentucky Retirement System for that insurance.  The treasurer never reimbursed these insurance premiums.  In March, 2016, the county had to pay the sum of $14,384.93 for premiums accrued.

A statutorily required 1% employee contribution was required for employees hired on or after September 1, 2008.  This amount was withheld from two employees’ wages, but were not properly reported or turned over to CERS. A statutorily required 1% employee contribution was required for employees hired on or after September 1, 2008.  This amount was not withheld from an employee’s wages, but was reported on the monthly CERS report.

Contributions were withheld from employee paychecks, but not reported.

Two emails and two spreadsheets from the County Employee Retirement System stating that the county incurred penalties of $6,000 for late payments/reporting.  One penalty of $1,000 was written off in 2013. The county has made a claim for $6,000.

An employee who retired should not have 5% of his pay for retirement.  He is entitled to reimbursement for the amount wrongfully withheld, a claim of $1,124.40. Invoices from the Kentucky Retirement System and copies of the checks supporting the employee’s health insurance and county contributions toward retirement amounts of a claim of $21,515.41.

(There’s a smaller claim in this category for $398.44 the county had to pay because the treasurer failed to pay into an employee’s retirement during a one-month period.)

 

Overtime for Road Department employees:

 

The audit found that the county did not properly compensate Road Department employees for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, but because there are no time records, the county did not make a claim.

 

Health Insurance Premiums:

 

The audit found that the county did not properly withhold health insurance from employees’ checks.  The Ballard County Fiscal Court submits a claim against Foster’s fiduciary bond for her gross mishandling of these premiums to the financial detriment of the court. (NOTE: Some claims for premiums do not show dollar amounts. The narrative says that the treasurer was not deducting enough to cover the cost of the premiums.)

 

 Liberty National Insurance:  was the source of a claim for $5,182.01 because the county paid no premiums or the wrong amount of premiums. This company offered a variety of insurance products including disability, life, AFLAC, dental, vision, etc.  Liberty National was one of the companies who offered products.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from employee paychecks.

 

In 2012, the County paid the premiums for four employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $930.00.  The county paid premiums for eight employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $3,016.93.  The treasurer took too much out of eleven employees’ paychecks in the amount of $306.88. Total claim for this is $4,253.81.

In 2013, the County paid the premiums for three employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,279.73.  The county paid premiums for fourteen employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $4,140.10. Total claim: $5,419.83

In 2014, the County paid the premiums for two employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,205.16.  The county paid premiums for ten employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $3,408.36. Total claim: $4,613.52

In 2015, the County paid the premiums for six employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,741.51.  The county paid premiums for twenty-one (21) employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $8,236.85. Total claim: $10,978.36

 

 Cincinnati Life:

 

Employees have the option to purchase a variety of insurance products:  disability, life, AFLAC, dental, vision, etc.  Cincinnati Life was one of the companies who offered products.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from the employees’ paycheck.

As the treasurer, Foster was responsible for receiving and paying the bills from Liberty National, but also to make sure accurate contributions were deducted from employee paychecks.

The treasurer paid Cincinnati Life statements without attributing the correct premiums to individual employees.  Some employees were charged for insurance when they did not have it.  Others were charged too little.   Others were charged too much.   The county will have to bear the responsibility of the underpayments, but is obligated to reimburse employees for whom deductions exceeded the premiums imposed.

In 2010, the County paid the premiums for twelve employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $5,137.00.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,045.48.  One employee should be reimbursed $36.70 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.  Claim:  $6,219.18

In 2011, the County paid the premiums for seven employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $3,693.60.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,591.76.  One employee should be reimbursed $212.55 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.   Claim:  $5,497.91

In 2012, the County paid the premiums for four employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,518.88.  The county paid premiums for nineteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,776.54.  Four employees should be reimbursed $2,445.59 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.  Claim:  $6,741.01

In 2013, the County paid the premiums for two employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,217.20.  The county paid premiums for seventeen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,347.34.  Five employees should be reimbursed $2,123.87 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.      Claim:  $5,688.41

In 2014, the County paid the premiums for two employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,476.08.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $2,653.76.  One employee should be reimbursed $960.00 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.    Claim:  $5,089.84

In 2015, the County paid the premiums for one employee without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $47.97.  The county paid premiums for fourteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $2,692.56. Five employees should be reimbursed $660.40 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.     Claim:  $3,400.93

           

Colonial Life Insurance:

 

Colonial Life offered a variety of insurance products to Ballard County Fiscal Court employees.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from the employees’ paycheck.

As the treasurer, Foster was responsible for receiving and paying the bills from Colonial Life, but also to make sure accurate contributions were deducted from the employees’ paychecks.   The treasurer paid the statement without attributing the correct premiums to individual employees.

Some employees were charged for insurance when they did not have it.  Others were charged too little.   Others were charged too much.   The county will have to bear the responsibility of the underpayments, but is obligated to reimburse employees for whom deductions exceeded the premiums imposed.

In 2009, the county first allowed Colonial Life to present its products to county employees.  Thirty employees signed up for insurance, where premiums were to be payroll-deducted.  However, the treasurer never made a deduction from any paycheck, for a loss to the county of $7,158.88

 

(THERE ARE TOO MANY of these claims for premiums and I won’t continue to list the other companies or the individual claims. I’ll just list the amounts):                                                  

Claim:  $7,158.88

Claim:  $7,664.47

Claim:  $5,206.61

Claim:  $4,817.21

Claim:  $4,790.92

Claim:  $4,790.92

Claim:  $3,868.07                                                                                                Claim:  $2,528.46

Claim: $14,449.52

Claim:  $5,508.83

Claim:  $5,985.44

Claim:  $5,188.51

Claim:  $6,051.72

Claim:  $5,026.66

Claim:  $3,242.02

Claim:  $5,101.12

Claim:  $5,705.69

Claim:  $7,416.79

Claim:  $7,882.69

Claim:  $4,971.54

Claim:  $7,598.36

 

Worker’s Compensation: 

 

The treasurer paid Worker’s Compensation premiums late, incurring penalties.  These penalties were paid without consent or knowledge of the Ballard Fiscal Court or County Judge Executive.   Attached is a list of the penalties incurred and dates thereof.

                                                                                      Claim:  $2,051.47

 

Kentucky All Lines Fund:    

 

The treasurer was expected to make timely payments of claims against the county.

 

The treasurer made payments to KALF late, incurring penalties.  The Fiscal Court and County Judge Executive were misled to believe that all payments were timely made.   Attached is a statement from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) of the penalties incurred and dates thereof.      Claim:  $5,994.11

 

Cost of State Audit:   The Ballard Fiscal Court is audited annually.  Mike Harmon, Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, submitted a bill for $42,759.24 to the Ballard Fiscal Court for its share of the audit invoice.  The audit was significantly higher than normal due to fraud.

In support of this claim, there is a statement from the Auditor of Public Accounts that an additional 586 hours, at a cost of $56.75 per hour, was incurred as a direct result of the fraud audit.  The county is responsible for one-half of that amount, for a total of $19,436.88.

 

                                                                             Claim:  $19,436.88

 

Cost of overtime for new treasurer and part-time, temporary employee:  As a result of the audit, the new County Treasurer had to spend 164 hours of overtime to document and correct the problems raised therein, for a total expenditure of $4,888.89.   Claim:  $4,888.90

 

So the treasurer could keep up with day to day demands and straighten out the prior errors, the Ballard Fiscal Court authorized hiring of a temporary, part-time employee to go through multiple bank boxes, file cabinets, and a closet full of disorganized documents/information left behind by Foster.  In addition, this employee (who had significant banking experience) was able to assist in evaluating audit reports, bank statements, ledgers and other documents to assist with the claim.

 

Claim:  $2,520.10

 

KACo Leasing Trust:  Ballard County Fiscal Court had a contract with Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) through their “Leasing Trust”.  The monthly statements went to the treasurer, who was responsible for making timely payments to KACo. (NOTE: Not paid on time, resulting in late fee.)     Claim:  $400.07

 

Commonwealth of Kentucky Department of Revenue, Division of Collections

 

In 2015, the County Treasurer failed to file payroll reports for three periods (April 15, May 1, and May 15), nor did she pay the state withholding she was required to pay.  The County Judge Executive and Fiscal Court were not made aware of these until notices were received on March 18, 2015.

In 2014, the County Treasurer’s tax withholding reports and W-2s did not match.  As a result, the county was assessed a penalty of $48,960.72.   The County Judge Executive and Fiscal Court were not made aware of this penalty until the attached notice was received on March 18, 2016.

                                                                             Claim:  $146,928.93

 

First Community Bank Loan Payments: 

 

The Ballard County Fiscal Court had two loans with First Community Bank in 2015:  (loan 1) for $300,000 and (loan 2) for $150,000.

Foster made the loan payments late on Loan 1 on January 12, April 9, and September 10, 2015.  Each time a late payment of $9,999.99 was assessed.  These late payments were paid by Foster without the knowledge, consent, or approval of the Ballard Fiscal Court.

                                                                   Claim:  $29,999.97

 

Foster made the loan payments late on Loan 2 on January 12 and April, 2015.  On January 12, 2015, a late payment of $7,469.47 was assessed.  On April 15, 2015, a late payment penalty of $7,508.79 was assessed.  These late payments were paid by Foster without the knowledge, consent, or approval of the Ballard Fiscal Court.

                                                                             Claim:  $14,978.26

 

My thoughts on the new county website

 

August 12, 2017

 

I saw in the news that the Ballard County Fiscal Court announced it will spend $45,120 over the next two years for a marketing campaign, consisting primarily of a website, I believe. That’s a good price. I’m not sure how much return we’ll get for the investment but we’ll see.

I wrote a letter on July 28 and asked that it be distributed to the officials on the fiscal court. I think it’s worth sharing because it may help provoke discussion.

Here’s what I wrote:

 

To the Ballard County Fiscal Court,

 

Here are comments regarding your planned new website for the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development folks, and the Ballard County fiscal court.

I submit these neither as complaint nor compliment. In my role as director of public affairs at two Department of Energy national labs (by the way, the designation “national lab” refers only to DOE labs, not to other federal labs), I had managerial responsibility for the communication function of the websites, which means I was responsible for the web content of institutions, each of which had budgets of around a billion dollars. I did not have to prepare the content. We had staff and contractors who did the day-to-day placing of information into the website. I had reached a point in my careers that my guidance and ideas were what they were paying me the big dollars for. I won’t claim to be an expert, but I do have significant experience in the use of website to provide information that will be useful to people who find the website. I’m just offering comments. Think about them, ignore them. I’m just butting in where not asked. I’ve done that before.

I picked up a copy of the Destination Branding & Digital Marketing Proposal when I attended your regular meeting earlier this month. I will cite from a couple of parts of the proposal.

The first sentence of the introduction is, “We greatly appreciate the opportunity for 20/20 Xtreme to submit our branding and digital marketing proposal for Ballard County.”

The first two sentences under “The Process for WAVE,” are, “We’d like to start by saying congratulations! Ballard County is well on its way to creating a brand identity that makes it a destination.”

I was surprised to read that. I had been hoping the fiscal court would try to create a website of value to residents, one that would reach out to the county residents and provide them with information about what the court will discuss at the next meeting and what it decided at the last meeting. I must have been wrong.

The proposal makes it clear that the emphasis is on tourism, and perhaps on attracting industry although the term “destination” doesn’t strike me as focused on industry. Tourism and economic development are aimed at people and businesses who do not live in Ballard County. Some families have been in this county for generations, and other families are of more recent residency. I wish the first priority was to give thought to those of us who have chosen to live here and pay our taxes that help pay for our county government, not to people who have not chosen to live here.

Marketing and branding are most often mentioned in the context of businesses, not so much in the context of governments. I think the county should have an effective website of its own, not one focused primarily on two private groups. I know from experience the difficulty of maintaining an effective site for one entity. I would think it would be next to impossible to have one that is effective for three different ones. If you had an in-house expert whose job was to give good advice, that person would have told you so. A private company will do whatever you are willing to pay for, and usually won’t counsel you that you are paying for something ineffective.

After your last court meeting, at which the proposal was discussed, I came home and looked at the official sites of five regional counties. One thing they have in common is that they are about the county government. They don't muddy the waters by trying to share sites with private groups. If such private entities as economic development groups and chambers want to be reached through the county site, they will have their own sites and the county will provide links to them.

I think Calloway, McCracken, and Marshall have the better sites. Trigg and Caldwell are very basic. The better ones post agendas for upcoming fiscal court meetings. As far as I could tell, none of them posted information about the items on the agendas, not did any of them provide information about what was decided at the meetings. Some provide some e-mail addresses. I think Marshall's may be my favorite but I didn't spend a lot of time going through all the sites so it may be that Marshall's is no better than the other good ones. Here are links to the sites I checked:

 

https://www.callowaycounty-ky.gov/

http://mccrackenky.com/

http://triggcounty.ky.gov/

http://caldwellcounty.ky.gov/

http://www.marshallcountyky.gov/

 

          I will make another point. Economic development is a contact sport. Passive efforts such as having a website don’t accomplish much. Contacts with people who can make business decisions are what are most effective. Every county, every state has a website. You have no reason to expect that a company looking to locate somewhere will come to your site as they study how to make the decision. If they have had contact with someone who has suggested Ballard County would be a good place, they might then look at your site for initial information. A website might be compared to a GPS in your car: It’s not worth a damn until you decide where you want to go and then plug that information into the GPS.

          I have no business interest in how you set up your website. I will make no money no matter how you do it. I do have an interest in and an affection for the county and I hope that add my two cents worth might be worth at least two cents.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Joe W. Culver

To be sentenced on same day

 

August 11, 2017

 

          Former Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard and former Ballard County treasurer Belinda Foster will be sentenced on the same day.

          Both former officials entered guilty pleas to federal charges in federal court in Paducah.

          Foster’s sentencing had been scheduled for Sept. 5, 2017, but according to the Paducah federal court calendar this morning, her sentencing has been rescheduled to Nov. 16, 2017, the same day as Viniard is supposed to be sentenced.

          Information posted on the calendar shows Viniard to be sentenced at 11 a.m. on that date, followed by Foster’s sentencing at 11:15 a.m.

          Doesn’t seem to take long to sentence guilty folks in federal court.

Cooper switched parties before appointment

 

August 11, 2017

 

Having heard a rumor more than once, I sent Ballard County Judge/Executive Todd Cooper this e-mail:

"A rumor is making the rounds that you agreed to switch parties before Gov. Bevin would name you judge/exec. Is that true?"

He answered my question this morning via e-mail:

To answer your question, back last fall, some people were telling me that when Vickie (Writer’s Note: former judge/executive Vickie Viniard) retired, I would probably not get the appointment as judge from the governor unless I was a republican. I talked with family and friends all winter and decided from what I was seeing from the national democratic party, I no longer agreed with their platform on a lot of issues, except trying to help the working people. I switched parties in early spring. I was never approached, or pressured, or given any promises to change parties by anyone from the republican party. I did so after weighing all of what was going on in the country and in state politics. Anyone was eligible to be appointed. I had to go on line and fill out an application for the position.”

I am not going to be critical of Cooper’s performance. As far as I can tell he is doing a good job as judge/executive. He is trying to disseminate information that will help inform the public, assuming that the county residents care to be informed. Based on attendance at fiscal court meetings, there’s not a lot of interest among us residents. We don’t have anyone maintaining oversight of the fiscal court. That’s one responsibility of the news media, in my opinion, but it’s a responsibility that has been abdicated. Lack of scrutiny often leads to problems.

But … I don’t like it when people get elected or appointed to public positions and then change their party affiliation, or change their affiliation in order to get the appointment. This is just a guess: If Cooper had not been appointed to the position but decided to run in the next primary, I believe he would have run as a Democrat, just as he ran as a Democrat every time he was elected as our county sheriff.

I think it is very interesting that people were telling him last fall that a Republican probably would be appointed county judge/executive when Viniard retired. Viniard hired Cooper as deputy judge/executive and he was sworn in on August 10, 2016. Viniard was not charged with committing federal crimes until November 2016. She insisted that she was not guilty and would be tried before a jury in federal court … until about a week before the scheduled trial when she changed her plea to guilty on all four counts of the federal indictment. Any discussion about appointment would have been premature at that time and until she resigned or retired (I’ve heard it referred to both ways, and I think there is a different meaning to the two words, even if the difference is subtle) on June 30, 2017; the only reason a governor needs to appoint a new judge/executive is because the elected one is no longer in office. Did someone know something last fall that the rest of us didn’t know? Did Viniard know she was hand-picking her successor?

I believe the magistrates recommended to Gov. Bevin that he should appoint Cooper, who had been serving as deputy judge/executive for several months. Gov. Bevin appointed Cooper on July 18. I believe he will perform the position’s duties very well and within the legal limits of his authority.

Cooper may not have changed party just so he could be appointed officially to the position, but to a lot of people it will look like political expediency.

Just as he wrote in his e-mail, I also don’t agree with the Democratic platform on several issues. I think the party has gotten to be too conservative. But I confess to being a liberal Democrat, still a Democrat even though I have thought about switching to independent. If I wanted to run for an office, I would not run under one party and then switch to another. But that’s just me.

Vickie Viniard’s Plea Agreement

 

August 8, 2017

 

          I have keyboarded the entire plea agreement which was filed with the federal court in Paducah. I will write some comments and questions before we get to the plea agreement itself.

          I am doing this because the plea agreement includes a very clear narrative of the events that led to Viniard’s guilty plea on August 7, 2017. She said in court that she had done everything written in the agreement. A case involving breach of trust by someone who took an oath to perform office duties as guided by law is, in my opinion, a serious matter. The residents of the county need to understand what was done. The plea agreement is long but should be read. Beginning about midway through paragraph 7, much of the language appears to be boilerplate.

          The unanswered question, I think, is why did she commit the crimes.

          If there was a legitimate need to borrow amounts totaling more than a million dollars to fund county operations, why didn’t that raise a red flag about why the budgeted amount of money wouldn’t cover expenses?

          Seeing a need to borrow, why didn’t Viniard go to the fiscal court, inform the Magistrates of the need to borrow money to meet expenses, get their approval for loans and have a discussion about why those loans were necessary?

          How much interest had to be paid on the loans, interest that would seem to further reduce the county’s ability to meet operating expenses?

          Is it normal banking practice to approve such loans based on the statements of an elected official?

          The plea agreement includes an order to pay restitution in the amount of at least $21,000. By refusing to resign when the information became public, Viniard continued to accept a salary. That seems to amount to having the restitution paid from taxpayer money. And Viniard will be drawing a pension for her years of service. Even though some residents don’t think she should get a pension, Kentucky law says she should. And it is proper that she should be paid a salary while she held the office.

