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Key Legislator's "Date" Gets Job Despite Hiring Freeze

FRANKFORT — The Cabinet for Health and Family Services created a $63,000 job earlier this year for a woman who had dated a key lawmaker who helps oversee the cabinet, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

The political appointment was made in June, at a time when many front-line positions that serve the state's most vulnerable citizens remained vacant.

Democratic Rep. Tom Burch of Louis ville, who is chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he recommended Carolyn Robbins, a woman he previously dated, for the administrative job but did not tell the cabinet to hire her.

Burch, 77, said he and Robbins, 64, had not dated for several months at the time he made the recommendation."I only recommend people who are qualified," Burch said, adding that he has recommended other people for positions at the cabinet. Robbins, a registered Republican, declined to be interviewed for this story, the Herald-Leader reports.

In June, Robbins was appointed deputy executive director for the Commission on Special Health Care Needs, which coordinates and helps pay for care for children with chronic health problems. The position is a political appointment, or non-merit position, and was not advertised.

Since Robbins was hired, front-line vacancies at the commission have continued to mount as the state's finances worsen, according to personnel records. On Thursday, Health and Family Services Secretary Janie Miller said she is considering closing the commission's Hopkinsville clinic and consolidating it with other commission clinics to cut costs, reports the Herald-Leader.

On her application, Robbins listed Burch as one of three references.

Burch said Robbins has a master's degree in nursing and has experience working with the Commission on Special Health Care Needs. Burch said he thinks the agency needs a deputy director, the newspaper reports.

"She's more qualified than some of the people that have worked there," he said on Thursday. "I walked in there 20 years ago and found one of the supervisors sleeping."

The Legislative Ethics Commission has ruled in the past that lawmakers can make suggestions on hires but cannot tell an agency what to do, said Tony Wilhoit, director of the commission. "They can't say, 'Hire this person,'" Wilhoit told the newspaper.

Burch said he has previously sought advice from the Legislative Ethics Commission regarding job recommendations.

According to personnel documents obtained by the Herald-Leader through an Open Records request, cabinet officials justified creating the position for Robbins by telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that it is "essential to the ongoing operation of the program."

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