Thursday, July 29, 2004

Fletcher names 1st black to cabinet


Kentucky governor promotes personnel commissioner

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Gov. Ernie Fletcher, delivering on a demand by civil-rights leaders, said Wednesday he would add a minority to his executive cabinet by elevating Personnel Commissioner Bob Ramsey.

Fletcher told a convention of black Baptists he had been "rightly criticized" for lacking a black cabinet secretary. He said he would change that with an executive order.

"Commissioner Bob Ramsey will become Secretary Bob Ramsey and our first African-American secretary in the cabinet," Fletcher said, drawing applause from the audience at a downtown hotel.

Ramsey was on the job and did not attend the convention of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky.

The Rev. A. Russell Awkard, the association's first vice moderator, said he welcomed Ramsey's promotion.

"I'm satisfied that the governor is responding in such a meaningful way because we understand the importance of the Personnel Department in terms of jobs and opportunities," Awkard said.

Fletcher, after taking office in December, was criticized by some civil-rights leaders for appointing an all-white cabinet, though he insisted that Ramsey had a cabinet-level position.

Fletcher recruited James Nevels, a black businessman from Pennsylvania, for the position of finance secretary, but Nevels declined. Fletcher then gave the job to Robbie Rudolph of Murray. It was his final cabinet appointment.

As for making Ramsey a cabinet secretary, Fletcher said: "I felt like it was important to send a good message that we are making sure that we do everything we can to empower minorities."

Fletcher also said he has appointed 56 blacks to executive positions in his administration so far, outpacing his predecessor, Paul Patton.

Meanwhile, Fletcher received a cooler response from the church group while explaining his decision to review the state Human Rights Commission, a prelude to a possible reorganization. He said his goal was to protect minorities' rights.

Awkard said the review was unexpected, but he hoped the result would be a stronger commission.

"We're always concerned about being able to have our rights justly applied," said Awkard, the pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Louisville. "A serious look won't hurt anybody."

In his speech, Fletcher also asked the black church leaders to work with him to help improve education, economic opportunities and health care for minorities. Fletcher said blacks, traditionally an important Democratic constituency, have been "placated by empty promises."

"I might be an odd messenger," Fletcher said. "But let me assure you that this white, Republican governor wants to ask you to join me in addressing these unacceptable discriminations in this state."




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