Seven other former ag officials face 22 counts
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 18, 2013) — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer was accused of 42 counts of ethics violations Monday, including influencing state hiring in his department while an elected official and having employees perform a variety of work for him and his family while they were being paid by the state.
Allegations say Farmer had positions created that had no duties and placed friends in the jobs. Many allegations involve the 2008 convention of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture that was held in Kentucky. Farmer is alleged to have overpurchased and then kept eight firearms and 17 pocketknives procured as gifts for visiting agriculture commissioners from other states.
The state Executive Branch Ethics Commission issued eight orders today during action at a regular meeting again Farmer and seven others as a result of preliminary investigations initiated early in 2012 that found probably cause to believe ethics violations were committed, according to a summary of action statement released after the meeting.
The following eight Initiating Orders were issued:
• Richard D. Farmer II, former commissioner, Department of Agriculture, 42 counts.
• Bruce D. Harper, former director of Outreach and Development, Department of Agriculture, three counts.
• Chris Parsons, former agriculture inspector I, Office of State Veterinarian, Department of Agriculture, five counts.
• George “Doug” Begley, former agriculture inspector I, Office of Consumer & Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture, five counts.
• William E. Mobley, former director, Agriculture Marketing and Agribusiness Recruitment, Department of Agriculture, three 3 counts.
• Stephanie L. Sandmann, former staff assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, one 1 count.
• Rhonda Monroe, assistant executive director, Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, three counts.
In addition to the Initiating Orders, the Ethics Commission also issued an Advisory Opinion that the Code of Ethics obligates public servants to refuse to comply with orders of such a nature that anyone of ordinary sense and understanding would recognize as being contrary to the Code of Ethics.
“During these recent investigations, staff of the commission all too frequently heard the excuse from state employees, merit and non-merit alike, that they were ‘just following orders,’ or words to that effect, to explain their involvement in, or enablement of, conduct that was clearly contrary to the Code of Ethics. This is not an acceptable excuse,” stated a summary of Monday’s Ethics Commission action.
“Such behavior, even under orders, undermines the public confidence in the integrity of its government and public servants. When faced with such a situation, or when compelled to comply with an order that the public servant knows to be unethical or that will result in an outcome that is contrary to the provisions of the Code of Ethics, the commission encourages the public servant to promptly and accurately report such conduct to the commission. Reports to the commission are confidential and a public servant who makes a good-faith report of a violation to the commission is protected from reprisal under the Whistleblower statute.
“The commission is only able to address misconduct when it is aware that misconduct has occurred. Unethical environments within state agencies should not be tolerated by public servants, but rather the conduct that is creating the unethical environment should be reported to the commission so that those guilty of misconduct are held accountable and situations that are contrary to good government are not allowed to continue indefinitely without consequence.”
Current ag commissioner’s reaction:
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Monday’s initiating orders by the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission are the result of more than a year’s worth of cooperation between the Ethics Commission and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
“This department has invited a level of scrutiny never before seen in state government,” Comer said. “We have become a model of transparency and accountability. Imagine what we might learn if every agency in state government was placed under the same magnifying glass.”
Comer praised the ethics commission for moving forward in an organized and expeditious manner. The commission’s professionalism, he said, enabled the Department of Agriculture to continue moving forward while fully cooperating with the investigation of the previous administration.
Since the new administration took over in January 2012, Comer:
♦ Requested a thorough, sweeping audit by the Kentucky Office of the Public Auditor and demanded that all employees cooperate with the audit.
♦ Fired at least 16 political employees, and dozens who served under the previous administration are no longer employed by the department.
♦ Has taken numerous steps to improve transparency in the department, including publishing his official schedule, launching a new KDA website that details all expenditures, and taking agriculture to all of Kentucky’s 120 counties in his first year in office.
♦ Ordered tighter controls on the department’s vehicle fleet including GPS monitoring of vehicles.
♦ Cut spending on the department’s motor fuel and pesticide testing laboratory, which is on track to save taxpayers more than $400,000 this year alone.
Comer said the department would continue to cooperate with investigations into the previous administration.