FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has given a $90,000-a-year political appointment to a business partner of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.
Beshear signed an executive order last week appointing Jerry T. Lunsford, a Frankfort building contractor, as commissioner of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction in the Public Protection Cabinet.
The department enforces state standards for building construction. It also oversees fire and life safety in existing buildings, and licenses plumbers, electricians, boiler contractors, building inspectors, and sprinkler and fire alarm contractors.
Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said Monday that Lunsford got the appointment because "the governor appoints those with the best experience and qualifications for the job."
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Richardson did not directly answer a question about whether Mongiardo recommended Lunsford for the job. Instead, she said, "Mr. Lunsford has more than 25 years of experience in the contracting and construction business."
Richardson said the governor did not make the appointment as a favor of any sort to Mongiardo, whose term as the state's No. 2 executive will end in December.
Mongiardo's chief of staff, Bill Burger, said the lieutenant governor did not know about Lunsford's appointment "until it came out."
He said Mongiardo, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, was busy with patients and was not immediately available for comment Monday.
Calls to Lunsford for comment Monday were not returned.
Mongiardo bought a 54-acre farm in Franklin County in July 2009 from Lunsford for $753,069. He paid nearly $72,000 less than Lunsford paid for it in 2006.
Mongiardo is now trying to sell the property, which was an issue in his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate last year. Mongiardo used his $30,000-a-year state housing allowance to help buy the farm.
Mongiardo told the Lexington Herald-Leader last year that he had attempted to develop the farm with Lunsford in 2003 but would not in the future because of public opposition.
On a disclosure form with the state last year, Mongiardo said he is a partner with 21st Century Development Co. in Frankfort, which is registered with the state by Lunsford.
Mongiardo also was listed last year as a member with Lunsford in Glenns Creek Properties LLC. Records with the secretary of state's office show that it was dissolved in November.
Dick Brown, a spokesman for the state Public Protection Cabinet, said in an e-mail that Lunsford has no interest in any property development projects. This includes any projects that 21st Century Development was involved in previously, Brown said.
Records with the state Registry of Election Finance show that Lunsford contributed $1,000 to the Beshear-Mongiardo slate in December 2006. He also gave $1,000 each to Mongiardo's 2000 and 2002 campaigns for the state Senate.
In the state housing department, Lunsford replaces acting commissioner Ambrose Wilson IV of Midway, who was named to the post Jan. 1.
Wilson said Monday that he will return to his position as deputy commissioner of the Department of Financial Institutions.
Richard Moloney of Lexington, a former member of the Urban County Council, was the previous commissioner. He left state government at the end of 2010 to become Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's chief administrative officer.