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Unraveling of FEMA

Metcalfe County Judge/Executive Larry Wilson, at left, has inherited some longstanding issues including the county’s FEMA issues. At right, former Judge/Executive Harold Stilts passes the keys to Wilson in his last court meeting in 2022. Photo | Allyson Dix

By Allyson Dix

Jobe Publishing, Inc.


Knowledge of a federal investigation surrounding the Metcalfe County’s FEMA problems dating back to 2018 has surfaced all while a tenured employee was terminated and two subsequent resignations from the EM assistant deputies, and a road supervisor who resigned and then retracted his resignation in recent weeks.

Emory Kidd, who was appointed in July 2006, served as the county’s Emergency Management Director for 17 years before his termination on Sept. 28.

A special-called meeting regarding personnel was held on that date where the court voted to enter into closed session and the meeting minutes reflect that “action was taken during Closed Session.”

Metcalfe Judge/Executive Larry Wilson, according to the minutes, “said after a decision and long discussion, it was voted on to remove Emory Kidd as Emergency Services Director.”

However, Kidd is an appointed employee and the magistrates hold no legal weight in the decision. Judge Wilson told the Edmonton Herald-News, through a series of communications, that he wanted the magistrate’s opinions before finalizing his decision.

Kidd told EHN that upon receiving the verbal termination in a phone call, Judge Wilson told him, “The magistrates want you gone,” adding it was related to the FEMA issues.

On August 22, in a regular court meeting, Magistrate Daniel Bragg implied that Kidd was the source of the FEMA money problems despite the ongoing communications that prior administrations failed to properly document projects ultimately resulting in a non-compliance status with FEMA.

“At some point, somebody has to take the responsibility,” Bragg said, also noting that he didn’t trust the information given in Kidd’s reports.

“I can’t trust anything here and that’s just because there’s been so many reports given in this room that have not come to fruition.”

Additionally, Gary Fancher, KYEM Area 3 Regional Manager, stated that while in Frankfort, he spoke with Judge Wilson by phone saying what Frankfort doesn’t realize is, “We’ve got a lot of projects that the prior administration refused to do…,” adding that the county will have to either spend money to complete projects or pay money back to the state because of the prior deficiencies done in the accounting figures.

Kidd continued to explain the FEMA projects with examples to the court and that the county can’t prove what work was completed, as he has done in open meetings before, adding that issues stem back further than 2018, especially with GPS coordinates for work completed, which FEMA requires.

The county paid for a program to assist with documentation purposes for projects within the road department in April for $5,000, specifically for GPS coordinates.

Judge Wilson said in open court, “I’m going to say exactly what I think. I think [there has] been some of sloppiest work in the last few years and I’m not going to blame one person, I think there’s been several people. If I did what I ought to do, I’d probably clean house. I got that software, I recommended we get it, it will tell us everything. From this day forth, I want it used, I don’t want no discussion, I don’t want nobody making a call this is or not a FEMA project–use it.”

As of Oct. 19, no GPS points are listed on the program’s work order reports. It is unclear at this point if the GPS coordinates are being tracked, but it is the understanding that this is the responsibility of the road department to track those coordinates.

At the close of discussion in the Aug. 22 meeting, it was decided that the county would plan a meeting in Frankfort with KYEM to discuss the FEMA problems. EHN will report more on this meeting in a later publication after reviewing more open records documents.

However, off-record comments state the “real” meeting happened after the Aug. 22 meeting in an office, and documents obtained through an open records act show there may have been more discussion when a resignation was filed the next day.

The current road supervisor, Chris Compton, filed a resignation letter dated Aug. 23.

The week before Kidd’s termination, a second letter from Compton was filed withdrawing his resignation on Sept. 22. No explanation for his resignation was listed.

“The resignation needs to be considered null and void,” his letter reads.

Other findings EHN has discovered in documents is that Compton, appointed under former Judge/Executive Harold Stilts, has no records on file with the county that fully qualify him to hold a road supervisor position per Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS).

