Voegele cleared of nepotism allegations

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Attorney general’s opinion states that judge-executive’s relative can continue to serve as his deputy

By Danna Zabrovsky

The county judge-executive’s appointment of his brother-in-law as deputy judge-executive does not constitute nepotism, the Oldham County Ethics Commission decided Tuesday.
The commission discussed a letter from Attorney General Jack Conway in a special meeting April 19, which responded to the commission’s request for assistance interpreting the county administrative code’s definition of nepotism.
The commission was tasked with determining whether Judge-Executive David Voegele’s hiring of his brother-in-law, John Black, as deputy judge-executive constituted nepotism, after Crestwood resident Teresa Falke filed a complaint Jan. 26, saying Voegele displayed nepotism in hiring his brother-in-law.
The code’s use of the term “member of immediate family,” and how that term applies to the relationship between Voegele and Black, was particularly foggy.
Members of a county employee’s immediate family are ineligible for employment by fiscal court, the code reads.
It uses terms such as spouse, child, parent and grandparent, step-parent and step-child, and even grandparent-in-law to describe members of an immediate family, but does not include the term brother-in-law.
In an effort to inform the commission’s decision, County Attorney John Carter presented a legal opinion suggesting that hiring a relative for his or her ability to do a job well does not equate to nepotism. Carter’s case had been decided under a judicial code, however, and the commission was hesitant to relate the case to the county’s code.
In February, the commission decided to ask for Conway’s opinion of the situation.
“Not rubber-stamping John (Carter)’s opinion, but to consider it and also to try to get an independent opinion,” said commission Chairman Ray Simpson in Fiscal Court April 19.
The commission received Conway’s response March 28, and gave special attention to part of the letter which read:
“Although we do not adopt as a whole the reasoning of the county attorney, we are fundamentally in agreement with the ultimate conclusion expressed in Mr. Carter’s opinion in the Fiscal Court.”
The commission dismissed Falke’s complaint, “based on the fact that there had been no violation of the nepotism provisions of the Ethics Commission by reason of county judge-executive’s appointment of his brother-in-law as deputy county judge-executive.”
Black said the original complaint stemmed from political differences.
“I’m a Democrat, but yet we’ve got two very visible office-holders in this county that have continuously ran for re-election as Republicans for as far back as two terms. But they’re so much closer to real, true nepotism than I ever even thought about being,” Black said. “They’ve got mothers of daughters and wives of husbands in the same office, but that’s never brought forth to make a complaint about.”
Black alludes to Oldham County Clerk Julie Barr, who employs her mother, and Oldham County PVA Ron Winters, who employs his wife.
No entity has challenged Barr’s hiring practices.
But in 2008, the hiring practices of Winters and 10 other PVAs were investigated for a violation of the state’s ethics code.
A year later, Winters and the other PVAs were cleared. But in July 2010, the Kentucky Court of appeals reinstated ethics charges brought against the 11 PVAS.
The Court of Appeals hasn’t issued a ruling on the charges.
Winters has said his hiring and promotion decisions – including his wife’s hire in 2004 and promotion in 2007 – are approved by the Kentucky Department of Revenue.
Black was also frustrated that the commission did not accept Carter’s opinion in the first place.
“This is what the county attorney said four months ago on Jan. 3, and it’s sort of a shame that the people in the positions to make those decisions could not justify his basis for his decision,” he said.
Voegele was glad the commission came to a decision. He knows there will be some people who are not satisfied with the decision on political grounds, however.
“John Black is doing his best to make our Republican Fiscal Court look good,” he said.
Voegele suggested the language in the county’s administrative code be streamlined to include only the relations of spouse, children and parents.

Editor Jacquelyn Stoess Hack also contributed to this story. E-mail us about this story at: danna@oldhamera.com.