Politics & Government

Major points in the grand jury's report

Fletcher the candidate: The grand jury seized on an Oct. 29, 2003, letter that Ernie Fletcher sent to state employees while he was a candidate for governor. In it, Fletcher said he was running "to end the bygone era of good old boy politics" and promised to keep the merit system "strong."

"The current merit system has been very effective at keeping politics out of state government," Fletcher wrote.

The grand jury report said Fletcher's campaign promise "stands in stark contrast to the evidence presented to this Special Grand Jury. We find the evidence shows a systematic abuse of the merit system by engaging in widespread political patronage through the appointment, promotion, demotion, transfer and dismissal of merit employees based on politics."

Trouble from the beginning: Facing pressure from local political supporters, Fletcher appointed and promoted "pre-selected political patronage candidates" to merit positions "beginning early in the administration," the report alleges.

The grand jury cited a May 24, 2004, meeting between Fletcher and two Democratic supporters, one of whom he promised a state merit position. By August, local officials were pressuring Fletcher to hire someone else. "A compromise was reached which provided that the candidate favored by local politicians would get the job and the person to whom Governor Fletcher originally promised the job would receive a promotion and pay increase."

The creation of LINK: In August of 2004, Fletcher created Local Initiatives for a New Kentucky, a system of regional offices designed to provide constituent services around the state. "In fact, LINK was used as a recruiting and vetting mechanism to identify and pre-select candidates for merit positions in state government."

Governor's Personnel Initiative: In the fall of 2004, Fletcher ordered officials to create what became known as the Governor's Personnel Initiative. The report alleges that the initiative was created to weed out non-merit workers from past administrations, and to replace those people with "hand-picked personnel liaisons in each cabinet who would see that supporters of Governor Fletcher were hired into merit jobs."

A November 2004 document outlined how the initiative should work. At weekly meetings, top non-merit personnel employees from each cabinet would gather with lists of projected or approved merit hires for the week. Those lists were compiled and circulated to county LINK contacts and others, who would "coach our candidates" on how to get onto the state's register of qualified employees, according to the document.

Once on the register, the job candidate's recruiter would contact one of the non-merit personnel employees, who would "work with their respective appointing authorities to 'make it happen' regarding merit hires."

Questions raised: In February of 2005, the report alleges, administration officials "collaborated" regarding people within the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet who were blocking implementation of the Governor's Personnel Initiative.

"An official requested a list of three names of the top people at the Transportation Cabinet that should be fired immediately because they were blocking the Governor's Personnel Initiative." Two of the three were fired, and a third was transferred and ultimately fired, the report said.

Checking political affiliation: Between Jan. 1, 2005 and May 13, 2005, "numerous" people were appointed or promoted based on their political affiliation, the report said. "The party affiliation and campaign contributions of candidates for merit jobs and promotions were checked by using Voter Vault, the database of the National Republican Party. Voter Vault requires a code in order to access it. Access to Voter Vault was provided by Governor Fletcher's office."

The hit list: In April 2005, administration officials created another list of non-merit employees within the Transportation Cabinet who were targeted for "adverse employment actions." The final draft contained names of both merit and non-merit employees. The list, which contained information about party affiliations and campaign contributions, was hand-delivered to Fletcher on April 26, 2005, the report alleges.

On May 13, 2005, one of the merit employees on the hit list was fired. "The evidence establishes that this individual was clearly fired because he was a Democrat, who previously worked for and contributed to the campaign for Governor Fletcher's opponent in the 2003 Governor's race. We the Special Grand Jury believe the evidence establishes that Governor Fletcher was aware of and approved the firing."

Lack of cooperation from administration: The report said it recognized that Fletcher and other administration officials have the right not to testify.

"However, we heard many public statements made by Governor Fletcher and others within his administration about this investigation. We are disappointed they chose to make these statements outside of our presence rather than coming in and testifying under oath."

"Waste, fraud and abuse": The administration's practice of placing political supporters in jobs at a higher salary than normally given, and raising the pay of other state workers because of salaries for political supporters, constituted "waste, fraud and abuse of the highest order," the report alleges.

The report recommended that the Personnel Board "compensate and/or reinstate, as appropriate, the many state employees who were the victims of this political patronage scheme."

Noting that some have commented that the grand jury investigation was a waste of taxpayers' money, the report said, any waste "has been due to the administration's violations of the law, continuous fights to withhold evidence and the costs associated with defending cases before the Personnel Board."

"Not a Republican or Democrat investigation": The grand jury contradicted allegations that its investigation was politically motivated. "It was only political to the extent that Governor Fletcher took something that should remain non-political (the merit system) and created his own political patronage machine.

"This investigation was not a Republican or Democrat investigation. Both parties elected this governor, and both parties are entitled to a merit system free from political influence."

  Comments