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Fired official had valid concerns

It is a shame that the highest-ranking official in charge of issuing mine permits in Kentucky was fired several years ago, but at the end of the day we believe he did the right thing by not turning a blind eye to what he believed was an illegal state policy.

Ron Mills claimed he was fired three years ago for blocking illegal permits sought by coal company Alliance Resources.

Mills filed suit, claiming he was fired because he didn’t agree with a cabinet policy to grant mining permits to coal companies before they obtained rights to enter a mine property from 100 percent of property owners. The policy that Mills objected to was instituted in 2007. It allows an underground mine permit to be granted to a coal company if the company showed it had obtained the legal right to enter at least two-thirds of the area to be permitted.

Cabinet officials say the policy, which is still in effect, is legal and said Mills was fired because he had not met “performance expectations.”

Mills contends that state law requires companies to obtain entry rights from all property owners before a permit can be issued.

Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the record “totally supported” Mills’ claims.

Although the state denies any wrongdoing or any violation in regard to Mills, a five-page settlement by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet says the state agreed to pay Mills $270,000 in exchange for him dropping a lawsuit he brought in Franklin Circuit Court claiming he was fired for blowing the whistle on what he said was an illegal state policy.

The settlement also includes a confidentiality provision prohibiting the parties from discussing settlement negotiations.

One has to wonder if the state believes that its permit policy is legal, then why settle with Mills?

Wouldn’t the state want to prove that the policy in question was legal and that Mills was wrong in regard to denying the permit?

This seems to be a fair question, particularly in light of the settlement amount.

Did the state have something to hide by settling?

Maybe, but because the case didn’t go to trial, we will never know for sure.

We believe that Mills had some valid concerns and believe he acted in an ethical manner when he put his job on the line by refusing to issue what he considered an illegal permit.

— The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.

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