Politics

The debate continues over whether Gov. Matt Bevin has the authority to replace the chair of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board before his term expires.

Last week, Bevin sent Kentucky State Police troopers to a KRS board meeting in order to arrest board chair Tommy Elliott if he participated. Bevin issued an executive order removing Elliott nearly a month before, but Elliott defied the order and continued presiding in a subsequent board meeting.

Bevin’s office said Elliott “voluntarily elected not to participate” in last week’s meeting.

Bill Thielen, executive director of KRS, said Monday that top officials in Bevin’s administration threatened to have Elliott arrested if he participated in the meeting.

“He decided he would not take part in the meeting,” Thielen said. “He sat in the audience. Police officers were there in the boardroom at both doors.”

Thielen said Blake Brickman, Bevin’s chief of staff, and Thomas Stephens, secretary of the Personnel Cabinet, told Elliott he would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if he participated in the meeting.

The meeting came one day after Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an opinion saying Bevin didn’t have the authority to remove or replace board members before their terms expire.

Bevin dismissed Beshear’s opinion as “politically motivated,” arguing that there is precedent for taking similar actions.

Sen. Joe Bowen, a Republican from Owensboro, backed up that position on Monday.

“Perhaps the drama of it all, because of political dynamics, have highlighted this in some measure that’s unfair, but certainly this isn’t unprecedented,” Bowen said.

Last month, Bevin appointed dermatologist William Smith to replace Elliott on the board. Smith turned down the appointment last week and Bevin tapped Louisville accountant Mark Lattis for the position, though he didn’t attend last week’s meeting.

Rep. James Kay, a Democrat from Versailles, said that Bevin is overreaching his power because board term-limits are defined by laws created by the legislature.

“The fiduciary independence of that board is not to the governor who appoints some of the members, it’s not even to the stakeholders — the retirees — it’s to the fund itself to make sure that it benefits those retirees,” Kay said.

No legal action has been taken in the board controversy.

KRS Executive Director Thielen says the board will likely call a special meeting in June to decide “what actions the board will take going forward.”

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.