The plea agreement includes a statement that Viniard did not personally benefit from the loans. I disagree with that. I agree that she did not pocket any funds. But the loans that are the basis of her indictment occurred prior to the time she was challenged in the county primary. Had the fact of the unauthorized and concealed loans been made public prior to the primary, I think there’s a good chance she would not have won. Winning re-election and serving for more than two additional years is a personal benefit.

Overall, I think the agreement is fair to Viniard and the county.

Anyway, here's the text of the plea agreement.

 

PLEA AGREEMENT IN THE CASE OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. VICKIE LOUISE VINIARD

 

          Pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States of America, by John E. Kuhn, Jr., United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, and defendant, Vickie Louise Viniard, and her attorneys, Gorman Bradley, Jr. and Ben Stewart, have agreed upon the following:

  1. Defendant acknowledges that she has been charged in the Superseding Indictment in this case with violations of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1013, 1343, and 1344.

  2. Defendant has read the charges against her contained in the Superseding Indictment and those charges have been fully explained to her by her attorneys. Defendant fully understands the nature and elements of the crimes with which she has been charged.

  3. Defendant will enter a voluntary plea of guilty to Counts 1 through 4 in this case. Defendant will plead guilty because she is in fact guilty of the charges. The parties agree to the following factual basis for this plea:

In November of 2006, the Defendant was elected to serve as the Judge Executive for Ballard County. She served in that capacity from January 2007 until her retirement in June 2017. Prior to her service as Judge Executive, the Defendant served for eight years as a Magistrate on the Ballard County Fiscal Court.

From June of 2012 through June of 2014, the Defendant took out a series of five loans totaling over $1 million on behalf of Ballard County. At the time of the loans, Ballard County suffered from cash shortages and this prompted the Defendant’s scheme, which was to obtain short-term loans in order to fund Ballard County operations and make payments on bond obligations without seeking the approval of the Ballard County Fiscal Court, which she was required to do under Kentucky Revised Statutes 67.710 and 67.080, or informing the Kentucky Department of Local Government, which she was required to do under Kentucky Revised Statute 65.117. The Defendant did not personally benefit from any of these loans and all loan proceeds were used for Ballard County expenditures.

On June 4, 2012, the Defendant obtained a $184,395 loan from First Southern National Bank. When the defendant contacted the loan officer about this loan, she falsely told the loan officer that she had the unilateral authority, as the Ballard County Judge Executive, to obtain the loan. However, the Defendant knew that she did not have such authority because she had not sought approval of the loan from the Ballard County Fiscal Court nor had she notified the Kentucky Department of Local Government. The reason the Defendant told the loan officer that she had the unilateral authority to obtain the loan was to influence the bank to give her the loan. The loan officer, believing the Defendant’s claim of authority to be true, granted the loan. Had the Defendant truthfully told the loan officer that she did not have such authority and had not obtained the necessary approval from the Fiscal Court or made the required notification to the Department of Local Government, the loan officer would not have granted the Defendant the loan. The Defendant’s false statement to the loan officer that she had unilateral authority to obtain the loan was a material misrepresentation to the bank. The Defendant, knowing that she had claimed to have authority she did not have, had the intent to defraud when obtaining these loans. Furthermore, the Defendant intentionally concealed the loans from the Ballard County Magistrates by not revealing their existence during numerous Ballard County Fiscal Court meetings; these omissions were material misrepresentations to the Ballard County Fiscal Court. By obtaining unauthorized loans on behalf of Ballard County and then intentionally concealing these loans, the Defendant had the intent to defraud the Ballard County Fiscal Court.

The Defendant obtained subsequent loans from First Southern National Bank on or about May 21, 2013, for $191,250, and on or about September 13, 2013, for $250,000. For both of these loans, the Defendant falsely maintained to the loan officer, or did nothing to correct the loan officer’s mistaken belief, that she had authority to obtain the loans as the Ballard County Judge Executive.

In late 2013 or early 2014, First Community Bank bought the First Southern National Bank branch located in Wickliffe, Kentucky. After the branch changed ownership from First Southern National Bank to First Community Bank, the Defendant obtained two loans from First Community Bank, one on or about April 17, 2014, for $300,000, and another on or about June 12, 2014, for $150,000. The Defendant obtained the two First Community Bank loans under the same false authority and through the same loan officer who granted the three prior loans from First Southern National Bank. As part of the loan application package for the April 17, 2014 loan, the Defendant executed a Corporate Resolution to Borrow, which stated that the corporation (referring to the Ballard County Fiscal Court) held a meeting at which a quorum of corporate directors or shareholders (referring to the Magistrates of the Ballard County Fiscal Court) adopted a resolution containing various actions that the Defendant was authorized to execute, one of which was the authority to borrow money. However, when executing the Corporate Resolution to Borrow, the Defendant knew that the Resolution was false in that the Ballard County Fiscal Court never authorized her to borrow money from First Community Bank. The Defendant executed the Corporate Resolution to Borrow with the intent to influence First Community Bank to grant her the loan. The Corporate Resolution to Borrow was also a material misrepresentation to the bank.

Finally, as part of the loan application package for the June 12, 2014 loan, the Defendant directed that $100,000 out of the $150,000 loan be wired across interstate lines from First Community Bank in Wickliffe, Kentucky to Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio. Both First Southern National Bank and First Community Bank were federally insured by the FDIC during all five of the Defendant’s loans with the two banks.

  1. Defendant understands that the charges to which she will plead guilty carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 110 years, a maximum fine of $1,250,000, and supervised release of no more than five years, which the Court may specify. Defendant understands that an additional term of imprisonment may be ordered if the terms of the supervised release are violated, as explained in 18 U.S.C. § 3583.

  2. Defendant understands that by pleading guilty, she surrenders certain rights set forth below. Defendant’s attorneys have explained those rights to her and the consequences of her waiver of those rights, including the following:

  3. If Defendant persists in a plea of not guilty to the charges against her, she has the right to a public and speedy trial. The trial could either be a jury trial or a trial by the judge sitting without a jury. If there is a jury trial, the jury would have to agree unanimously before it could return a verdict of either guilty or not guilty. The jury would be instructed that defendant is presumed innocent and that it could not convict her unless, after hearing all the evidence, it was persuaded of defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

  4. At a trial, whether by a jury or a judge, the United States would be required to present its witnesses and other evidence against defendant. Defendant would be able to confront those government witnesses and his (sic) attorney would be able to cross-examine them. In turn, defendant could present witnesses and other evidence in her own behalf. If the witnesses for defendant would not appear voluntarily, she could require their attendance through the subpoena power of the Court.

  5. At a trial, defendant would have a privilege against self-incrimination and she could decline to testify, without any inference of guilt being drawn from her refusal to testify. If defendant desired to do so, she could testify in her own behalf.

  6. Defendant understands that the United States Attorney’s Office has an obligation to fully apprise the District Court and the United States Probation Office of all facts pertinent to the sentencing process, and to respond to all legal or factual inquiries that might arise either before, during, or after sentencing. Defendant admits all acts and essential elements of the Superseding Indictment counts to which she pleads guilty.

  7. Defendant agrees that the amount of restitution ordered by the Court shall include the Defendant’s total offense conduct, and is not limited to the counts of conviction. The parties agree and stipulate that Defendant shall pay restitution in the amount of at least $21,000. The parties agree and stipulate that co-defendant Belinda Janean Foster may be held jointly and severally liable with Defendant for at least some of the loss amounts in this case. However, the United States may seek restitution based on losses for which Defendant may be held solely liable. The parties will present argument at defendant’s sentencing hearing as to whether any further restitution is owed and payable to the victim in this case. The parties agree that the restitution shall be ordered due and payable on the date of sentencing. Defendant agrees that any payment schedule imposed by the Court is without prejudice to the United States to take all actions available to it to collect the full amount of the restitution at any time. Restitution payments shall be made payable to the U.S. District Court Clerk at Gene Snyder Courthouse, 601 W. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202. The restitution shall be paid to or on behalf of the following victim:

    Ballard County Fiscal Court   At least $21,000

          Defendant agrees that no later than 45 days from entry of the Plea Agreement, Defendant shall provide to the United States, under penalty of perjury, a financial disclosure form listing all Defendant’s assets/financial interests. Defendant authorizes the United States to run credit bureau reports prior to sentencing, and Defendant will sign releases authorizing the United States to obtain Defendant’s financial records. Defendant understands that these assets and financial interests include all assets and financial interests in which Defendant has an interest, direct or indirect, whether held in Defendant’s own name or in the name of another, in property, real or personal. Defendant shall also identify all assets valued at more than $5,000 which have been transferred to third parties since the date of the first offense, including the location of the assets and identity of the third party(ies). Defendant agrees that the United States may share the contents of the reports and financial disclosures with the Court and U.S. Probation.

          Defendant agrees to submit to a deposition in aid of collection at all times and places that the United States directs. If the Defendant has a financial advisor or accountant, Defendant agrees, at her expense, to make them available to aid the United States in determining Defendant’s net worth. Defendant authorizes the United States to file notice of Lis Pendens prior to judgment on any real property Defendant owns either individually or jointly. Defendant agrees to her name and debt being added to the Treasury Offset Program.

          Upon execution of the Plea Agreement, Defendant agrees not to transfer, sell, or secrete any of Defendant’s property, real or personal, held jointly, individually or by nominee/third party, valued at $5,000 or more without first advising the United States not less than 10 days before the proposed sale or transfer. Defendant agrees that failure to comply with any of the provisions of this Agreement constitutes a material breach of the Plea Agreement and Defendant agrees that the United States is relieved of its obligations this Agreement and/or may not move the Court pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(b) to reduce the offense level by one additional level, and may in its discretion argue to the Court that the Defendant should not receive a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility pursuant to U.S.S.G.§ 3E1.1(a). However, the Defendant may not withdraw her guilty plea because of her breach. The defendant further understands that she may be responsible for a fine, costs of prosecution, costs of incarceration and supervision, which may be required.

  1. Defendant acknowledges liability for the special assessment mandated by 18 U.S.C. § 3013 and will pay the assessment in the amount of $400 to the United States District Court Clerk’s Office by the date of sentencing.

  2. At the time of sentencing, the United States will agree that a sentence of time served, followed by a term of supervised release, is the appropriate disposition of this case.

  3. Defendant is aware of her right to appeal her conviction that that 18 U.S.C. § 3742 affords a defendant the right to appeal the sentence imposed. Unless based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct, the Defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives the right (a) to directly appeal her conviction and the resulting sentence pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 4(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 3742, and (b) to contest or collaterally attack her conviction and the resulting sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or otherwise.

  4. Defendant agrees not to pursue or initiate any civil claims or suits against the United States of America, its agencies or employees, whether or not presently known to defendant, arising out of the investigation or prosecution of the offenses covered by this Agreement.

  5. The defendant hereby waives all rights, whether asserted directly or by a representative, to request or receive from any department or agency of the United States any records pertaining to the investigation or prosecution of this case, including without limitation any records that may be sought under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C § 552, or the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a.

  6. Defendant agrees to interpose no objection to the United States transferring evidence or providing information concerning defendant and this offense, to other state and federal agencies or other organizations, including, but not limited to the Internal Revenue Service, other law enforcement agencies, and any licensing and regulatory bodies, or to the entry of an order under Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e) authorizing transfer of the Examination Division of the Internal Revenue Service of defendant’s documents, or documents of third persons, in possession of the Grand Jury, the United States Attorney, or the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service.

  7. If the Court refuses to accept this agreement and impose sentence in accordance with its terms pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), this Agreement will become null and void and neither party shall be bound thereto, and defendant will be allowed to withdraw the plea of guilty.

  8. Defendant agrees that the disposition provided for within this Agreement is fair, taking into account all aggravating and mitigating factors. Defendant states that she has informed the United States Attorney’s Office and the Probation Officer, either directly or through her attorneys, of all mitigating factors. Defendant will not oppose imposition of a sentence incorporating the disposition provided for within this Agreement, nor argue for any other sentence. If Defendant argues for any sentence other than the one to which she has agreed, she is in breach of this Agreement. Defendant agrees that the remedy for this breach is that the United States is relieved of its obligations under this Agreement, but Defendant may not withdraw her guilty plea because of her breach.

  9. This document and the supplemental plea agreement state the complete and only Plea Agreements between the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky and defendant in this case, and are binding only on the parties to this Agreement, supersedes all prior understandings, if any, whether written or oral, and cannot be modified other than in writing that are signed by all parties or on the record in Court. No other promises or inducements have been or will be made to defendant in connection with this case, not have any predictions or threats been made in connection with this plea.

AGREED:

JOHN E. KUHN, JR.

UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

 

Signed by:

 

Nute A. Bonner

Assistant United States Attorney

 

Vickie Louise Viniard

Defendant

 

Gorman Bradley, Jr.

Counsel for Defendant

 

Ben Stewart

Counsel for Defendant

Viniard pleads guilty to all counts

 

August 7, 2017

 

          Disgraced former Ballard County judge/executive Vickie Viniard pleaded guilty this afternoon in federal court in Paducah to all four counts of the indictment accusing her of bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application, and wire fraud.

          Senior Judge Thomas Powell set her sentencing for November 16. Viniard will remain free on bond until she appears for sentencing.

          Judge Powell went through all four counts, frequently asking Viniard if she had done the things of which she was accused. He asked her if those allegations were true and accurate, and each time she responded that they were.

          Judge Powell said the maximum sentence for all charges would be 110 years in prison. At one point during the exchanges with Judge Thomas, she referred briefly to a plea agreement. Generally, when a defendant reaches a plea agreement with the prosecution, the penalty is much less than the maximum possible penalty.

          Before asking her if she was admitting that she did the things of which she was charged, Judge Powell had Viniard take an oath to tell the truth.

          He then asked her several questions about her background and explained her rights to her. She told him that her work experience had included running a store in Gage, serving two terms as a magistrate on the fiscal court, and then serving two terms and part of a third as county judge/executive. She said her education was that she was a graduate of Ballard Memorial High School.

          In asking if she understood her rights, Judge Thomas referred to such rights as a trial by jury, a right to introduce evidence in her defense, a right to be presumed innocent unless she was found guilty. He explained that she would give up those rights by pleading guilty. He also told her that she would give up the right not to tell the court what she had done. After all the rights were explained, she said she waived her rights. She said she had not been coerced into pleading guilty, and was doing so of her own free will.

          Prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Nute Bonner read through the charges in the four-count indictment before the judge asked her point by point if she had committed the crimes as alleged.

          Among the charges were statements about how Viniard had obtained five loans on behalf of the county without authority to do so. The charges stated that she had obtained the loans to use for county expenditures, and she did not pocket any of the funds for her own use.

          Loan officers at banks accepted her claim that she had authority to obtain the loans without authorization of the fiscal court, and she admitted to an intent to defraud the fiscal court by obtaining loans.

          She admitted she did not have authority for the loans and did not ask the fiscal court to approve them, nor did she inform the fiscal court that she had obtained them.

          I continue to wish she had gone to trial, as she had insisted she would until about a week before the trial was scheduled to begin today. That would have given county residents a chance to hear the evidence against her and for her. I have written several times that I thought she could have been found not guilty.

          It seems, however, that the U.S. attorneys had a strong case. The list of exhibits they were prepared to introduce at trial was eight pages long. The list included lots of documents related to loans, several references to applicable Kentucky laws, fiscal court minutes from 2010 through 2014; copies of audits by Romaine & Associates for fiscal years 2007 through 2013, followed by an audit by the Auditor of Public Accounts for FY 2014.

          I was puzzled by the last four entries on the last page of the list of exhibits. Three are for copies of the Ballard County Weekly dated February 27, March 26, and May 14 of 2014. The final one listed is for Facebook screenshots of Supporters of Re-election of Vickie Viniard.

          I would like to learn what evidence those four would have provided.

          A number of people who have been staunch supporters of Vickie Viniard have been saying that she didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not sure what the narrative will be now that she has admitted that she broke federal laws.

Thoughts about change of plea

 

August 3, 2017

 

          Former Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard is scheduled to appear in federal court in Paducah at noon on Monday to change her plea to federal charges from not guilty to guilty of committing crimes. I think there are two options: She can make a standard guilty plea or perhaps she can make what is known as an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to continue declaring innocence while conceding that the prosecution has a strong case that will produce a verdict of guilty.

          I hope it’s not the Alford plea. I already have evidence that there will be an effort to convince folks that the former judge/executive was not guilty of anything. Or, if she was guilty the other members of fiscal court also did things that were improper. As far as I’m concerned, the very best outcome would have been a trial where all the evidence – the U.S. prosecution’s evidence and the Viniard defense evidence – would have been heard in public. That way, the people of Ballard County would have been able to learn all the evidence against her or in her favor. Either way the jury ruled, at least we would know why the Feds have a strong enough case to convince Viniard to change her plea.

          I have no inside knowledge about this case but I obviously have done some research into it and have given it a lot of thought. I have some expectations, perhaps more accurately they should be described as guesses. I concede that I could be and probably am wrong, but I will share them anyway.

          I don’t think Viniard and her attorneys called up the judge and announced their intentions to change her plea, after months of her declaring her innocence and insisting she would face a jury trial, unless they had worked out a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. This change of plea was announced in a telephone conference away from the public, and undoubtedly in concert with the prosecution. In my opinion, the only reason they would change her plea is that they knew the prosecution had an overwhelming case and she would probably be found guilty in a jury trial. As a rule, the penalties tend to be harsher for defendants who are found guilty than for defendants who plead guilty.

          If there is a plea agreement, as I believe there certainly must be, I predict that at least three of the four counts of the indictment will be dropped. Perhaps all four will be dropped and she will be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge than any of the allegations in the indictment. She will not serve any time in jail, and it is my opinion that she should not, but that is not my call.

          I have written that she is not accused of personally profiting from any of the criminal acts of which she is charged, and an anonymous caller a couple of nights ago made the same statement to me. I think that justifies a sentence that does not include time in jail. Perhaps more about the anonymous caller a little farther down.

          But to say she did not profit directly by pocketing money is not the same as saying she received nothing of value. The allegations of loss that are the basis of the indictments of Viniard and former treasurer Belinda Foster are for a period beginning in 2009 and continuing until 2016. The Ballard County Democratic Primary in which Viniard defeated two other candidates (I was one) was in May 2014. Had the information about the losses been made public prior to that election, there’s a good chance that Viniard would not have been elected to a third term as county judge/executive. (I came in third so I probably would not have won.) So, she was re-elected and has continued to be paid for going on three years since she was re-sworn into office, and she has accumulated pension increases during that time. Had the losses gone undiscovered, she could have served out the entire term. That’s a significant value.

          So, I guess all of this will come to closure on Monday, followed by whatever date is set for sentencing.

