Bevin scraps Kentucky Horse Park Commission in advance of special meeting

Horse lovers of all ages gathered at the Kentucky Horse Park to celebrate Hat's Off Day and learn about all about horses on Saturday, July 25, 2015.
Horse lovers of all ages gathered at the Kentucky Horse Park to celebrate Hat's Off Day and learn about all about horses on Saturday, July 25, 2015. Herald-Leader

Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday scrapped the existing Kentucky Horse Park Commission, including former first lady Jane Beshear, and appointed a new commission, including the chairwoman and two members he appointed in March.

The commission, which has sole authority to hire the executive director to run the park, will meet Thursday in a special meeting to vote on personnel issues. The contract for Executive Director Jamie Link expires June 30.

Beshear, who remains an officer of the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, said Tuesday that she was disappointed but “not surprised. The comments made in December, when Steve appointed me were kind of a precursor for what has happened.”

Gov. Beshear was criticized for appointing his wife to an unpaid position on the commission just before he left office.

Bevin’s office said, in a news release, that the reorganized commission “brings in the appropriate combination of members with institutional knowledge and members with new ideas.”

But Jane Beshear said the change comes at a terrible time.

“We’re just at the height of our season. Granted, a lot of those people don’t understand the politics, but the disruption and the uneasiness does not provide for a very good climate for this season.”

Beshear said she thinks Bevin can legally dissolve the commission and reorganize although “no governor in 30 years has ever done so.”

Tandy Patrick, appointed by Bevin in March, was reappointed chairwoman of the commission; Matt Dedden of Burlington, who is appointed vice chairman, and Rebecca Jordan of Georgetown also were Bevin re-appointees. Only two members from Gov. Steve Beshear’s commission will remain: Nancy Cox, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and P.G. Peeples Sr., president and CEO of the Lexington Urban League.

New Bevin appointees are:

▪  Larry Bisig of Louisville, CEO of Bisig Impact Group and a founding member of the Greater Louisville Sports Commission and Louisville Arena Authority;

▪  Bennie Sargent of Georgetown, a former American Quarter Horse Association horseman of the year;

▪  Lisa Ball of Lexington, sales and marketing executive of Ball Homes and former chair of Equestrian Events Inc., which puts on the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the horse park;

▪  Bill Ferko of Prospect, interim chief financial officer of CRS Processing Services and owner of Turning Leaf Farm, a dressage and eventing training facility;

▪  Paul Feemster of Smithfield, retired vice president and general manager of US Fidelity and Guarantee and owner of Inverness Farm, sport horse breeders;

▪  And Richard “Happy” Broadbent IV of Lexington, vice president of Churchill Downs Inc.

Under the new organization, cabinet secretaries Don Parkinson and Eric Dunnigan now will be voting members.

After Bevin appointed Patrick, Dedden and Jordan in March and canceled the reappointment of former chair Alston Kerr to a commission seat, Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an advisory opinion that the governor does not have the authority to oust members before their terms are up.

Kerr, who remains on the independent Kentucky Horse Park Foundation board, said that she was targeted by State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who once sought a job at EEI. Thayer has criticized management of the park under Link, despite reports that the park has effected a financial turnaround under his tenure.

On Tuesday, Thayer issued a statement about Bevin’s new appointments: “I commend Governor Bevin for his work bringing in this breath of fresh air to the Kentucky Horse Park Commission. This is a very talented group of individuals who have the best interests of one of our state’s most iconic tourist attractions in mind and will govern it accordingly, remembering that the park belongs to the people of Kentucky.”

State Auditor Mike Harmon is scheduled next month to begin an audit of the Horse Park’s finances and rental activity for 2014-2016; the audit was requested by Thayer, Parkinson and Finance Secretary William Landrum after the park became a political bone of contention during the legislative session during the winter. The horse park’s independent spending authority was capped at $1,000 after questions were raised about repeated purchases of food served at catered events.

The 1,224-acre park, which hosted the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, is considered one of the premier equestrian facilities in the world and hosts dozens of events year-round, including the Olympic-level Rolex Kentucky, the hugely popular Road to the Horse, the prestigious National Horse Show, annual Pony Club competitions and High School Invitational Rodeo, and the annual BreyerFest convention for fans of model horses.

The park also is a venue for many other non-equine events, including track meets, cheer leading competitions, and dog shows. Dozens of equine-related organizations have headquarters there, including the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

A study by Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet found that the economic impact of the Kentucky Horse Park in fiscal year 2010 was $180 million including $18 million in generated state tax revenue. The World Equestrian Games had an estimated impact of $201.5 million, including $18.4 million in tax revenue.

Bevin has said he has the authority to replace appointees at will, and has replaced boards at the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission, among many others.

Last Thursday, Bevin had Kentucky State Police troopers on hand at the Kentucky Retirement Systems board meeting to prevent a Beshear-appointed board member from participating.

And on Friday, the Teamsters and Kentucky State AFL-CIO challenged Bevin’s replacement of the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission. The unions sued in Franklin Circuit Court to block Bevin’s appointees; Bevin’s attorney, Steve Pitt, agreed to take no official action until a hearing June 1 before Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

This is the third suit filed against Bevin in Franklin Circuit Court, following House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s challenge of Bevin’s April vetoes and Attorney General Andy Beshear’s challenge of Bevin’s cuts to university spending.

Jane Beshear said that she will continue to support the park financially.

“Certainly. But it hurts when you read that they’re ‘going to make it a world-class facility,’” she said. “It already is.”

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