State lawmaker's employer is building courthouse he helped fund

jcheves@herald-leader.comMarch 16, 2011 

State Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty

FRANKFORT — In 2006, state Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, helped authorize $13 million in the state budget to build the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead.

In 2008, local construction company Packs' Inc. was assigned to manage the project, in partnership with Alliance Corp. of Glasgow. Also in 2008, Stacy first disclosed he was employed by Packs' in a paid job that he held for at least the next three years and still might hold, according to his annual legislative financial disclosures.

Stacy declined Tuesday to talk about his work for Packs' or his involvement in the judicial center, which is expected to be completed this summer.

"We're not gonna discuss this," Stacy said outside the Kentucky House chamber.

Packs' president A. Keith Pack also declined to comment on Stacy or the project.

Kentucky legislators may own and work for companies that construct the projects they help put in the state budget, as long as they don't hold an unfair advantage over competitors, said Anthony Wilhoit, executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

But ethics watchdog Common Cause of Kentucky said the practice looks "very bad" and should be avoided.

"At least they should be embarrassed that they're voting on budgets and legislation that goes to the direct benefit of their employers," said Richard Beliles, state chairman of Common Cause. "There is too much of a correlation between where some of our legislators work and what they're doing with the public's money."

Local officials on the project board overseeing construction of the judicial center said they didn't know Packs' hired Stacy.

"Nobody informed us of that," said Jerry Flannery, who was a Rowan County magistrate and project board member until he left office last year.

"It's interesting because Packs' does a lot of the public projects around here," Flannery said. "The courthouses, the university. They've been in business a long while, and frankly, there's not a lot of contractors to choose from here."

Packs' and Alliance got the judicial center contract after their only competitor, Codell Construction of Winchester, withdrew from consideration, Flannery said. Minutes of the project board's meeting confirm his account.

Project board members said Stacy's only role known to them was working with Sen. Walter Blevins Jr., D-Morehead, and House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, to get state funds. None of the legislators sits on the project board or decides which companies get contracts, the local officials said.

The project is a worthy one, said Circuit Judge Beth Maze, a project board member.

"We needed a new courthouse badly," Maze said. "Our courthouse was actually a warehouse years ago that we converted. So the ceiling leaks, we have mold, there have been all sorts of problems."

The contract with Packs' and Alliance was executed Sept. 8, 2008, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. So far, $531,391 in construction management fees have been paid, the AOC said.

It's not clear when Packs' hired Stacy, but it appears to have been in 2008. Stacy listed Packs' as one of his sources of income in annual financial disclosures covering the years 2008, 2009 and 2010. He did not list Packs' for the 2007 disclosure, the oldest available on file.

Stacy is not required to reveal his salary in the disclosure, and he did not, but he also did not list his "positions held" at Packs', although the disclosure requires it. A woman answering the phone at Packs' headquarters Tuesday said Stacy does not keep an office there.

Stacy's other listed sources of income include Discount Drug in Sandy Hook and Frenchburg Pharmacy in Frenchburg, although he does not say what he does at those businesses. Stacy holds a law degree from Northern Kentucky University.

About a decade ago, Stacy held a fund-raising job at Morehead State University for about $50,000 a year while he was chairman of the House budget subcommittee for education, which meant he helped control funding for MSU and other state universities. Stacy left that job in 2001 but defended his dual roles in a 2008 interview with the Herald-Leader.

"Your job as a legislator is to represent the communities that elect you," Stacy said at the time. "And I think any legislator, if he's an automobile dealer or if he works for some kind of public agency, like a university, you know, he's obviously going to try to help that entity. I mean, that's his job as a legislator."

Stacy is not the only legislator involved in the judicial center. Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, whose district borders Rowan County, represented Ross, Sinclaire & Associates at some of the project board's meetings, according to meeting minutes.

Ross, Sinclaire is the project's financial agent. It has won the lion's share of such work from $880 million in recent statewide courthouse construction. It also employs Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, and once employed the son of former Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, who pushed the ambitious courthouse construction program.

Palmer said he never dealt with Stacy on the judicial center and does not mix his public and private business. Ross, Sinclaire hired him because of his career experience in banking, not because it does a lot of government bond work and he's a Senate leader, Palmer said.

"Obviously, they know I'm a state senator," he said. "It's a point of discussion, and we're down here three months a year. But I think they hired me because of my financial background."

Alliance, Packs' construction partner on the project, employs Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, as its director of business development and public relations. But DeCesare said he's had nothing to do with the judicial center, and to be cautious, he tries to avoid involvement with any Alliance project that's in the state budget.

"Just so there's no perception of a conflict of interest, I stay away from projects that get funding from the state," DeCesare said. "I don't even get updates on their progress."

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