Personnel Board's vice chair requests probe into hiring of two Agriculture Dept. directors

06/07/2011 03:22 PM

The new vice chairman of the state Personnel Board is calling for an investigation into the hiring of two rank-and-file employees in the Agriculture Department — an issue the Personnel Board will take up in its meeting Friday.

The head of the Agriculture Department is Richie Farmer, who is running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket with David Williams.

The allegation brought by Larry Gillis, who was elected by state workers to serve on the personnel board, is that two former political appointees at the Agriculture Department were improperly hired into rank-and-file merit jobs. The names of the two employees in question were not available.

Mark Sipek, the executive director of the Personnel Board, told Pure Politics that Gillis is alleging the Department of Agriculture circumvented the normal processes for moving the political appointees into rank-and-file, or “merit,” jobs.

“According to Gillis’ filing, it’s fair to say (Gillis is alleging) that the normal processes weren’t followed, and it worked to the benefit of the selected candidates,” Sipek told Pure Politics.

Bill Clary, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said the department normally does not comment on personnel matters. But he said the hires in question had been approved by the state Personnel Cabinet and said the department’s response to the Personnel Board on Friday will reflect that.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture will argue against the need for an investigation at that meeting.

The process of moving political appointees — also known as “non-merit employees” — into merit positions is known as “burrowing” and there are legal ways to “burrow.”

If a job is posted for “internal mobility candidates,” that means only merit employees can apply for the jobs, Sipek said. Putting a political employee into one of those jobs would be illegal.

The legal way for a political appointee to get a non-political job is to apply for a “competitive” job posting, Sipek said. Still, political appointees can’t be placed into a “competitive job,” without going through a standard application and selection process, Sipek said.

And a “burrowed” employee must serve a probationary period of one year — a result of House Bill 149 during the 2010 General Assembly session. The only exception, according to KRS 18A.111, subsection 7, is if the political employee previously served in a non-political job before being a political appointment.

Gillis, who was elected as the personnel board’s vice chairman in March, has been a merit employee of the state for 18 years and is an assistant director for the state Personnel Cabinet.

He is one of two Personnel Board members elected by fellow state non-political employees. Gillis was re-elected to a four year term in June 2010. The other five members of the Personnel Board are appointed by the governor.

Messages left for Larry Gillis were not returned. The Personnel Board will hear the requests from Gillis and Department of Agriculture general counsel Nicole Liberto on Friday, according to the meeting agenda.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston

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