Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Beshear Administration To Keep Ky. Fish & Wildlife Commissioner
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Governor Andy Beshear’s administration by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission to try to reinstate the former Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources commissioner to his post.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate in a 18-page ruling Wednesday said a state Fish and Wildlife commission has the power to select the commissioner for the department, but that power doesn’t exempt the board from following the Model Procurement Code, state law that governs how government contracts are negotiated and awarded.
Governor Andy Beshear said in a statement, “This is a win for the people of Kentucky, who deserve a fiscally responsible, transparent government. As Kentucky faces economic challenges from COVID-19, it is unfortunate that the attorney general and commission filed a lawsuit claiming they can operate without financial oversight of the public funds it collects from sportsmen and women.”
The lawsuit was spurred when the state board in August declared former department commissioner Rich Storm as its commissioner during the board’s monthly meeting, following a contract dispute between the Beshear administration and the board. The board approved a new two-year contract for Storm during its January meeting, but the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet rejected that contract in favor of a one-year contract with similar terms, citing financial uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Storm previously said he saw the one-year contract as an attempt to gain more control over the department. The department doesn’t receive any funding from the state general fund, instead receiving revenue from federal grants and sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
The commission, represented by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office, in the lawsuit argued that its actions weren’t necessarily exempt from the state’s Model Procurement Code, but that state revised statutes, KRS 150.061, giving the board its power to appoint and set the salary of a department commissioner is more specific and prevails over the Model Procurement Code. Wingate rejected that argument in his ruling.
“...it would be completely ludicrous for this Court to find that the General Assembly specifically mentioned in KRS 150.021 that any powers conferred in KRS Chapter 150 are subject to the provisions of KRS 45A (the KPMC), but then somehow rule that the personal service contract of the commissioner is exempt from the KPMC,” the ruling states in part. “Such a finding would grant the Commission and the Department unchecked unyielding power essentially making it answerable to itself only.”
Elizabeth Kuhn, Communications Director for Attorney General Daniel Cameron, said in a statement the commission previously voted to take the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court, and Cameron’s office is planning an appeal.