Ethics panel concludes Fletcher probe
by JOE BIESK
FRANKFORT — A state ethics panel has concluded its investigation into allegations that Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration steered protected state jobs to political cronies.
Fletcher’s re-election campaign on Wednesday released a June 27 letter from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission informing him that the five-person commission had voted to terminate its probe into the governor’s involvement. The panel had been investigating Fletcher since November 2005, according to the letter.
“Based on the vote of a majority of the commission members, the commission has terminated the preliminary investigation,” Jill LeMaster, the ethics panel’s executive director, said in the letter.
Fletcher, who in 2003 became Kentucky’s first Republican governor in a generation, was under investigation for more than a year on allegations that his supporters had been handed protected state jobs because of their political connections instead of their qualifications.
Fletcher pardoned everyone other than himself who could have been charged in the probe. He was later indicted on three misdemeanors that were eventually dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors in which he acknowledged evidence in the case “strongly indicates wrongdoing by his administration.”
Since then, Fletcher has claimed the investigation by Attorney General Greg Stumbo’s office was politically motivated. Stumbo was a lieutenant governor candidate in the May Democratic primary.
In June, the panel approved ethics charges against four former high-ranking Fletcher administration officials, including one count each against former state GOP chairman Darrell Brock and former transportation official James L. Adams. The commission also approved ethics charges against Basil Turbyfill, the former director of the governor’s office of personnel and efficiency, and Robert Wilson Jr., the former director of personnel in the Commerce Cabinet.
The commission has also previously charged former Fletcher administration official Dan Druen with violating state ethics law.
LeMaster declined to offer additional details about the matter and said her letter “speaks for itself.” LeMaster would not say when the commission voted on the matter or release the score of the vote.
Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass noted that a Franklin County special grand jury indicted Fletcher on three misdemeanors.
“Today Fletcher calls the merit hiring investigation a ‘witch-hunt,’ but one year ago this week, Fletcher signed an agreement with prosecutors admitting wrongdoing and accepting responsibility for his administration’s inappropriate actions,” Glass said.
Jason Keller, Fletcher’s campaign spokesman, said the governor did not release the letter right away because he wanted to stay beyond the investigation. But his Democratic opponent Steve Beshear has continued to mention the investigation during the campaign, prompting its release, Keller said.
“We believe that it is important to make the commission’s findings known,” Keller said.
Fletcher is facing Beshear, a Democrat and former lieutenant governor, in the Nov. 6 election.
In the letter, LeMaster told Fletcher the board’s practice is to keep such matters confidential unless the subject decides to publicly disclose the commission’s involvement.
Fletcher’s campaign manager, Marty Ryall, said the investigation should have been left to the ethics panel and the state personnel board and not the court system.
“This letter is being released as further evidence that the Stumbo led witch-hunt was pure political opportunism that is now being trumpeted by Steve Beshear,” Ryall said.
At the time of LeMaster’s letter, there were four Fletcher appointees on the commission and one member was a holdover from former Gov. Paul Patton’s administration. Fletcher has appointed all five members currently sitting on the panel.
Stumbo said he was not surprised by the outcome and stood by his office’s investigation.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the public can’t rely upon this finding as anything other than what it is — a finding by his political cronies,” Stumbo said. “I mean, is anybody surprised by this? No.”
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