Personnel Board to take up appeal of Ag Dept. hiring before deciding to investigate

08/12/2011 12:27 PM

FRANKFORT — The Personnel Board deferred a decision to start another investigation into Department of Agriculture personnel practices in order to let an appeal of a hiring work itself out.

At it’s monthly meeting today, the board decided to table the investigation into the hiring of Jennifer Ledford, a former political appointee into a protected merit position as an internal policy analyst. Another Agriculture Department employee who applied for that job has filed an appeal to urge the Personnel Board to overturn Ledford’s hiring.

So the board chose to first deal with that appeal before vetting whether Ag Department officials violated the law with Ledford’s hiring.

The appeal won’t likely come before the Personnel Board until October at the earliest, Mark Sipek, the board’s executive director, told the board members.

At issue in Ledford’s hiring is an anonymous allegation of burrowing, which means illegally putting a non-merit employee into a protected merit job.

The“allegation”:http://mycn2.com/politics/third-allegation-of-burrowing-in-agriculture-dept-goes-to-personnel-board , obtained by Pure Politics yesterday, was made by an anonymous employee in the Agriculture Department. The person wrote in an email saying he or she wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

The anonymous employee alleged that Ledford, a former special assistant in Commissioner Richie Farmer’s office, was trained for her new job as an internal policy analyst while still a non-merit employee. The employee said that proved the fix was in for Ledford to be hired for a vacant analyst position.

Speaking in defense of the Agriculture Department was Danita Fentress-Laird, a division director for the Department of Agriculture, who is under investigation herself on different allegations of burrowing. She told the board that her department followed all hiring requirements in Ledford’s hiring.

Board members questioned her about why the Agriculture Department hired a non-merit employee when 51 merit employees applied for the same job. Fentress-Laird said none of the other candidates had Ledford’s financial experience.

Fentress-Laird also told the board that the job was posted as competitive in order to get a broader range of candidates to apply, saying that keeping the posting limited to just merit employees would have taken more time.

After the board decided to table the investigation, Bill Clary, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, declined to comment further.

But in a statement, Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon seized on the news, saying Farmer needed to answer the allegations.

“Violating the merit system to benefit a political appointee, and buying the silence of another employee with taxpayer dollars, is outrageous and Richie Farmer needs immediately to answer these stunning allegations,” Logsdon said in a statement. “Kentuckians have every right to wonder what on earth is going on at Farmer’s department.”

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