Politics & Government

Former McConnell aide leaves state post one month after promotion

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer 2012 Herald-Leader file photo

FRANKFORT — The former longtime state director for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is retiring from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture a little more than a month after being appointed to one of the department's top jobs, agriculture officials said Thursday.

Larry Cox began working for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer last summer and was promoted to deputy commissioner in April.

As director of Consumer and Environmental Protection, Cox made $80,000 a year and helped oversee the closing of a more than $3.1 million fuel testing lab that began under former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. The department has since contracted with a private laboratory for gas testing and hopes to save $600,000 a year by closing the lab.

Comer has asked the Finance and Administration Cabinet to auction off the more than $3.1 million in lab equipment.

After Cox completed the shut down of the laboratory, he decided to return to retirement, according to a news release. Agriculture officials said Thursday that Cox had always planned to return to retirement and his Hart County farming operation. His last day will be June 15.

"Larry came on board to help guide us through a difficult period," Comer said. "His experience was an invaluable asset to this office. We knew we only had him temporarily, but he achieved every goal I set out for him, and he leaves this office in great condition."

Benson Bell, a division director under Cox, will be named the director of Consumer and Environmental Protection, according to a news release. Comer has no immediate plans to fill the deputy commissioner position.

Cox was named deputy commissioner after Bruce Harper, the former deputy commissioner, was let go after being charged with three ethics violations that stemmed from his employment under Farmer, who has been charged with 42 ethics violations and faces federal criminal charges.

Farmer is accused of using more than $450,000 in taxpayer funds for his own benefit.