By Michael Broihier
County Clerk Sonny Spoonamore seemed relieved Friday when Agricultural Commissioner James Comer came to town to promote farm tag donation program that Spoonamore said had confounded his fellow clerks around the state.
When Comer ran for office, he campaigned on a platform of transparency in the the Department of Agriculture and immediately after taking office requested that State Auditor Adam Edelen investigate misspending in the department in general and Comer’s fellow Republican and former-Agricultural Commissioner Richie Farmer’s spending practices in particular.
Edelen has an ongoing and wide-ranging investigation of Farmer looking into how money was spent in his office and the hiring of Farmer’s girlfriend to a $5,000 a month non-merit position in Frankfort days before the election last November.
One of the highlights of Edelin’s investigation is Farmer’s spending $1,600 on a hotel room and food during last year’s Sweet Sixteen tournament. Farmer has contended in press reports that the money was spent to promote the Kentucky Proud program, which is part of the Agricultural Program Trust Fund that Comer was in town promoting last week.
When renewing farm tags, Lincoln motorists have an opportunity to donate $10 to the trust and the lack of transparency in the program was a frequent complaint of county clerks.
“Folks would come in with a check made out already to renew their plates and I’d end up giving them a $10 refund because I couldn’t tell them where the money went,” Spoonamore said. “Nobody could.”
But Comer was adamant that under his administration, money donated in Lincoln County would directly benefit children and farmers in Lincoln County.
“For every $10 donated, $2.33 will go to the local Future Farmers of America(FFA), $2.33 will go directly to local 4-H programs and $2.33 will go to Kentucky Proud,” Comer told a group of FFA students at the clerks office. “Under this administration, every penny that people donate in Lincoln County comes back to Lincoln County.”
Comer said that the portion of donation earmarked for Kentucky Proud will be used only for promoting Kentucky agricultural products and none of it will be used for hiring staff or paying for program overhead.
Comer said that the timing of this program reform is particularly important to Kentucky Proud. “In the past, Kentucky Proud was funded by the tobacco settlement, which will soon run out and be looking for more funds,” he said.
Spoonamore said that sales of the farm tags have been good, and this year has been better than last year, but he thinks that getting the word out about the program’s local benefit will help sales.
No 4-H participants could make it to Comer’s meeting, but he told the FFA students present that he owed a lot to the youth programs. “I wouldn’t be standing here except for the leadership skills I developed in 4-H and FFA,” Comer said.
Spoonamore relieved farm plate program is on track
¿I couldn¿t tell people where the money went.¿
County Clerk Sonny Spoonamore and FFA members display tags that could send money directly to the county¿s youth agricultural programs. (Photo by Michael Broihier)