• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Parks Foundation holds annual meeting - Three members resign

The Woodford Parks Foundation’s annual meeting Wednesday, Jan. 31 was highlighted by a failed motion to hire an attorney and the resignations of three members who’d supported it.

Early in the 85-minute meeting, President Joe Barrows, the former state House Majority Whip who obtained a $500,000 grant for the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in 2007, introduced his own motion. It would have transferred the $208,431.56 remaining in a certificate of deposit to Woodford Fiscal Court in an account he said would be restricted to improvements at Falling Springs.

Ken Kerkhoff, who is also a Versailles City Council Member, said he wanted to ensure that the money would go directly to Falling Springs and not be subject to the 55/45 county-city split for capital projects. Barrows agreed and said the transfer of funds would get the question of which projects to fund, over which foundation members have differed in previous years, off the table.

“And the notion that you remove that source of disagreement (could help us) focus on some other ways to move forward seems to me to be a very practical, good decision to make,” Barrows said.

After much debate over a straw vote suggested by Barrows, his motion did not receive an official vote.

Judy Korby said the foundation’s articles of incorporation only gave three reasons for returning funds – dissolving, the loss of tax-exempt status or conditions of the grant.

“I don’t know if any of the three apply in this situation,” she said.

Jon Gay agreed, then suggested the foundation hire an attorney to review the matter as well as past and future spending. Three of those projects – the purchase of memorial trees, the construction of a softball field and the installation of artificial turf at Community Stadium – were not directly related to Falling Springs. Last February, after a lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the foundation voted to spend $150,000 on a new chiller for Falling Spring’s HVAC system.

“I just don’t feel comfortable exposing myself to some claim that I didn’t exercise my fiduciary duty to be informed on this decision,” Gay said.

“If the IRS comes in, I don’t want to be answering questions about why they changed their mind and wanted their money back …” Korby said.

Ashley Keith asked whether, if the funds were transferred to Woodford Fiscal Court, they could be earmarked so the county doesn’t use them for its share of parks funding.

Michael Duckworth said he believed members should review the original agreement and that the foundation could still do a lot of great work. He agreed with Korby and Gay that outside counsel was needed.

Barrows reminded members how he’d gotten the money in the first place and for what he believed it was intended.

“That was $500,000 I put in there because in my years of experience in Frankfort, I often saw how we in the legislature would spend money to build something, but a lot of times we didn’t set money aside to maintain it,” Barrows said. He also said that he believed paying for an outside attorney was a waste of foundation funds, in part because several members over the years (including himself and Gay) were lawyers.

Woodford Magistrate Mary Ann Gill (Dist. 7) attended the meeting and was allowed to speak. She asked whether the foundation could serve as a pass-through for tax deductible contributions.

“If somebody wants to take some little aspect of the park and improve it, can they solicit donations and pass it through there? And if they can, it would be a shame to dissolve (the foundation, as was suggested last year),” Gill said. “I mean, for anybody that wants to take a project related to a park in Woodford County – that’s what I’m referring to. If somebody wants to improve the walking path and they have a donor who wants to give $10,000, can they make that tax-deductible and pass it through here?”

Fellow audience member and Versailles City Council Member Laura Dake said that’s what she wanted to do with $695 raised for Big Spring Park during the Twilight Festival. (Later, Dake received the group’s unanimous approval to set up a restricted fund with the money, a portion of which she will use for thank-you notes, fundraising appeals and tax forms for future donors.)

Barrows said that was one of the ideas behind the foundation – to use the original grant as seed money to solicit donations for other portions of the parks system.

“ … I see two passionate groups disagreeing completely on this thing. I see two legally educated folks (Gay and Barrows) disagreeing on this thing. As much as I hate to spend the money, I’m not sure we’re going to get past this without some kind of outside legal counsel,” Kerkhoff said.

Kerkhoff said he didn’t see Barrows or the others changing their opinion.

“Joe, I get that this is your baby. And you should be congratulated for all your effort. But when you have a baby, you never know what it will grow up to be like,” Gay said, to a few chuckles. “Just ask my deceased father – he would say the same.”

Barrows responded, “Let me tell you what is my baby is the Parks Foundation itself. The Parks Foundation was a group effort by those who were interested in trying to do something to provide opportunities to make park improvements. What is my baby is the $500,000 and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind, because I put the money in the budget, what it was for. I’ll go under oath, I’ll do anything to reiterate that point. I feel an obligation to see that that money is not spent in any other fashion other than its original intent, and when I see efforts to do otherwise, I feel bound to say, ‘No, that’s not what it’s for …’”

Barrows said the debate over outside counsel was another reason to transfer the funds to the county. Later, he wondered whether the group should ask Versailles City Attorney Bill Moore or Woodford County Attorney Alan George, the non-voting secretary of the foundation, to offer an official legal opinion. George said he didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

Eventually, Gay’s motion to form a three member committee to suggest an attorney on whom up to $5,000 could be spent was defeated, 6 to 4. Barrows, his brother Bill Barrows, Midway City Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher, Keith, and Magistrates Ken Reed (Dist. 4) and Gerald Dotson (Dist. 5) voted no. Member Chuck Mix was absent.

Kerkhoff, Gay, Korby, and Michael Duckworth voted yes, and after the vote, the latter three announced their resignations.

At the end of the meeting, remaining members voted to keep Joe Barrows as president, George as treasurer and to make Bill Barrows treasurer.

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