Richie Farmer is now, truly, ‘unforgettable’ [Opinion: The Arena]

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Will he keep the moustache?

As all true “blue” citizens of the commonwealth know, Richard Dwight "Richie" Farmer, Jr., former shooting guard for the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, was one of four seniors on the 1991 – 1992 team known as "The Unforgettables."   His No. 32 jersey was retired in tribute to his success on the boards.  But today, his fame turned into infamy, as Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen released a special examination of his administration of the office of Commissioner of Agriculture; finding “…a toxic culture of entitlement and self-dealing at Kentucky taxpayers’ expense.”

Richie Farmer 2.jpgFarmer was elected Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture in November of 2003, and was reelected for a second four-year term in 2007.  In his last campaign, he won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, while Kentucky’s incumbent Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher lost by 17 percentage points. Farmer and Trey Grayson, who won reelection as Secretary of State, became the first Republicans to win statewide office in an election won by a Democratic gubernatorial candidate since 1915.

Last year, he ran as the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor; along with gubernatorial candidate David Williams.  They were beat handily by incumbent Democrat Governor Steve Beshear and his running mate, Louisville’s former mayor, Jerry Abramson.

The State Auditor’s report will be referred to the Kentucky Attorney General, Executive Branch Ethics Commission, IRS, Kentucky Department of Revenue, Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Personnel Board.  At best, Farmer’s political career is over; at worst, he can expect to be the subject of criminal charges.

Adam Edelen.jpg“The law makes no distinction between icons and the rest of us, and neither do I,” Edelen said. “The report paints a clear picture of an administration that had no qualms about treating taxpayer resources as its own. The former commissioner had state employees on state time take him hunting and shopping, mow his yard, build a basketball court in his backyard, and even chauffer his dog. He showered himself with gifts and office equipment and rewarded friends with jobs. These are just some of the documented abuses that should outrage every Kentuckian.”

The exam details an extravagant conference hosted by the former commissioner that cost Kentucky taxpayers more than $96,000; multiple instances of misuse of department resources and state employees for personal benefit; questionable spending of state and federal dollars, including tobacco settlement money; timesheet and travel reimbursement abuses by employees who had close relationships with the former commissioner, numerous merit system abuses; and several management issues.

Edelen announced his plans to audit the former KDA administration in January at the request of newly-elected KDA Commissioner James Comer, who wanted to restore morale within the department and ensure the integrity of its operations. KDA employees had come forward with troubling allegations involving the administration of Comer’s predecessor.

The department is responsible for regulating and promoting Kentucky’s most important industry. It has roughly 300 employees and a total annual budget of $38 million.  “I appreciate Commissioner Comer’s willingness to work in a bipartisan manner to restore public trust in an important public agency,” Edelen said. “The 41 findings and 126 recommendations found in the nearly 150-page report provide his administration with a blueprint to improve management and spending operations at the department.”

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