“Every single campaign contribution’s public, so the entire public and all of the press has access to see exactly who gave and who didn’t, but no contribution to a campaign ever resulted in any employment anywhere in state government,” Beshear said. “I think you can see that the people who did the most certainly aren’t there.”
Beshear’s comments came in response to a lengthy Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting piece published Monday morning, which revealed Muncie McNamara, a friend of Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman, was hired at a salary $15,000 higher than his predecessor to run the state’s unemployment office, only to be fired in early May amid a mounting number of issues, including a data breach and a struggle to keep up with the massive spike in unemployment claims. McNamara had donated a total of $4,000 to Beshear’s campaign during his primary and general election runs, KyCIR reported.
Beshear didn’t dispute details but distanced himself from the situation as he spoke to reporters Monday, hours after the story was published, saying that hire was made within the cabinet (KyCIR reported Coleman had personally called to offer the position to McNamara). He noted McNamara’s time as an attorney before taking the position was “pretty good training for different areas in state government.”
“Now it didn’t work out, and it got very, very messy in the end. I think it got very emotional in the end,” he continued. “Aside from that, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of any of the rest of it. … I think everybody wishes the situation either hadn’t happened or turned out how it is, but you know, there are lots of hirings in private and in the public sector that don’t go well, or they could have been good hirings and things happen in the mix.”
Operations at Kentucky’s Office of Unemployment Insurance have faced heated criticism in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 24,312 new claims were filed in the week ending July 11, a 4% drop from a week earlier and a dip from the peak of 117,575 in early April. Still, the state has struggled to keep up with the avalanche of claims as restaurants and businesses closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Kentucky’s unemployment website and phone line were outdated and unprepared for the pandemic’s unprecedented circumstances, several who have filed have said, and appointments for in-person help with unemployment claims are booked for months after a June event in Frankfort attracted thousands, with many being turned away.
Corbin attorney Stefanie Ebbens Kingsley replaced McNamara as interim head of the Office of Unemployment Insurance.