The Chatter: Former Democratic legislator switches parties, abuse of emergency funds in Morgan County, slow progress in N.Ky. heroin fight

12/29/2015 03:00 PM

Former Democratic state Rep. Robert Damron, of Nicholasville, has changed his party registration to Republican, The Courier-Journal reported Tuesday.

Damron cited issues with the national Democratic Party, his belief that the Kentucky Democratic Party would skew more liberal with former Gov. Steve Beshear out of office and the fact that Jessamine County has more registered Republicans than Democrats, thus voters will have a greater say in local politics in Republican primaries than Democratic, as reasons for his departure, according to the report.

He also said he wanted to register Republican in time to vote for New York real estate mogul Donald Trump in the Republican Party of Kentucky’s March 5 presidential caucus, the Courier-Journal reported.

Damron lost a bid for Jessamine County judge-executive last year after serving in the state House of Representatives from 1993 through 2014.

Auditors find mismanagement of FEMA funds by Morgan County

Outgoing Auditor Adam Edelen’s office has accused former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley of abusing his authority in the aftermath of a devastating tornado in March 2012, according to an audit released Monday.

The audit, reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader, does not explicitly name Conley, but it says the former judge-executive “abused the authority of the emergency declaration by not properly bidding many contracts” as the Morgan County Fiscal Court extended his emergency declaration for nearly two years. Auditors said county officials had no authority to extend Conley’s emergency declaration.

During that time, Conley was granted power to pay bills, insurance claims, replace county vehicles and sign all documents as well as enter contracts without utilizing a formal bidding process, creating “an environment of very little oversight and opportunities for management override internal controls,” according to the audit.

Conley pleaded guilty in 2014 to a federal mail fraud charge stemming from $130,000 in kickbacks he accepted from a contractor, the Herald-Leader report states.

The audit’s findings included $165,519 in questionable debris-removal costs, $143,949 in debris-removal payments made with documentation created by county personnel rather than vendors, $117,324 used to build new restrooms at a little league park and concession stand at a swimming pool, $240,810 in federal awards with three vendors who did not have contracts with Morgan County, and six instances totaling $779,706 in federal funds awarded to vendors with contracts that did not have sufficient detailed information, among other issues.

The audit has been forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the attorney general, the Department of Military Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sluggish start for anti-heroin law in N.Ky.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Monday= that legislation crafted to battle heroin addiction by this year’s General Assembly has made little progress in stemming abuse of the drug in northern Kentucky.

The report cites growing overdose visits to area emergency room, saying such visits this year have climbed 44 percent among area emergency rooms operated by St. Elizabeth Healthcare compared to last year.

From the Enquirer report:

“There isn’t one additional bed in Northern Kentucky,” since the grandson of NKY Hates Heroin founder Noel Stegner died two and a half years ago. He said he was aware of the new treatment beds now being offered at the Kenton County Jail because of the law.

“But you gotta be in jail to get one,” said Stegner, who also expressed disappointment that a needle exchange has not yet been approved for Northern Kentucky.

Those in charge of executing what is known as (Senate Bill) 192 say that the law’s complexity made it difficult to roll out the new money immediately, since proposals and grant applications needed to meet certain criteria and be vetted. But they say that $5 million has already been dispersed statewide through the end of the year, with another $5 million to come by the end of June 2015.

Several area agencies received part of that including: the Kenton County Jail for more beds for addicted inmates; Covington-based treatment center Transitions for neonatal care; Covington-based mental health treatment center NorthKey to take minor drug offenders into treatment as an alternative for jail time; and the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney’s to improve the “rocket docket” to speed up prosecution of drug cases.

“Overall, I feel pretty good about the process as well as the grants that were given out,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “It was a complicated process but we had to meet the letter and intent of the bill.”

The report added that the initial $10 million in funding will grow to $24 million per fiscal year beginning next year, with the General Assembly charged with allocating those funds.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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