The Department of Agriculture is asking the Personnel Board to deny a request for investigation into whether two political appointees were illegally hired into protected positions.
Personnel Board Vice Chairman Larry B. Gillis said that a probe is needed to determine whether Danita Fentress-Laird and Kathryn Willis were transferred from positions as politically appointed division directors into positions protected by the state's merit system without following normal procedures.
A response by the Department of Agriculture said the Personnel Cabinet had reviewed the decisions and found no wrongdoing.
“If at any time the Department of Agriculture had been directed to correct, repeat or expand upon a step in the appointment process, the Department would have readily complied,” wrote General Counsel Nicole Liberto.
Gillis said the transfers look suspicious but declined to comment on his request for investigation.
“As a member of the Personnel Board I am prohibited from commenting on pending or impending proceedings before the Board,” he wrote in an email today.
The investigation he requested would determine whether the workers were moved into protected positions so that they wouldn't lose their jobs in the next administration.
The seven-member Personnel Board is tasked with protecting the Merit System and will consider Gillis’ request during a regular monthly meeting Friday. The governor appoints five members and state employees elect two, including Gillis.
A political campaign is now under way to choose a replacement for two-term Commissioner Richie Farmer, who is running for lieutenant governor.
Department of Agriculture spokesman Bill Clary declined to comment Wednesday.