Politics

A judge has partially granted Gov. Matt Bevin’s request to remove a pension board member while a lawsuit over his dismissal is ongoing.

In an order, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said Thursday Tommy Elliott can still participate in meetings of the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Directors and its committees, but as a non-voting member.

Bevin issued an executive order removing Elliott from the KRS board in April, three years before the end of Elliott’s appointed term. He sued Bevin over the move. Last month, Shepherd ruled that Elliott could remain on the board while the lawsuit transpired, but he didn’t attend two recent meetings.

Former KRS Board chair Tommy Elliot testified in court Wednesday. Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

Former KRS Board chair Tommy Elliot testified in court Wednesday.

The governor’s office on Wednesday argued that Elliott should be removed because of his absences and Shepherd partially agreed.

“Mr. Elliott should have been aware of these meetings,” Shepherd wrote in his order on Thursday. “Instead, he scheduled a business meeting for August 23, and chose not to attend the Board meeting on August 24, not because of advice of counsel, but because of incorrect and incomplete information he learned from the former executive director.”

Elliott testified that he missed one meeting because he didn’t have time to reschedule business plans after the judge ruled he could remain on the board. He said he missed the other meeting because former KRS executive director Bill Thielen told him the governor’s office was appealing the ruling and was afraid that the governor would send state troopers to arrest him if he participated — something that has happened before.

The judge also ruled that the governor’s appointee, Mark Lattis, will be able to sit on the board and vote while the lawsuit is ongoing.

Elliott was appointed to the KRS board by former Gov. Steve Beshear and served for two years as board chair. He served one four-year term and was one year into his second appointed term.

Bevin removed Elliott from the board, saying that the pension system needed a “fresh start.” The governor’s office has since criticized Elliott’s leadership, saying that KRS had “an abysmal investment track record and operated under a shroud of secrecy.”

The pension system manages retirement funds for about 350,000 state employees and has around $20 billion in unfunded liabilities. The agency has been criticized for keeping billions of dollars in investments that are concealed from public view.

Judge Shepherd said there are still serious questions as to whether the governor has authority to remove appointed board members without cause and reorganize state boards.

“These are vitally important questions concerning the structure of state government, the separation of powers, and the scope of the Governor’s executive authority,” Shepherd wrote.

Shepherd is also presiding over lawsuits dealing with the governor’s reorganization of the University of Louisville board of trustees and Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.