Politics & Government

Personnel Board reviews next step

The investigation of state hiring decisions made by Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration moves today to the Kentucky Personnel Board, which hadn't had enough members to hold a monthly meeting since August.

Two new members will be sworn in today, creating a quorum.

The agenda for the board's 9:30 a.m. meeting includes a hearing on one of about 25 individual complaints associated with a voluminous filing that former Transportation Cabinet official Doug Doerting placed with Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office in May 2005.

Doerting's complaint, which the Personnel Board is only now beginning to investigate, triggered a 17-month investigation by a special Franklin County grand jury that concluded Wednesday with the release of the grand jury's final report.

The report, which said Fletcher was personally involved in a widespread effort to violate merit hiring laws designed to protect state workers from political retribution, recommended that the Personnel Board "compensate and/or reinstate, as appropriate, the many state employees who were the victims of this political patronage scheme."

Personnel Board executive director Mark Sipek described the grand jury's recommendation as "completely reasonable."

"To the extent that there are findings that laws were violated, there will be some sort of remedies," Sipek said yesterday.

His agency has made little progress investigating Doerting's complaint, which encompassed several hundred employment decisions, Sipek said.

"We're trying to divide it into specific issues and move forward with those," he said. "That process hasn't really begun yet."

Besides Doerting's complaint, the board has received about 25 appeals from other individual state employees related to the hiring investigation.

The board is expected to make a final decision today regarding one of those -- a complaint filed by James Caudill, a Transportation Cabinet worker passed over for the job of assistant foreman of Lincoln County's highway department.

Caudill, a Democrat who had served as acting assistant foreman in the fall of 2004, alleged that politics played a roll in the appointment of Republican Tony Todd to the position on Jan. 16, 2005.

Stumbo said yesterday that a settlement his office made with Fletcher in August will help Caudill and others receive fair treatment by the Personnel Board. "They can be assured that they now have an unbiased, unprejudiced forum in which to state their claims and seek a remedy," Stumbo said.

Part of the August deal, which dismissed three misdemeanor charges against Fletcher, required the governor's four Personnel Board appointees to resign and called for Stumbo to supply Fletcher with a list of replacement candidates to choose from. Fletcher has since named two new members to the board.

Democrat Betty Gibson, a former Kentucky State University administrator, and Republican Lisa Towery-Hendricks, a small-business owner, will be sworn in today. Two vacancies remain.

Stumbo, a Democrat who has acknowledged he might run for governor, said he has no regrets about cutting the deal with Fletcher. "The governor was never going to be tried while he was in office," Stumbo said. "It looked to us like justice would be better served" by settling.

Although the settlement says Fletcher's administration acted "without malice," the grand jury report alleges a "widespread and coordinated plan to violate merit hiring laws" was "formulated at the highest level of government and approved by Governor Fletcher."

Stumbo said the settlement and the jury report were not contradictory. "You can do something intentionally and do it without malice," he said. "None of these laws that came into play required proof of malice."

As for his political ambitions, Stumbo said yesterday he has no plans to run for governor. Still, he said, he expects to run for some statewide office in the upcoming primary and only offered to rule out one: "I know it won't be for the Republican nomination for governor."