Personnel Board To Discuss Ag Department Audit

May 13, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- The Personnel Board is expected to consider a scathing audit of the Agriculture Department under former Commissioner Richie Farmer.

The State-JournalĀ  reports the panel on Monday will take its first action on the audit, which found evidence that candidates for merit positions were pre-selected, that monetary awards were issued without input from supervisors and that a merit employee's responsibilities were removed without documenting the action in a personnel file.

Personnel Board Executive Director Mark Sipek reserved comment until the board acts on state Auditor Adam Edelen's referral of the report.

Edelen also referred results of the audit to the Internal Revenue Service, Attorney General Jack Conway and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True, said he thought an investigation focused on his client would be unlikely.

"I would think most of their investigation would be focused in conjunction with the current administration in the Department of Agriculture," True said.

The report by Edelen's office says the Agriculture Department under Farmer would sometimes a candidate who was the second or third recommended by the panel and one time hired someone who wasn't recommended.

Former personnel director Danita Fentress-Laird told auditors that sometimes the interview panel knew which candidate Farmer wanted hired and so would recommend that person first.

Laird also said Farmer would pick employees to receive monetary rewards for work excellence and then told her to create a reason for them.

Current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a written response to the audit that he has fired about 20 employees.

"While I have yet to fill any of the merit positions that were vacant when I took office, if and when I do fill these positions, the appointments will be consistent with merit laws and regulations and will be chosen from the recommendations made to me by the interview panel," Comer wrote.