Wildlife panel sues state over commissioner’s contract

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – The board that oversees the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has filed suit against Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration in an effort to keep the agency’s commissioner.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the lawsuit filed Monday in Franklin Circuit Court asks a judge to rule that the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission has sole authority to appoint its commissioner and set the salary.

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It also asks for injunctive relief prohibiting the Beshear Administration from interfering with the commission’s authority.

The Beshear Administration had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, but the governor called the commission’s vote to sue last month “silly.”

Original story by Steve Rogers from August 12, 2020 below:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Wednesday to contract with Attorney General Daniel Cameron to sue the governor for his refusal to agree to the Commission’s two-year contract for the state wildlife director.

The decision drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Andy Beshear who called it “really silly” and “gigantic waste of time” from a board that has had “years of ethical concerns.”

In a 30-minute virtual meeting interrupted once by technical issues, the nine-member board had it’s own critical words, saying the state’s “700,000 sportsmen deserve and demand better” than what the board called Beshear’s “effort to impose undue political influence.”

The dispute is over the board’s decision last January to name Rich Storm, a former board chairman, as head of Fish and Wildlife under a two-year contract at an annual salary of $140,000 a year.

But when the Commission sent the contract to the Finance Cabinet for approval, the cabinet refused, saying it would only approve it for one year because the General Assembly had only approved a one-year budget.

Since then, the Commission, the Finance Cabinet and the Governor’s office have been at odds and when the issue hit a dead end last week, the Commission called Wednesday’s special meeting to “affirm” its hiring of Storm, to contract with Cameron, who is becoming a growing political opponent of Beshear’s, and authorize Cameron to take legal action all the way to “the state Supreme Court,” if necessary.

In response to arguments that all contracts must be limited to one year, the board claimed Beshear’s administration has approved “more than 900 contracts” of more than one year. Furthermore, the board argued its budget is funded by fees and licenses paid by hunters, fishermen and others and not from general fund tax dollars.

The 7-0 votes came as three members’ terms expire this month.

But Beshear countered, noting the board has been cited for questionable practices and cronyism by previous administrations, including a scathing audit last year by Republican state Auditor Mike Harmon.

“So instead of accepting a one-year contract at $140,000 and coming back next year and doing another one-year contract and accepting some oversight, they have drawn a line in the sand,” Beshear said during his daily coronavirus briefing.

“I think we have been pretty reasonable..just trying to make them be financially responsible….They have had years of ethical concerns…critical audits after critical audits after critical audits,” Beshear stated, adding the Commission is “taking the position we can’t provide oversight.”

In the audit last year, Harmon said ” a real and significant cultural change is needed” at the Commission.

And even Harmon debunked the funding issue, saying the revenues were “all state dollars…public funds,” Beshear said.

“They can’t skirt the law,” he concluded, calling the legal action a “waste of time.”

Republican State Auditor Mike Harmon issued a statement Wednesday evening.

“Today, our 2018 audit of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was brought up during the Governor’s daily press briefing.  Like all of the audits and examinations issued by our office, we stand by the KDFWR audit and its findings.  But, the KDFWR commission also has the sole authority, according to statute and as recently reaffirmed by the Attorney General, to choose their own commissioner.

When I took office in 2016, I gave our auditors a simple motto, Follow the Data.  That means we don’t target anyone, and we don’t give anyone a pass.  Our auditors find the data, confirm the data, and report the data.  I view my role as Kentucky State Auditor as an independent, non-partisan job.  That remains as true today as it was the first day I took office.”

 

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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.