Saturday, June 7, 2003

Political appointees seek lower, but safer, jobs

Critics say hirings are unfair, show favoritism

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Some political appointees of Gov. Paul Patton have moved into the state Merit System, where they are not subject to being replaced when a new governor takes office in December.

"Many people in appointed jobs like mine who really like state work naturally have been looking to get something more secure," said Ron McCloud, who left his politically appointed job as a director in the state Revenue Cabinet to accept an appointment to a lower-paying job in the same cabinet. "It's better to be conservative and take less money and have security than worry about a roll of the dice."

The governor who replaces Patton in December will be able to fire Patton's political appointees, but he cannot fire Merit System workers without specific legal cause such as misconduct.

Those fearful of not surviving the transition to a new administration faced a June 1 deadline because they must serve a six-month probation period before they gain the status and job security of the Merit System.

McCloud has had a checkered history under Patton. Selected by the governor as party chairman in 1997, and then as a cabinet secretary, he was forced to resign in 2002 amid an ethics investigation. A few months later Patton put McCloud into another position.

McCloud is not the only person with personal or political connections to the Patton administration who recently landed a highly competitive Merit System job. Jerry Ravenscraft, who oversaw constituent services for Patton's office, has won a job as a staff assistant in the Transportation Cabinet. And Jackson Latta, son of Patton's Tourism Secretary Ann Latta, was hired by his mother as an administrative specialist in the Department of Parks.

It's part of a job migration that occurs in the last year of any governor's term, but critics say pressure is greater this time because Patton is under a directive by the legislature to eliminate 250 politically appointed jobs that are outside the Merit System before Dec. 1.

Critics say such hiring violates at least the spirit of the 43-year-old law establishing the Merit System. That law says in part that "all appointments" to these positions "shall be made solely on the basis of merit and fitness."

"It's unfair to applicants who do not have connections and it perpetuates the myth that all state government is filled with patronage and high-pay jobs," said Charles Wells, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees.

Doug Wylie, a 20-year Merit System employee, has been passed over in seeking promotion during the past year, and recently lost out on another job opportunity to Ravenscraft.

"In most cases the selections to fill the higher-level Merit System jobs are not based on merit," Wylie said. "You basically have to know someone somewhere."

But Patton said neither he nor his office has helped any political or personal friend get a Merit System job. And administration officials say Merit System hiring procedures were followed and all hirings were all based on qualifications - not connections.

"I am unaware of any preference those people have been given. I think they are capable people that are, no doubt, qualified for a lot of jobs," Patton said. "Those people should not be disqualified from being fairly considered for a job just because they've been involved in the political process."

Personnel Cabinet officials said they don't keep track of the number of non-Merit System political appointees who have joined the system.

Debra Eucker, commissioner of the Revenue Cabinet's Department of Labor, said she hired McCloud because he was the most qualified, and she said no one from the governor's office attempted to influence her choice for the job, which pays $45,480 a year.

McCloud said, "It's really very apolitical in the Revenue Cabinet. I'm not in a position to know for sure, but I don't think it had anything to do with politics."

He has a bachelor's degree, additional years of college training to become a banker, served as a small-town mayor, and has 19 years' experience as a banker.

"I would like to think I was hired because of my qualifications," McCloud said.

Ravenscraft, of Morehead, was interviewed for his new job along with two other candidates.

"I didn't have anybody in the shop that had county government experience, and we hired Jerry because he was the best," said William Johnson, commissioner of the Transportation Cabinet's Department of Rural and Municipal Aid.

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