Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who is leading the charge against the management of the Kentucky Horse Park, sought a paid position in charge of the park’s marquee annual event, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, in 2010.
He was rebuffed by Alston Kerr, who was ousted Friday as chairwoman of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission by Gov. Matt Bevin.
The position Thayer applied for, which pays about $50,000, eventually went to someone else.
“He called me to see about the executive director job at EEI (Equestrian Events Inc., which puts on the Rolex Kentucky),” Kerr said Monday. “I told Damon he didn’t have the type of résumé that they were looking for.”
Thayer, R-Georgetown, dismissed Kerr’s allegations, saying they were “the ridiculous ramblings of a woman who is bitter that she no longer has control over her personal playground at the Horse Park.”
He called Kerr “petty and vindictive,” saying Democrats “feel they are entitled to their appointments in perpetuity despite the fact that an election occurred and their side lost.”
Thayer denied that his motives had anything to do with not getting what he called a “measly little job” running the Rolex Kentucky, an Olympic-level equestrian event.
“I’d forgotten all about that, but I probably did” inquire about the EEI job, Thayer said. “This has nothing to do with my calling attention to the mismanagement of the Kentucky Horse Park by Alston Kerr and Jamie Link,” the park’s executive director.
Kerr contends that long-term fundraising efforts for the park by the nonprofit Kentucky Horse Park Foundation are being jeopardized by a “vindictive” campaign by Thayer, who has filed legislation to cut the Horse Park Commission from 17 members to nine. The bill has been approved by the Senate and sent to the House, where it was referred to the state government committee.
Robin Cravens, who was the unpaid president of the nonprofit EEI from September 2005 to September 2010, confirmed that Thayer asked if he could be considered for the executive director job. Longtime executive director Jane Atkinson had announced she would retire after the World Equestrian Games at the Horse Park in September-October 2010.
“I had appointed a search committee,” Cravens said. “I referred him to Alston Kerr on the search committee. I didn’t have anything else to do with the search. … To my knowledge, he was not interviewed, but I wasn’t on the committee.”
Kerr said Monday that after Bevin’s election last fall, she began hearing that Thayer was saying, “Jamie Link and Darren Ripley had to go, and Alston Kerr and Jane Beshear had to go.”
Ripley is Link’s assistant; both were on the EEI board until 2014. Former first lady Jane Beshear, who was appointed along with Kerr to the Horse Park Commission by Gov. Steve Beshear right before he left office in December, is also on the boards of EEI and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.
Thayer said he doesn’t care if Jane Beshear is removed from the commission but he hopes the newly appointed chair, Tandy Patrick, and other new commission members “make significant management changes, because these people don’t deserve to lead.”
Kerr said Monday that she expected to be replaced as chair by the new administration but had hoped to stay on the board to defend the park against accusations of financial mismanagement.
She thinks she was targeted, she said, because “I am Jane Beshear’s good friend. … I’m tied to Jane Beshear, to Jamie Link … . Was this EEI thing in (Thayer’s) mind? … I’m sure it was. He doesn’t forgive.”
Thayer routinely requested that former Horse Park executive director John Nicholson “put his name on the list” for admission to the exclusive Kentucky Horse Park Foundation hospitality tent at the Rolex Kentucky, which has food, drinks and some of the best views of the four-day equestrian competition, Kerr said.
“He would come and bring three people,” Kerr said of Thayer.
According to the foundation’s website, two tickets for one day of hospitality are a perk that comes with a minimum donation of $1,500 to $4,999. Additional tickets cost extra.
“It is a fundraising tent,” Kerr said.
Thayer said he and other members of the Central Kentucky legislative delegation were invited every year to the Rolex Kentucky and often would see other lawmakers there.
“My daughter loves jumping, so we would go to the jumping,” he said.
But Link, who was named executive director in November 2014, said things had to be done “by the book,” Kerr said.
“It became a bone of contention,” she said. “Last year we had to restrict (Thayer) to one day.”
At the behest of the state Cabinet for Tourism, Arts & Heritage, which oversees the Horse Park, Link has been told to not respond to reporters’ inquiries.
Kerr is speaking publicly, despite a similar gag order from the cabinet, to protect the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, which has raised millions for the park, she said.
Well-heeled donors, many in the equestrian community, have been alarmed by reports by Finance Cabinet Secretary William Landrum that the park has spent more than $500,000 in the past 11 months without proper authorization from the state.
“I’m getting calls about the park being in trouble,” Kerr said. “These people are very concerned about this. … This is not about me. It’s about our credibility to continue fundraising.”
According to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader, Link said in an email to Tourism Secretary Don Parkinson and others that the Horse Park worked with cabinet officials and the Office of Procurement Services in the Finance Cabinet “to address these procurements and we had procurement authority and approvals … to purchase food items from Sysco in the way that was done and to pay those invoices.”
But the Finance Cabinet denies that. In response to a question from the Herald-Leader, Edwin King, Landrum’s chief of staff, issued this statement:
“The Kentucky Horse Park did not ask for approval, nor did they receive approval from the Finance Cabinet for the Sysco expenditures cited in Secretary Landrum’s letter. The KHP cited an invalid purchasing authority as justification for these purchases in the commonwealth’s procurement management system, resulting in the circumvention of the appropriate procurement processes.
“Additionally, the creation of smaller, split purchases allowed these expenditures to flow through the procurement process locally at the KHP, allowing them to bypass review by the Office of Procurement Services.”
The Kentucky Horse Park Commission is scheduled to meet March 16 at the park.