Kentucky politicians see a need for stronger whistleblower laws in the state

05/02/2013 11:30 AM

WITH VIDEO — Kentucky has “fair” whistleblower protections for state workers, according to a watchdog group .

But as the ongoing legal saga of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has shown, existing protections weren’t enough for Farmer’s employees to buck the “culture of corruption,” as current Auditor Adam Edelen called it.

Edelen’s predecessor, Crit Luallen, conducted regular audits of Farmer’s office. Those audits revealed some red flags about record keeping and keeping track of agency vehicles. But Luallen said uncovering the bigger issues was difficult because employees didn’t come forward with other allegations.

“In the absence of people willing to come forward and actually testify and be open about what was going on, which would led us to some of the problems that were later discovered, we couldn’t get any co-operation because people feared for their jobs,” she told Pure Politics (at :30 of the interview).

Kentucky law currently forbids reprisal against whistleblowers, but it doesn’t define what kind of actions would qualify as reprisal. And there aren’t specific protections for a worker who refuses to carry out an order he or she deems to be illegal or improper — like working on state time to build a basketball court in Farmer’s backyard or taking Farmer hunting during work hours, as Edelen’s audit found .

Luallen said that as soon as the administration changed over and James Comer was elected Agriculture Commissioner, the people who had been afraid to come forward when she was looking into the Farmer administration came forward to talk to Comer, leading Comer to ask for the audit.

Luallen said that’s why whistleblower laws in the state need to be as strong as possible.

“When I did a number of high profile audits during my tenure one of my strongest recommendations always was to have a strong whistleblower law that that allow for employees to be able to bring concerns forward forward without going through the supervisory chain of command that is actually involved in the process,” Luallen said (at 1:40).

Attorney General Jack Conway says he believes no reprisals means no reprisals. But Conway says if the law needs to be strengthened by putting things like shorting pay or firing need to be put into categories, then it might needs to be done to clarify the laws.

“The problem is a lot of times when someone has had a reprisal, their recourse is to then get a lawyer to file the suit and then they get re-instated with back pay but that can take a long time,” Conway said. “So anything we can do to identify the reprisal on the front end and make certain the employee who is actually bringing something to light that ought to be brought to light that they are protected is a good thing.”


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