Questions in Union County: Snow Crab, Valet Parking and Interest Fees

After sifting through hundreds of pages of expense records, Eyewitness News has found Union County Judge Executive Jody Jenkins used the taxpayer-funded county credit card to pay for expenses including crab legs, room service and valet parking.

Cars, like years, fly by. Along a rural stretch of U.S. 60 outside of Morganfield, there's a campaign sign that marks a significant point in the life of Union County Judge Executive Jody Jenkins as he succeeded his late father, Larry Joe Jenkins, who also served as Union County  judge executive. First elected in 2006, Jody Jenkins was re-elected in 2010 and in 2014.

The campaign sign from yesteryear, while faded and tattered and incomplete, still rings true: what we do today impacts tomorrow.

When they're not meeting beyond the old, wooden courthouse doors, Union County's five magistrates and judge executive frequently travel to state conferences like any other fiscal court in the Commonwealth. However, records obtained by Eyewitness News suggest that Union County's judge executive and magistrates typically travel and spend more.

For comparison purposes, Eyewitness News submitted open records requests for travel expenses incurred by the magistrates and judge executives from Henderson, Daviess, Hopkins, Webster and Muhlenberg counties.

In terms of total population, Union County has the second fewest residents of the group.

When it comes to the criteria for what's considered a travel expense, not every county is the same. For example, some counties like Daviess County reimburse officials for travel mileage while Union County pays for the judge's gas.

To narrow the scope, the comparison was limited to expenses related to hotel stays and meals.

In 2013, Eyewitness News' analysis shows Judge Jenkins racked up $6187.36 in documented hotel and meal expenses. That total was more than the judge executives in Henderson, Webster, Hopkins and Daviess counties. According to expense records, only Muhlenberg County Judge Executive Rick Newman spent more, roughly $6900.

That would not be the same in 2014.

Records show Judge Jenkins spent nearly $6700 dollars on hotel and meal expenses compared to Judge Newman's expenses which were just short of $4500.

In 2014, Judge Jenkins spent more on hotels and meals than his counterparts in Webster, Hopkins, Daviess and Henderson counties, according to expense records. In fact, Judge Jenkins spent more than the Daviess County judge and Hopkins County judge combined.

According to the credit card statements from Union County's First Bank credit card, Judge Jenkins accrued more than 30 hotel nights in 2013 and more than 35 hotel nights in 2014.

As for Union County's five magistrates, in 2013, the magistrates spent more on hotels and meals than their counterparts in every comparable county except for Hopkins County, which has seven magistrates, according to expense records.

History would repeat itself in 2014 as Union County's magistrates again outpaced every county except for Hopkins which, again, has more magistrates, according to expense records.

Travel logs show Union County's judge executive and magistrates attended numerous conferences including the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Local Issues Conference and several meetings at the state capital.

While much of the travel expenses appear to be for legitimate county business, other expenses appear more suspect.

some of the travel expenses appear to be legitimate county business, other expenses appear more suspect.

For example, records indicate the county racked up $270 in late fees, over-limit fees and interest on the county credit card. Expense records also indicate Judge Jenkins spent a total of $168 in public money on valet parking for himself in 2013 and 2014.

Meanwhile, the magistrates who were attending the same conference as Judge Jenkins did not get valet parking.

Additionally, records indicate on July 11th, 2013, Judge Jenkins used the county credit card to pay for dinner at the Joe's Crab Shack location in Louisville. According to the receipt, the taxpayers picked up the tab for two drinks, an appetizer and two orders of snow crab. The total, including tip, was $73.66, according to the receipt.

In February 2014, the account summary for the county credit card indicates a charge for $102.10 at a Radio Shack location in Key West, Florida. The voucher claim tied to the transaction clearly indicates the expense was classified as, 'Travel Expenses-Jody.'

According to the receipt tied to the transaction, Judge Jenkins purchased a Mophie Juice Pack Air for an iPhone 4. It's a specialized cell phone case that also has an external battery. The receipt also indicates Jenkins opted for a one year warranty on the case. According to Union County sources, Jenkins often vacations in South Florida.

In October 2014, while judge Jenkins was staying at the Griffen Gate Marriott Resort and Spa in Lexington, expense reports indicate Jenkins used the county credit card to pay for food and in-room movies. The additional charges amounted to just over $43. A month later, he reimbursed the county for the full amount, according to a copy of a check obtained by Eyewitness News.

However, according to expense records, Jenkins did not reimburse the county for a similar expense earlier in the year.

While at the same hotel in February 2014, records show Judge Jenkins used taxpayer money to pay for a $19 in-room movie. The receipt also shows $34 for room service, bringing the total to $53.35.

Nowhere in the thousand-plus pages of credit card statements does it show Judge Jenkins reimbursing the county for this expense.

Union county taxpayers elected and then re-elected Judge Jenkins in hopes that he would be a good steward of the public's money. But when it comes to his use of that money on things like room service and a top-of-the-line iPhone case, Jenkins elected not to answer any questions.

***

A spokesperson from the Kentucky State Auditor's Office says the routine audit of the Union County Fiscal Court should be complete before the end of the year.

We'll keep you updated.
 

QUESTIONS IN UNION COUNTY

Part 1 - http://www.tristatehomepage.com/news/questions-in-union-county 

Part 2 - http://www.tristatehomepage.com/news/special-report-more-questions-in-union-county

Part 3 - http://www.tristatehomepage.com/news/questions-in-union-county-more-than-just-equipment   

 


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