According to an application for employment dated Jan. 9, 2019, Compton has experience with operating heavy equipment and related licensure; however, according to KRS 179.020, if the county doesn’t employ a county road engineer, a road supervisor can take the place of an engineer, but certain qualifications are required.

The same statute states, “No person shall be employed as a county road supervisor unless he meets the following requirements: (a) has at least three years practical road building experience of a nature satisfactory to examining authorities selected by the Department of Highways for the Commonwealth of Kentucky; and passed an examination, either oral or written, or both, given by the examining authorities, and has received a certificate of qualification from the authorities.”

According to the county’s custodian of records, there is zero knowledge of any type of examination score or certificate of qualifications to report for Compton, which calls into question his legitimacy in holding the county’s road supervisor position.

An attempt for comments to Compton was made; however, he declined to comment on any of the matters.

As for Kidd, EHN attempted to locate any disciplinary actions at both the county level and with the Kentucky Emergency Management Agency. None were produced.

In his time as EM Director, Kidd has received numerous awards and recognitions, and served on numerous boards, some as chairman, according to a document obtained from the county’s custodian of records.

Emory Kidd, center, receiving his Kentucky Emergency Manager certification. He was one of twelve in the state to be certified. JPI File Photo

Additionally, his extensive training and experience led to recognition from State Representative Bart Rowland as the only director in the state to receive all awards available to a local director. Some of his accomplishments have helped Metcalfe Countians receive federal recognition when the county was the first in the nation to purchase weather radios for all occupied structures. FEMA used Metcalfe County as a pilot project. He negotiated grants to install tornado safe rooms for 14% of the population, led efforts to have the state’s first rescue house designated for fire victims, and has been responsible for 15 federally declared disasters approximating $8,000,000 in recovery funds in his time as the county’s EM director.

The unexpected termination of Kidd leaves more questions than answers because Metcalfe County went from FEMA recognition at the federal level to a federal investigation.

In the Aug. 22 meeting, Bragg was the most notable inquirer in court to understand the problems and sought a “breakdown” of the problems from prior administrations and why “we’re just finding out about it four years later.”

But the county has been aware of the problems at least dating back to the prior administration and documents obtained show that promises were made to correct problems. However, Kidd said given the PO system problems, which he doesn’t maintain, it’s impossible to accurately locate the needed documentation for many of the FEMA projects.

According to documents, the problems that led to the county being in non-compliance with FEMA began in 2018 under former Judge/Executive Greg Wilson and County Treasurer Vickie Stephens.

It is noted in a fiscal year (FY) 2018 audit several findings pertaining to federal monies and grants, “double dipping,” and problems with a purchase order system, among other things.

In 2019, after former Judge Greg Wilson was defeated by Stilts in the 2018 election, Kentucky Emergency Management performed an audit that ultimately led to a federal investigation, one Kidd says has been stagnant almost since it started.

At this time, little information has been received regarding a federal investigation aside from some non-detailed communications between KYEM and a special agent of the Department of Homeland Security/Office of Inspector General. The subject header states “DHS OIG Investigation-Metcalfe County PA Grants.” Due to the potential of an open investigation, EHN may be limited from obtaining more details on it at this time.

The double dipping, whether intentional or not, is only one of several issues that surfaced in the audit findings from 2018 when the county applied for funding from two entities for the same projects.

The audit notes in finding 2018-003 that duplicate reimbursements for projects occurred when the county received monies from both FEMA and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. In fact, along with those, are numerous other deficiencies surrounding purchase orders, which have been repeated as a source of the problem for years.

Forty-four of 104 invoices had purchase orders (PO) issued after the work or service was performed, 88 of 104 invoices had no PO numbers, and one invoice had no PO at all. The fiscal court failed to understand the purchase order system operations and in FY 2018, Judge Greg Wilson was acting as road supervisor in his last year, all according to the audit.

Problems with the county’s PO system have long existed and been discussed in prior open meetings, and the financial statement findings of the audit state, “A lack of a proper purchase order system in place increases the risk that services are being provided before approved by the fiscal court. The lack of communication also increases the risk federal grant disbursements are not reported each year, and the requests for reimbursement of federal grants is at a higher risk of fraud or error.”

