By Brittany Johnson
UK Rural Journalism class
LIBERTY, Ky. -- Concerns about the management
of tobacco-settlement money earmarked for agricultural diversification
have prompted a state investigation in Casey County.
The controversy has led to distrust among community
members overseeing the money and has highlighted loose state
controls other types of money from the 1998 settlement between
states and cigarette manufacturers.
Some in Casey County’s farming community
want to provide more oversight and accountability, and suggest
that until state policy provides firmer guidance, similar
situations could occur in other counties, if they have not
The chief protagonists in Casey County are
Marion Murphy, chairman of the local council that endorses
applications from local groups for state grants, and Jim Young,
who administers several grants for the Casey County Cattlemen’s
Murphy made nine allegations against Young
in a March letter to Keith Rogers, executive director of the
Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, which manages
the settlement money and says it is investigating the charges.
Among other charges, Murphy said Young had
refused to check for compliance by farmers who received grants
from the association; refused to seek refunds from farmers
whose contracts were voided; awarded cattle-related money
to people who had no cattle; and violated state policy by
awarding agricultural diversification money on a first-come,
Casey County farmer Larry Dalton said in an
interview that he got his diversification funding of $4,236
on a first-come, first-served basis. The cattlemen’s
association has received $130,180 in diversification funds
and awarded $94,059.
Young could not be reached by telephone despite
repeated attempts. A reporter left five messages requesting
that he respond to Murphy’s allegations.
In a Feb.28 letter sent to the council and
state officials, Young asked that anyone who “thinks
that any program has been administered improperly. . . to
please contact me and explain the reasons for thinking so.
Knowing the circumstances for a complaint, I may be able to
give a satisfying explanation that the Cattlemen’s Association
has acted properly in the administration of cost programs.
Any such explanation will be made in writing and for public
First-come, first-serve is allowed in most
of the model programs established by the state, including
those for cattle genetics and cattle-handling facilities,
which Young and the cattlemen’s association handled
before getting diversification funds.
But the state now encourages local program
administrators to use other criteria, and says first-come,
first-serve should not be used for agricultural diversification
When the cattlemen’s association applied
for agricultural-diversification money, President John Gossage
wrote, “A committee of three to five is anticipated”
to consider grant applications.
Gossage wrote, “James Young, one of the
12 directors of Casey County Cattlemen’s Association,
will select the members of the review committee and assist
the committee in accomplishing its purpose. Mr. Young will
also be the person having principal oversight of the program’s
Murphy said in a telephone interview, “It’s
not proper for one man to have all the control.”
It is unclear whether Young has established
a review committee. He and Gossage could not be reached for
comment despite repeated attempts.
The agricultural-diversification funding is
intended to help farmers who previously relied on tobacco
for their primary income. The grants are targeted to farmers
whose goals are to raise their farm’s income, and are
awarded on a reimbursement basis for qualifying items.
The program makes matching grants available
for aquaculture, horticulture, forestry, and production of
vegetables, herbs, fruit, sweet sorghum, small animals, horses,
dairy products and direct-to-consumer livestock.
Only the latter two involve cattle. So how
did the Casey County Cattlemen’s Association come to
be responsible for administering agricultural diversification
funds? Rogers, head of the state office, said, it is “not
unusual” for one person in a county to administer several
Rogers said he had not replied to Murphy’s
letter “because we are investigating the allegations
he made. He will receive a response as soon as we’re
State oversight in question
The state does not require program administrators
to check up on grant recipients to make sure they are using
money as it was intended, something Murphy said Young has
failed to do. However, Dalton, a diversification recipient,
said his operation has been checked on more than one occasion.
While the Governor’s Office of Agricultural
Policy allows first-come, first-serve funding in some programs,
it reconsidered the policy because of recommendations from
the county level, said Kara Keeton, spokeswoman for the office.
