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Firings cost KACo millions; agency under scrutiny for expenditures

FRANKFORT, KY -- The day after the Kentucky Association of Counties' board of directors officially hired Executive Director Bob Arnold in 2000, he instructed his deputy to tell longtime employee Janet Meyer that her services were no longer needed, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

"I said 'Why, what's happened? What have I done?" Meyer said in court last year. Arnold's deputy executive director, Denny Nunnelley, replied that he didn't know.

"Denny told me that Bob had asked him to wait until he went for lunch and then come in and tell me I was to leave," said Meyer, who worked for KACo from 1978 until her firing in November 2000.

Hers was the first in a string of terminations ordered by Arnold, with the most recent coming in August 2005. Six of the firings led to lawsuits that have cost KACo nearly $1.8 million, according to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader. The lawsuits alleged that Arnold improperly fired employees as revenge for their role in blowing the whistle on a "hostile workplace" fostered by Michael D. Magee, Arnold's friend and predecessor as executive director of KACo.

KACo also paid to buy out Magee and settle another related wrongful-termination suit, bringing KACo's total costs for the saga to at least $2.2 million.

During last year's trial, Arnold denied that he fired employees in retribution. But the jury agreed with the former employee, Jenni Clark, and awarded her $836,780 in April 2008.

Much of that cost and "all related legal fees" were paid through KACo's insurance program, which provides the organization with its liability coverage, according to KACo's 2008 financial statement.

Since then, Arnold's spending at KACo and the organization's expense procedures have come under scrutiny. He and four top lieutenants spent $600,000 on travel, entertainment and meals in 2007 and 2008, according to a Lexington Herald-Leader analysis.

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