When we think of state and local governments, it is certainly understandable that much of our focus is on elected offices. They are the ones, after all, that ultimately decide the direction the Commonwealth takes.
But that should not underscore the critical importance of literally hundreds of quasi-government boards and agencies that range from the large – like the Kentucky Lottery Corporation – to such smaller ones as water, fire and library districts. They, too, touch our daily lives, often in ways we may not even realize.
Before the 1930s, state government was little more than a loose collection of these types of appointed bodies, some of which had conflicting aims. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the Executive Branch was organized into the system of cabinets we are familiar with today. We began with six, have had as many as 14 and now have 10 directly under the governor’s authority. Several other offices have cabinet-level status as well. They cover the budget, economic development and military affairs.
Even with these cabinets in place, the governor still has a considerable number of appointments to make – about 400 in all to various boards and commissions that do everything from overseeing our public colleges and universities to governing various aspects of our health, professions and even major special events like the celebration of President Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
Our local governments oversee many others. The Department for Local Government recognizes more than 1,100 of these special districts, and their roles are generally tied to industrial development, public health, social services and infrastructure.
In the last year-and-a-half, there has been a renewed focus on these quasi-government agencies in the wake of several reports from the state auditor’s office, which uncovered an array of unnecessary expenses.
The General Assembly has already taken several steps to increase accountability in this area of government. Earlier this year, for example, we adopted measures designed to improve public access to two organizations working closely with our cities and counties. Legislators will almost certainly do the same in the aftermath of a just-released audit that found questionable practices within the organization overseeing Medicaid in Jefferson and 15 other nearby counties.
Another new law calls for far more information on receipts provided by private companies that work with the state, making it easier to track spending.
With that in mind, it is worth noting that Kentucky gets high marks for the information it makes available online to the public. One nationwide study released this year ranked Kentucky first in the nation, and legislation filed for consideration early next year seeks to improve access to all three branches of government. If you’d like to see what is already offered, please visit www.opendoor.ky.gov <http://www.opendoor.ky.gov> .
Our Founding Fathers obviously would not comprehend the technology that drives the world today, but they would definitely understand the importance it plays in making government more open and responsive. As we move further in that direction, our goal at the state level is to ensure that citizens always feel comfortable using this tool rather than being overwhelmed by it.
I encourage you to take time to look at what is available online. In addition to the opendoor website, you can also visit the General Assembly’s at www.lrc.ky.gov <http://www.lrc.ky.gov> . There, you can see the full text of bills and laws, votes and a variety of legislatively driven studies.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions about this or any other issue affecting state government. I can be reached by writing to Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Representative Rick Rand