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Archive for Thursday, November 11, 1999

LEGISLATORS QUARREL OVER INVESTIGATION

November 11, 1999

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— Parallel investigations of contracts like one uncovered recently in the Department on Aging are likely.

Legislators want to know whether no-bid consulting contracts like the one awarded to a former deputy secretary in the Department on Aging are the norm in state government.

To find out, Democrats on the state's Legislative Coordinating Council proposed Wednesday appointing a committee of legislators, armed with subpoena power, to investigate.

But the council's Republicans said that was a bad idea. They'd rather leave it up to the Legislative Division of Post Audit, the State Ethics Commission or a combination of the two.

Post Audit and Ethics Commission investigations are confidential until their conclusion is reported. The proposed committee of legislators' meetings would be open to the public.

"This is nothing more than a postponed witch hunt. Halloween has passed," said Senate President Dick Bond, R-Overland Park.

And it's no coincidence, Bond said, that all 165 legislators -- 40 senators, 125 House members -- are up for re-election next year.

'A truth hunt'

Bond's analogy prompted an equally snippy reply from House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville: "This is not about a witch hunt " this is a truth hunt."

The debate comes after Journal-World reports that Department on Aging secretary Thelma Hunter Gordon awarded deputy secretary Terry Glasscock a $135,000 "fellowship" after learning that Glasscock was moving to Boston.

The $135,000 was paid in a lump sum.

Glasscock's brother is House Majority Leader Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan. Kent Glasscock's wife, Joyce, is Gov. Bill Graves' chief of staff.

Gordon resigned Oct. 31, hours after news of the contract and reports of excessive travel appeared in the Journal-World.

Kent Glasscock, who has said neither he nor his wife were aware of the magnitude of his brother's consulting contract, is a member of the Legislative Coordinating Council. Though present Wednesday, he declined to participate.

"I need to recuse myself," he said, "though I have said publicly and privately that I am in support of this being investigated."

Jennison the peacemaker

Graves announced last week that Aging's contract with Terry Glasscock had been canceled and that Glasscock had agreed to give back $90,000 for work he'd not yet completed.

The seven-member Legislative Coordinating Council, composed of House and Senate leaders, represents the Legislature's interests between legislative sessions.

House Speaker Robin Jennison, R-Healy, found himself in a peacemaker's role Wednesday, asking both sides to delay voting until after he's heard from Department of Administration secretary Dan Stanley, who, last week, said Aging's contract with Glasscock was " " inappropriate and not in compliance with purchasing statutes."

"I don't see much sense in plowing ground that's already been thoroughly plowed," Jennison said.

Stanley, a retired U.S. Navy commander, was en route to Hawaii, where Graves and members of the Kansas National Guard are participating in Veterans Day ceremonies at Pearl Harbor.

Jennison said he would meet today with Garner in hopes of crafting a bipartisan compromise.

Parallel investigations

"I think the issue of people leaving state government and getting lucrative contracts is something we need to get a handle on," Jennison said after the meeting.

"And it's my position that we ought to go with a full-blown post audit, one that's thorough enough to let us know if we need to proceed any further."

Council members expect to vote on the product of Jennison and Garner's deliberations no later than Nov. 17.

Parallel to the council's deliberations, the Legislative Post Audit Committee meets Nov. 29 to consider Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley's call for an investigation of Aging's contract with Glasscock.

"I want to know whether (Gordon and Glasscock) violated the law," said Hensley, a Democrat.

"And if we have a specific statute that says that contract was illegal, I want to know why we're allowing (Glasscock) to keep $69,000 of the contract. Is that not a legitimate question to ask?"

Hensley disputes Graves' accounting of the amount Glasscock will be allowed to keep. He also doubted reports that no one in the governor's office knew about Aging's contract with Glasscock.

"I cannot believe the secretary on aging had unilateral authority to say this was OK," Hensley said. "Somebody had to tell her it was OK. When you're talking this much money -- $135,000 -- that has to be approved on high."

KDHE contracts

Hensley said that since learning about the Glasscock contract, several state employees have told him the arrangement is not unique. He said his staff is investigating reports of a similar high-dollar, no-bid consulting contract at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Don Brown, who was public information officer at KDHE before becoming Graves' press secretary last week, said he's never heard of the contract in question.

"I've checked with everybody I know over there (KDHE) and nobody knows anything about this," Brown said.

Rep. Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, a senior member of the Post Audit Committee, said he's leery of calls for a post-audit investigation.

"I want people to figure out what it is they want first," he said. "Because (Division of) Post Audit answers questions, it doesn't tell stories.

"And what we're dealing with here is a story that's unfolding before our eyes and is going to have many, many facets."

-- Dave Ranney's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail is dranney@ljworld.com.

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