As expected, Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon announced on Tuesday that his office will conduct an audit of the Kentucky Horse Park which will examine financial activities and operations such as equine and campground rental for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.
No timetable was set for releasing the audit’s results, which will identify weaknesses and make recommendations to address any found.
“The primary focus of this examination will be to evaluate certain financial activities and other operations of the park to determine whether proper policies, procedures, legal and contractual requirements, and appropriate accounting standards were followed,” Harmon wrote in the letter. “These procedures will include, but not be limited to: procurement policies and procedures, equine and campground rental operations, and other operational activities.”
The audit will review policies, procedures and meeting minutes of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, financial documents, and previous audits.
“Ultimately, we will follow the data, and the full scope and extent of procedures will be dependent upon where the data leads,” Harmon wrote.
Kentucky Horse Park director Jamie Link previously said that the park would pay for an audit but it’s unclear how much it will cost. After a preliminary examination, Harmon’s office will release an estimate.
The Horse Park, which is part of the state park’s system, became a political bone of contention in the 2016 session of the General Assembly. Gov. Matt Bevin removed former commission chair Alston Kerr from a seat on the panel although Attorney General Andy Beshear released an opinion that the governor did not have the authority to do so.
The audit was requested by state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown; Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet William Landrum; and Secretary of Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Don Parkinson.
“I appreciate Auditor Harmon’s timely response as well as his decision to move forward with an examination of the operations and financial activities of the Kentucky Horse Park. I also appreciate Secretary Landrum and Secretary Parkinson for joining me in the call for this examination,” said Thayer, Senate Majority Floor Leader, in a statement. “The Kentucky Horse Park is a valuable asset that belongs to the people of Kentucky and is also an important icon for Kentucky’s equine and tourism industries. I look forward to the results of Auditor Harmon’s examination.”
Thayer, whose district covers about 200 acres of the 1,224-acre park in northern Fayette County, filed legislation to reduce the Horse Park Commission in size. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate but died in the Democrat-controlled House.
Thayer criticized the appointment of former first lady Jane Beshear to an unpaid position on the commission on the final day of Gov. Steve Beshear’s term. He also accused Link of mismanagement of the park. Thayer said in February that he had received complaints about the park’s campground reservation system.
Link said at the February hearing that the reservation system was implemented under a 10-year contract signed by the administration of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher and that he hopes it will be replaced when it expires in 2017.
Link released financial information at a Horse Park Commission meeting in March showing that revenue was up 15 percent in 2015, with gift shop profits up 227 percent. Link said that going into the most profitable months, the park had $538,000 on hand.
At the March commission meeting, Parkinson said the park’s finances were “making good progress.”
Landrum reduced the park’s small-purchase authority from $20,000 to $1,000 in February, saying that he had discovered $500,000 in purchases over 11 months from food vendor Sysco without a state contract.
The spending issue appeared to be one of miscoding, rather than misconduct, Parkinson said. Neither he nor new commission chair Tandy Patrick would comment on whether personnel changes are planned.
Parkinson said the issue would be resolved before the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, held last weekend at the park. The Rolex Kentucky is the park’s annual high-profile equestrian competition, drawing horses and riders from around the world and tens of thousands of spectators.
The event is put on by Equestrian Events Inc. Thayer was turned down for a paid position as executive director of EEI. Thayer has denied that being rebuffed for a job played a role in his criticism of park management.