The County Judge/Executive is responsible for the administration and supervision of the County purchasing system; the County Judge/Executive, County Treasurer, and/or Finance Officer shall complete the purchase order form and signify their approval of the purchases; and the responsibility lies on the Department Heads to insure goods received are correct, vendor’s invoices are received and correct, and the PO amount has not been exceeded, according to the audit.

Under Stilts’ administration, which is when the 2018 audit findings came about, corrective actions were submitted in June 2020 to KYEM’s Internal Controls division, who, as a pass-through agency for federal grants, is required to understand deficiencies and corrective actions.

An audit performed by Patrick & Associates, LLC out of Winchester for FY 2018-19, notes a repeat finding from the 2018 report for the county’s schedule of expenditures of federal awards (SEFA).

This audit states the county treasurer prepared the SEFA report expending $429,989 in federal funds and the county used more federal funds than reported.

Then, in March 2021, the KYEM Internal Controls division requested, yet again, more findings from an audit ending in FY 2019. Stilts noted in his response letter the same month, “Metcalfe County Fiscal Court hired a new Treasurer in July of 2020 in hopes to eliminate the issues found in prior year audits.”

It was under Stilts’ administration that former treasurer Stephens was terminated for neglect of duty, based on findings of a 2017-18 audit, disobeying an order to leave the file cabinets unlocked for other employees, and submitting bills to be paid before supplies were received. She ultimately was terminated after she called for the court’s roll-call vote on July 7, 2020.

Emails obtained as far back as 2020 indicate Kidd’s ongoing communications surrounding FEMA.

In an email dated Sept. 27, 2021, Kidd attempts to mitigate with KYEM any type of penalties that occurred under the previous administration (Greg Wilson’s term) and the clean-up on documentation for the Jack Sparks Bridge and PO issues.

The matter was expressed numerous times in electronic communications as well as in-person meetings. An in-depth report was given in the June 14, 2022, fiscal court meeting, where Fancher went into great detail about the audits from 2018-2020 and how the PO system had been noted to need corrections.

Metcalfe County Administrative Code Ch. 6 requires the proper use of the purchase system and Fancher, in an e-mail dated July 12, 2022, that included Stilts, explained, “It was my understanding that all magistrates [and] the county attorney are all opposed to continuing the [PO] System…and even started to make a motion to correct when Judge (Stilts) stated no motion was necessary. He stated we would work together and he assured me he was ready to fix this issue.”

Fancher also relayed that the promise had been made in writing since June 3, 2020, and it had yet to occur resulting in the county continuing to be non-compliant.

“The financial loss to Metcalfe County due to not correcting the actions has been tremendous as we have had many disasters that I know you could have received Public Assistance for…but we cannot proceed until you are in Compliance…,” Fancher also wrote in that email.

Kidd shared with EHN that Metcalfe County stopped receiving FEMA payments on or around Oct. 17, 2019, and within 60 days of correcting the purchase order system under current Judge Larry Wilson, FEMA funds finally started coming in the same month Kidd’s termination occurred, which was in Sept.

Back to 2023, the county has since hired a contracted consulting company, EUDS, “not to exceed” $31,200 or $187,200, to assist with the FEMA matters, and a new EM Director has been appointed, Adam Bennett. Per KRS, the county had to replace Kidd’s position within 30 days.

It’s public knowledge that current Judge Larry Wilson has faced several heavy financial burdens stemming from prior administrations, but he said his goal is to resolve those issues.

“I’ve got three years and two months to go, and I want to see it cleaned up,” Judge Wilson told EHN last month, “I can see right now my whole term is going to cleaning up.”

EHN is aware that there may have been other FEMA issues before 2018; however, it is our understanding and documents pinpoint at this time that this was the trigger year that Metcalfe County became non-compliant with FEMA.

Pictured are (L-R): former County Attorney Barry Gilley, former Magistrate Donny Smith, and former Treasurer Vickie Stephens. Archive photo | The Herald-News

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