5:11pm

Wed January 11, 2012
All Politics are Local

Agriculture Commissioner Announces Audit

In his sixth day on the job, Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stood Wednesday alongside new state auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat, to announce that a broad review of the Department of Agriculture is underway. Comer was elected to the post in November, taking over for fellow Republican Richie Farmer. Comer says he's read too many negative reports in the press and heard from department employees about low morale.

"There were stories about different questionable purchases that the department had made over the past few years and questions about the work ethic of an employee or two."

Without going into detail about what specifically investigators are looking for, Edelen said they will be talking to current and former employees.

"Commissioner Farmer ought to welcome this audit. If he did nothing wrong, he has nothing to worry about because I'm not interested in pursuing anything other than the facts."

Farmer served two terms as agriculture commissioner. He has been criticized in recent months for hiring girlfriend to a high-paying job in the department and making questionable purchases.

"There's clearly a cloud of suspicion that hangs over this office," said Edelen. "It is my job as state auditor to either dispel that cloud of suspicion or to hold the people who created it accountability."

The agriculture department allotted up to $15,000 for the audit. Comer says he has already dismissed about 15 staffers from the previous administration, including Farmer's girlfriend.