A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

State Democratic Party says ag chief Ryan Quarles paid appointee who mostly campaigned for judge

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

The Kentucky Democratic Party claims Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has paid his chief attorney, Joe Bilby, $115,000 in taxpayers’ dollars while Bilby missed most work days to campaign for circuit judge of Franklin County.

Ryan Quarles

A release from the party Tuesday said Bilby has not worked a full week in the department since last September.

It noted that “even ethics-challenged” former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin mandated that members of his administration step down to run for public office. The party’s shot at Bevin was in response to controversial pardons Bevin issued during the end of his term.

Bilby is challenging incumbent Phillip Shepherd for circuit judge in Franklin County in the non-partisan race in the Nov. 8 general election. Quarles is running for governor next year against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear.

“When Joe decided to run for judge, he offered to step down as my team’s top lawyer,” said Quarles. “I asked him not to leave because I value his legal acumen as Andy Beshear continues to sue me, wasting taxpayer money.
“Beshear is continually suing me so it’s a good thing we have a talented lawyer like Joe Bilby to deal with his nuisance claims.
“Fortunately, Kentucky law allows Joe to keep working here while he runs for judge on his own time, following all of the rules faithfully. The Beshear team’s attack is desperate.”

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission’s executive director confirmed that the law doesn’t require Bilby to resign to run for a nonpartisan office.

“Last October I asked the Executive Branch Ethics Commission for guidance. The Commission’s Executive Director said that the law does not require me to resign from my job to run as a candidate for this nonpartisan office,” said Bilby. “Like other state employees, I am allowed to use accrued comp time and annual leave.”

The state Democratic Party said it obtained Bilby’s time sheets in June for his work through May 27 through an Open Records request.

Joe Bilby

It said they showed Bilby only worked two full days in April, three in March and five full days in May. Bilby, who operates his own law firm in Frankfort, worked just 23 full days (out of more than 130) from when he filed paperwork to run for circuit court judge on Nov. 19 until the Kentucky Democratic Party obtained his time sheets in June for his work through May 27, the party said. The party noted that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear ad Republican Bevin required appointees to step down while running for office.

“Ryan Quarles and Joe Bilby continue to demonstrate to Kentuckians why they shouldn’t be trusted in their current jobs and why they’re clearly unfit for a promotion,” said Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge.

“Even Matt Bevin knew better than to pay political appointees large salaries while they run for office. It stinks, it’s unethical and it’s fiscally irresponsible.”

Quarles’ lack of a full-time general counsel might explain some of the “mismanagement” in the agriculture department, said Elridge.

He mentioned a delay this month in issuing payments to low-income, elderly people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and a poor response to requests for public records.

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