By John Cheves – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — The Legislative Ethics Commission held a closed-door hearing Tuesday to review a complaint about state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, and more than $171,000 one of his companies collected through utility contracts that avoided competitive bidding and public discussion.
The commission heard testimony from several witnesses, including an auditor for state Auditor Crit Luallen, who issued a report about Hall’s contracts in January and referred it to the ethics commission.
“Today they requested testimony from one of our auditors who worked on that report,” said Luallen, who did not attend the hearing. “It certainly is gratifying to see the process moving forward.”
George Troutman, the commission’s chairman, declined to discuss the day’s proceedings or publicly identify the subject of the complaint. The panel plans to meet again Aug. 16 to resume its work on the case, Troutman said.
Hall was not present and did not return a call for comment. Brent Caldwell, a criminal defense attorney who participated in the hearing and questioned witnesses, later refused to say if he represents Hall.
In January, Luallen issued an audit critical of Mountain Water District, a public water and sewer utility in Pike County, including electrical work the district awarded to B.M.M. Inc., one of Hall’s companies.
Luallen found that B.M.M. deliberately kept its invoices for the electrical work to less than $20,000, which was the district’s “small purchase authority limit.” Anything less than $20,000 did not have to be bid competitively or reported publicly to the district board.
“Some of these invoices were splitting up work done on the same day just to keep the final price under $20,000,” Luallen said in a January interview.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee from Pike County, Hall has helped the water district get many millions of dollars in public funds for its projects. Also, Hall’s son has worked for the private management company that runs the water district.
Aside from the electrical work that Luallen questioned, B.M.M. has won several million dollars in sewage line construction projects from the district. Change orders drove up the final cost of Hall’s sewage projects by an average of 58 percent by 2009, when the Herald-Leader first reported on them. But the sewage projects, unlike the electrical work, were bid competitively, the auditor said.
Hall told auditors last year that his electrical work was arranged with the water district’s then-superintendent, Will Brown. Brown refused to speak to auditors, citing litigation that he was involved in after leaving his job.
Hall was elected to the state House in 2000. Hall resigned the previous year from the Pike County school board while the state Education Department investigated him for allegedly trying to influence school district hiring. The former schools superintendent and others had filed complaints against him.
The Legislative Ethics Commission — which is appointed by the House speaker and Senate president — may issue public reprimands, levy fines up to $2,000 or recommend that a lawmaker be censured or expelled. However, it has dismissed nearly all complaints filed against lawmakers in the past decade.