State veterinarian resigns over whistleblower's letter

Sunday , June 22, 2014 - 2:03 PM

Standard-Examiner staff

SALT LAKE CITY -- The state’s chief veterinarian, overseer of meat packing, slaughter and livestock inspections statewide, has resigned under a cloud after a whistle blower’s letter alerted auditors.

Bruce L. King was accused by one of his longtime former employees of padding his pockets with work on the side and other questionable practices while he headed the state agency. Wyatt Frampton wrote a letter to the Governor’s Office in late March detailing his allegations, which prompted a two-month investigation by state auditors.

At the end of the probe, King resigned, ending 15 years with the Department of Agricultural and Food. The probe was moved to the state Department of Natural Resources, officials said, to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest.

Frampton says King was making at least $2,000 a month or more with a lucrative contract he landed for four years providing veterinary services to the thousands of horses passing through the wild horse ranch at the state prison in Gunnison.

King at the time had an annual salary of $96,000, according to the state personnel office. King lives in Axtell, Sanpete County, just a few miles from Gunnison.

King in state Agriculture Department videos:

The practice of the state veterinarian hiring himself out for private vet work is now outlawed, as of May 13.

The state veterinarian position is named specifically in the bill run by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland. House Bill 309, titled simply “State Veterinarian Amendments,” consists of some 10 lines, chiefly defining the state vet’s duties, and that he’s appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture.

But the last sentence reads: “The state veterinarian may not engage in the private practice of veterinary medicine.”

Effective May 13, HB 309 was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert March 25, the same date as Frampton’s letter.

Menlove said she was approached to sponsor the bill by constituents she wouldn’t name who were concerned about the state vet’s office competing for private contracts against businesses the state regulates.

“They’re not supposed to be competing with people they oversee,” she said.

Because of federal and state privacy laws, Menlove, echoing other state officials knowledgeable about the case, said she can’t discuss King specifically.

“We looked at the position in our discussions, not individuals,” she said.

King, said Frampton in detailing some of his other allegations, has essentially had a free car and free gas his entire career at UDAF, provided a state car when he was initially hired as a field inspector in Sanpete County in 1998.

But King refused to move to Salt Lake City when he was appointed to assistant state vet in 2006, and again when he was named state vet in 2011, Frampton said. King opted to commute, keeping the state car and the state credit card for fuel, he said, which he outlined in his March 25 letter to the Governor’s Office.

UDAF officials and the Governor’s Office have been similarly careful in their comment on King, saying state and federal privacy laws ban discussion in detail on personnel matters.

“I just can’t comment on personnel issues,“ said Warren Hess, now acting state veterinarian replacing King, who resigned effective June 1. “I’m not privy to the issues of his departure.”

Asked for any detail on King’s official demise, Commissioner of Agriculture LuAnn Adams, a former Box Elder County commissioner appointed to head the UDAF in December, released the following statement Wednesday in response:

”One of my first tasks as the new commissioner was to evaluate key management positions and programs within the department. Since that time, I have observed an excellent work ethic by many within the department that is rooted in the traditions of rural Utah.

“With that said, some changes have been necessary to help improve agency performance. My office is committed to work for the betterment of Utah agriculture. We will continue to find ways to improve and move forward in promoting the mission of the department.”

Larry Lewis, Adams’ spokesman, said he could only add, “Because of the nature of this issue being a personnel matter, we’re prevented from getting into the specifics.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office would only say Frampton’s letter was processed by the constituent services office, and forwarded to the agriculture department, where it was “handled appropriately” by transfer to natural resources.

The Standard-Examiner has formally requested a copy of the report from the investigation through the Government Records Access and Management Act.

Repeated calls to King at his home in Axtell for comment were not immediately returned.

Frampton was one of three field veterinarians in the Salt Lake UDAF office supervised by King and Hess. King also supervised the animal industry department’s 24 meat inspectors and 40 livestock inspectors.

Frampton freely acknowledges he was fired by Hess, not King, in September over disagreements in Hess’ supervisory practices. “I basically told him off,” said Frampton, now a veterinary instructor at the Broadview University Layton campus.

Frampton also accuses King of entering into a horse-breeding business in 2006 with a Draper man who owned a facility over which King had inspection responsibilities. He was forced to end the partnership by the department, but was shortly thereafter appointed assistant state veterinarian, Frampton said.

As with the other allegations, including Frampton’s claim King once hired a son-in-law as a meat inspector, officials declined comment.

“The problem is most of the people in state government need a job on the side because they’re not paid well,” Frampton said. Jobs are taken at night and on weekends so as not to overlap with state time, he said, such as night teaching jobs Frampton said he’s held his last seven years at UDAF.

“But most understand about conflict of interest,” Frampton said.

“Enough people are frustrated that this has been going on, but it has just simmered. Commissioner Adams has come in and tried to change the mentality.”

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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