Franklin County Jailer Billy Roberts has made no public comment on the latest controversy surrounding the county’s much-litigated lockup. An employee sued him last month, charging favoritism in personnel policies.
However, one of the jailer’s associates, Director of Personnel Bill Read, opened up Monday to State Journal reporter Lauren Hallow. He insisted the jail administration has done nothing wrong and suggested county government overreacted in an investigation that began six months ago.
From most indications, the corrections facility had settled into relative calm under Roberts. There was little fuss last summer when Fiscal Court amended the policy manual to forbid fraternization – dating, cohabitation, marriage and physical or sexual relations between jail employees and their superiors. That may have been, partly, a belated response to issues from 1995 when former Jailer Hunter Hay went to prison for committing sex crimes against women employees. But the suit by Chris Blankenship, claiming he was transferred from government services program director to food services director because he tipped off the county and Kentucky State Police to irregularities in jail management, raises questions about the current leadership. Nothing like Hay’s crimes has surfaced but this government-centric community takes personnel violations seriously. Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher was indicted for his administration’s manipulation of the Merit System for political purposes. A settlement led to dismissal of the misdemeanor charge, but his reelection campaign was doomed nonetheless.
Read, who learned of the jail personnel investigation in December, complained about the use of the county fire department’s mobile command post, which was parked outside the corrections facility as a base for interviews with jail employees conducted by Fiscal Court’s human resources director and an outside consultant. He recalled that the FBI’s investigation of Hay’s offenses was relatively low key, with jail workers interrogated at the state police post or some neutral site.
The county concluded its work in January and handed off the baton to state police, whose investigators expect a lengthy process.
The jail personnel director told our reporter KSP has done its work professionally but he’s seen nothing to justify a criminal investigation. Anyone can file a lawsuit, he noted.
That’s true, and it’s worth adding that lawsuits present only one side of an argument. The jailer and his staff may indeed be without fault, as Read maintains. However, we can’t blame county government for exercising due diligence on charges of misconduct, given the jail’s history. Too much taxpayers’ money has gone to settling claims made by corrections workers, in Hay’s case, and by prisoners, in other lawsuits.
We have no serious problem with conducting investigative interviews in the fire department’s mobile command post, which may have minimized jail employees’ time away from work, if nothing else. The highest priority for the county and KSP investigations should be to get at the truth.
Neither a whitewash nor a witch hunt is acceptable. If facts show the jailer and staff have conducted themselves honorably and professionally, they deserve to be exonerated. If not, it indicates one of the county’s chronic sore spots is still festering.