In his first days in office, Agriculture Commissioner made use of his prerogative to dismiss any employees he wished outside of the state merit system.
Some were obvious dismissals - girlfriends of wasteful former Commissioner Richie Farmer...
Comer dismissed 16 non-merit employees, including Farmer's girlfriend, Stephanie Sandmann, shortly after taking office. She had been hired to a $60,000-a-year job in the Agriculture Department in the waning days of Farmer's unsuccessful campaign as running mate to gubernatorial candidate and Senate President David Williams.
...and childhood pals.
Another political appointee who was fired without cause on Jan. 3 apparently also has a connection to reality TV. According to fan blogs, season 20 of The Amazing Race will feature Mark Jackson from Manchester....
...Jackson, who grew up as a friend of Richie Farmer in Manchester and coaches sports at the elementary school in Clay County, said Sandmann was Farmer's first girlfriend since Richie and Rebecca Farmer married.
"I begged him, after Becky filed for the divorce, to get out and find a woman," Jackson said.
However, Jackson said, he doesn't generally socialize with Farmer.
"I don't hang out with Richie like that. ... He hangs out with the uppity-up people," Jackson said. "We might play golf together, but we don't get out and eat together."
Recently, Comer has been under fire for the firing of the state beekeeper. Phil Craft, who has served as the state beekeeper since being appointed by former Commissioner Billy Ray Smith, is widely praised for his work.
"Phil did a terrific job for 12 years," said Tom Webster, an apiculture specialist at Kentucky State University. "I hate to see him go."
Webster said the position was more important than many people realize. "These days, a lot of people are trying to grow some of their own food," he said. "If they're going to grow bee-pollinated crops, they need bees."
"We need a state apiarist. I've got a couple hundred hives. It's more than a struggle to be productive these days with all the things coming at us," said Hosey, who sells his honey in Lexington at Good Foods Market and Café. "We need someone who can help, especially new beekeepers. (Craft) was great at that. He's a knowledgeable, amiable guy, and he's helped a lot of new people. What most people don't get is that beekeeping is a true art. ... You almost have to be born a beekeeper."
Lorie Jacobs, president of the Kentuckiana Beekeepers Association in Louisville, said Craft was known for his passion for beekeeping and his patience with newcomers.
We have no doubt of Mr. Craft's qualifications and good work. And while those are important qualifications for this government job, there are other considerations that are just as important.
The article linked above hints at one without giving it proper discussion:
"While he is making some difficult decisions under what amounts to an almost 11 percent budget cut, Commissioner Comer is committed to growing the honey industry in Kentucky and is therefore keeping the state beekeeper position," Comer's office said in a statement.
The article makes Phil out to be a great guy in addition to a great apiarist.
Members of the state's beekeeping community say Comer will have a hard time finding someone better than Craft.
But "whether there is someone better than Craft" isn't the question. The question is whether the core elements of the position, such as certifying that hives are disease-free for interstate transport and promoting beekeeping and honey production, can be executed equally or more effectively in another way. The taxpayer may be better served if this position held additional, non-apiary responsibilities, or by distributing these responsibilities differently in his office. While Mr. Craft sounds incredibly qualified for the position, he is by no means the only qualified individual. In a time of budget constraints, hiring a qualified apiarist at a lower salary may free up other resources to serve the needs of Kentucky Agriculture.
Commissioner Comer is seeking value for the Kentucky taxpayer, and should be commended.