To eliminate even a shadow of a doubt about the propriety of post-retirement payments to a former executive director, the Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist and Convention Commission should hire an outside law firm to review the arrangement that recently was the subject of a critical state audit.
The commission’s response to date – essentially that a nearly two-decade-old verbal agreement is binding and that sloppy recordkeeping, which got the commission into the current mess, has been addressed moving forward – is insufficient for regaining the confidence of a skeptical citizenry.
State Auditor Mike Harmon took the commission to task recently after a whistleblower alerted the Auditor’s Office to $114,000 in accrued leave being paid to retired Executive Director Joy Jeffries in quarterly payments through 2021.
The commission couldn’t produce minutes to document what longtime Chairman Marc Stone called a verbal agreement among board members in 2003 to enhance a written offer that was extended to Jeffries at the time she was being recruited. The written offer contained standard benefits that Franklin County employees were getting at the time. Undocumented are enhanced sick and annual leave that are the basis of the generous payments to Jeffries at a time when the commission’s resources need to be 100% devoted to its mission of promoting Frankfort to prospective visitors.
Harmon, in a letter to the commission, said the written agreement likely overrides any verbal agreement from 2003. For good measure, he urged the commission to consult legal counsel on the propriety of the payments.
That consultation appears to have been with the board’s regular attorney, Ed Logan, whose curt response to this newspaper – that his advice to the board is no business of The State Journal and, by extension, the citizens of this community – left much to be desired. Logan seems to have forgotten the ultimate client when a lawyer represents a public body. It’s the citizens who allow that public body to exist.
Regardless, the commission needs more objective counsel on a very serious matter than from its regular attorney. An outside law firm should be retained to thoroughly review the arrangement with Jeffries and render a report that the commission makes public.
To let a cloud of suspicion linger over an important public body that does admirable work for our community is unnecessary.