Transportation secretary hiring reform advances

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A bill that would pave the way to changes in how Kentucky hires transportation secretaries passed out of the state Senate Thursday.

“We need a transportation policymaking process that is transparent and accountable,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the measure, known as Senate Bill 4. “This bill incorporates ideas from Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and other states.”

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He said at the core of SB 4 would be the establishment of the Kentucky Transportation Board. The board would be responsible for submitting a list of transportation secretary candidates from which the governor would have to choose. The governor’s choice would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Higdon said the approach would be similar to how the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board has selected the state economic development secretary since the General Assembly passed legislation to reform that cabinet in 1992.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, stood in support of SB 4. “I believe this bill does the best we possibly can to take the politics out of roads and the funding of them,” he said while referencing previous testimony concerning how governors have handed out road projects as political favors.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, also stood in support of SB 4. He said governors have “politicized and weaponized” transportation projects for decades.

“Every administration I ever served under used this cabinet to do things that were totally outside of process and policy and purely political,” he said. Stivers added that Kentucky is one of only nine states where the governor can currently appoint the leader of the transportation department with no legislative involvement.

Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood in opposition of SB 4. He said the economic development board wasn’t a good comparison because the sitting governor is the chair and a voting member of the board.

“This isn’t a road map to transparency and accountability,” McGarvey said of SB 4. “It is a road map to confusion with side trips to delay and conflict. We know why we are doing it. We are here in the early days of a new administration as the General Assembly attempts to take power from this governor.”

SB 4 states one of the transportation board’s first responsibilities will be to begin the process for the selection of a cabinet secretary. The current transportation secretary could be considered for the job but wouldn’t be guaranteed a re-appointment.

Higdon said the board would also have several duties as related to the development of the state’s six-year road plan. SB 4 would codify a process already in place to use traffic data and other objective measurements to prioritize road projects being considered for funding in the state highway plan. Higdon emphasized that the bill would not change legislators’ role in the final selection of road projects and the appropriation of funds.

The board would consist of nine voting members appointed by the governor from nominations submitted from the state’s League of Cities, Association of Counties and Chamber of Commerce. To ensure each organization is represented equally on the board, the governor would have to appoint three nominees from each of the organizations.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, voted against SB 4 but did successfully introduce an amendment, known as Senate Floor Amendment 2, that would require board membership to reflect gender and racial diversity.

SB 4 passed by a 25-8 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.