Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 3, 2011

Second state employee alleges pressure for Beshear campaign money


FRANKFORT — A second formal complaint alleging pressure on state employees to contribute to Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign is being lodged.

Dennis Gardner, a 12-year state employee and currently an administrative branch manager in the Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety, told CNHI News he mailed the complaint to Attorney General Jack Conway Wednesday. He provided CNHI News a copy of his letter.


In the letter, Gardner alleges that Chuck Geveden Jr., at the time the Executive Director of Highway Safety, twice last year solicited contributions to Beshear’s campaign from Gardner’s supervisor who both times refused. Gardner’s complaint does not name the supervisor except by title – Director of Office of Highway Safety. But CNHI News learned Boyd Sigler was dismissed from that position last month. Gardner alleges the dismissal occurred because of the supervisor’s refusal to give money for the campaign.


“I firmly believe he was terminated because he refused to contribute to Governor Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign after being illegally solicited in the office by Chuck Geveden, Executive Director of Kentucky Department of Highway Safety,” Gardner writes in his letter to Conway.


“Because of my close association with these individuals and my knowledge of this type of illegal and politically motivated activity, I am also now being dismissed by the Department,” Gardner continues. Gardner does not contend in the letter that he was personally solicited and later told CNHI News he was not.


Gardner, a merit employee and registered Democrat, said he is scheduled to have a “pre-termination hearing” with cabinet officials on Thursday and is “scared to death, but I have done absolutely nothing wrong.” His letter also alleges another unnamed employee is also being “targeted” for the same reason.


The Transportation Cabinet declined to comment.


CNHI News was unable to locate Sigler or contact him through intermediaries. Calls to a phone number listed for that name in the Frankfort directory produced a recording saying the number is no longer in service. Gardner would not provide a phone number or contact information for Sigler when asked.


Geveden did not return messages left on his cell phone. He resigned his position last November after allegations he used his position to obtain pit and parking passes to NASCAR races. He obtained the passes through the Kentucky Speedway which does business with the Office of Highway Safety, according to a March 2011 ruling by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. He was previously reprimanded by the Secretary of Transportation for billing the state for visits to state parks which were determined to be personal in nature. Geveden reimbursed the state.


Geveden is also the son of Charles Geveden, the Deputy Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, who was accused earlier this week by Dr. Rodney Young, who works in Juvenile Justice, of soliciting non-merit or politically appointed state employees to give to Beshear’s campaign. The elder Geveden declined Wednesday to speak to reporters.


Regarding that complaint, Beshear’s spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson, said Wednesday: “A complaint has been filed, and we are confident it will be fully investigated.  No state employee job is ever dependent on campaign contributions.  We have not been presented with any evidence that Charlie Geveden did anything improper.”


Richardson refused to comment on the latest allegation.


This isn’t the first time state employees have raised questions about Beshear’s fundraising. CNHI News reported last December that some non-merit employees felt pressure to attend a pre-Christmas Frankfort fundraiser for Beshear’s campaign. State law prohibits direct solicitation of state employees – unless they are solicited as part of a wider audience appeal.


Beshear, a Democrat, is running for a second term as governor, this time with former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson as his running mate. They are opposed by the Republican ticket of Senate President David Williams and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, and the independent ticket of Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith and his running mate, Dea Riley.


Beshear is traveling in the Middle East visiting troops with a group of governors.


Gardner also alleges other forms of political influence. He said the governor’s office overruled a cabinet decision that it couldn’t perform the requirements of a $90,000 federal highway grant, saying “this money is practically free advertising for the Governor.” Gardner said highway safety employees were directed to “remove Kentucky from the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety tag line at all University of Kentucky events in order to disassociate the Office from any relation to Lieutenant Governor Candidate Richie Farmer.”


Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.