Kentucky’s former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer is being investigated by state officials for possible misuse of taxpayer money during his eight year term in office.
Like most states, Kentucky has faced significant economic hardships because of the worldwide economic downturn. In an effort to trim budgets since the recession began, state aid has been slashed and state officials have been laid off and had their salaries frozen.
In 2008, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has lost over $350,000 and many agricultural officials were reporting that the state might not have had enough funding to continue funding state agricultural inspectors.
In the midst of these hardships, state officials report, Commissioner Farmer continued to spend lavishly, possibly dipping into public money. Unlike most high-level state officials, including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Farmer refused to reduce his personal salary, despite the fact that many of his employees were facing layoffs and salary freezes.
In addition, in 2008, the Southern Association of State Agriculture Departments annual gathering was held in Kentucky. Spending for this conference topped $200,000. Despite Farmer’s claims that the conference was paid for through private funds, it appears that at least $15,000 of taxpayer money was used during the meeting.
In addition to potential impropriety, the conference demonstrated a massive lack of public awareness. The five-day conference, held at a spa, had only six hours total of public speaking. At the same time that Farmer was stating that rising food prices placed an unfair burden on the poor across the country, he, his wife, his mother-in-law, the agriculture commissioners of 13 states, their wives, and about 50 other attendees spent over $100,000 on food. Agriculture Department officials, working on state time and using official letterhead, raised most of the money spent on the conference, including fundraising to industries that the department is charged with overseeing.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer