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Bill Changes State Tourism Agencies' Boards Amid Alleged NKY Theft

A bill passed Tuesday in the closing weeks of the General Assembly session would boost the finance and accounting know-how of local tourism boards.

The legislation comes a few months after a 20-year employee was charged in November with stealing nearly $4 million from the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau (Meet NKY).

Senate Bill 202 would require that at least two members of local tourist and convention commissions have an accounting, finance, or business background. In Northern Kentucky, six members each from Boone, Campbell, and Kenton counties serve on an 18-member board. Therefore, a total of six – two from each county – would need to have financial expertise.

Passed March 12 by the House, the bill is headed to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk for his signature.

Bridget Johnson, 58, the former MeetNKY finance director who was subsequently indicted, is accused of sending checks online to several people that she claimed were vendors for the bureau. The investigation found that the checks were sent to real people but that those people were never vendors to the bureau and never provided any payment for the service they received.

Johnson then allegedly deleted the fraudulent transactions on the bureau's monthly bank statement from BB&T that she would present to the board of directors.

Johnson entered a not guilty plea in Kenton District Court on Jan. 14. A trial date was originally set for March 20 but that has been pushed back to July to allow investigators more time to track down potential co-defendants, Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders told The River City News.

State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) told The River City News that Senate Bill 202 “adds people with financial expertise to the board which will be helpful.”

John Stanton, Kenton County’s director of external affairs, informed Kenton County Fiscal Court about the just-passed legislation at Tuesday’s meeting in Independence.

“It will help the bureau by adding some folks with finance and accounting expertise to the board,” he said.

“Most of the folks on the board were predominantly focused on marketing and the bill will require more presence on the board with finance and operations backgrounds,” Stanton said.

Oversight provided through SB 202 helps the convention and visitors bureau in the community by making sure there’s good oversight and making sure the board is qualified, Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said.

“The meetNKY board supports this legislation, our Judge Executives and the CVB staff in our mission to create a positive economic impact in our three counties through meeting, event and visitor expenditures,” said Tim Bray, meetNKY board chair.

Eric Summe, the agency’s president and CEO, previously said the bureau is focused on reviewing all processes and has put in place additional controls and safeguards to prevent such criminal activity in the future.

According to its website, the mission of MeetNKY Northern Kentucky CVB “is to be an aggressive sales, marketing, service and informational organization whose primary responsibility is to positively impact the Northern Kentucky economy through conventions, meetings and visitor expenditures.” It is operated independently of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

Recently, MeetNKY created and has been involved in the push behind the B-Line, Northern Kentucky’s self-guided bourbon tour.

Written by Nancy Daly, RCN contributor