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Richie Farmer, aides took taxpayer-funded Caribbean trip

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

This summer, as the state government readied another round of budget cuts, including worker furloughs and Medicaid reductions, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and three top aides took an eight-day trip to a Caribbean luxury resort that cost taxpayers more than $10,000, according to a review of state travel records.

They attended the annual meeting of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture, or SASDA, on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Participants stayed at The Buccaneer hotel, a pink beachfront resort recently named one of the “Top Ten Classic Caribbean Hotels.”

The meeting agenda lists about 13 hours of business sessions and an agricultural tour over the three days, June 23-25. But records show that Farmer’s delegation arrived June 21 and departed June 28. It took advantage of optional events sponsored by the association, including golf outings, a visit to a rum distillery and a tour of the historic town of Christiansted.

Farmer declined to speak directly to a Herald-Leader reporter, designating his spokesman, Bill Clary to answer all questions.

Next year, Farmer ends his eight-year stint as agriculture commissioner. He will run as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor on a slate with Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

While some states that are members of the association decided because of budget concerns to forgo this year’s trip, Farmer took Rodman Craig Maffet, his chief of staff; John Roberts, executive director of consumer and environmental protection; and Robert Stout, the state veterinarian. The four men also brought their wives.

Clary said the four men paid for their wives’ travel and charged the state for their own airfare, hotel rooms, food, registration and other related expenses. Farmer personally paid for a $100 “health spa treatment,” plus a $20 tip, that appeared on his hotel bill, Clary said.

Receipts submitted after the trip show that the group enjoyed fine dining at public expense. A typical dinner included $32 plates of seared yellowfin tuna with lime ginger soy sauce and coconut rice, with a $10 slice of banana cheesecake for dessert.

Farmer handed $10 tips to drivers, bellhops, front-desk attendants and others throughout his stay, later charging them to his expense account at the state Department of Agriculture. He also charged $50 baggage fees going to and returning from the trip.

Despite the austerity measures ordered across state government, Clary said Farmer was comfortable with the trip’s expense. Attendees discussed issues facing state agriculture officials, such as the farm bill in Congress, he said.

“He was cognizant when he went that there might be some people who later question it,” Clary said. “But the commissioner goes to this every year because he believes it’s important. He is a past president of this organization and believes that the networking with his peers is useful to him.”

The association represents the agriculture departments of 15 states — from Texas to Maryland — and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Its annual meetings are held on the home turf of its current president, Clary said. This year, that was Louis Petersen Jr. of the Virgin Islands.

Some stayed home

Not all of the states who are association members sent representatives to this year’s meeting, given spending cuts at home, said Bob Ehart, public policy director at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which is SASDA’s parent organization.

“A few of our states, because of budgetary concerns, did not travel down there,” Ehart said. “Some of our agriculture commissioners have self-imposed spending restrictions on travel, or else their governors have issued restrictions.”

Mississippi was one such no-show.

“Due to our budget situation, it just wasn’t an option. We have to watch what we spend,” said Andy Prosser, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

Last year, SASDA met in Oklahoma City. Travel records indicate that Farmer and the same three aides stayed for five days in Oklahoma City and spent about half as much money as they did during their eight days in the Virgin Islands this year.

Farmer’s delegation came early to St. Croix and stayed late so the four men could have informal time talking with counterparts from other states, Clary said.

“A lot more is learned in the networking than in the general sessions,” Clary said.

Running for a new office

Next year, when Williams and Farmer run on a Republican ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, their campaign’s call for “a smaller, leaner government” might lose some credibility if they’re not sharing in the same austerity as the rest of the state, said Don Gross, a University of Kentucky political scientist.

In August, the Herald-Leader reported that Farmer had spent about $445,000 buying 19 new vehicles for his department — including a $35,340 car for his own use, replacing a 2-year-old vehicle — while the rest of state government dramatically cut back on such purchases.

In 2008, the newspaper reported that Williams was planning a $448,997 upgrade of Senate offices at the state Capitol in Frankfort, following on an earlier $639,000-round of renovations that included the installation of a 60-inch plasma-screen television in Williams’ office. Williams shelved the 2008 work after the plans became public, facing election-year criticism from lawmakers in his own party.

This year, at least, voters are angry at political incumbents and feeling personally poor, Gross said.

“The danger for the David Williams-Richie Farmer ticket is how much they talk about the need to cut state spending,” Gross said. “That opens them to charges of hypocrisy when voters say, ‘But, wait, you spent all this public money on trips to the Caribbean and new cars for yourself. Why should I take you seriously?'”

