Report of payoff needs fed scrutiny; state investigation short on answers

Kentucky State Representative Keith Hall (D), House District 93, Pike County. LRC Photo
Kentucky State Representative Keith Hall (D), House District 93, Pike County. LRC Photo

When a state legislator who is in the coal business admits that he has given a "small fortune" to a state mining inspector, the suggestion of public corruption is too strong for the FBI and federal prosecutors to ignore.

The federal government has delegated to Kentucky the responsibility for enforcing federal laws to protect the public from mining's dangers, which is all the more reason the feds should sit up and take note.

Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, called state officials to complain about the requests for money only after the inspector was reassigned and was no longer inspecting Hall's mines.

Before that, Hall had recommended promoting inspector Kelly Shortridge to supervisor of the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement's Pikeville office.

When Hall formally complained in November about Shortridge's solicitations, Hall said the inspector "liked the Benjamins" but would not elaborate.

Later, when a state Inspector General tried to question him further, Hall refused to talk.

The "small fortune" that Hall admitted to paying the state inspector was ostensibly meant as donations to the Millard Little League basketball team.

The league's president told Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves that Shortridge had not been involved with the Little League for at least seven years.

Incredibly, state Inspector General Alan Wagers, who issued a conclusion-less report, seems to have made no effort to ascertain whether the money from Hall ended up with the youth basketball league, in Shortridge's pocket or elsewhere.

The weakness of the IG's report also is cause for concern.

Shortridge, a state surface-mining inspector for 23 years, was suspended for 15 days in 2011 because he threatened workplace violence after being reassigned from inspecting Hall's mines.

In 2009, Shortridge was suspended for five days for poor work performance after failing to cite violations by Appalachian Fuels, owned by the Addington family.

Shortridge remains on the state payroll, which should be of concern not just to federal law enforcement officials but to anyone who lives below the mines he is or has been responsible for inspecting.

Kentucky's legislative and executive branch ethics commissions should vigorously investigate the admitted payments.

So should the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, an agency of the Interior Department which is ultimately responsible for enforcing the U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.