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Prather promises review of transportation cabinet, but asks for patience first


Even Joe Prather acknowledged his return to state government was a surprise, as the former longtime state legislator was selected by Gov.-elect Steve Beshear on Friday to become his transportation secretary.

Prather, 67, whose tenure in the General Assembly spanned all or parts of three decades, promised a transparent approach to leading the Transportation Cabinet.

He said he welcomed the public and media to “put whatever eye you care to put on the Transportation Cabinet during my time there.”

Prather promised a top-to-bottom review of the cabinet but asked for patience to give him time to “get my arms around what’s going on.”

The cabinet has 4,894 employees and in 2006 awarded construction contracts totaling $1 billion, including federal and state money, a cabinet spokesman said.

Prather said he never expected to stand before a group of reporters again in Frankfort and said he was surprised when Beshear approached him with a job offer.

“I had already moved off into the sunset, so to speak, in the business world and semiretirement,” Prather said at a news conference.

Beshear said the Transportation Cabinet has had “its share of difficulties” in the past. The governor-elect touted Prather’s experience in and out of government and his “high moral and ethical standards” as attributes he’ll bring to the job.

“That cabinet needs to be run in an open and ethical manner, and we’ve started where we should at the top,” Beshear said.

Problems at the cabinet have beset the current and past administrations.

During Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s term, Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert was indicted on charges he sought reprisals against an employee who testified to a grand jury about personnel matters. A judge later dismissed the indictment, ruling it was covered by a blanket pardon issued by Fletcher.

Also, a former state highway engineer claimed state officials had used a $42 million transportation fund as a “large campaign chest” used to hand out favors to supporters and lawmakers who voted in line with Fletcher’s administration.

During former Gov. Paul Patton’s tenure, some Transportation Cabinet computers were used to access pornographic Web pages. Also during Patton’s tenure, two companies claimed that state bridge inspectors demanded bribes.

Prather promised to focus on efficiency, saying the cabinet under his leadership will “get a dollar’s value for a dollar paid” for salaries and contracts. He also promised a fair process for contractors wanting to do business with the state.

“All who want to do business with the state, if what they’re asking for is a level playing field, then I’m their man,” said Prather, of Elizabethtown. “If they’ve come to us and want just what they want, then we have problems.”

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