Politics & Government

Panel charges former Kentucky tourism chief with ethics violation

Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Mike Cooper
Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Mike Cooper

FRANKFORT — A state ethics panel issued charges Monday against former Tourism Commissioner Mike Cooper, alleging that he misused state resources for his own financial gain.

Cooper, who resigned in February after a series of articles by the Lexington Herald-Leader, allowed a state contractor to pay $735 for his meals, party tickets and other expenses in June 2011 during an unauthorized trip to London, England, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.

When questioned about the London trip by superiors at the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, Cooper said in an email that his trip was for personal reasons, according to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. However, Cooper later authorized spending state money to repay the British public relations firm that had covered his expenses in London.

Eventually, Cooper was ordered to repay the money to Gosh P.R., which had a $179,900 a year contract to promote Kentucky tourism in the United Kingdom. Cooper helped award Gosh's contract in 2008 and signed off on its monthly billing.

The ethics panel also alleged that Cooper failed to follow personnel rules for travel expenses, charged personal items to a state-issued credit card and conducted personal business while on approved state travel.

The charges released Monday are allegations based on an initial investigation that was initiatied in December. Cooper, who could not be reached for comment, has 20 days to respond to the charges. If found guilty by the commission, he could receive a public reprimand and a fine of up to $5,000.

The Herald-Leader also reported in February that a Web site used by Gosh P.R. to promote Kentucky tourist attractions in the United Kingdom contained factual errors and offensive stereotypes about Kentucky.

State officials said they were offended by some of the Web site's content, including a snarky article about Roadside Bingo, a car game in which motorists count the dead animals along Kentucky highways.

After ordering the Web site disabled, the cabinet scrapped Gosh P.R.'s contract.

In other business Monday, the ethics commission charged Dallas Eddie Kelly, a former surface mine inspector in the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, with violating ethics rules.

Kelly allegedly falsified time sheets and transportation logs in September 2010, making it appear that he worked more than he actually did.

He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Kelly chose to resign from his position in December 2010 after the division confronted him about discrepencies in his time sheets and sent him a letter initiating his termination, said Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Public Protection Cabinet.

The state re-inspected mines Kelly was supposed to inspect in the summer of 2010, Brown said.

Also on Monday, the commission:

■ Approved a settlement agreement with Boyd Sigler, a former director of the Division of Highway Safety Program in the Transportation Cabinet. Sigler violated the state's ethics code when he used his official position to gain access for himself and his family members into a section of the Kentucky Speedway where they could meet a celebrity. As part of the settlement, Sigler agreed to pay a $400 fine.

■ Approved final orders against three property valuation administrators for hiring relatives. The commission found that Joyce Parker, PVA in Laurel County; Julie Shields, PVA in Taylor County, and James Wooton, PVA in Leslie County, all violated the state's ethics rules by hiring a relative. All three must pay a $4,000 fine but can appeal the decision to the Franklin Circuit Court.