A former high-ranking state official whose agency awarded at least $1.3 million worth of contracts to a New Jersey-based consulting firm during her time in office joined that firm Monday as a vice president.
Beth Brinly left her $128,000-a-year position as deputy secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet in December after the Bevin administration chose not to retain her. On Jan. 11, Maher & Maher of Neptune, N.J., announced that she would be joining the firm as vice president of workforce innovation.
The two go back to at least 2010. At the time, Brinly ran the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board and Maher & Maher won the first of seven contracts with the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. The biggest, which ran from 2011 to 2012 and was worth $527,513, called for Maher & Maher to help develop a “workforce academy” to train cabinet employees. One contract doesn’t expire until June 30.
Kentucky forbids state officials from accepting jobs with companies that have contracts with the state or are regulated by the state in matters that directly involved the official in the last three years of his or her tenure. Such laws, adopted by 39 states in all, typically prevent officials from going directly into often high-paying jobs with state business partners.
What spares Brinly from violating Kentucky’s so-called “revolving door” statute is an exclusion that allows officials to return to prior occupations or industries. Brinly has spent most of her career in workforce development. Maher & Maher caters to that field.
Katie Gabhart, executive director of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said Brinly consulted with her on Dec. 23 before accepting the job. She said other departing Beshear administration officials consulted with her as well.
“Based on my opinion, based on the information she gave, it seemed she was returning to a profession, and that would allow her then to go work for an entity that does business with or is regulated by her former agency,” Gabhart said.
The catch in the law is that, in her new job, Brinly must wait six months before working on any matter in which she was “directly involved” at the agency during her last three years. Nor can she represent the company in those agency matters for one year.
Brinly, who said she will work from her home in Frankfort, said she agreed to abide by those terms.
“Maher & Maher and I agreed I would do no work with Kentucky for the year to make sure we avoided any conflict,” she said in a telephone interview.
Maher & Maher started working for the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board — part of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet — in September 2010, seven months after Brinly was sworn in as the board’s commissioner. The contract paid the firm $257,000 to help develop a “one-stop certification” for the board’s “workforce services delivery system.”
From there, Maher & Maher became a regular at the board and cabinet, consulting on undertakings such as a “unified business services strategy” and “Kentucky Career Center customer flow.” Its last contract, worth $112,905, began July 15, 2015, and calls for the company to help develop a “sector strategies toolkit.”
Brinly said all seven contracts were put through a competitive bidding process, which cabinet staff attorney Tess Russell confirmed Monday. Brinly said all were subjected to an agency contract-review panel.
But the linkage between Brinly and Maher & Maher transcends the contracts. In 2013, Brinly and company President Rick Maher together served on an industry panel discussion called “The Future of the Workforce System.” Brinly was joined by two Maher & Maher employees at a workforce summit in Orlando in September. And the cabinet paid $20,000 to be the exclusive “presenting sponsor” of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s workforce summit in Lexington in October, which featured a Maher & Maher consultant as keynote speaker.
Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause in Kentucky, helped draft the state revolving door law that was enacted in 1992. He said Maher & Maher’s hiring of Brinly casts doubt on the legitimacy of the contracting process between the company and Brinly’s former agency.
“We want these contracts between government and companies to be only done on their merit, not by rewarding governmental officials with probable jobs when they leave,” Beliles said. “It looks like that a public official has been rewarded — perhaps by approving contracts with a private company or corporation that the public official is going to work for at a high level.”
Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group in Washington, D.C., that tracks money and lobbying on elections and public policy, said Brinly’s hiring raises questions about any influence she exercised in bringing Maher & Maher aboard as a state contractor.
“It’s problematic because, in this case, it seems likely that she was negotiating with her now-employer while she was in state government, and her department had contracts with this company,” Novak said. “We don’t know if the company may have gotten favorable treatment in terms of bidding for contracts. There’s a lot we don’t know about how all of this developed.”
Contracts Awarded to Maher & Maher
- Sector Strategies Toolkit, $112,905, 7/2015 – 6/2016
- Workforce Academy, $75,855, 7/2014 – 2/2015
- Kentucky Career Center Customer Flow, $93,275, 7/2014 – 2/2015
- Unified Business Services Strategy, $46,749, 5/2013 – 5/2013
- KWIB Consultant Workforce Academy, $527,513, 4/2011 – 6/2012
- KWIB Consultant Sector Strategies, $199,477, 10/2010 – 6/2011
- KWIB Consultant One Stop Certification, $193,000, 9/2010 – 6/2011
- KWIB Consultant One Stop Certification, $64,396, 7/2011 – 9/2011
Brinly said Maher & Maher lost about as many contracts with her agency as it won. She said Maher & Maher never tried to recruit her while she was in office. It was she, she said, who approached the company for work.
“When I was apprised that my services were no longer needed, I reached out to quite a few folks in the workforce world,” Brinly said. “I spoke to a number of companies and agencies and my network of friends and indicated that I was going to be looking for something.”
The last state official cited for violating the Kentucky revolving door law was John Rittenhouse, a former Land Between the Lakes park manager from 2004 to 2013. He left the state payroll to become manager of a restaurant subleasing space from a marina operator under contract with the state. He was fined $1,500 and publicly reprimanded last January, part of a settlement with the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
Rittenhouse returned to state government when Gov. Matt Bevin named him the Parks Department’s director of resorts on Jan. 14. But he resigned eight days later after media reports on the 2015 ethics settlement.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (502) 814.6543.
This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.