Lexington Director Imhoff: Scrutiny of Finances Inaccurate

Lexington Director Imhoff: Scrutiny of Finances Inaccurate

“There is a situation going on in Lexington [Kentucky],” says Kathleen Imhoff, CEO of the city’s public library, characterizing an inflammatory article published April 26 in the Lexington Herald-Leader as inaccurate, slanted, and damaging to the library and to her reputation. The article purports to examine “questionable credit-card usage with inadequate documentation to support it” and links Imhoff’s credit-card history to a credit-card scandal at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport that led to the resignation of top managers and a criminal investigation.

While the article, written by Herald-Leader staff reporter John Cheves, stopped short of accusing Imhoff of doing anything illegal, it does suggest that she spent taxpayers’ money wantonly on travel, gifts for staff members, and dinners at expensive restaurants. The lowest blow of all, Imhoff told American Libraries in a May 3 interview, is that Cheves insinuated that so-called abuses at the library compare with those of the airport. “The newspaper looked at five-and-a-half years of my expenses,” said Imhoff, “and constantly compared them to two years of airport expenses.” She told AL that “the total spent on credit cards is two one-hundredths of our budget for five years,” which is almost $15 million annually. She added that no attempt has ever been made to hide any expenses for personal gain or otherwise.

“Many things are mischaracterized” in the Herald-Leader article, said Imhoff, much of it provided by Edward Maley, whom she said is a disgruntled former employee. Maley was the library’s chief financial officer until he resigned last year; his duties included reviewing library credit-card bills. He admitted to Cheves that he never drew what Maley called “really borderline” expenses to Imhoff’s attention because “she was the boss.”

Imhoff said Cheves portrayed numerous purchases in such a way as to make them appear to be personal expenses—“sound recording equipment, for example, which makes it look like I went out and bought myself a new stereo; Mr. Maley spent that money for a sound equipment booth for our cable television system.” She also explained that employee awards and incentives had been characterized as “gifts,” conference attendance as “trips,” and business meetings as “scores of meals at upscale Lexington restaurants.”

Imhoff said the library board was also extremely unhappy with the newspaper account and its inaccuracies. “Our board is waiting until the story is over to consider further action,” she said. In a follow-up article published April 29, the Herald-Leader said library board chair Burgess Carey defended Imhoff at a city-council hearing as an experienced, dedicated librarian, but he also said, “The questions raised by the Herald-Leader are legitimate and have been and will continue to be answered with documented facts, not with cover-ups or excuses.”

Imhoff pointed out that letters to the editor defending her have since appeared, written “by professional people who understand.” Public support has been overwhelming, she asserted, pointing out that “we provided receipts” for all but four of the 647 transactions over a five-and-a-half-year period that auditors identified. “We have opened up our books to the city, we have given them our hard drives, we’ve spent hours with them explaining how our system works,” Imhoff said. “In trying to be overboard in giving information, we actually listed on the library’s website a complete expense summary report before it came out in the paper.”

Of Cheves, Imhoff stated, “He has been delving into my personal life in a way that has been inappropriate. What I do for the library is an open book. We have provided everything he has requested in a timely basis.” The airport story was horrendous, she added, expressing resentment at the insinuation that her credit-card records compare in any way. She said she had met with Cheves for four hours to answer all his questions, only to have the answers twisted or not reported. “There are no sources provided on the other side of the story; neither the chair of the audit committee nor the present finance officer were consulted,” she added. “The board lawyer sent [Cheves] a memo that said the 2007 audit had nothing to do with me. It had to do with the former CFO, and we had a confidentiality agreement with him when he accepted the severance package, but we want to get the city audit behind us before we decide what to do.” LPL Audit Committee Chair Kathy Reynolds said on the library’s website that the 2008 library audit showed “that the procedural issues noted in the 2007 audit have been corrected,” and “the employee that the comments referenced no longer works for the library.”

In a sidebar to the April 26 Herald-Leader article, Cheves cites, apparently for balance, Imhoff’s numerous accomplishments since taking on the directorship in 2003, among them the Southeastern Library Association’s Rothrock Award in 2008 for “career service to librarianship.” Cheves quotes LPL board chair Carey as saying that Imhoff has given Lexington one of the nation’s finest public library systems for its size. Imhoff was also named this year by Business Lexington as one the “Leading Women in Central Kentucky.”

Leonard Kniffel
Posted on May 4, 2009; modified on May 5, 2009; corrected on May 7, 2009.