          I wish we had a trial and heard the evidence. Despite a guilty plea, many in Ballard County who are her supporters and don’t believe she would do anything wrong, much like President Trump supporters defend anything he says or does, will continue to proclaim that she wasn’t guilty of a crime.

           Todd Cooper, whom she named as deputy judge/executive after the allegations were made public and who has since been appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin to complete the term, doesn’t seem to believe that Viniard intended to do anything wrong.

          According to a story in the Paducah Sun on July 20, 2017, reporting that Cooper was sworn in, he is reported to have said: Viniard "set a high bar" and did "tremendous things for this community." He recently consulted with his former boss on county matters, specifically roads and funding.

          I accept that people can respect those who hired him, but I think under the circumstances I would have recommended that he not tell a reporter that he had consulted with his former boss on such things as funding.

          I probably spend too much time trying to analyze and understand things. This paragraph from that same article sent me into analysis mode: "We're a pretty open-minded community," Cooper said. "I believe most people believe in the system of innocent until proven guilty. I know there are some people who believe she's guilty, but that's what the court system is for -- to give her her day in court."

          The words “some people believe she’s guilty” imply to me that he thinks more people probably believe she’s not guilty. I don’t know if that’s what he meant to imply or if it might be true that more believe she’s not guilty. Certainly she is not guilty unless found otherwise after due process of law, but I suspect that most residents of the county have an opinion, assuming that they care enough to keep up with what goes on.  And that brings me back to that anonymous call I mentioned earlier.

          My landline rang a couple of nights ago. Almost no one who knows me calls on the landline. Usually it’s some cold sales call or a mistaken number, and more rarely it’s someone who looked up the number in the phone book because he/she does not have my cell number, which is easily found on my website or on my Facebook page.

          It was a woman who called. I answered and she asked, “Mr. Culver?”

          I answered, “This is Joe Culver.” (I said that because I really prefer to be called Joe instead of mister.)

          She went on to say she had seen me come into federal court with another person when Viniard was arraigned, and she wanted to thank me for my show of support.

          I told her I was not there to support her, but to write about the proceeding.

          It puzzled me that she could have seen me and another person. The only people in the courtroom were Viniard and the attorneys and maybe her pastor on the left as I looked toward the judge, a court clerk to the right of them, and the U.S. attorney on the right, and Dickie Moore and me in the courtroom. Moore and I did not enter together and we did not sit together. After the very short arraignment he did approach me and ask, “What just happened?” Like me, he couldn’t hear very well and I think he was expecting more than a formal announcement of a plea of not guilty.

          The caller’s statements included something to the effect that she was glad this was ending and that Viniard had done nothing wrong. I replied that the fact she is pleading guilty to federal criminal charges suggests to me that she did something wrong. I suspect that the “did nothing wrong” will become the narrative of her supporters.

          She said something about the state dropping charges, and I explained that the state had not dropped any charges because they never filed any. Viniard resigned effective June 30 and it is my understanding that the state had intended to take charges before the county grand jury on July 7. Those charges can be brought only against someone who is currently holding an office so Viniard’s resignation effectively prevented the state from filing charges. Had Viniard been tried and convicted on state charges, she could have lost her pension. She will not lose her pension by pleading guilty to the federal charges. I don’t know how much the pension will be but I imagine it will be substantial.

          I am disappointed that the state didn’t act more aggressively in this matter. In a page one story in the Paducah Sun on Nov. 17, 2016, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is quoted: "We will not sit idly by and let public officials take advantage of our citizens." That statement is contrary to the state’s future inaction.

          The caller also asked what I thought about the “illegal secret meetings the magistrates and Vicki Hayden had.” (I think that’s also going to be part of the narrative among Viniard supporters.) Hayden is the county attorney.

          To that I said that I don’t know about any secret meetings. The caller said she had seen them and had seen a letter from a magistrate to Hayden about them. I could not imagine at the time of the call nor can I imagine now who would have been in such a position as the caller, who claimed to see me in the federal court and to have seen the meetings and papers she referenced. As far as I can determine, only one woman would have been in that position.

          Anyway, I told the caller something I have written under the Ballard County Government tab where you’re reading this: I cannot think of any way that a meeting of county officials or of county officials and the attorney general could have any effect on an investigation by the FBI, indictments issued by the federal grand jury, and a prosecution led by a U.S. attorney.

          Besides, even if there had been, as she described them, “illegal secret meetings,” they would not be criminal matters. The remedy under the Kentucky Open Meetings law for unauthorized meetings of public bodies is that if someone can go to court and prove there were such meetings, and if anything was decided at those meetings, then the decisions can be declared null and void. That’s about it. The Open Meetings Law is a law without teeth, as far as I’m concerned.

          By the way, as someone who spent about half of his working career as a reporter, columnist, editor, publisher and general flunky in newspapers, I detest closed door meetings by public bodies. I am confident that the county fiscal court has had some closed door discussions about the Viniard situation, relying on Open Meetings Law exceptions such as litigation and personnel matters. I trust that they cannot use those exceptions now that there can be no county or state charges, no trial, and Viniard is no longer “personnel” following her resignation.

          I had reason around this time to ask the caller who she was. She said, “That’s not important.” I did not react well. I used some profanity and said something to the effect that I put my name on everything I write and I identify myself if I’m on the phone, and I do not continue to talk to cowards (I used some profane words instead of “cowards”) who won’t identify themselves. I told her I was hanging up, and I did.

          I’ll be glad when this is over.

Impact of Belinda Foster’s plea agreement

 

July 27, 2017

 

          Ever since former County Treasurer Belinda Foster announced that she would plead guilty to charges, some of which were the same as the now-former Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard faced, I speculated that the federal prosecutors would try to leverage the guilty plea into a guilty plea by Viniard.

          Viniard insisted that she would not plead guilty, but would be tried by jury. With the news that Viniard is changing her plea, I wonder again what Foster’s testimony would be. That may not have had any influence on Viniard's change of plea. I don't know.

          I opened an account in a service that seems to offer access to every federal court case. In the Viniard-Foster case, the summary front sheet listed 47 text filings.

          On Dec. 27, 2016, entry 22 was the plea agreement. On the same day, entry 25 was recorded as “SEALED Supplemental Plea Agreement.” When I saw that, I automatically assumed that the sealed agreement addresses a considerably lower charge or dismissal of some charges following Foster’s testimony against Viniard.

          I find all of this interesting and I remain aggravated that we won’t get to hear the testimony that would come out in a trial.

Vickie Viniard to change plea

 

July 27, 2017

 

          Damn! No trial for Vickie Viniard.

          I overheard something on the news which caused me to check the court calendar of the Paducah federal court. Sure enough, the court calendar shows a change. Former Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard was scheduled to have a jury charge beginning on August 7 before Senior Judge Thomas Russell. Now, she is scheduled for a change of plea hearing at noon on that date before Judge Russell. She had entered a not guilty plea at her arraignment, so a change of plea means she will be pleading guilty.

          I started this with an exclamatory Damn! because I had planned to attend and write about the trial. I wanted to hear and write a clear explanation of the testimony, whether it led to a not guilty verdict or a guilty verdict.

          I thought and I still think that county residents need to hear all the testimony for a better understanding of the federal crimes Viniard was charged with committing. I don’t know what her plea agreement is, assuming that she has one. I would not be surprised if some of the charges were dropped and she pleads guilty to only one charge, or even to a reduced charge. I doubt that she will serve any time in prison. She was not accused of pocketing any of the money involved in the four-count indictment.

          Counts 1 and 4 of the indictment by the federal grand jury are for bank fraud, and counts 2 and 3 are for making false statements on loan applications.

          Many county residents believe Viniard did not commit any crime. From the beginning after the public learned of the charges, Viniard maintained her innocence and said she would have a trial by jury. Viniard’s supporters insisted that she did not commit any crimes, and added that she is a “good woman.”

          Being a good person does not qualify a person to hold a job. Experience, education, and ability to handle the job requirements probably are more important than being a good person. It is my opinion that Viniard became overwhelmed by the job and that is what led to her committing the crimes. Bear in mind, that is only my opinion.

          I predict that many of the people who have insisted she committed no crimes will defend her guilty plea. They may say she is pleading guilty to avoid further embarrassment to the county. They may say she is pleading guilty because she has health issues that would make it too difficult for her to endure the rigors of a trial. They will not believe she is guilty, even if she pleads that she is.

          To those I would say, compassion is a good thing but a guilty plea is an admission that the person who pleads guilty acknowledges that she has committed a crime.

          To those who would celebrate her guilt, I say again that compassion is a good thing.

          Viniard resigned from the office of judge/executive effective June 30. I wondered at the time about the timing of the resignation.

          By resigning, the former judge/executive avoided facing state charges. If she were convicted of state charges, she could (or would) lose her pension. It is my understanding that conviction on federal charges will not cost her the pension.

          A state case with charges for malfeasance, misfeasance, and neglect of duty reportedly was ready to be submitted to the Ballard County Grand Jury on July 7. Those charges can only be levied against an official who is in office, so Viniard’s resignation a week before that date means there can be no state charges. It may be coincidental that she resigned at that time for health reasons.

          Also, June 30 is the end of the county’s fiscal year and she may have chosen to resign to coincide with the end of the FY.

          The federal government became involved in the case because the state attorney general investigators went directly to the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney’s office. County officials never asked for federal involvement. They had intended to let the state handle the case.

          Todd Cooper, hired by Viniard to be the deputy judge/executive, was appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin to be county judge/executive through the remainder of the term. I believe he intends to run for the office in the next election

Fiscal Court votes for lower possible tax rate

 

July 25, 2017

 

          Given two choices for a property tax rate for fiscal year 2018, the Ballard County Fiscal Court voted unanimously this afternoon in a called meeting for the lower increase.

          According to the Kentucky Department for Local Government, the permissible rates were 22.50 (22.50 cents) per $100, which is called a compensating rate, or 23.40, which would be a 4 per cent increase.

          The rate for fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30, was 21.40.

          Magistrate Stonnie Dennis said that he would not vote for the higher increase and moved that the lower rate be accepted. Magistrate Bob Renfrow seconded the motion, and after some discussion, there was a unanimous vote to adopt the lower rate.

          During the discussion, County Treasurer Susan Bailey and Magistrate John Summers both pointed out that the lower increase would not quite fund the county’s budget, while the 4 per cent increase would.

          Bailey said the compensating rate would amount to revenue some $50,000 less than the budget called for, and Summers also said the compensating rate would drop the county below budget figures.

           In response to a question, Dennis said that when he was elected magistrate, the county’s budget was more than $8 million, but the fiscal court has managed to reduce it to around $5.7 million.

          Before the meeting began, I told the fiscal court that it may be coincidence but the county now has a Facebook page that coincides with Todd Cooper being sworn in as judge/executive. That page is where I saw the information about today’s called meeting and I encourage all of you who read this article to “like” the page. I was disappointed that all of you managed not to attend this important meeting about the tax rate.

Cooper probably our next county judge/executive

 

July 14, 2017

 

          I was in the courthouse this morning to pay fees on a vehicle. Todd Cooper happened to come in, and we talked for several minutes.

          Cooper, you probably know, was hired last year by former County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard as her deputy judge/executive. I wrote at the time, “I think Todd is a fine person. I am getting tired, however, of the recycling of people who make their living on public payroll, the hiring of relatives to serve in the offices, and the practice that the offices often pass down to relatives like they were being willed or deeded.”  Viniard, for all practical purposes, hand-picked her successor. Cooper had served a number of terms as county sheriff before he decided not to run again in the last election. Had he run, he probably would be sheriff today.

Mostly we see the same faces at the courthouse. I would like to see new blood, new ideas, better use of modern technology. I’m not talking about me, even though I am fairly knowledgeable about modern technology and I have lots of ideas. I’m talking about some younger people who don’t automatically assume that the way we’ve always done business is the way we should keep doing it.

I have heard a number of good things being said about Cooper’s performance of duty in his job. I think the county magistrates have recommended to Gov. Matt Bevin that he should appoint Cooper to the judge/executive position. I imagine that will happen (unless Bevin decides to appoint a Republican) and I imagine Cooper will do a very good job. I imagine, although we didn’t talk about it, that he will run for the full term when this one expires. I also imagine that if he does run, he will be elected.

He acknowledged that I have written much about the fact that Viniard faces federal criminal charges, and he said that I write well. (At least he has a good perception of ability.)

He seems to have a considerable amount of respect for Viniard as a person. He said he does not believe she was a thief, or words to that effect. He may have said he does not believe she committed crimes.

I told him I don’t know if she committed crimes, but I do believe she did not intend to commit any. But, I added, intent sometimes is not a deciding matter. Hypothetically, I may not have noticed the speed limit sign before I was pulled over for going 60 in a 25 mph zone, but my lack of intent to speed probably won’t keep me from getting a ticket. What I said to him is consistent to what I wrote last year when the news of federal investigation was first reported.

I wrote, “I just saw a story on WPSD-TV’s site reporting that the Ballard County judge/executive is being investigated by the FBI. I hope the story isn’t true and I hope that if Vickie Viniard is investigated she will be found to have conducted herself totally honestly and ethically in her official duties. I ran against her in the most recent Democratic primary for local officials. I questioned her intelligence, her professionalism and her ability to provide meaningful planned leadership, but I never had any reason to question her honesty and I hope there is no reason to do so.”

Unfortunately, a federal grand jury did vote to indict Viniard on four counts related to things she is accused of doing while in office.

I also told Cooper that Vickie Viniard is innocent. She remains innocent unless the jury at her trial that is scheduled for August 7 finds her guilty. I believe there is a good chance the jury will not find her guilty. But that’s just my speculation.

Cooper told me that the county is looking into setting up a modern website that will provide much better communication service to county residents. I applaud that effort. Ballard County has not yet embraced 21st Century technology. Grant money will be used for this project and I hope the website is kept up-to-date and that it includes important information about upcoming fiscal court meetings and what happened at previous meetings. This is an important undertaking and I trust that the fiscal court will handle it as a top priority.

Vickie Viniard enters “Not Guilty” plea

 

July 12, 2017

 

          Vickie Viniard entered a formal plea of “not guilty” this afternoon through her attorney in an arraignment proceeding before Magistrate Judge Lanny King in United States District Court in Paducah.

          Viniard, who resigned effective June 30 from her elected position as Ballard County judge/executive, was represented by attorney Gorman Bradley Jr., of Bradley, Freed, and Grumley, Paducah.

          The proceeding lasted only a few minutes.

          Judge King ordered that Viniard would be released on the same terms and conditions as at her prior appearance.

          Viniard will be tried by jury before Senior Judge Thomas Russell in Paducah beginning at 9 a.m. August 7.

          Judge King said Viniard will face an indictment of four counts in that trial. If she should be convicted, counts one through three have a maximum penalty of not more than 30 years and count four has a penalty of not more than 20 years.

          Indictments are nothing more than a statement of charges against a defendant. They are not proof of guilt. A jury can find a defendant guilty or not guilty, or sometimes a jury is unable to reach a verdict. Defendants enter court with a presumption of innocence.

          Here are the allegations against Viniard.

          Count 1 is for bank fraud. It alleges, “From in or about and between June of 2012 and June of 2014,” Viniard executed a scheme “to obtain money or other property totaling approximately $1,076,00, owned by, or under the custody or control of, First Southern National Bank and First Community Bank, both federally insured financial institutions, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises ….” Viniard is accused of misrepresenting to the banks that she had authority to apply for and obtain the loans, while pledging a Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. This count alleges that she did not have that authority. She is alleged to have obtained the loans to procure operating funds for the county. She also is alleged to have concealed the loans from the fiscal court and the Kentucky Department of Local Government.

          Count 2 is for false statement on a loan application. That court alleges that Viniard, on or about April 17, 2014, made a false statement in connection with a loan when she claimed that the fiscal court had authorized her on April 3, 2014, to borrow money on its behalf. But, the count continues, no fiscal court meeting was held on that date and the fiscal court had not authorized her to borrow money. A loan of $300,000 was obtained.

          The grand jury alleged another false statement on a loan application for count 3. The allegation is that in June of 2012, Viniard made a false statement to First Southern National Bank that she, as judge/executive, had the unilateral authority to borrow money on behalf of Ballard County. This resulted in a loan of $184,648.

          The grand jury’s count 4 is for wire fraud. The allegation accuses her of making false representations without the knowledge of the fiscal court to “cause a signal to be transmitted, by wire communication in interstate commerce to obtain loans without knowledge or consent of the fiscal court and without giving notice of the loans to the Kentucky Department of Local Government. Further, the count alleges, she concealed the loans and caused a wire transfer of $100,000 from First Community Bank in Wickliffe, to Huntington National Bank in Columbus Ohio, on June 12, 2014.

          I think it is significant to remember that Vickie Viniard is not accused of obtaining any of the loans for her personal enrichment. I have no knowledge of how the prosecution will present its case, or of how the defense will present her defense on August 7, but I imagine that the jury will weigh the reason she allegedly obtained the loans and the jurors may conclude that she had no criminal intent.

          If you should decide to attend the trial, I’ll share with you that I found it difficult to understand what was being said even though the courtroom has a sound system.

No state charges against Vickie Viniard

 

July 3, 2017

 

          By resigning from her elected office effective June 30, former Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard apparently avoids facing state charges.

          She faces a jury trial for federal charges of bank fraud beginning at 9 a.m. on August 7 before Senior Judge Thomas Russell in federal court in Paducah. Arraignment will be on July 12 at 1:30 p.m. before federal Magistrate Judge Lanny King. At the arraignment she will be told of the charges against her and asked to plead not guilty or guilty.

          A state case with charges for malfeasance, misfeasance, and neglect of duty reportedly was ready to be submitted to the Ballard County Grand Jury on July 7. Those charges can only be levied against an official who is in office, so Viniard’s resignation a week before that date means there can be no state charges. It may be coincidental that she resigned at that time for health reasons.

          County Attorney Vicki Hayden had requested a special prosecutor through the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office in September, 2016, after negotiations ended between her and Viniard’s attorney concerning Viniard’s future as county judge/executive. In response to a question I asked, Hayden said she requested a special prosecutor because she could not ethically prosecute the case.

          The federal government became involved in the case because the state attorney general investigators went directly to the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney’s office. County officials never asked for federal involvement. They had intended to let the state handle the case.

          I have heard of rumors that have been circulating about illegal secret meetings involving state and county officials, and speculation that such meetings would weaken the case against Viniard. I asked County Attorney Hayden about those rumors. She denied that there were any illegal meetings.

          I asked about the rumors because I was curious how any meetings between county and state officials, if there had been any such meetings, could affect a federal prosecution based on evidence obtained by federal investigators. I was skeptical that there could be any effect.

