Thursday, September 04, 2008

On the Nighbert indictment

We were saddened to learn yesterday afternoon of the indictment of former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert in conjunction with the investigation into possible bid-rigging.

The Bill Nighbert we know is not a criminal. The Nighbert we know is a man of honesty and integrity. He has lived an exemplary life of public service and is well-regarded across the state for his service as mayor of Williamsburg and his activity with the Kentucky League of Cities. His reputation had never been tarnished or besmirched until Greg Stumbo decided to make a crime out of trying to end the Democrat patronage system that's plagued KYTC for years and of casual conversation.

The indictment offered no proof of the allegations that Nighbert's post-KYTC employment was actually a front for highway contractor Leonard Lawson to funnel him money in exchange for the confidential estimates on construction projects. Only the same supposition, conjecture and speculation previously leaked by sources close to the grand jury was included. There was no new evidence and, more importantly, no proof. The prosecution has offered up nothing to indicate that Nighbert's employment was a front for Lawson.

The usual suspects will weigh in on "Republican corruption," but it's worth noting that the other person indicted besides Lawson and Nighbert, Brian Billings, isn't a Republican. Billings comes from a influential and prominent Democrat family in Powell and surrounding counties that includes the late B.E. "Nig" Billings, former state representative and senator. Billings is a former KYTC employee, no doubt hired because of his family's political connections, who now works for a Lawson company.

It's interesting that remaining unindicted was Jim Rummage, the KYTC employee who actually did obtain the confidential project estimates and by his own admission took $20,000 in bribes from Lawson to do so. The only criminal activity within KYTC that the evidence points to was that of Rummage, also a Democrat, who repeatedly lied to authorities and changed his story.

We don't care what happens to Lawson, and have only marginal interest in the fate of Rummage or Billings, although we will say they are examples of what you get when Democrat patronage runs unchecked.

But we do hope that Nighbert is exonerated. Right now there is definitely not enough evidence to even support the indictment, much less convict him under a standard of "reasonable doubt," and we hope that Nighbert comes through this unscathed. He's a good and decent man and does not deserve the trouble he's endured simply because he tried to change the culture of the Transportation Cabinet.

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