Saturday, March 24, 2007

Editorial Scorches Fletcher

Have you seen Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s first re-election campaign TV commercial, the one where he tries to compare the investigation of his administration’s partisan personnel practices to being bullied by schoolyard tough guys?

“Day after day he took it,” the voiceover says. “Didn’t flinch because fighting’s not his way. But he got where he was going. He held his head high. So in his own determined way he won. That’s how it’s been for two long years for our governor. He did his job, and Ernie Fletcher did it well. … It’s behind us now, and Kentucky’s a better place because Ernie came out with his head held high. And Kentucky won.”

That could be pretty persuasive stuff. If there were any truth to it....

But first you ought to review the facts the governor signed along with his tax-paid lawyer and the six private attorneys whose sources of fees the governor refuses to reveal. They all signed a Frankfort district court “Agreed Order” ending nearly two years of investigation. The governor was indicted on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and violating a prohibition against political discrimination in state personnel matters

In the court document — which resembled a plea bargain or a nolo contendere plea (no contest) — the governor and his lawyers signified Aug. 26 they agreed:

The special grand jury found probable cause to believe a number of violations of the merit system law occurred.

The governor acknowledges that the evidence strongly indicates wrongdoing by his administration with regard to personnel actions within the merit system.

Further, the governor hereby states these actions were inappropriate, that he regrets their occurrence and accepts responsibility for them as head of the executive branch of state government. This sincere expression of ultimate responsibility, however, is not an admission in any way of any criminal wrongdoing by the governor nor directly on behalf of the governor.

The parties recognize that the attorney general’s investigation and prosecution of this matter were necessary and proper exercises of his constitutional duty. The investigation and prosecution have benefited the Commonwealth and ensured that abuses of the state’s merit system will be eliminated.”

Which has the most credibility? The slick, dramatic TV ad intended to create a favorable image of an indicted governor mistreated by the state attorney general or the facts embodied in the state District Court “Agreed Order” signed by the governor, his seven lawyers, the attorney general’s prosecutor and a district court judge?

Add to that the report of the special grand jury that investigated the administration’s hiring and firing policies for 17 months, taking testimony from 150 witnesses, except the governor who hid behind the Fifth Amendment protection to avoid incriminating himself. The jurors uncovered “widespread abuse of the merit system,” which they identified as Fletcher’s “Personnel Initiative.”

Their conclusion: “This report details a widespread and coordinated plan to violate merit hiring laws. This investigation was not about a few people here and there who made some mistakes as Gov. Ernie Fletcher has claimed. The Governor’s Personnel Initiative was formulated at the highest level of state government and approved by Gov. Fletcher. Entire cabinets and departments were tasked with carrying out various parts of this illegal plan. Senior administration officials were charged with the duty to give periodic reports regarding its status.”

Once voters have viewed the first commercial, surely a prelude of themes to follow, and compared them to the facts that bear the signatures of the governor and his lawyers and the findings of the grand jurors, they will be able to decide for themselves which is fact and which is fiction.

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