          The meetings of public bodies fall under several laws known as open meetings laws, perhaps better known as sunshine laws. With few exceptions, all such meetings must be announced in advance and be open to the public. I believe these laws are almost toothless. There are no criminal penalties associated with them. I believe I’m correct in saying that if violations do occur and are proven, the penalty is that any action taken during illegal meetings is declared null and void.

          I remind you once more: In our system of justice, all accused people come before the court with a presumption of innocence. They remain innocent unless they are tried and found guilty. I can’t predict the outcome of Vickie Viniard’s trial. I certainly would not be surprised if she is found not guilty. As far as I know, she did not receive any personal financial gain from the actions of which she is accused, and that could very well be a significant point in her defense. I can see how a jury might consider that in her favor, no matter what the evidence may show.

Arraignment for Vickie Viniard

 

June 29, 2017

 

          Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard, whose resignation from her elected office is effective tomorrow (June 30), is scheduled for arraignment on July 12.

          According to the on-line calendar of the federal court in Paducah, her arraignment is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 12 in the Paducah courtroom before Magistrate Judge Lanny King.

          A glossary of legal terms on the court’s website defines arraignment: “A proceeding in which a criminal defendant is brought into court, told of the charges in an indictment or information, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.”

Viniard is scheduled to be tried before a jury on August 7 in federal court in Paducah before Senior Judge Thomas Russell. The charges of bank fraud, according to U.S. Attorney John Kuhn, are related to a scheme that involved obtaining bank loans using a Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral.

Former county treasurer Belinda Foster also was charged. She has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 5.

County Judge/Executive has resigned

 

June 20, 2017

 

          Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard has resigned effective June 30.

Ballard County Clerk Lynn Lane read Viniard’s letter of resignation to the Ballard County Fiscal Court in the court’s meeting this morning.

Magistrate Bob Renfrow will lead the fiscal court meetings until Viniard’s successor is appointed by the governor. It is likely that Deputy Judge/Executive Todd Cooper will be named to finish the unexpired term.

Viniard is scheduled to be tried on federal criminal charges on August 7 in federal court in Paducah. The charges of bank fraud, according to U.S. Attorney John Kuhn, are related to a scheme that involved obtaining bank loans using a Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral.

Former county treasurer Belinda Foster also was charged. She has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 5.

          Viniard was not present in the fiscal court meeting this morning. She has missed recent meetings because of reported medical issues.

          Her letter of resignation did not say if the medical issues are the reason she has decided to resign at this time.

          I wonder what effect, if any, the timing of her resignation will have on her scheduled trial by jury. I also wonder about the reason for her resignation at this time, instead of waiting until after the trial. If she is tried and found not guilty, she would have no reason not to complete the term of office.

          I also don’t know if the timing has anything to do with the pension she will receive for having served in the elected office.

Some of you also are wondering about the timing of Viniard's resignation from her elected position.

I also wonder about it. I have some thoughts but I won't write and post them because I don't have any information that would provide a foundation for speculation.

I will note, however, that I will be following the online calender of the federal court's Western District of Kentucky for any changes in the schedule of proceedings, trial and sentencing in these two cases. You can find the court calendar at this link: http://www.kywd.uscourts.gov/content/paducah

I think I missed the resignation

 

June 9, 2017

 

A story in today’s Paducah Sun reports that the mayor of Mayfield, Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell, has been elected by board members as chair of the Purchase Area Development District’s board of directors. PADD is one of 15 area development districts in the state.

She was elected in May, according to the story, to fill the remainder of the term of Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard, who resigned. It wasn’t clear from the wording, but Viniard resigned from the board, not from her elected position.

I must have missed that announcement, which is very likely because I don’t follow PADD stories.

Viniard is scheduled for a jury trial beginning at 9 a.m. on August 7 before Senior Judge Thomas Russell. Meanwhile, she continues to serve as judge/executive. She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Co-defendant Belinda Foster, former county treasurer, has pleaded guilty to her charges and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Russell on September 5 at 11:30 a.m.

I don’t know exactly what PADD does but I haven’t seen a lot of development in Ballard County, so its primary focus probably is aimed elsewhere.

The evolution of West Kentucky politics

 

June 1, 2017

 

          An obituary in today’s Paducah Sun newspaper caused me to think about the evolution of politics in Ballard County and other parts of Western Kentucky.

          I didn’t know G.V. Dunkerson Sr., of Kevil. He apparently led an impressive life that included working on the manned moon missions of years past.

          Here are the first two paragraphs of his obituary:

          “KEVIL — G.V. Dunkerson Sr., 86, of Kevil, Kentucky, passed away Tuesday, May 30, 2017, at Baptist Health Paducah. Mr. Glendal Vernon Dunkerson was a Republican and a veteran of the United States Navy. He was of the Baptist Faith and loved his family. Mr. Dunkerson had a long career in the aerospace industry, working on the man moon missions followed by a second career in hospital support management in the Saudi Arabia.”

          As a general rule when survivors prepare an obituary, they tend to list the most important achievements first: “Mr. Glendal Vernon Dunkerson was a Republican….”

          When I first became eligible to vote, being a Republican would certainly set you apart from most of the people in the area. Even today, if you go just by voter registrations, Republicans are a minority.

          In Ballard County elections, it is rare for anyone to run as a Republican. Stonnie Dennis ran as a Republican for third district magistrate in the most recent county election and he defeated a Democratic incumbent.

          What fascinates me about county politics is that even though most voters are registered as Democrats, they seem to align more closely with Republicans in their political outlook. Proof of that statement is that while registered Democrats win county offices, voters here pick Republicans for state and national offices.

          It is my opinion that we will see a gradual shift of registrations from Democrat to Republican in the coming years. I also expect to see more candidates follow Stonnie Dennis in running as Republicans.

          In the last primary for county officials, Carey Batts won the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for sheriff.

          Billy Wayne Wildharber did not run in the primary. A registered Democrat, Wildharber chose to run a write-in campaign against Batts in the general election.

          It’s not easy to be a successful write-in candidate. Voters have to go to the trouble of writing your name instead of just checking a box beside the name of another candidate. Despite the odds, Wildharber – to the best of my memory, because I can’t find the actual number – got more than 1,400 votes.

          That’s a lot of votes. Had he run as a Republican or even as an Independent where his name would have appeared on the ballot, I believe there’s a good chance he would have won.

          If more Republican candidates start showing up on the county ballots, and especially if those candidates are elected, that could trigger a shift in registrations. I believe most people here are registered as Democrats because … well, because they and their ancestors have always registered as Democrats because Democrats win county elections.

          Speaking of the county, I did a Google search for “Ballard County Government” and the second thing that came up was my website. I thought that was interesting and perhaps even odd.

          I did another Google search for “Ballard County Fiscal Court” and that brings up a site hosted by the Purchase Area Development District (PADD) that includes Belinda Foster as treasurer. As we know, she resigned in 2016 and has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges. Some other people listed as officials no longer serve. That site needs to be updated.

Proceedings, trial rescheduled

 

May 29, 2017

 

          Either I’ve been reading the court calendar of Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell in Paducah Federal Court wrong or the calendar is being changed fairly regularly.

          I looked at the calendar again this morning because the last time I looked it showed that there was to be a “further proceeding” by teleconference last Thursday for former Ballard County Treasurer Belinda Foster and Ballard County Judge/ExecutiveVickie Viniard.

          Foster served as Ballard County treasurer until she resigned at the beginning of 2016 after an audit of fiscal year 2014 records showed that the county had suffered money losses for a period beginning in 2009 and continuing until 2016.

U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the charges against Foster and Viniard stem from a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.

Viniard was indicted on charges of bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application, and wire fraud. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Foster was included in the bank and wire fraud charges and was charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds. She was charged with paying herself money to which she was not entitled. She has pleaded guilty.

          The court’s calendar this morning shows what I think are new dates for future proceedings.

          A “further proceeding” teleconference for Viniard is now scheduled for June 26, and a trial by jury is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on August 7. Foster’s sentencing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 5.

          I don’t know if the teleconference scheduled for last week took place.

          I called the court a week or so before that scheduled teleconference and asked if teleconference proceedings are open to the public. The woman to whom I spoke said she didn’t know and she transferred me to the phone of Judge Russell’s office. That transfer was answered by a machine. I left a message, but I never received a call, so I still don’t know if the teleconferences are public proceedings or behind-closed-door discussions between judge and attorneys.

          If you are interested in the dates of proceedings in these cases, you can find them at http://www.kywd.uscourts.gov/content/paducah.

          If you plan to attend, it’s probably a good idea to check the calendar before you go to make sure there has been no change.

Open meetings and why they should be open

 

May 21, 2017

 

          With our county judge/executive facing federal criminal charges and knowing the propensity of governing bodies to hide public business from the public by going into closed sessions, I recently submitted a question to the state attorney general about the Kentucky open meetings law.

          The open meetings law says that the meetings of public bodies are to be conducted in front of the public, with a very few exceptions. Here’s the exact language: “The General Assembly finds and declares that the basic policy of KRS 61.805 to 61.850 is that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret and the exceptions provided for by KRS 61.810 or otherwise provided for by law shall be strictly construed.”

          One of those exceptions is this: “Discussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an individual employee, member, or student without restricting that employee’s, member’s, or student’s right to a public hearing if requested. This exception shall not be interpreted to permit discussion of general personnel matters in secret.”

          My question to the attorney general was this: Is an elected official who is a member of a governing body considered an employee or member under the exception I copied in the paragraph above this one?

          I was surprised to get a telephone call from someone in the attorney general’s office one day last week while shopping in Walmart. I had expected an e-mail response or a response by post office mail. That person said it is the opinion of the attorney general that the exception includes elected officials, but said there was no litigation history on the question.

          We had a good back-and-forth discussion.

          My position was and is that discussions about elected officials of a governing body should not be held in closed session, but should be discussed in a public forum. Otherwise, you could face the outrageous situation where an entire governing body was charged with committing crimes related to their offices, but could go into closed session to come up with excuses. Of course, in the situation I described, they probably would work their excuses out over the phone and not wait for closed session.

          Candidates file to run for offices to represent us, but too many times after they are elected they are eager to have closed sessions where they can discuss matters away from public scrutiny. We have only their word that the closed session was necessary and that the discussions were legitimate.

          Are discussions in closed sessions a problem? I think so. Elected officials can call a closed session on a sensitive topic, perhaps one that could embarrass them, and hash out the details that will lead to a decision. There would then be minimum discussion in open session followed by a vote.

          Okay, we learned how that voted. Isn’t that enough? No, it’s not enough. In many cases, the reasons for a particular vote are just as important as the vote itself, and may be even more important than the actual vote.

          I think it should be a very rare thing for governing bodies to go into secret sessions. It is public business they are conducting. They asked the public to elect them. Conduct the public’s business in front of the public. If it embarrasses you to state a controversial opinion, then you should not have run for the office and you should resign.

Belinda Foster sentencing rescheduled

 

May 19, 2017

 

          Belinda Foster’s sentencing appears to have been rescheduled for a little more than three months later, according to the court calendar of Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell in Paducah Federal Court.

          I wonder why?

          On April 20, 2017, when I looked at the court calendar online, it showed that Foster was to be sentenced today. I put it on my calendar because I planned to go to court, take notes, and write about it.

          I checked this morning to make sure it was still on the calendar and saw that it is not there. I searched through future dates on the calendar and found that it has been rescheduled for noon, August 29, a Tuesday.

          That’s eight days after the scheduled trial of Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard, which is on the court calendar for 9 a.m. Monday, August 21.

I wrote on April 20, “When Foster pleaded guilty, I thought they might delay sentencing until she would be called as a witness against Viniard, if Viniard went to trial. I speculated that Foster might have bargained for a reduced sentence based on her being a witness, and that this would be used as leverage to get a guilty plea from Viniard.”

I wonder if this change of Foster’s sentencing date until after Viniard’s trial might be for the leverage I mentioned in April.

The court calendar this morning shows three teleconferences for these cases. The one on May 25 shows the names of both defendants, but the ones on June 30 and August 11 show Viniard’s name only.

          Foster served as Ballard County treasurer for quite a few years. An audit of fiscal year 2014 records showed some losses. The losses were ongoing for a period beginning in 2009 and continuing until 2016. She resigned in 2016.

          U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the charges against Foster and Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard stem from Viniard and Foster executing a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.

Viniard was indicted on charges of bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application, and wire fraud. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Foster is included in the bank and wire fraud charges and is charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds. She was charged with paying herself money to which she was not entitled.

If Viniard is convicted by the jury or if she pleads guilty by way of a plea agreement, a couple of things bug me. One is that she will have continued to draw her salary from the time she was charged. I speculated early on that one strategy could be to stretch the thing out as long as possible so she can continue to be paid. The other “bug” is that she apparently will be eligible to receive her pension as if nothing has happened.

If she goes to trial and is found not guilty, then she deserves credit for standing up to unfounded or unprovable charges, and fighting to preserve or regain her reputation.

          And I want to restate this point, which I believe is of utmost importance: Vickie Viniard will go into court as an innocent person. That’s the way our legal system operates, and it’s the way it should operate. A defendant goes to trial with a presumption of innocence. It is up to the prosecutors – in this case a Federal prosecutor – to provide evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor can’t do that, the defendant must be found to be not guilty.

Some musings about criminal charges

 

May 4, 2017

 

          I periodically think about the upcoming proceedings in Federal court and what they may or may not mean, and what may or may not be the outcomes.

          I admit up front that I really don’t understand what’s going on. But I can’t help but speculate.

          According to the Paducah Federal Court website, Belinda Foster’s sentencing is scheduled for May 19.

          Foster served as Ballard County treasurer for quite a few years. An audit of fiscal year 2014 records showed some losses. The losses were ongoing for a period beginning in 2009 and continuing until 2016. She resigned in 2016.

          U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the charges against Foster and Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard stem from Viniard and Foster executing a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.

Viniard was indicted on charges of bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application, and wire fraud. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Foster is included in the bank and wire fraud charges and is charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds. She was charged with paying herself money to which she was not entitled.

I have not seen anything that suggests Viniard was personally enriched by any of the cited transactions.

When Foster pleaded guilty, I thought they might delay sentencing until she would be called as a witness against Viniard, if Viniard went to trial. I speculated that Foster might have bargained for a reduced sentence based on her being a witness, and that this would be used as leverage to get a guilty plea from Viniard.

A jury trial has been scheduled for August 21. If she is guilty as charged, Viniard still could work out a plea agreement. If she believes she is not guilty, then there will be a trial and I assume that Foster will be called as a witness.

It’s possible that even after she is sentenced on May 19, Foster might be given some consideration for a sentence reduction if she testifies. The FBI and the U.S. attorneys have lots of means of coming up with agreements that can put pressure on one person and relieve pressure on another. The trial, if there is one, should be very interesting.

It has been reported that if Viniard is convicted of the federal charges, she will remain entitled to receive a state pension. If the state adds state charges and she is convicted, she would lose that pension. I have speculated that the possibility of state charges and loss of a pension also could be used as pressure to get her to plead guilty. I personally find it distasteful that an elected official, who is convicted of a crime related to duties of the elected office, could remain entitled to a state pension, but if that’s the law … maybe the law should be changed.

Some people have told me they would like to see a clean sweep of the fiscal court, including the judge/executive and all the magistrates. That’s not likely to happen. I do think the magistrates bear some responsibility for the losses. A couple of the magistrates are serving their first terms and were not members of the fiscal court during the period when the losses were incurred.

I speculate that all of this has led to a closer scrutiny of the county’s financial matters by the fiscal court. If so, that is a good thing.

          And I want to make this point, a point I have made before: Vickie Viniard will go into court as an innocent person. That’s the way our legal system operates, and it’s the way it should operate. A defendant goes to trial with a presumption of innocence. It is up to the prosecutors – in this case a Federal prosecutor – to provide evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor can’t do that, the defendant must be found to be not guilty.

Here’s the schedule of court proceedings as posted on the Paducah Federal Court website:

          On May 19, sentencing of Belinda Foster is scheduled.

On June 30, a “further proceeding” teleconference is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

          On August 11, another “further proceeding” teleconference is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

          On August 21, a jury trial is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT

 

April 26, 2017

 

A story in today’s Paducah Sun reports that the jobless rate decreased in 86 Kentucky counties in 2016. In west Kentucky, in the eight counties of the Purchase Area Development District, the jobless rate dropped in four, stayed the same in two, but rose in Ballard and Carlisle counties.

Ballard had the highest rate of unemployment, 8.6 percent, compared to 6.9 percent in 2015.

Here’s a thought that might not be relevant but, in my opinion, is interesting nonetheless. While the unemployment rate was rising some 1.7 percent in 2016 amid the loss of local businesses, the Ballard County judge/executive was able to hire a deputy judge/executive and the Fiscal Court was able to come up with money to pay the part-time deputy judge/executive. This was apparently because the judge/executive, who is facing federal criminal charges, apparently was not able to do the job for which she ran and was elected.

If she is convicted, she may get to keep her pension. Makes me scratch my head and mumble to myself.

Court calendar for Vickie Viniard

 

April 20, 2017

 

          I went to the Paducah Federal Court website to see if anything new has been scheduled in USA v Viniard et al, the criminal case with charges against Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard and former Ballard County Treasurer Belinda Foster.

          Here’s what I found.

          On May 19, sentencing of Belinda Foster is scheduled. You will recall that she entered a guilty plea.

          On June 30, a “further proceeding” teleconference is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

          On August 11, another “further proceeding” teleconference is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

          On August 21, a jury trial is scheduled for Vickie Viniard.

Former Treasurer wants to plead guilty?

 

December 12, 2016

 

          I saw a story this evening on WPSD’s online page that former Ballard County treasurer Belinda Foster wants to change her plea to guilty. She will be in federal court on December 27 to change her plea.

          Ms. Foster pleaded not guilty on Nov. 16 to federal charges.

          Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard has been indicted on charges of bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application, and wire fraud. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Ms. Foster, who has resigned from her position as county treasurer,   is included in the bank and wire fraud charges and is charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds.

U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the charges stem from Viniard and Foster executing a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.

During the course of several years, Ballard County paid something on the order of a million dollars for expenditures that should not have been made.

          A friend asked me tonight via a Facebook message, “What is the logic in this new move?”

          I have no information about what would be driving a change in plea but I can think of a few possible reasons.

          One is that Ms. Foster realizes she broke the law and wants to confess to get it off her conscience.

          A similar reason is that the FBI has such strong evidence that agreeing to plead guilty for a lesser sentence makes sense. I feel certain that a plea agreement is involved here.

