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Monday, February 27, 2012

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Inspector General David Ray Fired.

Transportation Cabinet's inspector general fired
Written by Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, KY. — In a move criticized by advocates for ethics in state government, the Beshear administration has fired David Ray as inspector general of the Transportation Cabinet.

Ray, a former agent for the U.S. Secret Service, was hired as inspector general 7½ years ago under Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

He said in a telephone interview Monday that he was surprised when he was told Friday afternoon by Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock that he was fired.

“I asked for an explanation, but I was not given one because I was a non-merit employee,” Ray said.

Non-merit employees can be fired without cause.

Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the cabinet, confirmed that Ray had been fired but added that the cabinet does not comment on such personnel decisions. He said no one has been named to take Ray’s place.

Ray declined to say why he believed he was fired.

“I’d rather not say at this point because we’ve got some active investigations going on, and I don’t want to jeopardize those investigations,” he said.

John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said he was “very disappointed” to learn that Ray had been fired.

“His services will be missed by state government and by the state at large,” Steffen said.

He said the ethics commission worked closely with Ray’s office.

“He had referred matters to us that we investigated, and we sometimes referred matters to him,” Steffen said. “He was 100 percent nonpartisan. ... I was impressed by his professionalism, and I just can’t think of a reason why he would have been fired.”

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, said that considering the need “to have an inspector general who is qualified and an advocate for the public, it’s disturbing that this action can be taken without explanation.”

“This doesn’t encourage public confidence in a cabinet that has had such a hisotry of problems,” he said.

Under Ray the inspector general’s office has conducted many high-profile investigations on topics ranging from change orders on construction contracts to cabinet employees who get paid-time on election days to vote but do not do so.

It cooperated in the investigation of Fletcher administration hiring abuses conducted by then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo, now the House speaker.

And work by its investigators helped lead to the federal investigation of Fletcher’s transportation secretary, Bill Nighbert, and highway contractor Leonard Lawson. That investigation led to indictments on bribery and other charges against Nighbert and Lawson, but both were acquitted on all counts at trial.

During the Beshear adinistration, Ray’s office investigated Chuck Geveden, the executive director of the cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety, in 2010 for filing a false time sheet for hours he worked the day before the Fancy Farm political picnic in August 2010. Geveden resigned from the cabinet amid that investigation.

Ray made the maximum $1,000 contribution to both Beshear’s primary and general election committees.

“I thought he was the best candidate. I had confidence in him,” Ray said. “I didn’t do it because of my job. I wasn’t asked to contribute.”

Asked if he still had confidence in Beshear, Ray said, “It is somewhat dimmed at this point naturally. I’m disappointed, but I wish the governor well.”

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