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Pitt Gorilla
08-30-2005, 01:05 AM

Governor pardons all but himself in personnel investigation
Associated Press Writer

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- When Gov. Ernie Fletcher leaves the grand jury room Tuesday, he said he wants the door to close on the investigation of his administration's personnel practices that has taken too much time and attention from more important matters.

Not only will the investigation not be ending, Attorney General Greg Stumbo said, it may expand to include possible federal crimes, a court challenge to the governor's authority to pardon and give ammunition to two agencies that are also investigating whether the administration bypassed more qualified people to reward political cronies with jobs.

Fletcher on Monday pardoned all nine of the current and former members of his administration who have been charged by the special grand jury. And he sought to extend an amnesty to "any and all persons who have committed, or many be accused of committing, any offense" through Monday.

Stumbo should drop his investigation and get on with more important business, Fletcher said. "I cannot allow state government to continue to be consumed by this game of political 'gotcha,'" Fletcher said.

Fletcher repeated his accusation that Stumbo, a Democrat, has used the investigation as a "political tool."

Fletcher made his remarks in a Capitol Rotunda crowded with dozens of his political appointees, who frequently interrupted him with cheers and applause. A spokesman said state government paid $1,200 for satellite time to beam the remarks around the state.

Stumbo said he was troubled that Fletcher did not apologize for the wrongdoing, "and no one said it won't happen again."

Prosecutor Scott Crawford-Sutherland said Monday evening that it is up to grand jurors to determine how to proceed, but he would not rule out a course that could include charges against Fletcher in the future, though Stumbo downplayed that possibility.

The special grand jury was impaneled on June 6. In addition to the misdemeanor charges of personnel violations, one person has been indicted for 22 felony counts of evidence or witness tampering.

Fletcher compared most of the charges to minor violations of fishing laws. And he said the "management mistakes" were largely the work of "overeager young managers."

Some of those charged are senior members of the administration, including deputy chief of staff Richard Murgatroyd and acting Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert. Fletcher said he has "never knowingly violated any laws" while governor.

"What we're talking about in this investigation is people recommending friends and relations who may have worked in a political campaign," Fletcher said.

The pardons carry huge political implications for Fletcher, who campaigned just two years ago on pledges to "clean up the mess" in Frankfort and uphold the sanctity of the state hiring laws.

Some legislators said Fletcher should be subjected to impeachment proceedings in the General Assembly, and observers wonder whether his political future may have been signed away.

"I'd characterize it this way: He ran on a platform of believe me and I will run state government differently," said former Democratic Gov. Julian Carroll, who is now a state senator from Frankfort. "He turns out to be the biggest deceiver that we've had in the governor's office in my lifetime. Rather than a believer, he's truly a deceiver."

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, echoed the comments about Fletcher's hypocrisy.

"When he was running for governor, Ernie Fletcher promised to protect the Merit System," Richards said in a statement. "He also promised to clean up the mess in Frankfort. Tonight he gave us the final proof that he has done neither."

Fletcher said he would leave it to the voters to decide his political fate.
Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, said Fletcher's pardons could cut both ways with voters.

"I still think, as I have all along, that pardons are risky, absolutely," Gershtenson said. "They inevitably create at least some perception that there's some guilt. Why pardon if somebody isn't going to ultimately get convicted? There's some danger of that."

On the other hand, if the hubbub dies down before 2007, Gershtenson said it is too early to call an end to Fletcher's electoral chances.

Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2007, called Fletcher's pardons a "cover-up."

"I would expect the people of Kentucky to be pretty harsh about their treatment of this governor," Henry said.
Gershtenson said Fletcher avoided an even larger problem that might have come if he pardoned himself.

Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said pardons are grounds for the General Assembly to consider impeachment of Fletcher.

"He is showing a broad disrespect for the criminal justice system that every other citizen in the commonwealth must live with," Stein said.
Certainly the General Assembly should hold hearings on whether or not his conduct in the granting of these pardons is conduct that rises to the level of consideration for impeachment," Carroll said.

The Personnel Board and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are investigating administration personnel actions but can only impose fines or sanctions on state employment. Ironically, if either agency finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it ordinarily forwards it to the attorney general's office for prosecution.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has been critical of how Fletcher has responded to the investigation but said the pardons should put the matter to rest.

Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley of Richmond said he didn't necessarily agree with the pardons and said it was time to move on. "But there's nothing to be done about it except to continue a divisive political war," Worley said.