“Ten thousand dollars isn’t necessarily a lot of money for state government, which deals in the many millions of dollars,” he said. “But it’s a lot of money to most of us. The average Kentucky voter would love to have that much money for their own Caribbean vacation.”

The full agenda

The SASDA 2010 conference in St. Croix included tours of a rum distillery and the St. George’s botanical Garden:

Tuesday, June 22

Noon to 6 p.m.: Registration
Noon: Optional golfing at the hotel
6:30-7:30 p.m.: reception
Wednesday, June 23
7-8:30 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30-11:45 a.m.: General session
Noon to 1 p.m.: Lunch
1:15 p.m.: Board buses — Christiansted town historic tour
4:30 p.m.: Board buses — return to hotel
6:15 p.m.: Board buses — cultural night and dinner at Hotel on the Cay with local entertainment
8:30 p.m.: Board buses — return to hotel

Thursday, June 24

7-8:30 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30 a.m.: Board buses — Agriculture tour. University of the Virgin Islands Agriculture Experiment Station. Annaly Farms, home of the Senepol cattle
11:45 a.m.: Board buses — return to hotel
Noon to 1 p.m.: Lunch
1:15-4:30 p.m.: General session
6:15 p.m.: Board buses — Governor’s House
6:30 p.m.: President’s dinner with local entertainment
8:45 p.m.: Board buses — return to hotel

Friday, June 25
7-8:30 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30-11:45 a.m.: General session and closing comments
Noon to 1 p.m.: Lunch
1:15-1:45 p.m.: Installation of new SASDA officers and adjournment
2:15 p.m.: Board buses — tour to Cruzan rum distillery
5 p.m.: Board buses — return to hotel

Saturday, June 26 (Optional)

7-7:45 a.m.: Breakfast
7:45 a.m.: Board buses — all-day visit to La Reine farmer’s market and island tour and lunch
Dinner (on your own)

Sunday, June 27 (Optional)
7-7:45 a.m.: Breakfast
10:30 a.m.: Board buses — St. George’s botanical Garden
Mango Melee and tropical fruit festival
Dinner (on your own)

Filed Under: David WilliamsElectionsGovernorRichie FarmerState Government

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Comments

  1. BarryNBG says:

    This is insane. Both Farmer’s staff and Jack Conway are taking advantage of their office. Jack Conway is profiting off Energy Companies he’s supposed to keep honest for us and Richie Farmer’s staff got a vacation.

    Granted, we will never see the outrage from the Herald Leader over Jack Conway. Over $200,000 made for Jack Conway is not as big a deal as a vacation for your staff.

    http://pageonekentucky.com/2010/10/15/karl-roves-anti-conway-ad-is-not-dishonest/

  2. Bill C says:

    “The only difference between Fletcher(former governor Ernie Fletcher) and Beshear is Beshear hasn’t had the blow up, but it’s coming.”

    “i think he’ll go down in history if he makes it through as the worst.” ~Current Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/62485207.html

    Why isn’t the media looking into such serious and credible allegations? To ask such a question is to answer it.

  3. Joyce says:

    I bet that Farmer didn’t go to any of the sessions, especially if there wasn’t coloring books or milk and cookies involved. No way he is even capable of being Lt. Governor or Governor.

  4. Buck Feshear says:

    Even though the Senate election hasn’t taken place yet, and thus the hit pieces on the Republican nominee aren’t over yet, it’s never too early for the Herald-Liberal to start attacking the likely GOP gubernatorial nominees in their blatant and transparent attempt to get Beshear re-elected.

    The H-L has no credibility as an objective news source. The only thing that differentiates it from Rolling Stone is Matt Taibbi isn’t on the H-L’s staff and they don’t liberally sprinkle the f-word throughout their “news” stories.

  5. Tommy Caudill says:

    Buck,

    Please explain how reporting fraud is some how a hit job. I keep seeing your posts all over this site and it’s always some kind of a hit job on republicans.

    What about all the nasty untruths I read from the right about our President and Conway on this site? At least what the HL prints is true and not some nasty lie someone is writing just because they hate the other side.

  6. Ish says:

    If Richie had gone to Louisville or Western, he would not be Ag Commissioner now. This guy is not qualified to be Lt Gov or God forbid Governor.

  7. Buck Feshear says:

    What fraud? No fraud involved here. In H-L world, Republicans are subjected to more scrutiny than Democrats.

    Bet we read hardly anything about Beshear’s trip to India this week.

