Tonini Defends Former Emergency Management Head

Aug 16, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The head of the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs is defending the former head of Kentucky's Emergency Management Agency.

Kentucky Adjutant General Edward Tonini
Kentucky Adjutant General Edward Tonini

Kentucky Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, told the Lexington Herald Leader that former emergency management director John W. Heltzel is "an honorable person."

The comment came in the wake of a scathing state audit that found the agency wasted taxpayer money, intimidated employees and created a hostile work environment.

Heltzel resigned from the agency on Aug. 8, two days after the audit was released. The review found $5.6 million in questionable spending in recent years, some of it on alcohol, entertainment and door prizes at conferences.

Tonini, who oversees the state's emergency management as head of military affairs, described Heltzel as a trusted friend. He said he disagreed with the audit's "demonization of John Heltzel and the work he did."

Tonini said the agency made "an administrative mistake" with its spending but wasn't dishonest intentionally.

"If somebody said to me, `Is John Heltzel fundamentally dishonest or is he a bad guy?' the answer is `No,'" Tonini said Thursday.

"I didn't spend six months investigating this, so I don't know all of what was said or reported to the investigators," he said. "But based on what I do know, I just cannot imagine anything done within Emergency Management that was criminal, frankly. Ethics is something else. Ethics can be read a number of ways by a number of people. But I know John to be an honorable person. And it's my belief that everything he did was in the effort of making Emergency Management more effective for the people of the commonwealth."

State Auditor Adam Edelen said he stood by what the findings, which have been referred to Attorney General Jack Conway, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"The facts of the report speak loudly and clearly for themselves," Edelen said.