- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The hiring of a Kentucky cabinet official’s husband has been questioned by critics who say the hiring represents a conflict of interest and a misuse of funds that could be better spent on helping overworked and underpaid social workers.

Bob James, the husband of Teresa James, the commissioner of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ social service agency, has been hired for the newly created role of assisting the cabinet’s inspector general’s office, The Courier-Journal reports (https://cjky.it/1CVPnPS).

Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said Bob James is not a political appointee and was hired by a committee of state workers who deemed him qualified and the best candidate. Bob James had to apply for the position, she said, where he will do administrative work and not conduct investigations.

But others outside the agency say there’s a problem, noting that Bob James works in the office that’s supposed to have investigative authority over many of the functions his wife oversees, including the child protection system and federal benefits such as food stamps.

“I really think it is a conflict,” said Julie Denton, a former state senator from Louisville who now serves on the Metro Council. “The appearance is that they created a job for him. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Denton said Bob James’ approximately $50,000 salary should instead be going toward fixing the problem of high turnover among state social workers.

Social workers start at about $32,000 a year and, like most state employees, worked for four years with no raises because of state budget cuts until last year.

“It’s just so demoralizing for these folks,” Denton said.

But Midkiff noted the $50,000 salary is part of the inspector general’s budget. If the agency did not hire James, his salary could not be used to boost the pay of social workers. And she said the salary is not arbitrary, but set according to a classification schedule.

Former cabinet Inspector General Robert Benvenuti III, a Republican now in the state House of Representatives, said he doesn’t know why Bob James was hired or whether he was needed as a staff assistant.

“It could be justified if he has a special talent they need,” he said. “But I think it’s something that should have to be explained.”

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com


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