FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- In the closing days of the 2011 gubernatorial campaign, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer hired his girlfriend as a special assistant in his department, paying her $5,000 a month, according to the state Personnel Cabinet.

Farmer, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor earlier this month, hired Stephanie L. Sandmann as a non-merit employee in the Department of Agriculture with a start date of Oct. 31.

Farmer's running mate, State Senate President David Williams, says Sandmann is Farmer's girlfriend, but he had no idea she joined the state payroll eight days before the Nov. 8 election.

"She told me she worked for a gynecologist," said Williams, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor.

Department spokesman Bill Clary said Farmer, who is going through a divorce, declined to be interviewed. Sandmann didn't return a call to the paper Thursday afternoon.

According to her state personnel file, the 38-year-old Sandmann didn't apply for a specific job but said she was willing to work only in Frankfort.

Non-merit employees aren't required to pass civil-service tests and can be hired or fired at the discretion of elected officials and their top aides.

Asked if Sandmann remained on the state payroll, Clary told the Associated Press on Friday, "She was as of yesterday, but beyond that I don't have anything else to say."

He declined to comment when asked about her duties at the department.  State Rep. Jamie Comer of Tompkinsville was elected agriculture commissioner last week and will take over in January for Farmer, who couldn't seek a third term because of constitutional limits on the office.

Comer wouldn't address Sandmann's situation directly, saying only that he will handle hiring differently once he takes office in January.

"But I can assure you that changes will be made, and hiring of qualified personnel will be my No. 1 priority."

Clary said he didn't know what Sandmann's duties are in the department and had never met her. Later, Clary confirmed Sandmann's employment and said he had never met her.

"I don't work in the same building. . You have exhausted my knowledge of this subject," Clary said.  Farmer's estranged wife, Rebecca Ann, filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court on April 5 to dissolve the couple's 13-year marriage.

The case is scheduled for trial Tuesday.  Sandmann is also going through a divorce. An order finalizing her split from Stephen Sandmann was filed Oct. 19 in Jefferson County, but is being challenged.

According to records in Jefferson Circuit Court, she filed for divorce against her husband, Stephen Sandmann, in August. An order finalizing that divorce was entered Oct. 19 but is being challenged.

In the waning days of the campaign, Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball player first elected to office in 2003, and Sandmann were often seen on the campaign trail together, including election night at the Republican Party celebration in Lexington.

When asked if Sandmann was on the clock while attending campaign events around the state, Clary said: "I don't have anything to say on this subject."

Sandmann's application for the Agriculture Department position said her last job was as a receptionist at a Louisville doctor's office that provides gynecologic and obstetric care.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)