Gray accuses Newberry of using city employee for campaign work

Jim Gray, left and Jim Newberry
Jim Gray, left and Jim Newberry

Information about Vice Mayor Jim Gray's poor attendance at Lexington Center Corp. board meetings was obtained by a city worker in Mayor Jim Newberry's office, which Gray contends is a violation of laws governing campaign work by public employees.

"I think it's wrong, the law says it's wrong, to use city employees to campaign on city time in city hall," Gray said Thursday on WVLK-590 AM's The Lexington Morning News With Jack Pattie.

Newberry's press secretary, Susan Straub, said later Thursday that "a major part" of the city worker's job is working on appointments that the mayor makes to boards and commissions, and that includes gathering attendance records.

Before the May primary, the Newberry campaign ran a television ad that said Gray had missed 48 percent of those board meetings since taking office.

On the radio program Thursday, Gray produced a letter from Bill Owen, president and chief executive of the Lexington Center, that said Owen had received two phone calls requesting records of board meeting minutes from Anna Hartje-Butcher, an assistant to Newberry. The minutes, Owen said, included a list of members who were present at each meeting.

"Naturally, I would comply with the request from any mayor or city council member, no questions asked as these documents are public record," Owen said.

Newberry campaign manager Lance Blanford declined to specify where the information for the ad came from.

"That's just silly; I've had numerous people share information with me concerning Vice Mayor Gray's poor record on this board and other boards on which he serves," he said.

Straub said Shaye Rabold, Newberry's chief of staff, told her that Hartje-Butcher did not give the Gray attendance information to the Newberry campaign.

Owen's letter to Gray said Hartje-Butcher did not tell him why she wanted the minutes, and he didn't ask. But, he said, the information he sent to Newberry's office "undoubtedly led to his campaign's advertising during the recent election primary."

Owen told the Herald-Leader that the only request for center board minutes was from Hartje-Butcher.

In the letter to Gray, Owen said the first request came in November. That was before Gray announced he would challenge Newberry for the city's top job.

The second request, in March, was for minutes since November.

In his hand-delivered letter to Gray, dated June 25, Owen notes that Gray had talked to him earlier that day about Gray's attendance at center board meetings. Owen attached a copy of the minutes he sent to Hartje-Butcher.

In April, the city's law department sent letters to all candidates laying out guidelines related to campaigning.

The letter said the city's ethics act "clearly prohibits using government employees to work on a political campaign or doing any kind of work relating to a political campaign during working hours."

The center board has 13 members who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Urban County Council. Two of the members must be members of the Urban County Council. The current two are Gray and Councilman Kevin Stinnett.