Politics & Government

Kentucky Personnel Board rules in favor of House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins in prison hiring case

Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins D-Sandy Hook introduced legislation during the first day of the 2012 General Assembly at State Capitol, in Frankfort, Ky., on Jan. 3, 2012. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins D-Sandy Hook introduced legislation during the first day of the 2012 General Assembly at State Capitol, in Frankfort, Ky., on Jan. 3, 2012. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Personnel Board Friday cleared House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins of any wrongdoing in a 4-3 decision on whether he improperly lobbied officials to get a state merit job for a friend.

The case involved a $40,709-a-year operations manager job at Little Sandy Correctional Complex, a state prison in Elliott County.

The board heard arguments in the case last month and ruled on it Friday after a closed-door session.

Adkins said he was "pleased that the Personnel Board has reached a final decision in this matter."

The board ruled that there was no evidence of political influence in the early 2011 hiring of Adkins' friend, Charles Pennington.

A board hearing officer had recommended that the board overturn the hiring of Pennington, and reinstate the man originally chosen for the job, Hershel Adkins (no direct relation to the lawmaker).

Pennington worked at Little Sandy and Hershel Adkins worked at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty. The operations manager job would have been a promotion for either.

Under the board's ruling Friday, Pennington's promotion will be set aside, and the corrections department will have to reopen the job position.

"Conceivably those two individuals and anyone else that meets the minimum qualifications could apply for it," said Mark Sipek, the board's executive director and secretary.

Sipek said it's fair to say the board found no wrongdoing by Adkins, adding, "The board really wasn't reviewing what Rep. Adkins did. The board was reviewing a promotional decision by the Department of Corrections, and that's really the case they had in front of them."

The corrections department had awarded the job to Hershel Adkins in December 2010 following interviews and evaluations by two panels of officials at the prison, including the warden. Pennington was among the losing applicants.

In January 2011, Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson overturned that decision from Frankfort and gave the job to Pennington.

A subsequent investigation found that Adkins, the House's No. 2 Democrat, had called Thompson on Pennington's behalf and sent a letter on legislative letterhead that recommended Pennington for the job. Pennington is the son of a former Democratic judge-executive and sheriff of Elliott County, where Rocky Adkins lives.

By law, merit jobs cannot be influenced by politics.

Thompson, an appointee of Gov. Steve Beshear, denied during a personnel hearing last winter that she was influenced by Rocky Adkins. The lawmaker refused to testify at the hearing, saying his subpoena was served to him improperly.

Robert Abell, attorney for Hershel Adkins, said he would expect his client to pursue the promotion.

"With regard to Rep. Adkins, it is our contention that he exercised his political influence."

Pennington could not be reached for comment.

Board members voting in favor of Friday's decision were chairman Doug Sapp, vice chair Larry Gillis, Ramona Herndon-Griffin and David B. Stevens. Voting against it were David F. Hucheson Jr., Tommy W. Chandler and Don Blevins Sr.

Earlier in the board meeting, Hucheson made a motion to dismiss Hershel Adkins' appeal to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and find no political discrimination. It lost on a 4-3 vote.

On another matter, the board's Sipek said it still has several more months of work to do in its review of a critical state audit of the state Department of Agriculture under former Commissioner Richie Farmer.

The Personnel Board directed its staff in May to review seven findings that dealt with personnel issues in the audit released April 30 by state Auditor Adam Edelen.

Edelen sent his audit to several investigative agencies, including the attorney general's office, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Personnel Board.

The audit listed findings dealing with misuse of state employees and resources, including pre-selection of candidates for state merit jobs and the agriculture department's handling of monetary awards to employees and their reclassifications.

Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, has dismissed the audit as political and self-serving and said he does not think law enforcement will be interested in it.

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