          Also, I am aware of situations involving multiple defendants where the U.S. attorney will accept a guilty plea from one defendant but delay sentencing. That provides some leverage against other defendants who might then decide to enter their own guilty pleas, knowing that the co-defendant’s testimony will count heavily in a trial. If such is the case with the Ballard County defendants – depending, of course, on the roles and actions of parties who did commit crimes – Ms. Foster probably would get a very good plea bargain whether she testifies or just is used as leverage.

          I don’t know if either Ms. Viniard or Ms. Foster committed a crime.

          But if Ms. Viniard did commit a crime, causing the county to spend money on unauthorized loans, it rankles me that if she pleads guilty, she would get to keep her pension. If the crimes an officeholder commits involve the performance of the elected position, or perhaps it would be better to say the misperformance of the position, I believe that should disqualify the person from receiving a pension. Pensions should be used to reward service done well and within the legal bounds of the office.

          That said, I’ll repeat that just because a person is charged with committing a crime does not mean that the person did commit it. Under our laws, all defendants are presumed to be innocent.

Newest development in judge/executive matter

December 8, 2016

          I saw on Paducah TV news tonight that Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard’s attorney entered a “not guilty” plea in federal court in Paducah on behalf of Judge Viniard.

          She is charged with bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application and wire fraud. Belinda Foster, former county treasurer who resigned, is included in the bank and wire fraud charges and is charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds. U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the charges stem from Viniard and Foster executing a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.

          In the news clip, County Attorney Vicki Hayden urged Mrs. Viniard to resign instead of letting the case go to trial.

          It was reported on the news that if she is convicted of the federal charges, she will continue to be paid and remain entitled to receive a pension. If the state adds a couple of state charges that are being considered and she is convicted, Judge Viniard would lose her pension.

          Of course, if she goes to trial and is found not guilty, she would continue to receive salary and pension.

          I received the Ballard County Chamber of Commerce electronic newsletter today. The newsletter contained the information that Judge Viniard is scheduled to deliver her annual State of the County address at the Chamber breakfast next Tuesday, Dec. 13. That has to be awkward, I imagine.

          I have a couple of questions.

          If Judge Viniard resigns and keeps her pension, how much will she receive in pension payments?

          If she continues to remain in office, how much does each additional period of service add to her pension?

          I’m surprised that an official who is convicted of a federal crime on charges related to performance of duty retains eligibility for a state pension.

          A TV reporter asked me about a month ago if I knew of any attempt to impeach Judge Viniard. I told her then and I would continue to say that I think impeachment at this point would be premature. Accusation is not a good basis for impeaching an elected official. And I know of no such activity anyway.

          I think it will come down to how strong a case the FBI has developed through its investigation. If it looks strong enough to convict, then it would make sense for Judge Viniard to resign, even though she would face an outpouring of public censure, and the humiliation that would go with it.

          If she did nothing illegal, if the case is weak, and if her attorney advises her that she probably won’t be convicted, she probably should fight the charges. I certainly would not plead guilty to a crime I didn’t commit and I imagine she would not, either.

          Finally, I wonder if the FBI and the U.S. Attorney plan to call Belinda Foster as a witness, and what her testimony would be in exchange for a plea agreement.

Voting against our own interests

 

December 4, 2016

 

A big majority of Ballard County voters are registered as Democrats, but a majority of the people who vote in our elections (except those for county offices) vote for Republicans. (Democrats 73.37 per cent of county’s registered voters as of Nov. 17, 2015; Republicans 22.02 per cent.)

I think they are voting against their own interests. Time will tell. I may be proven wrong. Changes that are coming may improve the lives of Ballard County residents and all Kentuckians. Changes may make our lives worse. I hope that we are wise enough to recognize which direction we’re headed, and that we do not try to spin good into bad or bad into good. Let the facts be actual facts.

That being said, let me write about a very specific concern: Health care.

Republicans have said they want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and they want to mess with Medicare. What’s the impact here?

According to information I found, in Kentucky 1,354,472 people are enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. The population of Kentucky is a little more than 4,437,500.

Numbers I found on state or federal sites show that 2,204 Ballard County residents are in the Medicaid program, and 1,921 are enrolled in Medicare. That’s a total of 4,125 people from a county population of 8,249 in the 2010 census. In other words, almost exactly 50 percent of Ballard County residents depend on the government for at least part of the costs of their health care.

I didn’t see costs for Medicaid, but I found numbers that show typical government spending of $9,716 per Ballard County person through the Medicare program. It works out to something over $15,000,000 a year, and that’s just for Ballard County.W

What happens if those programs go away, become changed so much that they don’t cover your needs, or require you to pay for services you had been getting at no cost? It would hurt some of you, devastate others.

If you tried to blame someone – and we always try to find someone to blame – President Obama won’t be there in front of your pointing finger.

Who will we blame if things get really bad?

If … then why?

 

November 17, 2016

 

          If Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard committed the crimes for which she has been indicted … crimes under Federal law that call for maximum sentences of many years in prison … then the question that must be answered is, “Why?”

          I have seen no accusations that she profited from the crimes that the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, and the Kentucky Attorney General say she committed.

          So, if she did commit crimes, WHY did she? That is a puzzle to me and one that may be answered if the case advances to a trial or a plea bargain.

          In the meantime, you must keep in mind that Mrs. Viniard is innocent. In our country, people accused of crime are presumed to be innocent unless and until they plead guilty or are found guilty after a trial. That is a basic foundation of due process. A person can be as guilty as sin of even a heinous crime, but is innocent in the eyes of the law until a guilty plea or a verdict rendered on evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a protection to which all of us are entitled, and, in my opinion, one of the most important protections granted to us by our constitution.

          According to a story in the Paducah Sun today, across the top of the front page, here is a description of the charges:

“Viniard is charged with bank fraud, making a false statement on a loan application and wire fraud. Foster (Belinda Foster, former county treasurer who resigned) is included in the bank and wire fraud charges and is charged with three additional counts of wire fraud for allegedly instigating interstate wire communications to transfer funds. Kuhn (U.S. Attorney John Kuhn) said that charges stem from Viniard and Foster executing a scheme that involved obtaining approximately $450,000 in bank loans, using a $500,000 Ballard County certificate of deposit as collateral. Viniard and Foster were charged with obtaining the loans without authorization from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. Kuhn said they did so secretly to procure operating funds for Ballard County.”

          There was no allegation of personal profit to Mrs. Viniard. If she did what she is accused of doing, why? Why?

          She could have and should have gone to the full fiscal court and explained the need for loans. But she didn’t.

          All I can do is speculate. And this speculation is from a standpoint that she did what they accused her of.

          It could have been pure arrogance. Maybe she has decided she didn’t want to fool with the fiscal court and the likely questions and debate that would follow her request.

          It could have been ignorance. Maybe she didn’t know she was required by law to get approval. I don’t think that would be a strong plea in her defense. She had been in the office for about eight years when this loan was taken so she should be very familiar with the process involved. Also, her apparent efforts to hide the fact of the loan from fiscal court suggest guilt, or perhaps just embarrassment.

          It could have been a deliberate flouting of the law under a false assumption that the loan would never be discovered. Perhaps she was already aware that the county was short of as much as $900,000.

          I can even speculate that if the money that should have been available had been available, there would have been no need to borrow money to pay normal expenses. If so, that – at least in my mind – makes mismanagement or diversion of funds even more serious. I believe it should enhance any punishment that is meted out in these cases.

          When the loans came to light, Mrs. Viniard said she had to pay the bills. True. The bills needed to be paid. Again, though, if the money that should have been available had been available, maybe the county could have written a check and no loan would have been necessary.

          I was told by a magistrate that the loan papers were “hidden” (his word) in a closet. I will be non-accusatory and say they were “stored” in a closet. Whichever word is correct, there is an implication of knowledge that the loan was not made properly.

          According to a magistrate, Mrs. Viniard began crying when confronted in July and said she would have to resign. The magistrate said she was asked to resign by the fiscal court. To make sure I was hearing what was said, I asked if it was a request by the court or by only one magistrate. He repeated that the court had asked her to resign. By the Friday of that week, she had decided not to resign. That was before the indictments were issued.

          My phone rang this morning just before I was leaving to drive to Farmington Elementary to have Thanksgiving lunch with my daughter Bella. The call was from a reporter with TV station WPSD in Paducah.

          She said she had read what I have been writing for this website, and she asked me if I knew of any movement in the county to impeach Judge/Executive Viniard.

          I told her I thought that was an odd question and certainly it was premature. I cited two reasons for that: One, what grounds would you use to impeach? An accusation seems like a very weak justification. Two, before anyone jumps into the fray with an impeachment action, he or she must analyze carefully what would be the impact on Ballard County.

          Quite a few people think – and thought before this came up – that Mrs. Viniard should not be holding that office. But a lot of people support her. Just look at the vote totals from the last primary and general election. In my opinion, an impeachment action could be very divisive for Ballard County. Especially if it stemmed from what at this point is only an accusation.

          The fact that the reporter asked the question leads me to believe that impeachment is being discussed. I would want to know if there is some motive beyond these charges behind an impeachment movement.

          Bottom line: This is a sad time for Ballard County, no matter what happens with the charges against Vickie Viniard.

          And one more question: Former treasurer Belinda Foster has been indicted on the wire fraud charges. Earlier reports said she had pocketed around $27,000 that she was not entitled to get. If so, wouldn’t that be a state charge – theft perhaps, or embezzlement or fraud – instead of a federal charge? I haven’t seen any charges that, on their face, suggest she has been charged with the actual taking of money for personal profit. So, I wonder if more charges will come or if the $27,000, which I believe she reimbursed, is going to be ignored, or if the authorities are using that for some type of leverage in exchange for testimony. I have no information. All I have are questions.

County Judge/Executive situation: My thoughts

 

November 16, 2016

 

          Amanda Roberts of WPSD-TV reported yesterday that a federal grand jury has issued indictments on at least two people accused of wire fraud and bank fraud. The judge read only the initials of the people in open court. Those initials are V.V. and B.F. The indictments have been sealed.

          According to Roberts, sources confirmed that V.V. is Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard. The initials B.F. may refer to Belinda Foster, former county treasurer.

          Results of a state audit of the county’s budget informed us earlier this year, “There are several areas of loss that occurred between January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2016.  These were unknown to the Ballard County Fiscal Court until raised in an official audit by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2014.”

          The loss amounted to up to $900,000 of county money. Most of the loss apparently was because of the treasurer’s negligence or incompetence or lack of attention to detail. Some of the loss, auditors say, was the result of payments she made to herself. Much of the loss has been reimbursed by the bonding company. At this point, I have to assume that the indictments relate to the mismanagement or misuse of the budgeted funds.

          The treasurer was allowed to resign. (See commentary in a post below in which I ask why she wasn’t fired.) Mrs. Viniard at the time this information was made public said she was considering resigning but she decided not to.

          And that’s where things have stood until the indictments were handed down.

          In her report yesterday, Roberts said Mrs. Viniard’s attorney released a statement that reads in part, “I have been informed that a criminal summons has been issued for me by the United States District Court.  This matter pertains to a bank loan obtained for Ballard County to pay county bills and payroll.  I did not intend to do anything unlawful in obtaining the loan.”

          The statement also said that she will not resign her position while she defends the charges, and said she thanked all the people who have supported her.

          I was told in confidence three months ago by a person who insisted on remaining anonymous, “I was told by a very reliable inside source that Viniard unknowingly to everyone including magistrates was taking money appropriated for other things, including borrowing against a $500,000 bond without proper approval.”

          I cannot vouch for the truth of that statement, but it does seem to be consistent with the indictment and with Mrs. Viniard’s statement, “This matter pertains to a bank loan obtained for Ballard County to pay county bills and payroll.”

          If she did believe it necessary to borrow to pay bills and payroll, maybe that was made necessary by the absence of as much as $900,000. I still think someone should have noticed the absence of money over a seven-year period. Did anyone bother to look at the numbers? Did anyone on Fiscal Court care?

          I suspect Mrs. Viniard will fight to retain her elected position, which she has held for about 10 years. If she is innocent, she definitely should fight to hold that position and clear her name. Also, I imagine she wants to continue being paid. Her annual salary is $77,401.78. If this drags on and goes to a trial, there undoubtedly will be substantial attorney fees.

          In August, Mrs. Viniard named Todd Cooper as her assistant judge/executive, apparently because she suddenly realized she was not capable of performing the duties alone. It seems like 10 years is a long time for that enlightment. I speculated at the time that she might very well have been appointing her successor, depending on the outcome of the budget situation. I also said it bothers me that in Ballard County, and in other places, some of these public offices are treated almost like real estate that can be handed over to family or friends. I also wrote that while I think Todd Cooper was a very good sheriff, he didn’t have any particular background that would qualify him to be the judge/executive. There’s a big difference between law enforcement and county administration.

          The Federal case against Mrs. Viniard may not be a strong one. I have no information that would lead me to believe it is either strong or weak. Usually, however, the FBI does a sound investigation before turning information over to the attorney general for possible prosecution.

          If the case is not settled before her term expires, I am going to speculate that she will not run again, but Todd Cooper will run and probably win, which means that she did indeed pick her successor.

          If the case is very strong, her attorney might advise her to resign. If she does, more than likely Mr. Cooper will be appointed to fill the position. If either of those speculations happens, Mrs. Viniard will have picked the person who will follow her in office.

          The position of judge/executive will continue to be an elective office. That means it is a popularity contest judged by county voters and qualifications don’t matter. In my opinion, the office is too important not to have some sort of requirement beyond age and length of residence within the county.

          I think there are some possible embarrassments here. One could be that the county is embarrassed by the budget mismanagement or mistakes. The other is that the FBI and the prosecutors might be embarrassed by trying to prosecute an innocent officeholder.

          I have one comment that, as far as I’m concerned, is very important. If the position of Ballard County judge/executive should become vacant for any reason before the next election, the entire process of filling it needs to be completely open to public view.

          Under Kentucky law, the governor appoints someone to fill a vacant judge/executive seat. I’m sure the county’s magistrates have significant input. I request that any discussions related to the seat, if it should become vacant, be made in open session and not in executive session behind closed doors as elected officials often are inclined to do.

          The reasons for a fiscal court’s decisions sometimes are more important than the decisions themselves.

How much do county officials make?

 

November 8, 2016

 

          Today’s mail included a packet of information from Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard with information about the compensation paid to Ballard County’s elected officials.

          This was in response to a letter I sent asking for the information. I did not have to submit a request under Kentucky’s Open Records laws because she sent the information honoring my request by mail.

          Here’s the breakdown of information she provided:

County Judge/Executive …….$77,401.78

Magistrates ……………………$12,310.80

($726.90 a month plus expense check $300 for total of $1025.90/month)

County Attorney ………………$112,363.92

        County plays $35,000, state pays $77,363.92

County Clerk …………………..$77,401.78

Sheriff …………………………..$73,432.46

Jailer ……………………………$73,432.46

          According to the information Judge/Executive Viniard provided, the county has budgeted to pay $6,000 in bonds this year, but that amount may have to be increased because the auditors have said the sheriff’s office and clerk’s office bonds need to be increased.

          Last year’s bond total was $5,292.58 on all county officials, she wrote.

          Mileage for training was decreased from 51 cents a mile to 45 cents a mile.

          The county pays $506 on each insured employee and $306 on non-insured employees.

          The amounts provided are listed as maximum salary authorizations on the state salary schedule. Salaries are larger for the larger counties,

          Ballard County is in population group 2, which includes counties with populations from 5,000 to 9,999.

          Group 1, for counties from 0-4,999, is the smallest.

          Group 3 is counties from 10,000-19,999.

          Group 4 is counties from 20,000-29,999.

          Group 5 is counties from 30,000-44,999.

          Group 6 is counties from 45,000-59,999.

          Group 7 is counties from 60,000-89,999.

          Group 8 is counties from 90,000-499,999.

          Group 9 is counties 500,000 and more.

          For comparison, McCracken County is in group 7 and the judge/executive’s salary is $99,203.05. Warren County (Bowling Green) is in group 8, and the judge/executive of that county has a salary of $113,125.68. Salaries are not shown for Fayette and Jefferson counties because of an exemption under Kentucky law.

          I appreciate that Judge/Executive Viniard provided the information. I know some people have wondered about the salaries.

          FYI, this is what I wrote to Judge/Executive Viniard:

 

Dear Judge Viniard,

 

          I hope you can honor this request. Will you provide figures of how much you and each magistrate are paid? I would like to have the amounts of the entire compensation package for each, including such things as base salary, travel pay, training costs, county's part of insurance payments, etc.

          In case you wonder, I don’t intend to use this in any negative or critical way. I would like to report the compensation numbers on my website for public information. I have heard from others that they would like to see the numbers too.

          I know I can submit a request citing the Open Records laws, but I prefer to do it this simpler way.

          Thank you if you can provide the information.

 

Respectfully yours, Joe W. Culver

Why wasn’t the treasurer fired?

 

September 22, 2016

 

          Why wasn’t the former Ballard County treasurer fired?

          Maybe that question has been asked and answered. I haven’t seen either the question or the answer.

          I think it would have been more appropriate that the fiscal court had fired her if, as has been stated in audit documents, she was responsible for the loss of up to $900,000 of county money. Much of the loss apparently was because of her negligence or incompetence or lack of attention to detail. Some of the loss, auditors say, was the result of payments she made to herself. Those payments may lead to criminal charges.

          According to results of the audit, “There are several areas of loss that occurred between January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2016.  These were unknown to the Ballard County Fiscal Court until raised in an official audit by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2014.” (Another question that could be appropriate would be to ask the fiscal court why it didn’t notice payments continuing to be made to, or on behalf of, former employees who were no longer employed. Or why were no questions asked about overtime payments and other payments that could have been noticed?)

Some county officials were made aware of the audit in 2015. The audit report says, “The results of the audit were first revealed by three state auditors to the County Judge Executive Vickie Viniard, County Attorney Vicki Hayden, and Magistrate Steve Cooper during an Exit Conference in August, 2015.  The audit was not finalized and published until February 16, 2016.”

Belinda Foster was appointed treasurer by the Ballard Fiscal Court on May 1, 1995.  She voluntarily left her employment on January 1, 2016.

Voluntarily left her employment. That means she resigned. Why, if at least some officials knew of the audit results four months earlier, wasn’t she fired by the county judge/executive and the fiscal court?

If a sole individual was responsible for losses of up to nearly a million dollars, wouldn’t it have been a stronger position for the fiscal court if it had fired that person? And I think firing would have been warranted even without an allegation of criminal behavior. That’s an almost inconceivable amount of loss for a county as small as ours.

There is that thing known as compassion. In this circumstance, given a choice between compassion and making a bold statement to county residents by firing the responsible individual, I think compassion should not have carried the day.

