UPDATED: House committee investigating $11M road project delay fizzles after chairman resigns over subpoena spat

12/08/2016 11:22 AM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — The chairman of a House committee investigating the delay of an $11 million road project in Jessamine County has resigned after he says House Speaker Greg Stumbo denied his request to subpoena a Democratic lawmaker who accused Gov. Matt Bevin of retaliating against him.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, submitted his resignation during a meeting Thursday, saying Rep. Russell Meyer, D-Nicholasville, ignored a letter requesting testimony under oath last week.

When he wanted to subpoena Meyer on Nov. 30 because “his was the most severe accusation against the governor,” Wayne said Stumbo’s chief of staff ordered House Clerk Jean Burgin “not to issue the subpoena” within minutes of it being drafted.

“The speaker affirmed to me his decision not to support our decision to subpoena Rep. Meyer,” Wayne said. “I undertook this assignment with the understanding the inquiry was to be independent, thorough, objective and fair. I was also given the assurance by the speaker that my request for independent counsel and subpoena power would be available to properly carry out our serious responsibility.

“… It now appears the speaker’s granting of the committee’s power to subpoena witnesses was conditional, making our efforts to arrive at the truth regarding charges against the governor impossible.”

Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, moved to disband the investigatory panel, but the committee did not have a quorum.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters later Thursday that he would not appoint a new chairman given time constraints before Republicans take control of the state House Jan. 3, effectively ending the committee’s work.

For Wayne, Stumbo’s decision to bar him from subpoenaing fellow House Democrats left him “disappointed and frustrated.”

“I think we had a really good opportunity here to either clear the governor’s name or to offer some justification for either further inquiry or what other procedures we would have made, so our efforts have been, I think, frustrated by the decision of the speaker,” he said after the meeting.

Meyer, in a phone interview with Pure Politics, said he had been busy gathering yard signs and refocusing on work in the aftermath of this year’s elections and recently returned from a vacation. He said he spoke with Wayne a “couple weeks ago” and told him he was “covered up” after the election.

He chalked it up to a possible “miscommunication” and said his “story has been out there.”

“Really and truly I haven’t had time to come down to testify,” Meyer said. “There’s been no time to do that, but you know, when time presents itself I can talk to him, then that’s fine. No problem. I don’t have any problem with it at all.”

Meyer, who previously indicated that he would testify before the committee after Election Day and then after Thanksgiving, had accused Bevin of retaliating against him for declining to join the Republican Party by delaying an $11 million road project in his district. The contractor in charge of the project, The Allen Co., has collected $625,000 for the delay, with another $850,000 due from the state if work doesn’t begin by May 1.

Wayne, however, said he’s heard little from Meyer, calling him twice after the committee sent him “several letters.”

“I would think that a reasonable person who has made strong accusations, very serious accusations against a governor would be willing to come before a committee investigating those accusations and explain what happened to him, what the circumstances were, and what his beef is with the governor,” he said.

“The Friday after the election I said, ‘How about coming in?’” Wayne added. “He said, ‘Well I’ll still be collecting yard signs,’ so he must have an awful lot of yard signs up I guess.”

Stumbo said he met with Wayne to discuss subpoenaing Meyer and advised him to focus instead on the propriety of the Transportation Cabinet’s handling of the East Brannon Road project. The agency has said utility and right-of-way issues have doomed the work.

Until then, he said Meyer’s testimony would be “irrelevant” because he had no knowledge of the cabinet’s internal workings.

“If the cabinet had adequate grounds to cancel the contract or delay the contract, if the money should have been paid, if that was proper, if everybody’s satisfied that all that is above board and OK, then it doesn’t matter what the governor said to Russ Meyer,” Stumbo told reporters in his Capitol Annex office. “It makes no difference at all.

“The only time it makes a difference is if in fact there’s a finding that that contract was for some reason treated differently than other contracts. If this money was paid for some reason when it probably may not have been owed, then Rep. Meyer’s statements would need to be verified because they provide at least some theory of motive.”

But Wayne said he had a list of others he wanted to subpoena, including Transportation Cabinet employees, staffers in the current and previous gubernatorial administrations and Allen Co. workers.

Because Meyer was “the chief accuser,” Wayne said he should have been the first to receive a subpoena.

“His serious accusations, he got the interest of the speaker, and I think the speaker was very responsible in saying it’s the duty of the House to investigate this,” Wayne said.

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper directed a request for comment to tweets from Bevin after the meeting.



Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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