Third allegation of 'burrowing' in Agriculture Dept. goes to Personnel Board

08/11/2011 04:10 PM

The Kentucky Personnel Board will decide whether to investigate an allegation of improper “burrowing” by a former political appointee in the Agriculture Department — the third such allegation against the agency this year.

In an anonymous tip to the Personnel Board, an employee of the Agriculture Department alleged that Jennifer Ledford burrowed into a protected merit position after working only three months as an assistant in Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer’s office, according to documents obtained through Kentucky’s open records law.

The employee raising the issue wrote to the Personnel Board that he wanted to remain anonymous because he feared retribution for his whistle blowing.

The employee claimed that Ledford was trained for a job as a internal policy analyst, a merit position, in preparation for the retirement of another internal policy analyst while Ledford was still a political appointee, according to the email.

The employee wrote that many qualified employees of the Agriculture Department did not interview for the open analyst job because “they knew that Ms. Ledford already had been chosen for this position.”

Ledford was hired on June 16 as a internal policy analyst, two weeks after initial reports of alleged burrowing of two division directors in the Agriculture Department.

Burrowing is a slang term for putting non-merit political appointees into protected merit positions. There are legal ways to accomplish that move, but the legislature has tightened the law to make that more difficult in recent years.

Ledford, who has no previous work experience in state government outside of her job as a special assistant, was hired as the policy analyst at a salary of $45,000 a year, the mid-point pay grade for the job. Typically, new hires with little experience would start toward the lower end of the grade spectrum, which would be $36,000 in this case.

In the anonymous email, the agriculture employee alleged that the department was raising the pay of another policy analyst, Sara Anne Druin, by $5,500 to help quiet any frustration that may arise from Ledford’s hiring.

Druin’s personnel records shows that she was recently given a $5,500 a year raise to make $45,000 a year after previously making $39,577 a year.

Bill Clary, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, declined to comment to Pure Politics, saying the department “does not comment on personnel matters.”

The Personnel Board will hear the request for investigation at its monthly meeting tomorrow, as well as decide whether or not to investigate.

Earlier allegations of burrowing in the Agriculture Department involved two division directors, Danita Fentress-Laird and Kathy Willis. Those two moved into new assistant director positions with merit protections in January. The Personnel Board is currently investigating whether those hirings were illegal and Fentress-Laird and Willis have resigned back to their original division director positions.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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