Complaints against Gov. Bevin unanimously dismissed by Executive Branch Ethics Commission

07/21/2017 11:47 AM

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has thrown out a pair of complaints accusing Gov. Matt Bevin of accepting an improper gift by spending $1.6 million to buy a home in March from a state contractor and member of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board that had been valued at around $2.5 million by the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator.

In letters dated Wednesday and first reported by Kentucky Today, the commission’s executive director, Kathryn Gabhart, informed Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, that their complaints had been unanimously dismissed by the panel at its meeting Monday. The commission is made up of three members appointed by Bevin, a Republican, and two appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.

The commission ruled in both complaints that the property sale did not violate the state’s ethics code because Ramey’s businesses don’t directly contract with and aren’t regulated by the Governor’s Office.

Owens raised concerns that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services authorized one company affiliated with Ramsey, Magnolia Springs, as an assisted living facility and that the Finance and Administration Cabinet extended a contract with another, eBridge, after the sale of the Jefferson County property closed, while Beliles only noted the state’s contract with eBridge in his complaint.

“The Master Agreement (between the state and eBridge) would be with the Finance Cabinet and not the Office of the Governor,” the ethics panel wrote in its letter to Beliles, noting that the contract was originally awarded under the Beshear administration.

“Thus, the decision to extend or renew a contract would be that of the Secretary of the Finance Cabinet. If you develop evidence that you believe shows that Gov. Bevin personally influenced or directed a subordinate to influence the renewal of the Master Agreement, the Commission may decide to revisit this issue. However, your Complaint does not specifically allege this.”

Beliles also questioned Ramsey’s investment of some $300,000 in a Bevin-affiliated company, Neuronetrix Solutions, through the state’s Angel Investment Tax Credit program, but the commission said that didn’t constitute an ethics violation.

“If these investments and tax incentives were conducted through a program of the (Kentucky Economic Development) Finance Authority and any eligible company or investor is able to participate in this program, then nothing in the Ethics Code prohibits Mr. Ramsey from being an investor in such a company,” the commission wrote to Beliles. “Further, nothing in the Ethics Code prohibits one of the Governor’s private companies from receiving an investment from a subordinate employee of the Governor.”

The commission did, however, direct Bevin to recuse himself when Ramsey’s appointment to the KRS board comes up in light of the home sale, giving that decision to the lieutenant governor.

Bevin’s office declined to comment on the decisions and let the dismissals stand on their own.

Beliles said he had not received his copy of the letter but criticized the ethics panel’s decision to dismiss his complaint.

“I think it’s a mistake,” he told Pure Politics Friday. “Evidently the ethics commission’s looking for something to hang their hat on so that this will be just hunky-dory.”

Owens declined to comment when reached by phone, saying he had not received the commission’s letter.

The commission also this week opined that Attorney General Andy Beshear would have a conflict of interest if his office investigated Bevin’s home purchase and he later announced a gubernatorial bid in 2019. Beshear, a Democrat and son of Bevin’s predecessor, told reporters that his office is reviewing the decision.

Bevin has appealed the PVA’s assessment on his home’s value, with news reports indicating that his attorney argued the 10-acre tract should be worth about $1.4 million during a hearing Wednesday. The board considering the appeal has asked for a property inspection to determine its value, according to The Courier Journal.

The ethics commission’s letter to Beliles can be downloaded here: Ethics Commission Beliles Letter.pdf

Its letter to Owens can be downloaded here: Ethics Commission Owens Letter.pdf

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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