Two state boards begin review of Richie Farmer audit

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2012 

FRANKFORT — Two state boards began considering on Monday a critical audit of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture under former state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

The state Personnel Board unanimously voted to direct its staff to review seven findings that dealt with personnel issues in the audit released April 30 by state Auditor Adam Edelen. The board's staff members are to report back to the board next month or as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the audit was presented Monday to the Executive Branch Ethic Commission, but commission executive director John Steffen would neither confirm nor deny any investigation. He did say that allegations in the audit were "of a serious nature."

The 151-page audit said "a toxic culture of entitlement" permeated the department under Farmer, a former basketball star at the University of Kentucky and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor last year. He was agriculture commissioner for the last eight years.

The audit listed 41 findings dealing with misuse of state employees and resources, including pre-selection of candidates for state merit jobs, using state employees to take Farmer hunting and shopping and making a state worker field-dress a doe that Farmer shot illegally while in a state vehicle in Franklin County.

Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, has dismissed the audit as political and self-serving and said he does not think it will excite any law-enforcement agency.

Edelen referred the audit to several enforcement agencies, including the Personnel Board and ethics commission. Other agencies who received a referral include the state attorney general's office, the state Department of Revenue, the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Mark Sipek, executive director of the Personnel Board, said the board is interested in findings of the audit that deal with pre-selection of candidates for merit employment, the agriculture department's handling of monetary awards to employees and their reclassifications, the taking away of job duties without documentation, incomplete documentation for hiring employees, incorrectly signed timesheets, no entry level class for amusement park inspectors and a division with only one employee.

The board told Sipek that it wanted to know the names of people mentioned in the audit's findings and whether they are still employed with the state.

Board member Don Blevins made the motion for the staff review, but cautioned that the board should not interfere with the work of other investigative agencies through duplicative efforts.

The Personnel Board and ethics commission took action earlier this year against the Department of Agriculture under Farmer. In January, the Personnel Board found that the department did not follow the law when it changed the jobs of two high-level workers under Farmer. It offered recommendations to the department but did not recommend any criminal charges.

The ethics commission, meanwhile, levied a $1,500 fine against one of the employees.

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