Gov. John N. Dalton today reacted to allegations of kickbacks involving the state's central purchasing department by creating a special management team "to ride herd" on the troubled agency.
Dalton stopped short of reassigning the agency's head. Phillip Brooks, despite an earlier prediction by a senior state official that Brooks would be transferred pending the outcome of a grand jury probe of the allegations.
Dalton said at a news conference he had considered removing Brooks and four of his top aides temporarily, but finally decided against it.
"...I am reluctant to further crucify veteran state employees in the eyes of the public when I have no evidence that they have done anything illegal or immoral," he said.
Despite newspaper reports of the allegations, Dalton as recently as last week said he planned to make no major changes in the agency until the grand jury finished its investigation.
His decision accounced today was precipitated by a story in the Norfolk Ledger-Stan on Wednesday. The article quoted former state pritning manager James A. Padgett as acknowledging that he took more than $30,000 in kickbacks from a printing firm between 1973 and 1975.
The same story reported an allegation from an unnamed source that Padgett's successor, William Baugh, also received $2,000 in kickbacks. Baugh denied any wrongdoing through his attorney. Padgett refused to comment on the story.
Dalton said in answer to a question that he is troubled by the failure of the state police to turn up evidence of criminal violations despite a long investigation.
"It concerns me very much that we have had an ongoing investigation of this matter for the last two or three years, that we have not been able to turn up evidence that the prosecuting attorney felt was sufficient in order to prosecute," he said.
Dalton said he has had several discussions in recent months with Secretary of Public Safety H. Selwyn Smith about hiring more state police investigators with special skills such as a knowledge of accounting. Critics of the police, including senior legislators, contend that the state investigative unit is weak because it has been staffed primarily by officers experienced only in traffic law enforcement.
Dalton said 13 fulltime state investigators are now assigned to the purchasing probe. Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Aubrey Davis said the special grand jury that he advises may need several more months to finish its investigation, already three months old.
Dalton said the management team he is sending into the purchasing agency will review all important decisions and report to him and Charles Walker, secretary of administration and finance, any changes they feel should be made.
"Its members will have authority to recommend removal of any employe where there is convincing evidence of gross mismanagement or violations of the Personnel Act which constitute grounds for dismissal," he said.
He named assistant attorney general Robert P. Kyle, who now is the legal adviser to the agency, to head the management team.