FRANKFORT — Anthony Wilhoit, who has headed the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission since November 1997, is stepping down from the position.
Wilhoit, of Versailles, said Tuesday that "it's time for new blood" for the agency that enforces ethics laws and regulates conduct by legislators, lobbyists and employers of lobbyists.
Wilhoit, who will turn 80 on Nov. 5, said he will remain on the job until the nine-member independent commission finds a replacement. It is taking applications for the job until April 1.
During Wilhoit's tenure, the commission has had to handle several scandals, ranging from aftereffects of the Kent Downey scandal in the 1990s in which a House staffer was involved in prostitution and gambling to the ongoing allegations of sexual harassment in the legislature.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Tuesday that "Wilhoit has personified the mission of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission as well as anyone ever could, and certainly will be missed.
"His fairness and enforcement of what is recognized as the toughest legislative ethics in the nation is a legacy that will continue to guide the General Assembly for decades to come. I wish him well in his retirement."
Wilhoit, who makes $121,092 a year, said "the best thing the commission has accomplished in my tenure is to build the trust and confidence of legislators and lobbyists. We have been problem solvers."
The commission, with an annual budget of about $500,000, employs four other full-time staff members.
It was established in 1993 by a special session of the General Assembly as a watchdog over legislators' behavior in the wake of Operation BOPTROT, a federal investigation of corruption in state government that snared 15 lawmakers.
Before 1993, an ethics board made up of legislators oversaw legislative ethics while oversight of lobbyists was with the attorney general's office.
Wilhoit had been on the state Court of Appeals since 1976 when he took the ethics job in 1997. At the time, he said he planned to retire from public life after he turned 62.
Wilhoit, a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Law, was Versailles police judge and city attorney and Woodford County attorney before joining the Court of Appeals.
He said Tuesday he hopes to "get into some other civic matters in Woodford County" but did not elaborate.