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Thursday, February 02, 2012

After Making Nearly A Million Dollars In His Term As Kentucky's Agricultural Commissioner, Richie Farmer Files For Unemployment Compensation Though By Law He's Ineligible. Simply UNBELIEVABLE!

Richie Farmer filed for unemployment after his ag commissioner term ended
Written by Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, KY. — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer applied for unemployment benefits after his term of office ended Jan. 1, The Courier-Journal has learned.

The Courier-Journal submitted a request under the Kentucky Open Records Act to the Department of Agriculture seeking Farmer’s application for unemployment benefits, which would have paid him $415 a week if his claim was approved.

In its response, the department acknowledged that it had such records but could not make them public.

“We are unable to release these records, as Kentucky law mandates they remain confidential,” said Holly VonLuehrte, the department’s general counsel, in the department’s response.

As agriculture commissioner, a position he held eight years, Farmer earned $110,346 when his term ended. But Kentucky unemployment compensation law lists “a public elected official” among the types of employment not eligible for benefits.

And state officials said they could not remember a previous instance when an elected state official had applied for unemployment benefits.

Farmer did not return numerous phone messages seeking comment on this story.

Crit Luallen, whose two terms as state auditor also ended Jan. 1, said it never occurred to her to apply for unemployment.

“That law is meant to serve people who are terminated from their employment by their employer …” Luallen said.

And elected official, Luallen said, “takes the job for a limited and expected amount of time. You couldn’t possibly claim that it was circumstances beyond your control that caused you to end up in that situation.”

Farmer’s successor, Agricluture Commissioner James Comer said: “Without commenting on any specific unemployment claim, I will say that I do not believe in general that elected officials can or should receive unemployment benefits. I am mindful that the unemployment fund is depleted and there are Kentuckians who are out of work and hurting and far more deserving of these benefits than politicians.”

The Kentucky Division of Unemployment Insurance, within the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, also said such records are confidential.

Farmer, a former basketball star for Clay County High School and the University of Kentucky, was in the sports marketing business and selling insurance and investment advice when he was elected commissioner in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007.

As ag commissioner, Farmer was criticized several times for questionable spending and policy decisions.

Late last year, he hired his girlfriend in a $60,000-a-year in the Agriculture Department. Comer dismissed her after he took office.

He also was critcized after his office bought two big screen TV’s at a cost of more than $6,600.

And last spring the department paid for Farmer’s four-night stay in a $359-a-night hotel suite during the boy’s high school basketbal tournament where he promoted Kentucky Proud, the department’s program to market Kentucky farm products. Farmer lived 24 miles from the tournament venue of rupp Arena.

A Republican, Farmer ran last year for lieutenant governor on the slate headed by Senate President David Williams, of Burkesville. The slate lost to incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear and his running mate, Jerry Abramson.

Soon after taking office. Comer asked state Auditor Adam Edelen to conduct a special examination into questions over purchasing, management and personnel during Farmer’s administration.

That examination is ongoing.

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