Director of Kentucky Emergency Management resigns Thursday over poor money handling allegations

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Reporter - Elizabeth Fields
Photojournalist - Chad Darnall
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins
Web Editor - Mason Stevenson

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The director of Kentucky Emergency Management has resigned.

In a news release to Local 6, Governor Steve Beshear said he accepted John Heltzel's resignation Thursday morning.

"The findings in the recent Auditor's report made it clear that new leadership was needed in the agency, given the numerous questions and grave concerns it raised about the proper handling of funds, reliable and transparent accounting, and appropriate work environment under the general's direction," Beshear said.

Mike Jones, the current administrative officer for Military Affairs, will take over as the acting director of KyEM.  Governor Beshear said Jones' "first task will be to create a corrective action and implementation plan for issues identified in the Auditor's report."

Beshear went on to say, "The public's trust is a sacred investment that we all must safeguard, and this change in leadership will help to restore accountability and transparency to this critical agency."

Local Emergency Managers like Bill Call in Calloway County said they don't know much of what goes on in the day to day action in Frankfort, but knew the audit was happening. He said he expected a few mistakes to be found because of how complicated federal forms can be, but never expected the extent that was uncovered.

He added that he hopes the next director still communicates with local agencies as well as Heltzel did, but takes more time to understand what actually goes on in the local agencies.

Earlier story:

PADUCAH, Ky. - Booze, hotel rooms, video games, and New York strip steaks.

Those are just a few of the things you paid for according to the Kentucky Auditor.

His office accuses Kentucky Emergency Management in Frankfort of questionable spending to the tune of $5.6 million during the past five years.

What's worse?  The auditor says that's money that could've been used during natural disasters, like the Flood of 2011 or Winter Storm '09.

One receipt raised a big red flag.

It's supposed to be from the Galt House where the group held an annual convention in 2010.

There's a $67,000 room rental charge. But the hotel waived room rental costs due to the amount being spent on meals and other activities. The auditor asked the hotel about it and got this email saying 'this document was not produced from our software.'

The auditor said the receipt was 'doctored' to hide food and drink purchases, even alcoholic drinks.

The Flood of 2011 was a disaster, one of 11 in Kentucky during the past five years.  The governor says he expects emergency management to appropriately use every dollar they have to help in situations like this, but auditor Adam Edelen says that hasn't happened.

"Taxpayer dollars were used to pay for alcohol entertainment and door prizes," Edelen said.

A receipt from a 2010 conference for more than $1,100 in New York Strip Steaks.

The audit says those unauthorized door prizes at the conference consisted of  two LCD TV's, a GPS, and a video camera just to name a few. Auditors say spending like this went on for years.

Edelen's office points a finger toward KYEM director, Brigadier General John W. Heltzel.

"Current and former employees reported threats of intimidation and retaliation that not only created a hostile work environment but also discourages staff from identifying waste fraud and abuse," Edelen said.

Livingston County was one of the area's hit hardest by the flood of 2011.

Their emergency management director, Brent Stringer, released this statement:  "Based on limited information at this point it would be difficult to determine if any past, current or future disaster funding we have or will receive from KYEM has been compromised."

Auditors call it alarming.

Kentucky emergency management responded to the audit, saying they agree with some of the findings, strongly disagree with other parts.

The Department of Military Affairs oversees KYEM.  They released a statement saying:  "We will redouble our efforts to ensure every process meets standards and provides the best value to the Kentucky taxpayers."

The auditor's office did not call for anyone's termination only said the agency needed to do a better job of spending taxpayer dollars.

Local 6 couldn't determine if any local emergency managers attended these events.

We reached out to the majority of local emergency managers in Kentucky and they didn't want to talk about the issue at all.

The Kentucky Emergency Management Association, made up of emergency managers throughout the state wants KYEM director John Heltzel removed immediately.

It's important to note: the auditor's office said no local emergency managers are at fault.

You can read the auditor's report and Kentucky emergency management's response in it's entirety by clicking here.

 

"Most of the emergency management offices are part-time and it's hard then for the state to expect full-time performance out of part-time directors," he said.

The audit and the findings are now in the hands of the Attorney General's office which is reviewing it for potential criminal acts. 

 

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