Talk about overplaying your hand. Gov. Matt Bevin’s office last week deployed the Kentucky State Police to threaten with arrest the state pension board chairman whom Bevin is trying to oust.
The governor’s office issued a statement saying that Louisville banker Thomas Elliott “voluntarily elected not to participate” in the May 19 meeting of Kentucky Retirement Systems trustees.
But Elliott told reporters that he was taken into a room by Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman and Personnel Secretary Thomas Stephens and told that troopers were standing by to arrest him if he defied Bevin’s April 20 executive order removing him from the board.
Indeed, armed troopers stood guard during the meeting while Elliott sat in the audience.
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Elliott, a senior vice president at Old National Bank in Louisville, also said a senior member of Bevin’s staff contacted his employer, reports CN2’s Pure Politics.
The dispute over whether the governor has the legal authority to oust Elliott before his term expires arises from conflicting interpretations of state law. Every day courts around Kentucky hear such disputes in civil, not criminal, proceedings. That’s the way this conflict should be resolved, not by misusing the KSP in a tactic worthy of a tin-pot dictator.
Earlier last week, in response to questions from the pension system’s director, Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an advisory opinion saying that Bevin lacked the authority to oust Elliott because state law precludes the governor from removing a pension system trustee without cause, such as a felony conviction, before the trustee’s term expires.
“The legislature intended for boards such as Retirement Systems to have a level of stability, independence and insulation from political influence. Our interpretation preserves these boards as independent agencies, while the Governor still retains significant influence over such boards through the power of appointment,” said the opinion.
Bevin’s initial choice to succeed Elliott, Dr. William F. Smith of Madisonville, spared the governor more embarrassment by declining the appointment. Smith lacked the 10 years of experience in the finance sector that’s statutorily required for that board seat, as the AG also advised.
Bevin recently appointed two trustees to open seats on the pension board without incident.
The Associated Press reports that Bevin wanted to get rid of Elliott because he blames the 13-member board for defeating a bill that would have required more transparency and competitive bidding from KRS.
We also supported that bill, but the scene created last week distracts from the serious business of reforming one of the nation’s most underfunded public employee pension systems.
No one has a bigger stake in getting KRS back on track than the group Kentucky Government Retirees. After last week’s board meeting, the group’s leader, Jim Carroll, said, “I was just stunned that this became a criminal matter with the notion that Tommy Elliott was under the threat of arrest for exercising what he perceived to be in good faith his duties. This was just a shocking, shocking episode.”
We have to agree.