Why is Richmond investigating an unidentified city employee? Officials won’t say

Richmond city officials have launched an internal investigation into an unidentified city employee for undisclosed reasons.

At a March 7 meeting, the five-person city commission unanimously voted for Richmond Mayor Robert Blythe to sign a contract to “investigate (an) internal personnel matter,” according to meeting minutes obtained by the Herald-Leader through a Kentucky Open Records Act request.

The matter surfaced after a city employee sent a confidential document expressing concerns about another city employee to commission members.

The commission includes Blythe and commissioners Mendi Goble, Jim Newby, Tammy Cole and Mike Brewer. City officials have not disclosed publicly what triggered the probe.

In a separate April 1 open records request for the documentation, city attorney Tyler Frazier acknowledged the document does exist, but it is not in possession of the official records custodian, Lisa Cassity. He denied the Herald-Leader’s request.

“Were the Official Records Custodian in possession of said document, it would be exempt from open records disclosure as it constitutes correspondence with private individuals which was 1) made with the expectation of confidentiality and 2) which expresses concerns rather than advocating for particular action,”

Numerous phone calls to Blythe and City Manager Rob Minerich were not returned.

Frazier told the Herald-Leader the city has no comment.

Richmond City Hall located on Main Street in Richmond, KY.
Richmond City Hall located on Main Street in Richmond, KY.

Pewee Valley law firm Vaughn Petitt Legal Group, PLLC was hired and Carol Petitt is the head counsel leading the investigation. Calls to the law firm went unreturned.

City documents show the law firm is charging $275 an hour for its work.

Petitt said in the agreement her firm will offer reduced rates to the city “as is (her) practice for all governmental entities.”

J.D. Chaney, the executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities confirmed the entity is not involved in the investigation but does provide insurance coverage for the city of Richmond.

“KLC provides insurance coverage and other benefits to the City of Richmond and numerous other cities throughout Kentucky, including access to outside legal counsel to provide advice and guidance to the city,” Chaney said in an emailed statement to the Herald-Leader.

He did not elaborate how much insurance would cover related to this investigation.

According to her website, Petitt has represented local governments, individuals, businesses, employees and employers in administrative and traditional judicial forums involving allegations of sexual harassment, age, gender and/or race discrimination.

She has practiced for 20 years.

What could it cost the city?

Louisville-based attorney C. Dean Furman, Jr., who works commonly on whistle-blower and fraud cases, said the hourly rate was considered low compared to other attorneys’ costs and fees.

Some attorneys for these cases can charge an hourly rate ranging from$500 and $1,500, according to Furman.

He told the Herald-Leader the overall price tag can depend on several factors including whether a deposition is taken under oath, informally, and by higher or lower-ranking attorneys investigating the claims.

Partners with the firm have a higher hourly payment rate compared to a paralegal. To continue his example, if a paralegal conducts an informal interview, this would be significantly cheaper than if a partner was to administer a deposition.

Bigger picture, Furman explained the internal investigation was a proactive step for the city. If the conclusion is that nothing is done to address the claims, employees could file a lawsuit against the city and cite officials were aware of the problem and did nothing — which would be an even greater price to pay.