For the past two years, the office has required
annual reports on non-model programs. Model programs report
quarterly. Asked if the reports make local administrators
more careful about their spending, Rogers said, “I think
it is. It’s the first step.”
State officials say they are still catching
up with initial programs, and will keep a tighter rein on
new ones. They said their next step is wrapping up old programs
so it can be more involved in situations like the one that
has arisen in Casey County.
“As we get caught up with close outs,
we will do spot checks and start to audit on individuals and
programs like this,” Rogers said.
In February 2004, the office imposed a lifetime
limit of $15,000 that any one recipient can get from any one
model program except diversification, for which there is no
limit, and cattle genetics, which has a lower limit. The goal
was to ensure that the money is spread around and does not
only go to a few individuals.
Some members of the Casey County Agricultural Development
Council want to focus on the settlement money’s original
purpose, to help tobacco farmers recover from the declining
“ I just want to help as many tobacco
farmers as possible,” said council member Betty Lou
But some Casey County farmers who have never grown tobacco
are being funded, according to Murphy.
Money for cattle, goats, pastures
In addition to the diversification, cattle-genetics
and cattle-handling-facilities grants administered by the
Casey County Cattlemen’s Association, the county’s
share of settlement money have also gone to the Central Kentucky
Meat Goat Producers Association for goat diversification and
to the Casey County Soil Conservation District for forage
improvement and utilization.
The programs were approved by the state after
being given priority by the county agricultural development
After a debate at the council’s March
meeting, when Murphy objected to Young’s broad authority
to award money, the council agreed to meet only when it has
an application to prioritize.
”I don’t know why we even have
a board. It has no power, it seems,” said Murphy.
The council was reminded of its limited authority
after it sent a list of 26 questions to GOAP Project Analyst
Maggie May regarding several issues, including its oversight
“The county council is not responsible
for money that is awarded to farmers,” May wrote. “This
is the administrators’ responsibility.”
May said if the council has questions about
grant recipients’ compliance with regulations, it should
first review the regulations with the local program administrator.
Then, if questions arise, the GOAP can schedule a meeting
with the administrator to review files. The GOAP may, at any
time, request to view the administrator’s records when
there is evidence of conflicting reports.
The council is made up of six members, each
representing a particular agricultural group. Ernest Lynn,
of Liberty and Terry Mullins of Yosemite represent the county
extension council. Murphy and Weddle, both of Liberty, are
representatives of the county Farm Service Agency committee.
Brent Ware of Waynesburg and Roger Weddle of Liberty represent
the soil conservation district.
Once this six-person council was formed, these
members chose two young farmers, under the age of 40, to represent
a new generation of `agriculture. Cheston Wilson and Greg
Goode, both of Liberty, were chosen to sit on the board.
Here’s a look at each grant recipient
in Casey County and the funds each has received through February
2005, other than for diversification:
Goats: The Central Kentucky
Meat Goat Producers Association has received five grants totaling
$183,149. The program is administered by Ed Lanham and Joyce
Cardenas of Lebanon, in adjoining Marion County, who could
not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
All told, the association has received $564,306,
in funds that were allocated to Casey, Nelson, Washington,
Marion, Taylor, Green and Adair counties. Casey County funds
account for almost a third of the total and are the largest
Forage: The Casey County Soil
Conservation District has received $415,500 for the forage
and utilization program. Pat Williams of the local office
of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which
serves as the district’s staff, is the program administrator.
The forage and utilization program is to improve fertilization
and seeding of pastures and feedlots.
The forage program funding has a limit of $5,000
per person per grant and requires a lengthy application process
as well as a soil sample. The program currently has a long
waiting list for funding, said Valerie Floyd, secretary for
the Casey County office of the NRCS.
Cattle: The Casey County Cattlemen’s
Association has received $233,000 for improvement of cattle
genetics, and has awarded $189,406 to producers. It has received
$577,249 for cattle-handling facilities and has awarded $441,334.
For a Casey County News report on the same
issue, click here.