Perhaps a Kentucky State Police investigation and a whistleblower lawsuit will shed more light on whether Franklin County Jailer Billy Roberts crossed over the line in advancing an employee who’s now his wife. His personnel director, Bill Read, says he welcomes the KSP probe as a means of settling, once and for all, the questions that have arisen about Roberts’ relationship with Amy Lancaster, whom the jailer hired last year to help run the inmate work program following closure of the Frankfort Career Development Center. The jailer and his assistant Class D coordinator became romantically involved. This May 17, Lancaster resigned her position, citing her pregnancy and a work environment that had turned “stressful and uncomfortable.” She and Roberts married the next month.
This affair does not appear to be of the same magnitude as what happened in the 1990s when former Jailer Hunter Hay went to prison for sex crimes – rape, attempted rape, sodomy and sexual abuse – against jail employees. The scandal led to a lawsuit against the county and a $6 million settlement that forced a tax increase.
However, Roberts’ troubles at the very least underline the pitfalls of intimate relationships between employers and employees. Other workers generally know about such goings on and are apt to suspect favoritism whether or not they can prove it. Reporter Lauren Hallow detailed some of the suspicions in Sunday’s State Journal, based on interviews and public records.
Lancaster was making as much money as some of her supervisors. One, Chris Blankenship, filed suit this May claiming he was involuntarily transferred from government services program director to food services director after telling investigators for county government and KSP that Lancaster – previously under his authority – had received special treatment. Court documents filed as part of his litigation alleged the jailer’s girlfriend submitted incomplete time sheets, took lots of time off and failed to follow jail procedures. The personnel director denied Lancaster had excessive absences and said nothing in her file indicated problems with her performance. He maintained she was hired from outside to fill a position for which no employee on the staff was qualified.
Almost a year ago, Fiscal Court changed its jail personnel manual to prohibit dating, cohabitation, marriage and physical/sexual relationships among jail officials and staff. But County Attorney Rick Sparks attributed that decision to lingering issues raised by the Hay case. The new policy specifically exempts relationships that began before its adoption. However indiscreet the jailer’s affair with his wife-to-be may have been, it was not officially forbidden at the time it occurred. Of course, that doesn’t mean he had any right to extend his girlfriend special favors to the detriment of other jail employees, as the lawsuit alleged he did.
Fiscal Court, after launching its own investigation, sent Roberts a letter urging he take a leave of absence pending outcome of the KSP probe. But the court’s authority is limited. The jailer, who’s an elected official just like the magistrates and judge-executive, responded that his conscience is clear; he further called on the county to pay his legal expenses.
If that’s all it has to pay in this latest jail embarrassment, Fiscal Court can consider itself lucky.