Thursday, July 26, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Another Personnel Board hearing officer's potential conflict of interest revealed

You may remember that back in March, we broke the news that the hearing officer contracted by the Personnel Board to hear Mike Duncan's complaint that he was improperly fired by the Transportation Cabinet had, like Duncan, been a supporter of and contributor to Democrat Ben Chandler's failed 2003 campaign for governor.

Now, it seems that another hearing officer with a political conflict of interest is presiding over the cases of two Transportation employees who filed Personnel Board complaints in one of the more high-profile actions arising out of the investigation by the attorney general's office into the merit system hiring practices of the Fletcher administration.

Attorney Ann Sheadel of Louisville maxed out to Ben Chandler in 2003, contributing $1,000 to his primary campaign on May 2, 2003 and another $1,000 to his general election campaign on July 12, 2003. At the time, Sheadel listed her occupation as an attorney with the Office of Attorney General. Of course, Chandler was attorney general at that time.

Since then, Sheadel has gone into private practice in Louisville and is one of the attorneys contracted by the Personnel Board to hear appeals of personnel actions by people who feel they have a grievance against the state.

Quite by accident, we learned that Sheadel is the hearing officer for two complaints filed out of one of the most controversial and politically charged personnel decisions that resulted in an indictment. Both employees sought a promotion and neither one got it. (A third unsuccessful applicant eventually ended up filing a federal lawsuit over the situation.)

One of the employees in question was an ardent Chandler supporter; the other was a Democrat who supported Fletcher.

Someone needs to keep a sharp eye out for Sheadel's recommendations in these cases, and the Personnel Board's ultimate decisions. If it turns out that a Chandler supporter sides with another Chandler supporter against the Fletcher administration, that's probably not a coincidence. At that point, it would be incumbent on Gov. Fletcher to order the Personnel Board to clean house and get rid of the conflicted hearing officers in favor of some unbiased and non-politically active lawyers.

A list of hearing officers used by the Personnel Board is available at http://personnelboard.ky.gov. It might be an interesting excursion to see just how many of those officers have given political contributions, and to whom. That information can be found at http://kref.ky.gov, the Registry of Election Finance's web site with a searchable database.

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