Is there smoke billowing from the remnants of Steve Beshear’s time as Kentucky’s governor? You bet there is.
The notion that there might be fire there does not support the action by sitting Gov. Matt Bevin to hire a private agency to assist his Finance Cabinet in an investigation of the former governor’s practices. We in Barren County have explicit knowledge of what can happen when one political entity pays a private entity to investigate another political entity.
It’s a little ditty we like to call the “Private Investigator Jail Fiasco.”
In December 2011, the Barren County Fiscal Court passed a motion to inquire about the credentials of a private investigator to look into complaints against the Barren County Detention Center. In January 2012, they followed through on a 6-2 vote to hire the private investigator, Mike Ober, to conduct an investigation into the jail at a cost of $3,500. Five months later, Ober delivered to the magistrates a verbal summary of his investigation. It turned out, following a nearly year-long legal battle won by the Glasgow Daily Times, that Ober had never put together a complete written report. He had recordings of conversations with some former and then-present jail employees.
The fiscal court members voted to drop an appeal of the Daily Times’ open records lawsuit and release without redaction the recordings to the Daily Times and other media outlets that had filed their own open records requests for Ober’s findings. Then-Magistrate Chris Steward obtained a copy of the raw audio files and posted them online in March 2013.
We did learn through Ober’s work that there was a federal investigation of the jail and we learned that at least some of the magistrates were aware of the FBI’s poking around prior to their hiring the PI. We also learned that public officials are willing to waste taxpayer money to fight political fights.
That brings us back to Bevin.
It was reported Tuesday that the Republican governor will hire a private law firm to look into some no-bid contracts issued by his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear. Bevin also alleged reports of state workers being forced to make political contributions. What the firm will be paid to conduct its investigation was not revealed.
The governor’s actions do come on the heels of a guilty plea by Tim Longmeyer, the former Personnel Cabinet secretary under Beshear and long-time Democratic party activist, to charges of using his position to push political contributions to Democratic campaigns. Longmeyer, only a few days before being federally indicted on the charges, resigned as a deputy attorney general from Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office. The attorney general is the former governor’s son.
Bevin and others see smoke coming from Steve Beshear’s time as governor. There might be a fire.
But there are public agencies tasked with conducting investigations and those should be used first. If the governor doesn’t trust the state investigative agencies, request help from the U.S. Department of Justice. They are more than willing to tackle a corruption scandal as witnessed by the number of years they spent investigating officials in Barren County.
By September 2014, the federal investigation into the Barren County Detention Center had ended with this conclusion: “After careful consideration, we concluded that the evidence does not establish a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statutes. Accordingly, we have closed our investigation.”
By then, the damage had been done to the reputations of many people who had not signed up as pawns in a political game. They had been thrown into the arena. That will also be the outcome of the political fight being being waged between Bevin and Beshear.
The Glasgow Daily Times