  8. William says:

    I agree that if Richie were a Democrat, we wouldn’t be seeing this story. That’s just the way it is. It sucks to feel that way, to know that our local media is that biased, but it’s the reality we live with.

    Having said that, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior from any of our elected officials. As a taxpayer, I am NOT willing to pay for Richie Farmer’s freaking yellow-fin tuna. He should pay back every freaking dime of taxpayer money that was spent on this extravagant trip. He clearly now believes that he can do whatever he wants, because he’s Richie Farmer, and he’ll get elected. I’m sorry to say it might be true.

    I’ll be voting for the Tea-Party ticket in 2011. And I’m one of the biggest UK fans I know. Sad to see this.

  9. William says:

    Agree with Buck, though, this is not “fraud” by any means. It’s in the public records, for anybody to see. We just count on the press to find these stories (which, for one party, they do).

    But it is highly inappropriate, and just plain wrong.

    Maybe we don’t really need a Commissioner of Agriculture anyway….

  10. Tommy Caudill says:

    “Richie Farmer, aides took taxpayer-funded Carribean trip”

    Using taxpayer to take a Carribean trip in a time when the state is behind on funds and they spend $10,000 on a trip to me is frugal at best and the taxpayers should demand $7,500 of this money back. The reason I came up with this figure is, why did the other three men have to go? Isn’t Farmer the AG Commissioner? Then surely he’s smart enough and big enough that he doesn’t need anyone to go with him to get the same information he ended up with. When’s the last time you spent $10,000 on a family vacation? They did it on the taxpayer’s dime not theirs. “Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and three top aides took an eight-day trip to a Caribbean luxury resort that cost taxpayers more than $10,000, according to a review of state travel records.”

  11. Tommy Caudill says:

    Look back to Paul Patton’s administration and then you tell me we wouldn’t see this story in the HL. Paul Patton was in the paper everyday while Ben Chandler was trying to prosecute him. Look it up.

    Repubs act as if they’re the only ones that ever get scrutinized, well you’re wrong.

    President Obama has been scrutinized harder than any administration since the Great Depression. Don’t try and pretend you don’t know it because you do.

  12. William says:

    Tommy,

    Obama has been scrutinized very hard…by the public. But not by the media, no.

  13. Tommy Caudill says:

    You had better check your sources again, Glenn Beck, Fox and Friends, Bill Oreilly, and Rush Limbaugh have been lampooning our President since the he was sworn in.

    That’s ok though, we all have to answer for our actions and I would hate to be in the shoes of these people spreading bnlatant lies about the man you should want to do better than the last person to keep our country moving forward. I’ve never seen people in a country roooting for failure the way people are here. At the time when we should be working together more than ever all you hear is no or why should we? That’s not the way The UNited States of America is supposed to act. We are One Nation Under God With Liberty and Justice for ALL.

  14. Tommy Caudill says:

    And here’s the debate folks.

  15. friendsofgod says:

    Bucky F – why don’t you and your blabbering cohorts on here that continually complain about the HL’s reporting go and and make your own paper and your own website and take your moronic comments over there … so you can preach your crap to each other without bothering the rest of society.

    Your shtick is getting old and boring. You’ve got to be some bumbling old fat retired guy that has lost all his friends, else why do you spend so much time here?

  16. Buck Feshear says:

    friendsofgod, I think your question should be directed to Tommy Caudill, because he’s the one who appears to be here constantly. They should change the name of this site to tommycaudillsblog.com.

    If the H-L really wants to look into state travel records, I suggest they start with the Department of Education. That bunch travels out of state more often than Obama apologizes for America’s greatness.

  17. […] And Pence was critical of Farmer’s decision to go on a taxpayer funded trip to the Virgin Islands for a national conference this summer amid the recession. That trip and it’s price tag was reported this week by John Cheves in the Lexington Herald-Leader. […]

  18. […] Richie Farmer, aides took taxpayer-funded Caribbean outing … […]

  19. Best credit card to take on a Carribean cruise?…

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  20. […] aides to the Virgin Islands for an agriculture conference this year amid the tight economic times. The Herald-Leader’s John Cheves first reported about the taxpayer-funded trip in […]

  21. You’ve got to be some bumbling old fat retired guy that has lost all his friends, else why do you spend so much time here?

  22. They did it on the taxpayer’s dime not theirs. “Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer and three top aides took an eight-day trip to a Caribbean luxury resort that cost taxpayers more than $10,000, according to a review of state travel records.”

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