Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Communication Office
Governor Ernie Fletcher remarks on merit system
From the moment allegations regarding possible problems with merit hiring emerged, I have said that I intended to delve into the questions raised about the merit system in a methodical way, and… at the appropriate time, I would take the appropriate action. After countless hours spent trying to get to the bottom of this, it is clear to me now that some well-meaning members of my administration did use poor judgment in the process of hiring merit employees.
When I first addressed this issue upon my return from Japan, I said that, while we have made mistakes, I did not believe that anyone had set out to intentionally break the merit law. I still believe that is the case.
And I continue to believe that the attorney general has been engaged in a misguided effort to criminalize cases of over-enthusiasm or mistakes in judgment made by people who thought they were doing their best to shake up the culture of Frankfort and bring positive change to our commonwealth.
Thus, I issued pardons for all of those who have been unfairly burdened by those allegations and placed in a legal and financial bind that was simply not called for. It was the right decision to make.
But it is now clear to me that there were mistakes made by staff members who either did not understand – or appreciate – the spirit of the merit system rules. And it is now time for me to take action that I believe is appropriate for the circumstances at hand.
To the people who may have been hurt by our mistakes, I apologize.
And I would like to let the people of Kentucky know that I will continue to do my best to work with the Personnel Board to make sure that appropriate administrative action is taken in all aspects of this merit system investigation.
When I arrived at this job, I envisioned a plan in which all Kentuckians would, for the first time in decades, have a level playing field in consideration of state jobs. I laid out the parameters for how this should be accomplished both through a proposed restructuring of personnel practices and a serious effort to professionalize the entire human resources process in state government.
There has been some semantic confusion of what exactly this plan was called, and, apparently I have added to that confusion. Whatever labels were used to identify our efforts, these plans never included the misguided or over- enthusiastic direction a few members of my administration apparently veered into.
In fact, all of the personnel efforts I undertook contained specific guidelines regarding how the merit system was supposed to work. Furthermore, months ago, I asked for and received the resignation of two individuals whom I believe had violated these guidelines.
I continue to believe that had these efforts been implemented as designed, they would have resulted in a more efficient, more responsive and fairer system of state employment. Since they apparently have not, I have decided to take the following actions.
First, today I have asked for the resignations of 9 members of my administration. I am also calling for the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Kentucky to ask for the resignation of the current chair.
In order to protect the review process underway by the Personnel Board and the Ethics Commission, I will not get into the specifics of individual personalities, but I can comment in broad terms the reasons for this decision.
I believe these individuals were well-intentioned and doing what they thought was best to move the commonwealth forward. However, their actions can basically be lumped into four categories, including being too eager to please local political constituencies, repeated inappropriate government e-mails, lack of respect and/or understanding of the merit system and a lack of insight for how their actions might reflect upon the ethics of this administration.
Secondly, even though it was a program I passionately believed in as an attempt to take government out of Frankfort and move it closer to the people we serve, I am disbanding the LINK program immediately. There apparently was a drift from my initial intentions of LINK’s responsibilities. Some appeared to have been overzealous and too eager to please local constituencies who did not understand the constraints of the merit system because it hadn’t been observed for so many years.
Number 3. I have already established a central referral system for all merit jobs, and I expect the Personnel Cabinet to work directly with cabinet and agency leaders regarding all merit personnel actions.
Number 4. I will continue the work of the Merit System Task Force to update and improve the merit system.
We have been aware of the need for change since at least 1993 when then-Governor Brereton Jones commissioned a study that concluded that the current merit system is antiquated and desperately needs to be reformed. Unfortunately, those recommendations have never been acted upon. Well, we’re going to act now.
We all know that the attorney general and I have had serious – and often heated – disagreements on the course of his investigation. However, for the good of our commonwealth, it is now time to bury that hatchet and work together to improve this system for the benefit not only of state employees but for all Kentucky taxpayers as well.
The attorney general and I have offices that are around the corner from one another, I hope that we can meet halfway and roll up our sleeves together to accomplish something for the good of us all.
When I became governor, I envisioned four years of bringing jobs to Kentucky, to introduce business principles into the administration and budgeting of our commonwealth’s government, to improve our education system and to modernize our health care delivery efforts. This experience has only increased my resolve to carry this vision forward for Kentucky.
We have made some significant progress. But I believe all of us have allowed the passion of politics – which can become highly flammable in the political incubator of Frankfort -- to divert us from tackling the more serious problems that the vast majority of Kentuckians believe we should be addressing.
We won’t always agree in how to tackle these problems. After all, politics and government is all about people with different points of view trying to do what they believe is best for our commonwealth and our nation. But we can agree to disagree respectfully and work together to address these problems in the best way we know how.
I hope we can start that process today.
- Sam Beverage, state highway engineer, Transportation Cabinet
- Vincent Fields, chief of staff, Personnel Cabinet, and former director of LINK
- Tim Hinderlight, deputy commissioner of intergovernmental programs, Transportation Cabinet
- Amos Hubbard, chief district engineer, Transportation Cabinet
- Cory Meadows, director of transportation enhancement, Transportation Cabinet, and former deputy director of LINK
- Dick Murgatroyd, deputy chief of staff and former deputy secretary, Transportation Cabinet
- Allen Sturgeon, staff assistant for intergovernmental programs, Transportation Cabinet
- Basil Turbyfill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Personnel and Efficiency
- Bob Wilson, deputy secretary, Personnel Cabinet