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Kentucky editorial roundup

September 26, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Sept. 22

The Daily Independent of Ashland on Kentucky bourbon:

There is a very intriguing story from the Associated Press this month about the revitalization of an old distillery in Millville, Kentucky.

The nuts and bolts of the story are this: the distillery was operational in a unique castle nearly 100 years ago, but in the last 50 years the operation fell into neglect. Investors Will Arvin and Wes Murry have since spent millions in the last four years to restore the compound into Re& Key Distillery and it opened for business.

Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory is among those predicting tourism success for Castle & Key, according to the AP. The central Kentucky distillery between Frankfort and Versailles sits a few miles from the Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace distilleries.

“It will be one of the most visited bourbon tourism sites in Kentucky — quickly,” Gregory said.

One reason we are writing about this is obviously because it is such a cool story. An old castle, a distillery, new life. It has all the threads of an intriguing read. Since the story moved it has been picked up across the nation, appearing in publications like The Chicago Tribune. This speaks to the allure of Kentucky bourbon stories.

But there is also a lot here to soak in when it comes to the bigger picture as well. Namely, that the prospects for growing the bourbon and liquor industry in Kentucky holds unlimited potential, and we believe Eastern Kentucky can be an important part of this. The fact is Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon. When you say the word bourbon, one word is always associated with it — Kentucky.

This isn’t all about alcohol. It is, instead, about culture, history, craftsmanship, allure, and intrigue surrounding an industry with remarkable job growth potential. The latest estimate we saw from the Kentucky Distillers Association indicates it is an $8.5 billion industry that generates 17,500 jobs. Remarkable.

Just recently, in April, we told you about the Independent Stave company building a new $66.4 million cooperage in Morehead. The project is expected to create 220 jobs.

Our region needs to get strategic about this. The area needs jobs — lots of them. A long-term economic strategy to capitalize on the perpetual growth in this industry is required. The growth of the craft brewing industry should also be a part of the strategy.

We have a choice — we can pursue expansion of these industries in Eastern Kentucky, or not. If we choose the latter we will be ignoring economic growth at our own peril.

Online: http://www.dailyindependent.com/

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Sept. 26

The Lexington Herald-Leader on a new round of redetermination hearings for thousands of former clients of a now-imprisoned lawyer who masterminded one of the largest Social Security frauds in history:

The Social Security Administration was slow to halt corruption within its own ranks, but has been eager to penalize Kentuckians who were victimized by their crooked, now-imprisoned lawyer, Eric Conn, and the Social Security judge who pocketed Conn’s bribes.

A new round of redetermination hearings has begun for almost 2,000 former Conn clients. The SSA should delay the hearings until the outcome of two things are known:

- The discovery earlier this year of thousands of records at Conn’s office that might help clients prove they were disabled when they were approved for benefits — if only they could gain access to their files.

- An appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that could entitle almost 800 people to a reconsideration of their benefits terminations. That ruling could guide how the SSA handles Conn clients’ cases in the future.

The Kentucky Bar Association, whose actions during the Conn saga are almost as puzzling as those of the SSA, continues to disappoint. First the KBA was slow to discipline Conn and protect the public from his unethical conduct. More recently, the KBA refused to help get the files from his closed law office into clients’ hands.

The KBA has a procedure for distributing records to clients after an attorney dies or is disbarred. The U.S. Justice Department asked the KBA to activate that process and take control of the 6,000 to 8,000 files at Conn’s office in Floyd County.

The KBA refused.

Then, because of what the Justice Department described as the KBA’s “complete abdication of responsibility,” a federal prosecutor asked U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves to appoint a receiver to take charge of the records. The Justice Department recommended former state Supreme Court justice Janet Stumbo for the task.

But because Stumbo is married to attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who has been the leading advocate for Conn’s clients, Reeves instead ordered the government to submit the names of at least three potential receivers. Reeves scheduled an Oct. 10 hearing.

At this rate, hundreds of people could lose their benefits before they have a chance to see their files.

The existence of the records came to light in April when someone sent Pillersdorf a video of what appeared to be thousands of files.

Conn famously burned paper records and computers when he felt the law on his trail. That led clients to assume their files had been destroyed. While Conn had no need to submit medical evidence — after all, he had paid off the judge — clients did undergo medical exams and not always by doctors who later were deemed to have been in cahoots with Conn. To keep their benefits and potentially avoid having to repay the government hundreds of thousands of dollars, clients must prove they were disabled when they first were awarded benefits. Information in the files might help them do that.

Some of Conn’s clients no doubt knew that they were defrauding Social Security because they were not disabled. The great majority, though, just hired the lawyer who had plastered billboards and other advertising all over their hometowns. No Social Security beneficiary has been charged with fraud in the Conn case.

The SSA insists it has no choice but to hold redetermination hearings, even though there would be no objections — only applause — if SSA treated the Conn clients fairly by giving them more time.

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/

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Sept. 20

The News-Enterprise on a Kentucky legislator’s criticism of approving contracts with a retroactive starting date:

Accountability in government, particularly government spending, is essential.

One area legislator used his position as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s government contract review committee to provide some constructive criticism and spell out his expectations when it comes to approving contracts with a retroactive starting date.

State Sen. Steve Meredith said emergencies are understandable, such as contracts related to the fire at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. But in explaining his position about the lax processes being used, he was quite clear.

“Unless it’s a very, very extreme circumstance, I just don’t like to deal with retroactive contracts,” the retired hospital administrator said. “I don’t think it’s respectful to the staff, I don’t think it’s respectful to this committee and I don’t think it’s respectful to the process.”

At its most recent meeting, the committee looked at 330 contract items worth more than $79 million. That’s some real money and the legislators required an explanation for every contract that was retroactive.

The dollar amount is not the issue here. Some of the contracts in question are minor, but the principle involved is not.

“It’s the process that concerns me, because we don’t know the real intent behind not bringing the contract to us on a timely basis,” Meredith said. “Ninety-nine percent of the reasons are quite valid, but that small percentage that may not be, if that falls through the cracks then we haven’t done our job.”

Meredith’s stance appears to have been offered out of sincere concern, not political posturing. Meredith, a Republican from Leitchfield, is part of the majority in control in Frankfort, but he didn’t blink in calling out this bureaucratic casualness.

He deserves to be commended for his work on behalf of taxpayers and for taking his contract review duties seriously.

Online: http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/

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