Accountability and/or control: How about some of both

 

Sept. 20

 

          It appears there are issues in Ballard County about who should be in control of economic development types of funds and who should be accountable to whom.

          Ideally, these disputes will be resolved so that all groups will work in a coordinated way for the benefit of the county.

          Some members of the Ballard County Fiscal Court are concerned – and probably rightly so – at what was called pass-through money but looks to some of the magistrates like a loan that the county’s taxpayers might be responsible for.

          The money would fund the senior center being built at Barlow at a cost of a million dollars, a magistrate told me.

          The Ballard County Economic and Industrial Development Board (EDC), which is not a public agency and therefore not a part of the county government, wants money to be turned over to the board, but some members of the fiscal court don’t want to turn over any money unless the EDC is accountable to the court.

          Accountability is a good word. I’m glad that this current group of magistrates seems to be more willing to accept accountability and responsibility than may have been the case in the past.

          But there’s also that other word, “control.” County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard apparently wants to be in control of how some other economic development money is divvied out.

          John Summers, a first-term magistrate, has been on the board of the Purchase Area Regional Industrial Development Park (PRP), for about eight years, most of that time before he started his term as magistrate.

          Judge/Executive Viniard recently “fired” him from that board, so she could appoint herself.

          The problem with that is that she doesn’t seem to have the power to remove him from the PRP board without the approval of the fiscal court. That is the opinion of Ballard County Attorney Vicki Hayden, and from what research I could do, it seems that the law requires fiscal court approval.

          Viniard’s desire to remove Summers was a point of contention at today’s fiscal court meeting. It seems that the judge/executive refuses to back down from her position that she can remove him without the court’s approval. The court disagrees. The court is asking for a Kentucky attorney general’s opinion on what the law allows. Existing opinions and precedent appear to require board approval.

          If the attorney general issues an opinion that supports the fiscal court’s opinion, and if Viniard continues to insist that she has the authority to remove Summers, the court would be put into the uncomfortable position of having to sue the judge/executive to force compliance. The county attorney would file that suit and represent the county. Viniard would have to hire personal counsel.

          Few people have heard of the PRP, one of way too many acronyms. I think it is a child – either natural born or adopted, and I don’t know which – of the Purchase Area Development District (PADD), of which Viniard is chair of the board of directors.

          The PRP has come up with a pool of money which it will divide equally between the district’s counties. That would be about $123,000 for Ballard County this year and $30,000 for each of the next three years.

          The EDC wants to use the money. Summers doesn’t want to let the money filter through the county and to the EDC under the existing non-relationship. I think Viniard wants the money to go to EDC under the present status.

          It seems as if the dynamic is changing. It is my impression that the court deferred to Viniard for several years, but is no longer willing to do so. The court was embarrassed by the recent disclosure of up to around $900,000 that was taken from funds, but shouldn’t have been. It turns out that the money was leaking out over a period of several years. Magistrates are now taking closer looks at how the county’s money is spent. And I’m guessing that ongoing FBI investigations also are a little embarrassing and are an incentive to keep a close watch on expenditures.

          A closer scrutiny of the funds would be one good outcome of recent disclosures.

          Meanwhile, we have the fiscal court struggling to re-establish confidence. We have the county’s EDC at odds with the court over accountability issues, and we have the regional PRP with money to distribute while the county resolves the issue of whether or not Viniard can replace Summers with herself.

          Returning briefly to that issue, Kentucky statute 67.710 gives the judge/executive the power to appoint, supervise, suspend and remove county personnel, with fiscal court approval.

           Moving on down lengthy documents, we come across Industrial Development Authority, 154.50-326 which under section (b) says if the authority is established by a county, the members shall be appointed by the county judge/executive. The county attorney says that must be read in context with 67.710, which requires court approval of appointments and suspensions.

          We need jobs, we need good leadership, we need our taxes to be accounted for and used wisely. We need cooperation among all the people trying to bring in new jobs. We need actual leadership by someone who can represent the county in a professional way to businesses to encourage the right kind of business to come here, someone who will do much more than show up for the ribbon-cutting photos.

          The issue is doing good things for the county; the issue is not seeing who gets credit.

          Accountability? I don’t care which bureaucracy is accountable to which other. I want all of them to be accountable to the residents of Ballard County.

ENROLLMENT TRENDS IN COUNTY SCHOOLS

Planning for county’s future must include schools

 

September 8, 2016

 

          As I have being thinking of the county’s present, I’ve also been thinking of its future and hoping that we have competent people planning. Competent people with knowledge of community planning. In some towns, that’s a position called a city planner. I’m not sure if counties have a similar position or, if they do, what they call that job.

          I began to wonder how the school situation should factor into our planning so I called Casey Allen, superintendent of schools, and asked him if he had information about school-by-school enrollments over a period of time. If enrollment is growing, declining or remaining stable, that can be a factor in good planning for future budgets.

          Before I called I went to the schools’ web site to see if the information was posted there. It wasn’t, but a lot of other information is, including regular financial reports. Ballard County Fiscal Court doesn’t make that kind of information so readily available, at least not that I can find. Here’s the link to the financial information posted by the schools: http://www.ballard.kyschools.us/Downloads/Financial%20report%20FY16%20Period%2063.pdf

          Bob Wilson compiled the information and Allen sent to me by e-mail the next day. I call that being responsive.

          So … why did I want to see the enrollment information? I was interested in learning whether or not there is a trend.

It’s no secret that our county has been hit hard by the loss of good jobs, especially those at the paper mill and at the uranium enrichment plant.

Job losses equal people losses. If they can’t work, residents will be forced to move somewhere else where they can find work.

Who will stay and who will leave?

Younger people will leave. We 70, 80 year old folks who have retired and are drawing Social Security and using our Medicare benefits are anchored in place. The folks of childbearing ages will leave, and that means – barring a surprising turnaround that results in lots of new jobs here – the number of children in our schools will decline. It will show up first in the lower grades, and then gradually in the high school enrollment.

We will not want the quality of our education to diminish. But fewer people mean a lower tax base. And that means that there will be less money available for schools.

To compensate, the schools will have to cut costs. Fewer administrators, fewer classroom personnel, fewer programs. We have to provide those who remain a good education. I believe the school board sets the school tax rate in the counties, but I don't think we can raise taxes to cover the losses. We will have to have smaller staff, fewer administrators, fewer teachers and aides, and maybe fewer programs for those who want more than the three Rs.

As you can see in the chart atop this and in the numbers below, we are in a period of gradual but regular enrollment decline.

Getting back to enrollment trends, the chart at the top of the page shows the breakdown in graphic form.

In narrative form, here are the numbers:

FY 2009. BCES 605, BCMS 318, BMHS 418, district total 1341.

FY 2010. BCES 631, BCMS 334, BMHS 386, district total 1342.

FY 2011. BCES 600, BCMS 339, BMHS 417, district total 1356.

FY 2012. BCES 575, BCMS 325, BMHS 423, district total 1323.

FY 2013. BCES 554, BCMS 341, BMHS 408, district total 1304.

FY 2014. BCES 558, BCMS 310, BMHS 412, district total 1280.

FY 2015. BCES 547, BCMS 316, BMHS 414, district total 1277.

FY 2016. BCES 522, BCMS 292, BMHS 418, district total 1232.

FY 2017. BCES 536, BCMS 280, BMHS 415, district total 1231.

          Here’s a comment that Superintendent Allen shared with me: “The compensating tax rate does not provide for the required step and rank salary increases of our existing employees.  Even though it appears we are generating the same revenue as the previous year when we have fewer students, our spending increases each year due to mandated raises. We make up for that with fewer people and fewer programs, which is something the community doesn’t want to see happen either.  I tell visitors to our board meetings all the time, the community really has to communicate with us what they value in their child’s education, then the community has to be willing to pay for it.  I hope that is what we are doing right now.  Of course, we could always do better.”

          This is important information, in my opinion. We can’t sit around and think serendipity will strike like a bolt of lightning (and we know what lightning strikes can do, as evidenced by the dead caribou/reindeer recently). We have to plan. We need people who know what needs to be in the plan and how to accomplish the goals. At this stage, I’m not confident that our fiscal court can do that level of planning. Maybe I’m wrong.

 

Time for a change in how we choose officials?

 

September 5, 2016

 

          If there are problems in our Ballard County government, we are the ones responsible. All too often we vote for candidates based on reasons that have the lowest value as election criteria.

          Many residents probably are aware that our county was short by about $900,000 of the money it should have. That shortage has been blamed on six years of leakage caused by the former county treasurer. A small part of that amount probably will form the basis for criminal charges but the bulk of it was because of failure to pay bills, failure to make deductions from payrolls, and paying for things not authorized by the fiscal court. One sizeable chunk went to the Internal Revenue Service because the treasurer paid $85,184.38 between 2009 and 2015 in interest and penalties without knowledge of the Fiscal Court.

          The county judge/executive and the magistrates who served as the county’s fiscal court during that six-year period are in the positions of ultimate responsibility for overseeing how our tax money is used. They have not been accused of personal enrichment through any unlawful conduct.

          But they have suffered no consequences, either. The county judge/executive, in an action that amounts to an admission that she is not capable of executing the duties of the office she has held for about 10 years, recently appointed a deputy judge/executive. That person will take over a part of the work the judge/executive is supposed to do. Not only is that not a consequence, it’s a reward for being unable to do the job. She now has to do less work but she continues to draw the same salary.

          Under state laws, she has the right to appoint a deputy. But the fiscal court has to pay the deputy. In these times of lost jobs around the county and increased tax rates to maintain necessary services, the magistrates were able to find enough pork to pay the salary.

My disclosure

          I like to disclose that I and one other person ran against the incumbent judge/executive in the last Democratic primary, but the incumbent won her third term.

          Here’s a little story that I think is relevant. My uncle Billy Bob Crice wasn’t sure of who would get his vote for sheriff in that primary. He did know the one person who would not get it. He said, as he had said many times before, that he would never vote for a person with that family name. I don’t know the basis for that sentiment, but it was strong.

          We talked on the phone a couple of weeks before the primary. He told me he was going to vote for that candidate despite his strong stand on never doing so.

          Why? Well, the candidate and his wife came to his house to visit. He did not know that the candidate was married to a woman from that particular family. He said that family had always been good to him so he was going to vote that way.

          “So you’re going to vote for her family,” I said to him.

          “No, I’m voting for him,” he answered.

          I shook my head.

          Nothing about that candidate’s qualifications had changed. Nothing about that candidate had changed. Nothing about any of the other candidates had changed. But the candidate’s wife’s family had been good to Billy Bob.

Is change needed? How do we get it?      

If qualifications don’t matter and what is important is that we know the person running and/or that person’s family, or someone else we know said the candidate is a good ol’ boy who has lived here all his life, then we are voting on a basis of very low value. We totally ignore qualifications for the office when we vote that way.

          Also, I noticed that it appears to be a virtue to say “I’ve lived here all my life.” I don’t know if that reflects a distrust of people who may have been very successful in other places. I think it speaks well for someone to experience life and customs and diversity outside of the county, which enables that person to return to the county and offer the knowledge and experience gained in a larger context.

          If we want the best people in our government offices, we must start demanding more than knowing their families or having had a beer with them in Cairo. We have to start evaluating the qualifications, not the good-ol’-boy quotient. We need to factor in such things as education, experience, the ability to handle the demands of the office.

          If we elect people who can’t do the jobs, it’s not their fault. It’s ours.

Consequences for not being able to perform duties?

 

September 4, 2016

 

          What are the consequences of not being able to perform the duties of the office to which you were elected?

          In Ballard County, you are rewarded by the fiscal court’s location of a pool of money you can use to pay the salary of someone to take over a significant part of the work of your office.

          That means you will have to do even less work than what you had been doing, but at no loss of your own salary.

          It suggests that the county’s budget must have enough pork hidden in it to pay an unbudgeted salary.

          Ballard County appears to follow the practice of most bureaucracies: Push the consequences down to the lowest possible level on the organization chart and spare the top positions from any penalties.

          I’m pasting in a fairly long section from the Legislative Research Commission publication, “Duties of Elected County Officials.” It’s part of the narrative under the county judge/executive position. I put a part of this in bold face type because I think it’s particularly relevant to our situation in Ballard County.

You will see as you read this that the budgeting and use of money is a shared responsibility of the county fiscal court. The process starts with the judge/executive.

 

Here’s a link to the full publication:

http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/ib114.pdf

 

Financial Administration

The judge/executive’s responsibilities for the financial administration of county government … now include preparation of the county budget, oversight of county funds, financial reports to fiscal court, and fiscal record keeping.

The county budget proposes a broad outline for the expenditure of county funds and details proposed spending by several broad classes of government activities, such as general government, highways and bridges, and health and sanitation. In preparing the budget, the county judge/executive relies on an estimate of property assessment levels, which the property valuation administrator provides by April 1 of each year (KRS 68.245). The county judge/executive must include in the proposed county budget a proposed jail budget, prepared in cooperation with the jailer and the county treasurer (KRS 441.215). The judge/executive must submit a budget proposal and an estimate of receipts from federal, state, and local sources to the fiscal court by May 1 of each year (KRS 68.240).

The fiscal court examines the budget and may amend it as desired before giving tentative approval. After this initial approval, the budget goes to the state local finance officer, who examines it for form and classification. …

Once the state local finance officer approves the budget, it is ready for the fiscal court’s final approval. Publication of the budget proposal is required at this time, and any taxpayer may ask the fiscal court to make changes in the budget. When the fiscal court meets to adopt the budget, it may change the amount of funds allocated to a specific area but not the form or classification of budget units. The budget must be adopted by July 1 of each year (KRS 68.260). The judge/executive must certify the approval of the budget to the state local finance officer (KRS 68.270).

The judge/executive’s responsibility for county financial administration does not end with the final adoption of the budget. The judge/executive must also administer the budget as approved by the fiscal court (KRS 67.710). The judge/executive must present all claims to the fiscal court for review before payment; the court, for good cause shown, may order that a claim not be paid

(KRS 68.275). The judge/executive co-signs with the county treasurer all warrants for the payment of funds from the county treasury (KRS 68.020).

As a part of the responsibility for the county’s financial administration, the county judge/executive must keep the fiscal court advised of the financial needs and conditions of the county (KRS 67.710). Similarly, the judge/executive must see that elected or appointed county officials whose offices use county funds, as well as all county boards, commissions, and special districts, submit annual financial reports to the fiscal court (KRS 67.710).

KRS 68.360 more clearly defines the judge/executive’s duties for preparing financial reports for the fiscal court. This statute requires the judge/executive to prepare a quarterly report for submission to the fiscal court, the state local finance officer, and the public, showing detailed information on the condition of each fund of the county budget.

The judge/executive must ensure that, during the first half of the fiscal year that begins on July 1 of the last year of his or her term of office, the county does not encumber or expend more than 65 percent of current funds budgeted for that fiscal year (KRS 68.310).

 

Deputy

The county judge/executive may appoint a deputy. This appointment does not require the approval of the fiscal court. The deputy county judge/executive may take on all the administrative powers and responsibilities of the judge/executive but does not act for the judge/executive at meetings of the fiscal court (KRS 67.711).

Fiscal Court sets deputy exec’s salary

 

September 3, 2016

 

          According to stories in this week’s Advance Yeoman and today’s Paducah Sun, the Ballard County Fiscal Court set a salary of $14 an hour for Deputy Judge/Executive Todd Cooper.

          The magistrates met in a special called meeting on Monday (August 29) to determine how much to pay Cooper. Cooper was appointed to that position by County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard and was sworn in on August 10, but the magistrates decided to wait until the special meeting to set a pay rate.

          According to the story in the Paducah paper, the magistrates set the pay at $14 an hour, not to exceed 100 hours a month. According to my calculator, that comes out to a maximum of $16,800 a year.

Any cuts elsewhere?

          Neither story reported the part of the county’s budget that will provide the salary, or what services might have to be reduced by an equivalent amount to pay the salary.

          Also, neither story reported whether or not there will be benefits to be paid in addition to the salary, or if there are any incentives that might add to the total cost.

          The appointment of a deputy judge/executive followed revelations of mismanagement by the county’s former treasurer, involving funds amounting to as much as $900,000. The total amount has not been determined. The county will recover at least $500,000 of the total from the company that provided the bond for the former treasurer. It hopes to recover the entire loss.

Now, my opinion

          That’s the news as far as I have read it in the papers. Now, let’s move into statements of my opinion.

          If the mismanagement involved the former treasurer, wouldn’t it make more sense to hire a very competent person to handle the responsibilities of that position instead of hiring someone to help the judge/executive?

          The loss is reported to have been the result of some possible criminal actions by the treasurer, but mostly by that person’s failure to pay the county’s bills on time, to deduct from employee’s payroll, to make payments that had not been authorized, and similar actions of what might be negligence or incompetence.

Need treasurer, not deputy

          The losses were suffered through a period from 2009 until 2016, and were not recognized until the audit of the 2014 fiscal year budget. That being the case, it doesn’t seem that the problem was that the judge/executive was overwhelmed by her duties; she may have been responsible by position, but it was not her responsibility to do the day-to-day financial work. I think the bottom line is that the county tried to save money by hiring someone unqualified to do the job she was hired to do.

          If my assessment is right, it’s not the judge/executive who needs a deputy. It’s the county that needs a qualified treasurer. I doubt if Todd Cooper can serve as the county treasurer. He can only take over some of the administrative obligations of the elected official, Vickie Viniard.

Not capable of doing job

          Maybe the elected officeholder needs to devote more effort to doing her job. Having held the office for eight years prior to being re-elected for this term, it is reasonable to expect that she should have known she wasn’t capable of doing the job. The very fact that she now finds it necessary to hire a deputy is an admission that she is not capable.

          She has decided not to resign. I would expect her to be sufficiently humbled by all of this that, at a minimum, she will not seek re-election when her current term draws to an end.

Magistrates can do better

          I would also expect to see the magistrates become more responsible. Two of the current magistrates joined the court at the last election so they were not in office during most of the years when the money was being mismanaged, but the current situation is, as far as I’m concerned, a signal that the members of the fiscal court have not been as focused on protecting the tax money as they should have been.

Stop re-purposing same faces

          Finally, when Vickie Viniard appointed Todd Cooper to be her deputy, she was – deliberately or without aforethought – setting him up to be the next judge/executive. I think it’s time to stop re-purposing the same old faces that have been in government. We need some new ideas. We need some people who understand the benefits and the value to the residents of having open, transparent government made more open and transparent by the use of modern technology and a desire to have a truly informed voting public.

          I am not saying and will not say anything akin to “throw them all out,” because I believe we have good elected officials and good employees. But, just as with the national government, I don’t believe that holding political office was intended to be a lucrative career. I think competent employees should be able to think in career terms, but that we should limit the amount of time elected officials can dine at the public trough.

