Editorials

Some bipartisan housecleaning at ag agency

Just over a week into their new jobs as statewide constitutional officers, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Auditor Adam Edelen set the performance bar high for the remainder of their terms by taking a bipartisan, cooperative approach to conducting an audit of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Surely, few Kentuckians would argue against the desirability of such an audit after recent disclosures involving Comer's fellow Republican, former commissioner Richie Farmer. News stories over the past couple of years touched on a litany of questionable spending and hiring practices while he ran the agency:

Frequent purchases of new vehicles and his personal use of those vehicles.

A $10,000 trip by Farmer and staff members to a conference in the Virgin Islands.

Thousands more spent on hotel rooms in Louisville and Lexington for Farmer's personal use during the Kentucky State Fair and the Sweet Sixteen boys basketball tournament.

Pay raises for preferred employees at a time other state workers were enduring furloughs.

Attempts to "burrow" political appointees in jobs protected by the Merit System, giving his girlfriend a $5,000-a-month job for his last two months in office.

And let's not forget the state-purchased refrigerator that once was in Farmer's private residence but has now gone missing.

Meeting with the media Wednesday to announce that he had requested an audit, Comer mentioned these "unfortunate situations that many of you covered in last year's election" when Farmer was running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with state Senate President David Williams. But he also cited "certain issues that employees have brought to our attention."

All of this, as Edelen noted at the Wednesday press conference, has put the department under a "cloud of suspicion" — a cloud that can be dissipated by a thorough audit and whatever subsequent corrective action proves necessary.

Calling for the audit at the start of his term was a wise move on Comer's part even though some Republicans may resent his involvement with what can only be seen as an investigation of Farmer. Airing the dirty linen now assures it doesn't show up on the clothesline later in his term.

Launching such a high-profile audit at the outset of his term can also serve Edelen well by giving him a chance to prove he is up to the task of following the very admirable performance of Crit Luallen in monitoring the expenditure of public funds.

Of course, now that Comer and Edelen have set a high performance bar for their tenure in office, we encourage them to continue meeting it. Kentuckians expect no less.

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