Farmer says he wasn't 'aware of anything improper' with merit hirings under investigation

08/18/2011 04:49 PM

LOUISVILLE — Republican Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said he wasn’t aware of anyone in his department breaking personnel rules with three hiring moves that are now being reviewed by the Kentucky Personnel Board.

The board is investigating whether two of those personnel moves were illegally fixed to allow political appointees Danita Fentress-Laird and Kathy Willis to “burrow” into protected merit jobs.

Farmer told Pure Politics at the Kentucky State Fair’s opening Commodity Breakfast that he hoped the issue will go away now that Fentress-Laird and Willis resigned those merit jobs to return to non-merit appointed positions. Non-merit employees serve at the will of head of the agency and can be fired at any time for no reason.

The hiring of another employee, Jennifer Ledford, also is under review after another Agriculture Department employee appealed to the Personnel Board. Farmer initially appointed Ledford as an executive secretary before she moved into a merit job as a policy analyst.

Farmer acknowledged that he ultimately signed off on the moves but declined comment further citing the ongoing proceedings.

Since the Personnel Board began its investigation this summer into the personnel moves of Fentress-Laird and Willis, both women resigned their merit assistant director positions to return to non-merit division director jobs. They have returned to their former salary levels as well.

Last week, the Personnel Board decided to take up the appeal of Ledford’s hiring.

The Ag Department maintained at the board’s meeting last week that Ledford was more qualified for the merit policy analyst job than the 51 other candidates who applied from inside state government.

Personnel records show that Ledford’s hiring caused another merit employee in that job to get a $5,000-a-year raise to keep up with the salary Ledford got.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston and Ryan Alessi.


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