What happened to the county’s money?

 

September 1, 2016

 

          I have written and posted on this page a number of articles related to the financial issues faced by Ballard County Fiscal Court. I confess to having done so without a good understanding of whether or not money is alleged to have been embezzled, was misplaced, or was hiding within some complex accounting numbers in such a way that neither I nor most normal non-accounting types could understand even after having it explained. Apparently even accounting types had trouble with the numbers because the losses over several years were not discovered by the auditors until the audit of FY 2014. The allegations of loss are for a period beginning in 2009 and continuing until 2016.

          I think it’s fair to say that the amount of money that may lead to criminal charges is a relatively small part – small but significant in that it appears to represent an abuse of the trust placed in a county government employee charged with important treasury duties. I can find no allegations of criminal activities by any elected members of the fiscal court.

          The larger part – to me an astonishingly large number for a county as small as Ballard – appears to be caused by the county having hired someone who was incapable of doing the job for which she was hired. I don’t know why she was incapable. Maybe she was unprepared by education, experience or intellect, or a combination of all three, and, feeling overwhelmed, attempted to hide her deficiencies by not reporting the problems to the fiscal court. This could raise some questions about why she was recommended for the job and hired by approval of the fiscal court; it sounds like a job that should be filled by an accountant. The things she apparently did or didn’t do that have cost the county dearly include failure to pay as required, failure to pay on time, and failure to deduct payments from county employees’ pay.

          Those are the things the causes of which might fall into categories such as incompetence or negligence. Things that are more likely to be regarded as criminal issues include payments made to herself for things for which she was not entitled to be paid.

          Belinda Foster was appointed treasurer by the Ballard Fiscal Court on May 1, 1995.  She voluntarily left her employment on January 1, 2016. During her time as treasurer, she overpaid herself $27,945 in health reimbursements, according to a forensic auditor. She has reimbursed that sum to the fiscal court. I think that is the amount being investigated for possible criminal charges.

          The evaluation of the treasurer’s work product is ongoing by the FBI, IRS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Kentucky Department of Revenue, Kentucky Retirement System, Ballard Fiscal Court, and Ballard County Attorney’s Office.

          She is alleged to have overpaid herself $5,833.60 for vacation time and around $45,000 for unauthorized overtime. And there’s a claim of $13,608.50 for incentive bonuses she should not have received.

The county filed at the end of June of this year a “Proof of Claim Affidavit” against the commercial bonds issued by Liberty. So far, the county has received a check for $350,000 and is expecting to receive another check for $150,000 soon. The total amount of the treasurer’s bond was $500,000, but the claims are for more than that. The county still doesn’t know how much it owes the IRS and Kentucky Retirement Systems.

These “Claims” are the amounts the county has identified as justification for reimbursement by the bonding company.

          The list of claims is long and I will try to shorten them as much as possible while still making it clear what they are for. All of this is from the attachment to the Proof of Claim Affidavit.  I have in places left enough information to give an idea of the basis of the claims but then just listed the claims without the narrative that accompanied them. (Because of the amount and because it’s the IRS, which I assume is justification for the FBI to be involved, I’m moving the IRS claim to the top.)

 

Internal Revenue Service:

 

As Treasurer, Foster was responsible for calculating, preparing and paying federal tax withholdings and filing reports and returns.  Foster, without knowledge of the Ballard Fiscal Court, paid withholdings late, paid inaccurate sums, and filed late and/or inaccurate reports and returns.  Foster received registered letters from the IRS of intent to levy against the county’s bank account.  Some of these were never opened.  A review of the IRS documents revealed that Foster paid $85,184.38 between 2009 and 2015 in interest and penalties without knowledge of the Fiscal Court.  These payments were coded as “Miscellaneous” payments, instead of the standard code used for federal tax payments.  Some of these payments were paid via levy.

 

In addition to the penalties and interest listed above, Foster failed to file federal tax reports for 2015 and failed to pay correct federal withholdings for 2015.    Penalties and interest have accrued.  However, at the time of filing of this claim, we are awaiting notice of the amount. 

Claim:  $85,184.38 plus undetermined amount

 

OTHER CLAIM

 

There are several areas of loss that occurred between January 1, 2009 and January 1, 2016.  These were unknown to the Ballard County Fiscal Court until raised in an official audit by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2014….  The audit was not finalized and published until February 16, 2016.

One of the focal points of the audit was the County’s health reimbursement account.  When serious issues – to the point of criminality – were revealed, the auditors began to search more deeply into other areas.

Even though the county is audited annually, these auditors discovered deficiencies and weaknesses that went back to 2009.   Many issues listed below previously were undisclosed and undiscovered by prior audits.

 

Health Reimbursement Account: 

 

The Ballard Fiscal Court established a health reimbursement account for employees who did not take health insurance through the county’s benefit package.  Reimbursement checks were written by Foster to individual employees upon presentation of medical receipts up to the monthly allowance.  (The amount of reimbursement varied from $7,608 to $3,600 annually between 2009 and 2016.)

Treasurer Foster was responsible for receiving employee medical receipts, approving or rejecting them, maintaining a ledger for each employee, and writing health reimbursement checks….

The Auditors found that “Employees were overpaid the annual amount contributed by the County, including the County Treasurer. The ledgers, cancelled checks, bank statements, and receipts were reviewed by a forensic auditor who found that Foster overpaid herself $27,945.00 in health reimbursements.

 

County Employee Retirement System:

 

The audit found that retirement was not properly withheld from employees’ checks and was not property reported or paid into CERS.  The Ballard County Fiscal Court submits a claim against Foster’s fiduciary bond for her mishandling of this employee retirement accounts.

 

The County is required to pay an annually established percentage into the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) for employees who work 100 hours per month.   In addition, every eligible employee is required to pay 5% of their pay into CERS.

It was the treasurer’s responsibility to accurately calculate the amount owed by each (county and employee), to make the accurate contribution into each employee retirement account, and to timely file reports with the Kentucky Retirement System.

Over the past five years, several employees have received letters from the Kentucky Retirement System that their accounts were not fully funded. The treasurer was responsible for paying the correct percentage as an employee benefit into CERS.  The treasurer was then responsible for deducting 5% of the eligible employees’ paychecks.  The totals were to be reported and paid within ten days.  If not timely paid, the county was assessed a penalty of $1,000.

Between January 2009 and December, 2015: (One employee’s benefits were not paid and inaccurate earnings were reported for at least one employee, resulting in too much being paid into retirement. At least one employee was drawing state retirement while an employee of the Sheriff’s Department.  Because of this re-employment, the county was required to make the statutory contribution on his behalf.  However, he was supposed to be exempt from the 5% payroll deduction. The treasurer paid in the wrong amounts for the county’s contribution AND deducted the 5% from his paychecks.  The sum of $1,124.40 was withheld from his paychecks.  He is due a refund from the county for this amount wrongfully withheld. In March, 2016, the county had to pay the sum of $7,130.48 into CERS as its percentage of the employee’s retirement.

A retired state employee is entitled to health insurance, but when the employee returns to county employment, the employer is responsible for reimbursing Kentucky Retirement System for that insurance.  The treasurer never reimbursed these insurance premiums.  In March, 2016, the county had to pay the sum of $14,384.93 for premiums accrued.

A statutorily required 1% employee contribution was required for employees hired on or after September 1, 2008.  This amount was withheld from two employees’ wages, but were not properly reported or turned over to CERS. A statutorily required 1% employee contribution was required for employees hired on or after September 1, 2008.  This amount was not withheld from an employee’s wages, but was reported on the monthly CERS report.

Contributions were withheld from employee paychecks, but not reported.

Two emails and two spreadsheets from the County Employee Retirement System stating that the county incurred penalties of $6,000 for late payments/reporting.  One penalty of $1,000 was written off in 2013. The county has made a claim for $6,000.

An employee who retired should not have 5% of his pay for retirement.  He is entitled to reimbursement for the amount wrongfully withheld, a claim of $1,124.40. Invoices from the Kentucky Retirement System and copies of the checks supporting the employee’s health insurance and county contributions toward retirement amounts of a claim of $21,515.41.

(There’s a smaller claim in this category for $398.44 the county had to pay because the treasurer failed to pay into an employee’s retirement during a one-month period.)

 

Overtime for Road Department employees:

 

The audit found that the county did not properly compensate Road Department employees for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, but because there are no time records, the county did not make a claim.

 

Health Insurance Premiums:

 

The audit found that the county did not properly withhold health insurance from employees’ checks.  The Ballard County Fiscal Court submits a claim against Foster’s fiduciary bond for her gross mishandling of these premiums to the financial detriment of the court. (NOTE: Some claims for premiums do not show dollar amounts. The narrative says that the treasurer was not deducting enough to cover the cost of the premiums.)

 

 Liberty National Insurance:  was the source of a claim for $5,182.01 because the county paid no premiums or the wrong amount of premiums. This company offered a variety of insurance products including disability, life, AFLAC, dental, vision, etc.  Liberty National was one of the companies who offered products.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from employee paychecks.

 

In 2012, the County paid the premiums for four employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $930.00.  The county paid premiums for eight employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $3,016.93.  The treasurer took too much out of eleven employees’ paychecks in the amount of $306.88. Total claim for this is $4,253.81.

In 2013, the County paid the premiums for three employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,279.73.  The county paid premiums for fourteen employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $4,140.10. Total claim: $5,419.83

In 2014, the County paid the premiums for two employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,205.16.  The county paid premiums for ten employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $3,408.36. Total claim: $4,613.52

In 2015, the County paid the premiums for six employees with NO contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,741.51.  The county paid premiums for twenty-one (21) employees without deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $8,236.85. Total claim: $10,978.36

 

 Cincinnati Life:

 

Employees have the option to purchase a variety of insurance products:  disability, life, AFLAC, dental, vision, etc.  Cincinnati Life was one of the companies who offered products.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from the employees’ paycheck.

As the treasurer, Foster was responsible for receiving and paying the bills from Liberty National, but also to make sure accurate contributions were deducted from employee paychecks.

The treasurer paid Cincinnati Life statements without attributing the correct premiums to individual employees.  Some employees were charged for insurance when they did not have it.  Others were charged too little.   Others were charged too much.   The county will have to bear the responsibility of the underpayments, but is obligated to reimburse employees for whom deductions exceeded the premiums imposed.

In 2010, the County paid the premiums for twelve employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $5,137.00.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,045.48.  One employee should be reimbursed $36.70 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.  Claim:  $6,219.18

In 2011, the County paid the premiums for seven employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $3,693.60.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,591.76.  One employee should be reimbursed $212.55 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.   Claim:  $5,497.91

In 2012, the County paid the premiums for four employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,518.88.  The county paid premiums for nineteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,776.54.  Four employees should be reimbursed $2,445.59 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.  Claim:  $6,741.01

In 2013, the County paid the premiums for two employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $2,217.20.  The county paid premiums for seventeen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $1,347.34.  Five employees should be reimbursed $2,123.87 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.      Claim:  $5,688.41

In 2014, the County paid the premiums for two employees without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $1,476.08.  The county paid premiums for eighteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $2,653.76.  One employee should be reimbursed $960.00 for overpayment by employee through incorrect withholdings.    Claim:  $5,089.84

In 2015, the County paid the premiums for one employee without contributing payroll deductions for a total of $47.97.  The county paid premiums for fourteen employees while not deducting the correct amount from employee payroll for a total of $2,692.56. Five employees should be reimbursed $660.40 for overpayment by employees through incorrect withholdings.     Claim:  $3,400.93

           

Colonial Life Insurance:

 

Colonial Life offered a variety of insurance products to Ballard County Fiscal Court employees.  Once the employee signed up for the product, the premiums were to be deducted from the employees’ paycheck.

As the treasurer, Foster was responsible for receiving and paying the bills from Colonial Life, but also to make sure accurate contributions were deducted from the employees’ paychecks.   The treasurer paid the statement without attributing the correct premiums to individual employees.

Some employees were charged for insurance when they did not have it.  Others were charged too little.   Others were charged too much.   The county will have to bear the responsibility of the underpayments, but is obligated to reimburse employees for whom deductions exceeded the premiums imposed.

In 2009, the county first allowed Colonial Life to present its products to county employees.  Thirty employees signed up for insurance, where premiums were to be payroll-deducted.  However, the treasurer never made a deduction from any paycheck, for a loss to the county of $7,158.88

 

(THERE ARE TOO MANY of these claims for premiums and I won’t continue to list the other companies or the individual claims. I’ll just list the amounts):                                                  

Claim:  $7,158.88

Claim:  $7,664.47

Claim:  $5,206.61

Claim:  $4,817.21

Claim:  $4,790.92

Claim:  $4,790.92

Claim:  $3,868.07                                                                                                Claim:  $2,528.46

Claim: $14,449.52

Claim:  $5,508.83

Claim:  $5,985.44

Claim:  $5,188.51

Claim:  $6,051.72

Claim:  $5,026.66

Claim:  $3,242.02

Claim:  $5,101.12

Claim:  $5,705.69

Claim:  $7,416.79

Claim:  $7,882.69

Claim:  $4,971.54

Claim:  $7,598.36

 

Worker’s Compensation: 

 

The treasurer paid Worker’s Compensation premiums late, incurring penalties.  These penalties were paid without consent or knowledge of the Ballard Fiscal Court or County Judge Executive.   Attached is a list of the penalties incurred and dates thereof.

                                                                                      Claim:  $2,051.47

 

Kentucky All Lines Fund:    

 

The treasurer was expected to make timely payments of claims against the county.

 

The treasurer made payments to KALF late, incurring penalties.  The Fiscal Court and County Judge Executive were misled to believe that all payments were timely made.   Attached is a statement from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) of the penalties incurred and dates thereof.      Claim:  $5,994.11

 

Cost of State Audit:   The Ballard Fiscal Court is audited annually.  Mike Harmon, Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, submitted a bill for $42,759.24 to the Ballard Fiscal Court for its share of the audit invoice.  The audit was significantly higher than normal due to fraud.

In support of this claim, there is a statement from the Auditor of Public Accounts that an additional 586 hours, at a cost of $56.75 per hour, was incurred as a direct result of the fraud audit.  The county is responsible for one-half of that amount, for a total of $19,436.88.

 

                                                                             Claim:  $19,436.88

 

Cost of overtime for new treasurer and part-time, temporary employee:  As a result of the audit, the new County Treasurer had to spend 164 hours of overtime to document and correct the problems raised therein, for a total expenditure of $4,888.89.   Claim:  $4,888.90

 

So the treasurer could keep up with day to day demands and straighten out the prior errors, the Ballard Fiscal Court authorized hiring of a temporary, part-time employee to go through multiple bank boxes, file cabinets, and a closet full of disorganized documents/information left behind by Foster.  In addition, this employee (who had significant banking experience) was able to assist in evaluating audit reports, bank statements, ledgers and other documents to assist with the claim.

 

Claim:  $2,520.10

 

KACo Leasing Trust:  Ballard County Fiscal Court had a contract with Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) through their “Leasing Trust”.  The monthly statements went to the treasurer, who was responsible for making timely payments to KACo. (NOTE: Not paid on time, resulting in late fee.)     Claim:  $400.07

 

Commonwealth of Kentucky Department of Revenue, Division of Collections

 

In 2015, the County Treasurer failed to file payroll reports for three periods (April 15, May 1, and May 15), nor did she pay the state withholding she was required to pay.  The County Judge Executive and Fiscal Court were not made aware of these until notices were received on March 18, 2015.

In 2014, the County Treasurer’s tax withholding reports and W-2s did not match.  As a result, the county was assessed a penalty of $48,960.72.   The County Judge Executive and Fiscal Court were not made aware of this penalty until the attached notice was received on March 18, 2016.

                                                                             Claim:  $146,928.93

 

First Community Bank Loan Payments: 

 

The Ballard County Fiscal Court had two loans with First Community Bank in 2015:  (loan 1) for $300,000 and (loan 2) for $150,000.

Foster made the loan payments late on Loan 1 on January 12, April 9, and September 10, 2015.  Each time a late payment of $9,999.99 was assessed.  These late payments were paid by Foster without the knowledge, consent, or approval of the Ballard Fiscal Court.

                                                                   Claim:  $29,999.97

 

Foster made the loan payments late on Loan 2 on January 12 and April, 2015.  On January 12, 2015, a late payment of $7,469.47 was assessed.  On April 15, 2015, a late payment penalty of $7,508.79 was assessed.  These late payments were paid by Foster without the knowledge, consent, or approval of the Ballard Fiscal Court.

                                                                             Claim:  $14,978.26

 

                                                                                     

FBI investigating? I hope they find nothing wrong

 

August 5, 2016

 

I just saw a story on WPSD-TV’s site reporting that the Ballard County judge executive is being investigated by the FBI. I hope the story isn’t true and I hope that if Vickie Viniard is investigated she will be found to have conducted herself totally honestly and ethically in her official duties.

I ran against her in the most recent Democratic election for local officials. I questioned her intelligence, her professionalism and her ability to provide meaningful planned leadership, but I never had any reason to question her honesty and I hope there is no reason to do so.

I was beaten badly in that primary; the voters made their choice. I didn’t campaign as hard as I should have. It’s difficult to explain. I ran for the office not because I had any urgent desire to be the county judge executive, but because I was willing to offer to serve the county where I grew up. I knew that with my professional background, with my high-level successes in difficult jobs in places outside of the county, and with my approach to planning, I could give the county better leadership than it had. Most of you thought otherwise and told me with your votes. And that was fine with me because I had made the offer so I felt I had fulfilled any duty I might have.

One thing that irked me then and irks me now is the lack of online access to important information in various county offices. I like to look up information online and avoid unanswered phone calls, long discussions, and drives to the courthouse to talk in person. I could not find then and still am unable to find any information about what is on the agenda for the upcoming fiscal court meetings or what was decided at those meetings. Maybe it’s there and I just am not savvy enough to find it. With a newspaper background, I want an informed public and information easy for the public to obtain.

It’s not just the judge executive’s office. I have the heart-rending misfortune of having had to visit one of my children at the Ballard County Detention Center. I’ve tried to locate information online about what family can bring, about rules of visitation, etc. When I’ve tried to talk to the staff to get information that I need, I find that the information I’m given is as likely to be incorrect as it is to be correct. I recently paid around $1,200 for “room and board” because they charge residents for the privilege of lodging and eating there. I was given a “Resident Account Statement” and I can’t make heads nor tails of it. I also was given receipts for payments but the whole thing is very confusing. There needs to be more clarity.

