The Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. - Gov. Ernie Fletcher is giving new titles to some of his political appointees, known as principal assistants, but critics say it's an attempt to avoid controversy.
Fletcher is also making the workers eligible for more pay. His predecessor, Paul Patton, was criticized by the General Assembly for hiring too many principal assistants, a position with no job description.
"Historically the principal assistant roles have had a negative connotation because they were perceived to be political hires - jobs without any real accountability or job description," said Daniel Groves, Fletcher's chief of staff. "We want to change that perception, change that culture. We want to make sure the titles are reflective of the jobs they will be doing."
Fletcher's new policy allows principal assistants to be transferred to one of six new titles: special assistant, policy adviser, executive assistant, executive adviser, administrative coordinator or staff assistant, The Courier-Journal reported on Wednesday.
Groves said the job descriptions and responsibilities will be specified by the cabinet secretary who hires someone under the new titles.
Fletcher's policy removes the $75,049-per-year cap on the starting salary of newly hired principal assistants. They can make as much as $125,125, which is Fletcher's salary including a taxable expense allowance.
The new policy also specifies that existing principal assistants who are transferred into the new titles do not get new salaries.
Some Democratic lawmakers were upset to learn of the Republican governor's new policy.
"It appears to me they're doing this to hire more principal assistants, and pay them more, but hide the fact," said Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe and chairman of the House State Government Committee.
When Patton was criticized for allowing the number of principal assistants to grow from 117 to 175 during his first seven years as governor, Senate Republican Leader Dan Kelly of Springfield criticized the governor.
He said at the time: "Our position is that you eliminate them all - and the cabinets will find a way to fund those folks who are necessary," Kelly said.
In April, Kelly's son, Louis Kelly, 26, was hired as a principal assistant in the office of the Justice Cabinet secretary at a salary of $38,692, the newspaper reported. He was transferred last month into one of the new titles - special assistant.
Dan Kelly said he sees no contradiction. He said his main criticism of Patton was the large increase in the number of principal assistants.
"I was talking about people being hired and not showing up for work," Dan Kelly said.
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Worley of Richmond said Fletcher is attempting to disguise new appointments.
"This governor desires to do more of the same political stuff that's always been done - hire political people in good-paying jobs. The only difference is he's trying to disguise it so that he can say he's eliminated the good ol' boy system like he promised in his campaign," Worley said.
At the start of this month, before the new policy was adopted, state government had 79 principal assistants, according to Department of Personnel spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker. Of the 79, the Fletcher administration has hired 27 and the rest are from the previous administration or employees of other statewide officeholders, including the attorney general.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
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