Miller Faces Ethics Questions On Hiring, Pay

FRANKFORT, KY -- The state Personnel Cabinet is questioning hiring-related moves of one of Gov. Steve Beshear's new cabinet secretaries, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.

Former state Treasurer Jonathan Miller -- Beshear's recently named Finance and Administration Cabinet secretary -- must clean up several mistakes his treasury office made in the hiring of a state merit worker and the awarding of raises to at least one of his aides, reports the newspaper.

Brian Crall, who ended his tenure this week as Personnel Cabinet Secretary, referred both matters to the Personnel Board.

The board opted yesterday not to act yet on either issue so that state treasury officials could try, first, to fix the mistakes, reports the Herald-Leader.

This comes just days after Beshear, a Democrat, said in his inauguration address that "one of my first official acts as governor will be to require all my top appointees to take extensive training in laws relating to ethics and the merit system."

Miller acknowledged that "unintentional" personnel-related errors in his office occurred, but said he was confident that they could be fixed without the Personnel Board intervening with an investigation or hearing, writes the Herald-Leader.

"It's a matter of procedural mistakes and is an example of how it is important for us to provide the kind of training that Governor Beshear is talking about," he said.

At issue are the October 2006 hiring of merit employee Michael Bates, who works in the treasury's printing department and two salary increases in 2004 to Rebecca Brooke Parker, who most recently served as Miller's deputy treasurer.

Crall, who left office on Monday when Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher's term expired, cited Bates' hiring earlier this fall as an instance of improper "pre-selection."

Rob Jones, a lawyer for the Kentucky attorney general's office who has represented the state treasurer, said Bates' hiring needs to be fixed, but "it was not a political hire." Bates is a Republican, reports the Herald-Leader.

Meanwhile, the Personnel Cabinet and attorneys for the state Treasury have so far failed to resolve paperwork problems with two salary increases, amounting to a total of $566.92 a month, awarded to Parker in June 2004.

On his way out of state government on Monday, Crall asked the Personnel Board to step in. Because the division director post that Parker held in 2004 was a "graded non-merit position" and not an appointed post, any raises must follow specific legal guidelines.

"Upon review of Ms. Parker's file, there was no written justification for this salary increase," Crall wrote in his Dec. 10 referral letter to the Personnel Board. "A thorough investigation of Ms. Parker's job duties and her employment through her tenure at the Treasurer's Office is justified."

Crall noted that her raises amounted to $25,000 over the last three years.

Miller said three other employees at the time received similar bumps in pay. But none of those three worked in state government in 2007.

Dan Egbers, a longtime state personnel expert who was consulted by Crall on the questioned raises, said yesterday that it appeared Miller's office improperly tried to reward Parker for taking on new duties as chief of staff in addition to division director responsibilities.

"I think it was an innocent mistake on the part of the treasury to send it over that way," Egbers said. "And someone at personnel should have raised an eyebrow and not let it go through."

Overall, Parker saw her salary rise from $21,000 a year when Miller hired her out of college as a secretary in 2000 to $78,981 a year this year as deputy state treasurer. That's an increase of nearly 380 percent in seven years.

Miller denied any suggestion that he gave Parker undue favorable treatment but said he has relied on her input regarding "personal business" matters such as future job opportunities, reports the Herald-Leader.

Copyright - Lexington Herald-Leader

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