I haven’t had to interact with all the county elected officials. My experiences with the county clerk and the circuit court clerk have, for the most part, been painless and relatively good. I have had occasion to watch the circuit court judge and have felt that he tries to be as fair and gentle as he can in an atmosphere where he faces life’s most difficult stories each day of court. I would not have his job. I am happy to report that I’ve had no need for official business with the sheriff’s office, but I confess that I have seen the sheriff a few times, either at the courthouse or out somewhere, and we have usually exchanged greetings and sometimes a few sentences. The spoken kind, not the kind handed down by judges. I think we have a good sheriff. Some of you preferred other candidates, and that’s why we have elections. We are lucky to be able to vote for our county office holders.

If the FBI wants to investigate, and if forensic auditors are called in, I would like for them to investigate every county office so they can reassure us that all of the people we elected are doing their jobs as they should.

If it becomes necessary to replace the county executive, I would like to serve on an interim basis, and would do so for half the amount of money that is being paid now. That’s because I see it as a chance to serve, not as a career.

Which brings me to another issue that bugs me. I saw that the county executive plans to appoint former sheriff Todd Cooper as her assistant. I think Todd is a fine person. I am getting tired, however, of the recycling of people who make their living on public payroll, the hiring of relatives to serve in the offices, and the practice that the offices often pass down to relatives like they were being willed or deeded. I think folks discover that it is harder to make a living in the private sector than to draw salaries from taxpayers.

I would like to see new blood, new ideas, better use of modern technology.

I think the best way to do that is to get some new candidates with new things to offer at the next election cycle. I don’t want change forced upon our county by FBI investigations but I do want change as long as it is change for the better. It’s hard to effect change at the ballot box. We know that by looking at the number of members of Congress have held office for as long as many of you have been alive.

I’m sure many of you have great talents and knowledge to offer as public servants, and I encourage you to run for office to give voters a chance to make the best choices in the next county election cycle. And it may very well be that the people who hold offices now are the best choices.

County judge/executive hiring deputy

 

August 16, 2016

 

I saw on the WPSD Facebook page – actually, I think it may have been reporter Amanda Roberts’ page – that the Ballard County judge/executive swore in Todd Cooper this morning as assistant judge/executive.

A couple of magistrates objected because of the cost. I recall from stories a few weeks ago that he will be paid something in excess of $30,000.

I agree with the two dissenters, for a few reasons.

Our county has lost jobs fairly consistently. Because of the shutdown of the paper mill, several residents have put their houses up for sale and have been forced to move. Some businesses have closed. The cost of county government will be an increasing burden on those of us who remain. Voters agreed to a tax hike in order to continue to maintain ambulance service. Any new developments appear to be serendipitous or have been achieved by efforts of people in other counties.

Vickie Viniard has held the judge/executive office for two full terms, and is now in her third term. (For purposes of full disclosure, I’ll remind you that I ran against her in the county Democratic primary but was beaten like a rock and roll drum on the song “Wipeout.”) She must know what the job demands of the office-holder. Surely she can’t have been caught by surprise after some 10 years in office.

Todd Cooper served several terms as sheriff. I don’t know him well but I assume he is a fine person. But he has made his living on taxpayer dollars for a long time and he chose not to continue as a county official when he didn’t run in the last election. I don’t know why he needs to return to the public payroll, but I suppose he has reasons.

I want the county to quit recycling officials. I want to see some new ideas. I want the county to eliminate nepotism. It seems at times that election to an office amounts to jobs for the family.

I want our experienced judge/executive to do her job, do it competently and stay aware of how county money is being used, or, if she is unable to do so, get the hell out.

I think it would be nice to see some planning and some progress.

This is my opinion. Yours may be different.

Magistrates should safeguard our taxes

 

August 17, 2016

 

The Ballard County Fiscal Court is supposed to vote Thursday on how much to pay the newly appointed deputy judge/executive. (Apparently, the date of that vote changed. As of now, Aug. 22, it has not been held.) Any amount they authorize should be subtracted from the salary of the county judge/executive, in my opinion. (Actually, that would not be legal, the county attorney has informed me.)

The county judge/executive held the office for eight years prior to running for and being elected to her third term. She should have gained sufficient experience during that time to know if she needed a deputy. If she did not know of the need for a deputy, then obviously she did not understand the demands of the office, which seems odd after eight years. If she did know the job was more than she could handle, she should have made it known prior to the election that she needed help.

I suppose that in context of all the ineptness being made public these days, it is not surprising that no attention is being paid to little things. One of the little things is that the county’s listing of officials still includes the former treasurer. That person, who actually no longer has the job, is under investigation because as much as $900,000 in misappropriated funds is missing from the Ballard County Fiscal Court. I guess that’s a little thing. Seems pretty big to me. That’s a lot of misappropriation. Who was responsible for keeping an eye on our money? (Since the FBI is involved, I assume at least some of that was federal money.) I would notice $90 dollars or even $9 missing from my account. I’ve never had to worry about noticing a paltry $900,000. I think we need to consider voting for people with better eyesight.

If we add several thousand dollars in new salary for a deputy, I have a couple of questions: Where will the money come from? How many services will have to be reduced in order to make up that salary?

Magistrates, please start protecting us, or, if you can’t, then you and the judge/executive probably should move over and let some other people try to do the jobs you were elected to do.

For purposes of full disclosure, I ran in the primary for the Democratic nomination to be judge/executive but I lost. I do not intend to run again, so my statement is not a tactic for the next election.

Fiscal court issues are important

 

August 17, 2016

 

I suspect some residents are shrugging their shoulders at the issues in Ballard County revolving around the misappropriation of as much as $900,000. But as far as I’m concerned, we are looking at a fundamental failure of county government to safeguard the dollars we pay through taxes.

Did you get that: A Fundamental failure of county government.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, if we portray a cavalier dismissal of these issues, we empower the risk that we may not avoid future problems.

A county fiscal court, according to Kentucky statutes, “is permitted to appropriate county funds for lawful purposes, buy and sell county property, supervise the fiscal affairs of the county and county officers, maintain accurate fiscal records and exercise all other corporate powers of the county. Further, the fiscal court may investigate all activities of county government and establish appointive offices and define their duties.”

Note carefully: “… supervise the fiscal affairs of the county and county officers ….”

It is obvious that some of these things weren’t handled properly. Otherwise, the FBI would not be investigating nearly a million dollars in misappropriated funds from the Ballard County Fiscal Court.

And how are we handling that? Well, for one thing the county judge/executive has admitted that she is unable to do the job she has held for around 10 years. She has appointed a deputy judge/executive to share the job. The county fiscal court is supposed to meet on Thursday to determine how and how much to pay the deputy.

There is no money appropriated for a deputy. The salary has to come from somewhere. It will require the movement of existing money from one pot to another, or it will require an increase in taxes. If the money is moved from existing funds, whatever amount is set for the salary will no longer be available for whatever other purpose it was being held. It also means that a person who was paid from public funds for many years in a former position will now be brought back into what may be a de facto judge/executive role without having run for the office. That person had great experience as a sheriff; law enforcement isn’t quite what’s needed in the new job, although it looks like there may have been some criminal activity within the system. The FBI doesn’t investigate unless they suspect something criminal has taken place.

I don’t know how long it takes to misappropriate up to $900,000. I assume it takes quite a while in a county as small as ours. That suggests, to me, that this had been going on for a long time and that the people in charge of the county’s financial well-being overlooked it.

To me the bottom line is this: Do the jobs you campaigned for and to which you were elected; do them competently; if you can’t do them, resign and let someone else do them; quit spending our tax money to repair broken trust and misappropriated money.

I say this is a much bigger issue than arguing about how much to pay someone to let them return to the public payroll. As I said at the beginning, the issue is a fundamental failure of our government.

We must have accountability

August 18, 2016

The report of the state auditor regarding the audit of Ballard County’s fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014 is available online. That audit presumably is the basis for the resignation of the county treasurer, the investigation (ongoing, I think) by the FBI, and the appointment of a deputy judge/executive.

It’s a long report and you may not want to read it all. I have extracted the comments and recommendations made by the auditor, and I have pasted them below. I also copied the county’s responses and, where there were replies, I have pasted the auditor’s replies. In some cases I copied only the first sentence of the replies.

Many of you may have read these when they first hit the news, but I doubt it. In my mind, these are serious and there must be some accountability.

BALLARD COUNTY

COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2014

2014-001 Material Weaknesses Over The Health Reimbursement Account Resulted In Misuse And Overpayments

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Overpayments are being checked by County Attorney. Reimbursements for services not yet received had doctor estimates for monthly payments. Fiscal Court approves medical reimbursements of $500 at the first of each fiscal year. Was unaware of reimbursement forms. This issue has been resolved. To our knowledge all ledgers were given to auditors however 2013 ledger, 2013 quarterly report and several other supportive documents that were given to auditors still have not been found. However, looking for these documents, we did find Marshall County paperwork in the courtroom.

Auditor’s Reply: In order to perform testing over the Health Reimbursement Account, auditors requested the treasurer’s reimbursement ledgers corresponding to fiscal years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Ledgers corresponding to fiscal years 2011 and 2012 were provided to auditors. Ledgers corresponding to fiscal years 2013 and 2014 were never provided to auditors, even after multiple requests. According to the County Treasurer, these ledgers were missing and never located prior to the end of fieldwork.

2014-002 Retirement Was Not Properly Withheld From Employees’ Checks And Was Not Properly Reported And Paid To CERS

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Employee that was excluded had retired and came back, was unaware that County had to continue to match. Concerning retirement contributions we feel this is a software issue. We would welcome Ky. Retirement to come down and pay a visit to see what the issue happens to be. Concerning the penalty the treasurer was sick and was unable to submit report on time.

Auditor’s Reply: The employee excluded from the County’s monthly retirement report was not a retired employee that returned to work….

2014-003 Ballard County Did Not Properly Compensate Employees For Overtime

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Treasurer appoints designee which most of the time is supervisor of each department to keep time cards and comp time records. Comp time has always been allowed in the road department and states that in the administrative code.

Auditor’s Reply: While comp-time may be allowed by the County’s administrative code, it was not properly awarded to Road Fund employees who worked in excess of 40 hours in a work week….

2014-004 Ballard County Did Not Properly Withhold Health Insurance From Employees’ Checks

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Per insurance agent due to the Health Care Reform Act the County had open enroll twice in one year. County wasn’t aware of the $6 dollar administrative fee should have been added to employee. Will comply.

2014-005 Ballard County Fiscal Court Has Material Weaknesses And Non-Compliances Surrounding Payroll and Timekeeping

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Treasurer and Finance Officer recieve [sic] 6 hrs. per week. Timesheets will be keep [sic] in Judge Executive office. Accumulated leave from Jail is Jailer’s responsibility.

2014-006 The Fiscal Court Expended Funds In Excess Of Revenues Collected

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Will comply.

2014-007 Ballard County Fiscal Court Has Material Weaknesses Over Cash And Financial Reporting

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: This is due to payroll and County’s cash flow. Will comply.

Auditor’s Reply: The material weaknesses over cash and financial reporting are not due to the County’s payroll and cash flow problems. The material weaknesses over cash and financial reporting are a direct result of a lack of awareness on the part of the Fiscal Court that the County’s financial reports should be in agreement.

2014-008 Short-Term Borrowings Were Not In Compliance With KRS 65.117 Or KRS 65.7707

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: The short term loans were secured by Certificates of Deposit. We were not aware of the KRS 65.117 or 65.7707. Short-term loans have been done before w/o being addressed by auditors.

Auditor’s Reply: The collateralization of short-term loans or notes has no bearing on the notification and approval requirements for such financial obligations.

2014-009 Ballard County Materially Misstated Outstanding Debt Balances On The 4th Quarter Financial Report

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: This is a software issue that is being addressed.

Auditor’s Reply: The County Judge/Executive’s response states that a software issue resulted in the outstanding debt balances reported on the 4th Quarter Financial Report being misstated. While it is true that a software issue may have contributed to the misstated amounts, the misstatements went undetected due to a lack of internal controls.

2014-010 The Ballard County Fiscal Court Did Not Pay Invoices Within 30 Working Days

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: County does have contracts with some vendors, was not asked to review any. Some invoices are not recieved [sic] on time to be paid before another Fiscal Court meeting. Will comply to the best of our ability.

2014-011 Internal Controls Over Disbursements Were Weak

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: The fiscal court initials bills each court meeting except for standing ordering [sic] that are already approved by court.

2014-012 The Ballard County Fiscal Court Had Weak Internal Controls Over Capital Assets

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: This has been resolved and up to date.

2014-013 Internal Control Over The Collection Of And The Accounting For Payroll Taxes Were Weak

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: Payroll taxes are added up 3 different times by Finance officer + Treasurer each day. Delinquent notices are sent out after the quarter. I feel like we are doing the best we can.

2014-014 The Former Jailer Failed To Maintain Proper Accounting Records And Establish Financial Controls

Former Jailer Mike Horn’s Response: The former jailer did not respond.

2014-015 The Former Jailer Failed To Deposit Receipts Into The Jail Inmate Account

Former Jailer Mike Horn’s Response: The former jailer did not respond.

2014-016 Inmate Fees Collected At The Detention Center Were Not Turned Over To The County Treasurer Timely

Former Jailer Mike Horn’s Response: The former jailer did not respond.

2014-017 Ballard County Did Not Properly Balance Their Annual Budget

County Judge/Executive Viniard’s Response: This was an error. Was not aware of error until now. DLG also missed this error or we would have corrected it.

Auditor’s Reply: The County budget process is the responsibility of the County Judge/Executive and the Fiscal Court. While the Department for Local Government (DLG) is a part of the budget process, it is not the responsibility of DLG to detect and/or correct any errors on the County’s budget.

Magistrates’ salaries

 

August 21, 2016

 

A reader posted this statement and question:

“People may or may not know that the magistrates are the real bosses of county government. I am curious about how much Ballard County magistrates are paid. Like the salaries of all local government officials across Kentucky, this information is well hidden. Do you know what they are paid?”

Short answer to the question is no.

About the statement, I’m not convinced that the magistrates are the real bosses. The county judge/executive is the one with an office, a staff, a full-time job. That person establishes the agenda of the fiscal court meetings and has a lot of power. But the magistrates do have plenty of power, too. The judge/executive and the magistrates constitute the county’s fiscal court. They are responsible for budgeting, spending and keeping track of our tax dollars.

As to the question about salary, the information is well hidden. I imagine you would have to go to the courthouse and ask. You could ask for a copy of the budget and see if that information is easy to discover.

It would make government much more transparent if our county moved at least into the last few years of the last century and made this information available online for those of us who like to sit home in front of our computers and obtain information that we can find and read when our schedule has time available for such things. And we can even print the information if we want to be able to take it to the bathroom, which is where we do much of our reading.

I have spent quite a bit of time searching this morning. Searching unsuccessfully. That may be because I’m not a sufficiently skilled researcher. Or it may be because the information is well hidden, or not available. I could not find it on the state’s web site. Forget about finding anything of value on the county’s sites.

Interesting to me is the fact that judicial salaries are posted. For instance, Circuit Judge Tim Langford has a salary of $124,618, District Judge Keith Myers gets $112,668, and Circuit Court Clerk Holly Dunker earns $72.987.

The salaries of all our elected officials should be as easy to find.

Salaries of public officials

 

August 21, 2016

 

Let’s continue our discussion of the salaries of public officials. It isn’t easy to find out how much the Ballard County officials make.

In Christian County, on the other hand, it’s easy. The salaries of city, county and state officials are published in the Kentucky New Era newspaper, located in Hopkinsville.

I don’t know if that’s the paper’s doing or if the county provides the information routinely. Either way, it’s refreshing to see this. It’s a good example of how it should be. It should also be available on the respective governments’ web sites.

A friend sent me his link to the salary schedule There are tabs for the different levels of government:

 

http://www.kentuckynewera.com/app/salaries/

This was the Ballard County jail when my grandfather was jailer. The family lived in the building. The men's cells were on the left as you face the building, on the back side. The women's cell was on the right of the second floor. Today there are storage

Jails have become big business

 

August 18, 2016

 

Earlier today I shared a post on my Facebook page from the Bill Moyers Facebook page about the de-privatization of jails. Here is the introduction to that story from the Moyers page:

“Today, the Justice Dept announced it will end the use of private prisons after officials concluded they are less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government. Here, we look at five off-the-radar corporations that are earning millions off of mass incarceration.”

I shared the post but added my own introduction. Here it is:

 

“BALLARD COUNTY: TAKE NOTICE:

“The article refers to kickbacks to states and counties. Jails can be a tremendous financial burden on the families of people who wind up in them. High telephone rates, added charges on top of the per-minute rates to pay the company for the right to use the phones at high rates (like 50 cents a minute for local calls). If the family wants the jail inmate to be able to buy a few things, here's how it works. Let's say you are a Ballard County inmate. First, the jail charges you $22 a day for room and board. If the family deposits $100 into the inmate's commissary account, there first is a fee on top of the $100 payment. Then the jail takes $50 to apply to the $22 a day fee. I don't know how much the jail gets from the private companies who bid to provide the services. It appears that there are opportunities for corruption. Considering that Ballard County has demonstrated unbelievable ineptness at keeping track of money, this is an area of concern.”

 

My sister tagged a response onto the post. I am including her two responses and my two replies because I think they are interesting and they add some information from the earlier days of the Ballard County Jail. Jeanne mentions Mimee and Pipee. They were our grandparents, Lannie and Robert Crice. Both served as Ballard County jailer, he for several years and she for an uncompleted term when he died in office:

 

Jeanne Culver Thorpe wrote: What happens if the inmate has no money or family to pay for them? Sounds like a big business for incarceration. Confusing??

 

I replied: I don’t know. I think the jail would have to release the inmate. Otherwise, it becomes a debtor's prison and relatively minor offenses become life sentences.

 

Jeanne then wrote: I haven't been in jail and never have discussed this with Darryl -- so I guess I thought it was like when Pipee was jailer. You went to jail and Mimee fed you -- did your time and left. I may have heard Julie mention the Knox County and the inmates accounts for extras but I had no idea, they had to pay to be there. Do criminals have to pay to be in prison?

 

I answered: I think there's a difference if you are considered to be a state prisoner housed in a county jail instead of being a county prisoner. I think the state pays the county around $31 a day to house a state prisoner. I suspect that's why Ballard County now has a "detention center" instead of a jail. I think it is built to house 80 prisoners or maybe just 60. It's not like when our grandparents lived in the same building that had the cells and grandmother fed the inmates pretty much what the family ate. I recall thst there were no prisoners most of the time. One time when authorities brought a prisoner in, it had been so long between inmates thst grandmother couldn't find the key to the cells. The jail -- okay, the detention center-- is big business. If it isn't full of state prisoners, it becomes a financial burden on the county, which happened a couple of years ago.

Print Print | Sitemap
© Joe W. Culver