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Kentucky auditor launching special examination of WKY tornado relief, EKY flood relief funds

Lisa Autry
Some of the damage done during the historic tornado outbreak that ripped through several regions of Kentucky in December 2021.

Kentucky’s Office of the Auditor of Public Accounts announced Thursday it will conduct a “special examination” of the Public Protection Cabinet’s oversight of the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief and Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Funds.

Earlier this week, State Rep. Adam Bowling and State Sen. Brandon Storm, the co-chairs of the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee, sent a letter to Auditor Mike Harmon requesting that his office examine the Public Protection Cabinet’s “acceptance, administration and expenditure” of money within those two disaster relief funds.

Responding to the announced audit, Gov. Andy Beshear called the funds, which he established, “the most transparent disaster recovery funds” that he’s ever seen.

Beshear said the examination is politically motivated, citing the upcoming November General Election. He said Harmon, who is a Republican, attended the event where Daniel Cameron — the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Kentucky — announced that Republican State Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson would be his running mate earlier this week. Harmon also ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination earlier this year.

“I believe that their audit would not meet the auditing standards that are out there that require that you are impartial,” Beshear said in a press conference.

Last month, Republican state legislators raised concerns over the state’s handling of the relief funds and expressed confusion over how the state decides how those funds should be spent.

In February, the office of two-term Republican State Treasurer Alison Ball said it canceled payments on $192,000 in checks from the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund after being notified of misdirected payments.

In response to the Legislative Oversight and Investigation Committee’s request, Assistant Auditor of Public Accounts Farrah Petter said the office would also issue a report detailing any weaknesses or deficiencies identified during the investigation of the two disaster relief funds. The report will also include recommendations from the auditor’s office on how the Public Protection Cabinet could strengthen and improve internal controls and procedures surrounding the tornado relief and flood relief funds.

Beshear established the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund following the December 2021 tornado outbreak to collect donations from around the world to benefit tornado victims and survivors and help communities rebuild. To date, that fund has raised over $52.3 million.

Following deadly flooding in eastern Kentucky nearly a year ago, Beshear launched the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund to benefit flood victims and assist eastern Kentucky communities impacted by the natural disaster. Over $13.2 million has been donated to the flood relief fund.

The auditor’s office has not yet set a timeline for when the special examination will be completed.

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.