by Stu Johnson, Kentucky Public Radio
An incumbent with a well-known political lineage, an outspoken Lexington government official and a Libertarian with computer skills are vying to be Kentucky’s next treasurer.
The three made their positions known Monday night on Kentucky Educational Television.
One of the responsibilities of the state treasurer is to return unclaimed property to taxpayers. The office has long published lists on-line of such misplaced funds and property. But GOP candidate K.C. Crosby claims returning those assets to the rightful owners still takes too long.
“When you do that you have to be able to follow through. And we’re getting reports where it’s taking six to eight months for people to actually receive their unclaimed property,” she says.
Crosby has been a vocal member of Lexington’s Urban County Council and is waging her first statewide campaign.
The Republican is challenging incumbent Democrat Todd Hollenbach III. His name might be familiar because his father Todd Hollenbach Jr., served as county judge in Jefferson County. The younger Hollenbach says his office only sees the most difficult cases in which earlier searches for the rightful owner have failed.
“If your local bank or insurance agent couldn’t find you, and they’re required to make some good faith effort to find you before they deem it abandoned, and turn it over to us,” he says. “If they couldn’t find you, the chances that we could find you, are pretty slim really.”
Hollenbach says his office has used a volunteer phone bank and community contacts to track down the owners. And in more than three years, the Democrat says close to 49 million dollars in unclaimed property have been returned in what he calls record time.
Libertarian Ken Moellman has been politically active for years, but is making his first attempt at elected office this fall. Primarily, Moellman wants to eliminate state treasurers and replace them with computers.
“I’ve been working in I-T for 15 years. I’ve actually automated myself out of a job twice in my professional career. I’ve done exactly what I’m trying to do here twice in the private sector where I have replaced myself with a computer,” he says.
In salaries alone, Moellman claims eliminating the state treasurer’s office and two top assistants would save $300,000 in taxpayer dollars.
While hoping to keep his job, the incumbent says he also wants to save money and has tried to set a good example.
“If I’m driving from Pikeville or I’m driving from Paducah, I’m driving my old van, it’s a 2002 van with over 200 thousand miles on it. I’m paying for the gas out of my pocket,” says Hollenbach. “If I’m staying overnight on state business at a Holiday Inn or where ever, I’m putting it on my credit card. And I’m not getting reimbursed for any of it.”
Plus, Hollenback says he has worked with his employees to increase their productivity. For example, they no long employ a janitorial service.
Crosby thinks skilled, well paid state employees have more important work to perform.
“And you have them cleaning toilets and taking out trash, instead of performing their duties. That is not efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” she says.
But, probably Crosby’s biggest complaint is how the treasurer balances the state’s checkbook. In too many cases, she says it simply takes too long.
“And the fact is that three different times, Mr Hollenbach hasn’t performed the number one duty of the elected banker of the state of Kentucky. He has failed to reconcile the books,” she says.
Hollenbach responded, saying it’s a major undertaking and not like balancing a personal checkbook. He says it involves some ten million checks a year and millions of electronic transfers. Plus, when he came into office, Hollenbach says books hadn’t been balanced since 2006.
Crosby also expressed concern about employees in Hollenbach’s office who also draw a state pension. Hollenbach argues he’s simply hiring the most qualified people.
“If you skip over somebody because they have worked before, and might even be earning a retirement, then you’re not really fulfilling your fiduciary obligation to the people of Kentucky to hire the most experienced, most qualified person for the job,” says Crosby.
Moellman avoided much the back and forth between the mainstream candidates. Instead, at the end of the hour-long KET forum, he talked about voter dissatisfaction and predicted the statewide race for treasurer could become an indicator on voter attitudes in the fall of 2011.
“This is both a learning experience for the party but more specifically it’s going to give us a real gauge of how strong we are in a statewide race that isn’t as contentious as president or US Senate,” says Moellman. “Something that we can actually gauge what support really is out there.”
That gauge will be read eight weeks from today on November 8th when Kentucky’s voters pick their statewide officials.