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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

Why the delay on Kest?

WHAT'S taking so long? That's the question dogging the independent prosecutor's investigation of Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest for dipping into county funds to pay his college tuition. And rightfully so. The inquiry has taken almost a year.

The prosecutor, Mark Mulligan, of Ottawa County, says he's waiting for a state auditor's report on county finances before completing his work, but the Kest question should not be this complicated or difficult to resolve.

If there is anything in state law that allows an elected county official to legally use money intended for collection of delinquent taxes to pay nearly $15,000 for graduate school expenses - tuition, fees, even hotel rooms to stay overnight in Cleveland - it should have been apparent long before now.

We happen to believe the treasurer has been caught with his hands deep in the proverbial cookie jar. As we have said before, Ray Kest is the kind of guy who defines right and wrong by his own perception of what he can get away with.

As an elected official, he's not eligible for the tuition reimbursement formerly offered some county employees, and the taxpayers of Lucas County should not be paying for his PhD at Cleveland State University, no matter how much he believes county government will be improved by his enhanced education.

Perhaps Mr. Mulligan is being overly cautious by waiting to see if the results of the state audit bolster his case. Or, possibly, state Auditor Betty Montgomery's office is waiting to see what the special prosecutor comes up with before releasing the audit.

Ms. Montgomery's spokesman says there's been no foot-dragging on the auditor's part in the examination, which covers all of Lucas County government, not just Mr. Kest's office. We hope not.

Mr. Kest is not running for re-election as treasurer, a post he has held for more than 18 years. He so disgraced himself with his inept effort to win the mayor's office in 2001 that his political career was already in doubt.

In fairness to Mr. Kest, as well as to the public, a year is a long time to await a ruling from the special prosecutor. From an ethical standpoint, we know what the answer should be; it's long past time for Mr. Mulligan to make it official.

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