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EDA revised ordinance turned down; heated words are turned up

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - An effort to adopt a new ordinance to set up the Bullitt County Economic Development Authority met with opposition on Wednesday.

And the measure was voted down 3-2.

That came after some very pointed and very heated discussion - including allegations of illegal meetings, lack of transparency and a motive on why the ordinance was even brought up after 30 years.

At the end of the day, the current EDA board remained in place and is in the early stages of its search to replace Bob Fouts, who opted to not renew his contract as director.

County attorney Monica Robinson said she was asked by fiscal court in April to look at the financial concerns revolving around the EDA. The agency is not part of county government but does receive an annual contribution. This year, that amount is $115,000.

In researching the situation, Robinson noticed that the original ordinance, which did not have an official number on it, was passed in 1982 and the laws have changed.

Her goal was to prepare a new ordinance to make sure the agency is registered with the state secretary of state and to make sure board members had some liability coverage. She was concerned that they would not be covered if any litigation occurred.

If a new ordinance is passed and the old one repealed, new board members would have to be recommended by county judge Melanie Roberts and approved by fiscal court.

Two issues arose out of the discussions, First, there was some who wanted to ensure the current EDA members remained until their terms expired. Second, Roberts was concerned that she had received no financial records in the past.

Robert Flaherty, an attorney who was asked to speak by several board members and also opted to speak as a private citizen, said that over 6,000 jobs had been created in Bullitt County over the past decade. 

He said there may not be any opposition to sitting down with the county, the Chamber of Commerce and the cities to devise a new organization.

EDA member Scott Wantland wanted to know when a majority of the board met, without him, to decide to retain Flaherty.

Flaherty said there was no such meeting and that he had not been hired by the EDA.

Wantland, who was the most recent appointment to the board, said he has been asking for things like bank statements and he has gotten nothing. He did look at the recent audit and said there were only some generalities in the document.

He proposed moving ahead with the dissolution of the current board and that it shouldn’t take but a couple of weeks until fiscal court would decide on the new membership.

Flaherty said he disagreed with Robinson’s interpretation that the EDA needed to be incorporated. He said there were rights granted in the law but incorporating was not necessary. 

Roberts said for seven years she has asked for information on where the money is being spent and she has gotten nothing.

But board member Happy Cahoe questioned the judge’s memory on a meeting he and board chairman Frank Ragg had with her earlier in the year. At that time, Cahoe said the financial audit was personally given to her and she called in witnesses to be in the meeting.

While preaching transparency, Cahoe said he can’t remember a motion every being made to dissolve the EDA.

Instead, he said Roberts needs to look at the reports she has been given and the EDA books are open at any time for her examination.

If the board was doing anything illegal, Cahoe said he would not be a part of it.

Chamber president Tammy Ott questioned why it has taken seven years for the county to take any action if the information requested had not been received.

She also inquired whether Wantland would be the lone re-appointee to a new board since he is the most recent to be voted upon and approved by fiscal court.

State representative Linda Belcher said that it appears there are accusations that the current EDA members are not spending the money properly. 

Roberts would later say that she did get monthly reports from Fouts but they contained no specifics.

Magistrate Rick Clements said his concern is shutting down the EDA immediately. That would mean that the interim director would not be able to do anything and the agency would shut down until a new board is put into place.

Magistrate John Bradshaw said he had a recommendation to add a paragraph to the proposed ordinance.

His only change would be to allow the current board members to remain on the agency until their terms expire. Then the appointment process would be followed.

Bradshaw said this is simply a way for the judge to eliminate the existing board due to some personality conflicts she has with a few of the members.

“I’m sick and tired of calling it transparency when we’re not telling the truth,” said Bradshaw. “I am just speaking the truth.”

Tony Thompson, a newly-elected Pioneer Village councilman, said that if the court or the judge is not happy with a particular board member, there is the ability to not re-appoint the person when the term expires.

The motion by magistrate Ruthie Ashbaugh to accept the new ordinance and repeal the old one failed 3-2. Magistrates Joe Laswell, Clements and Bradshaw voted against the proposal. Ashbaugh and Roberts were in favor.

The next meeting of the Bullitt County EDA board will be at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Ridgway Memorial Library in Shepherdsville. The public is invited.