Some local officials are concerned about what they feel is a lack of representation in the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership from the city governments of Danville and Junction City.
Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad, a voting member of the EDP, has missed three out of the last four EDP board meetings, according to a reporter’s audit of meeting minutes obtained under an open records request. Junction City Mayor Jim Douglas, also a voting member of the EDP, has missed all four of the last EDP board meetings.
On the other hand, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney has attended all of the last four meetings and Perryville Mayor Anne Sleet has missed only one. Both McKinney and Sleet are also voting members of the EDP.
City and county governments can send an alternate member, but Danville and Junction City leaders have not typically exercised that privilege, according to EDP President Jody Lassiter.
At the end of Wednesday’s EDP board meeting, EDP member Greg Caudill expressed his concern about Danville’s absence from recent meetings.
“Has anybody heard from (Danville) as to why they’re not here?” asked Caudill, president and CEO of Farmers National Bank. “I’m disappointed that they chose not to send somebody to this meeting as important as it is and as much information for them is here. I think they should be reminded that this is something they agreed to do as a partner’s organization.”
Junction City’s government has not been represented at an EDP meeting since at least January 2011.
“I really would like to make sure Junction’s at the table because the EDP serves the entire county inclusive of the three cities (of Danville, Junction City and Perryville),” Lassiter said during an interview Thursday. “So we’ve not had good representation from Junction and I had hoped that would change.”
During a phone interview Saturday, Douglas declined to discuss Junction City’s attendance record at EDP meetings.
“When the time is right, I will make a statement,” Douglas said. “For now, no comment.”
Lassiter said the EDP needs Danville’s and Junction City’s attendance not only so they can exercise their voting rights,. but also to ensure there is a quorum of voting members that enables the meeting to take place. His staff regularly sends city and county officials meeting notices, minutes and other pertinent information through email and postal mail.
“It’s a challenge,” Lassiter said. “But it’s not my role to wag my finger at the mayor, the commissioners or the city manager and say, ‘You need to be here.’”
Lassiter said he found it “ironic” that recent Danville City Commission meetings had discussed whether the EDP should follow state open meetings laws. Yet, no one representing the city was at the January meeting during which McKinney initially raised the issue, nor was Danville represented at last week’s meeting during which the EDP decided to voluntarily adhere to state open meetings laws.
The EDP board has held 22 meetings since Hunstad was sworn into office January 2011. Hunstad or an alternate did not represent the city at 50 percent of those gatherings, according to the meeting minutes.
During an interview Saturday, Hunstad acknowledged that he had not attended several recent EDP meetings due to scheduling conflicts but in general felt “we have missed very few meetings.”
The mayor acknowledged that Lassiter’s concerns were valid regarding the last two meetings and that he could have “handled things better” by sending an alternate or notifying fellow EDP board members of his scheduling conflicts. Hunstad missed last week’s EDP meeting because he had a meeting in Frankfort for his role as a member of the legislative council of the Kentucky League of Cities. City Manager Ron Scott was ill and could not attend the EDP meeting in the mayor’s place.
“It’s unfortunate, but it is not an indication of a lack of support for the EDP,” Hunstad said.
The mayor believes that some of Caudill’s and Lassiter’s comments are politically motivated.
Caudill is the brother of Danville City Commissioner Kevin Caudill, who voted in opposition to Hunstad on several key issues in recent years, including the firing of former city manager Paul Stansbury and Scott’s hiring.
Lassiter has publicly objected to Hunstad’s desire to have a private entity funding agreement in place. A private entity funding agreement would require organizations that receive more than $10,000 in city funds annually to submit a detailed account of the public purpose for which the money will be used, allow the city to audit their books and records at any time, require written statements be filed with the city within 60 days of the end of the fiscal year and reimburse the city if a court decides the money was not spent legally for approved public purposes. The EDP received $230,000 in taxpayers’ money last year.
“(The criticism) is kind of a shot, particularly because (the EDP) didn’t willingly change their meeting policies and we’re getting ready to go into a budget cycle,” Hunstad said. “So there’s also that timing. If you’re concerned that your idea won’t carry, then you can tear down the other person. That’s typical, unfortunately, today.”
The mayor said he supports the EDP and believes Lassiter is “a very capable person.”
“But, I do feel that we do not get the feedback that we should, given the level of funding and the importance that (the EDP offers) to the community,” Hunstad said. “I’ve requested several times that they need to be reporting on how they have spent the money appropriated from the taxpayers.”
“In our community, jobs are still the number one issue. I don’t think you’ll find that I’ve ever criticized (Lassiter’s) work, but we do need to look at outcomes. It has to be about more than just getting a boutique on Main Street.”