Bevin wanted Horse Park, now he’s got it

Horses grazed at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Horses grazed at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Among the most popular taunts thrown about in the endless verbal wars between the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin and those allied with that of former Gov. Steve Beshear are that something is being “politicized.”

Really? Politics where there are politicians, political races, political fund-raising and political parties?

State government cannot function properly if it operates on a purely political basis — that’s why there are laws to prevent that — but there’s no escaping politics in a political environment, so all this self-righteous finger-pointing can get tedious.

Which leads us to the Kentucky Horse Park and the commission that oversees its operations, which Bevin this week abolished and reorganized by executive order, a move that kicked Jane Beshear — a former commissioner and accomplished horse woman and former first lady — off the unpaid board.

It seems virtually a lock that this new commission, meeting in a special session today to discuss personnel matters, will jettison Executive Director Jamie Link, whose contract expires June 30.

Link came to the park, where he had earlier worked as deputy executive director and as CEO of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, in late 2014. Prior to that appointment he also served on the staff of Beshear, a Democrat.

The bottom line is this: Bevin will own whatever happens at the Horse Park going forward. And how his administration manages that ownership is very important to the entire state, especially to Central Kentucky.

In 2012, a study for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet estimated the Horse Park’s annual economic impact at $180 million. Annually it hosts the Rolex Three-Day Event, an international equine competition, in addition to a host of other equine related competitions, rodeos and shows as well as other events such as the Festival of the Bluegrass and Southern Lights. It includes the International Museum of the Horse, extensive campgrounds and offices for a number of national and international equine organizations.

Despite a raft of insinuations and allegations, most thrown out by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown — who applied unsuccessfully for a job at the Horse Park in 2010 — there is no scandal, but significant accomplishment, during Link’s brief time at the Horse Park.

Link arrived there in the fall of 2014 after an audit had been completed that found significant management shortcomings as well as a $3.1 million annual deficit. In March of this year, he reported that revenues were up 15 percent from the year before and the deficit had shrunk to $1.85 million.

The gift shop, which Thayer had singled out for criticism, had seen a 227-percent increase in net profits. Tourism and Arts Secretary Don Parkinson, appointed by Bevin, said the park was “making good progress.”

Urged on by Thayer, Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon, a Republican swept into office last year along with Bevin, announced early this month that he will conduct an audit of Horse Park finances and operations for the years 2014-16. No politics there?

It’s likely that audit will provide the final chapter on Link’s short tenure at the Horse Park.

Bevin wanted more control over this important state asset, and now he’s got it. The future of the Horse Park is now on his shoulders.