Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Patton influenced promotion

State agency faults Kentucky governor

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Gov. Paul Patton influenced the promotion of a vehicle-enforcement officer who fixed a speeding ticket for the woman with whom Patton had an affair, the Transportation Cabinet said in a report Tuesday.

Patton called the commander of the state Division of Vehicle Enforcement to recommend that he consider the officer, Monty Clark, who befriended Tina Conner, for a new sergeant's slot. The call "did affect his decision to create the position," the report said.

Patton said he did not remember making the call, "but I don't deny it." He said he routinely passes along suggestions of constituents, even "people I meet on the street."

"People having input to the bureaucracy, we think, is very, very important," Patton said at a news conference.

The cabinet's inspector general, Bobby Russell, said Patton was not questioned for the report. Patton said he would have been willing to answer questions if asked. Russell said the report will go to Transportation Secretary James Codell for action.

Clark, reached at his home in Clinton, declined to comment.

Vehicle Enforcement is a part of the Transportation Cabinet. Agency officials previously said Clark got the promotion on his merits, not as a result of pressure from the governor's office or from Conner, who also was one of Patton's patronage contacts.

Russell said Clark has since been demoted. He said Clark might also be charged with breaking an internal rule against "solicitation for personal advancement."

Conner told WHAS-TV last year that she urged the cabinet to promote Clark to sergeant in 1999, and it was done. The new report said Clark had arranged that same year to have a fellow officer void a speeding ticket he had given Conner.

Patton has denied misusing his office during or after the affair, which lasted two years. His actions are being investigated jointly by Attorney General Ben Chandler and federal prosecutors, who are meeting with a grand jury seated in Covington.

At their request, Conner was not interviewed, the report said. According to the Transportation report, the director of the cabinet's Division of Vehicle Enforcement, Col. Kenneth Frost, told investigators that Patton called him to ask if an additional sergeant's slot was being created.

"The governor asked him to look at Officer Monty Clark for that position," the report said.

A sergeant's slot was created in August 1999. Two people were interviewed - Clark and Richard Wright, the officer who issued and later voided Conner's speeding ticket. Clark got the promotion Oct. 1, 1999.

Frost "admitted that the call from the governor did affect his decision to create the position of sergeant in western Kentucky," the report said.

However, the position was "created through the proper channels," so there was no apparent abuse of office, the report said.

Patton said the report "does not imply that anything I did was incorrect."

Patton said he knew nothing about the ticket fixing, and Frost said he did not learn of it until last October, the report said. When Frost confronted him, Clark chose to take a voluntary demotion rather than face charges, the report said.

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