• By Dalton Stokes

Tourist Commission prepares to hire part-time director

The Woodford County Tourist Commission is looking for its first director in the wake of a major increase in bed-tax income from the new hotel in Versailles. The seven-member board is vetting 11 candidates, including one who has been meeting with the commission as a virtual member for months. The commission meeting last Thursday, Sept. 19, was the last at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce office in Versailles and the first for the newly appointed representative of Midway on the commission, Cortney Neikirk. Director appointment With the opening of the first modern hotel in Woodford County, the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, the commission has money to hire its own director rather than contracting with the Chamber. Woodford County imposes a 3 percent tax on overnight stays within the county; until the hotel opened last September, the only tax revenue was from bed-and-breakfasts. The money generated by this tax increased by $67,005, and the commission has about $101,000 available to spend, according to financial statements presented at the meeting. As the commission discussed the process for filling the position, board member Neil Vasilakes said, “There are some rumors going around that we’re not following a process and we have a shoo-in person.” Chair Maria Bohanan said the commission needs a clear process for this so that no questions can be raised about their choice. “Whatever we do,” she said, “we want it above board.” One of the candidates for the position is Elisha Holt, who coordinates events for the City of Versailles and the Midway Business Association. She is an “ex officio” member of the commission, and will not participate in the selection, Bohanan said during the meeting. Asked about that terminology after the meeting, she said Holt began serving last year, thinking that County Judge-Executive John Coyle had appointed her, but it turned out he had not completed the paperwork before he died. Bohanan said new Judge-Executive James Kay said Holt could keep serving, but has not actually appointed her. Kay said Monday that he hasn’t appointed Holt because she does not live in Woodford County and is not affiliated with a local hotel or restaurant, criteria that would qualify her for an appointment. The commission mostly discussed the criteria matrix that may narrow the number of candidates before interviewing. Commissioner Aaron Smither opposed using the matrix, saying they should interview all the candidates and use their better judgement to pick the right person. Bohanan’s proposed matrix has five criteria for the job. She proposed that if the candidate meets three of the five criteria, they get an interview. She also said she wants to do the interviews “pageant-style,” using a scoring system in which each member independently rates the candidates. Bohanan said that would provide a paper trail for both the decision on whom to interview and on who gets picked for the job, in the interest of transparency. Versailles City Council Member Ken Kerkhoff, another board member, voiced the need to expedite the process. He said the person hired would need time to give two weeks’ notice to a current employer. Bohanan said that they need someone in place by Nov. 1. Some commissioners wanted the matrix to be more detailed. After not much agreement on that, the commission agreed to read all 11 applicants’ resumes over the weekend and decide the matrix matter later. They set the first interviews for Friday, Sept. 27. 2020 visitor guide The commission made a tentative decision to not buy an ad in the 2020 edition of the Kentucky Travel Guide, partly because the guide will list local accommodations anyway. The commission passed around copies of their ad from last year and agreed it was lackluster. Murals The commission has commissioned two murals in Versailles and discussed the potential for a mural in Midway. Neikirk said that she could find someone interested in providing a wall and funding, and that she already had someone in mind. Bohanan said, “Cortney is going to be a valuable resource.” Neikirk is president of the Midway Business Association and co-owner of 2 Ladies and a Kettle and Midway Sweet Tooth. A mural being painted on Lexington Street in downtown Versailles by local artist Steve Sawyer features the names of contributing horse farms on jockey shirts of different designs. Kerkhoff said the mural was going well and that there were some racing syndicates interested in getting their names on the mural. He opposed that, noting that the county’s tourism slogan is “Bourbon, wine and bloodlines.” He added, “You can’t tour a racing syndicate” like you can a horse farm. Other business The commission has approved a six-month, $400 per month deal with Gathered Mercantile to serve as a visitor’s center starting Nov. 1. Gathered Mercantile offered to create space for brochures, an office, shared wi-fi and labor and provide a daily presence. The Woodford County Historical Society offered space rent-free, but won’t be available for another year. Smither also asked why the commission’s money isn’t accruing interest. According to the minutes of a previous meeting, it is “spending conservatively until they have a cohesive plan of action put together.” Smither agreed to look into money-market options and get back to the commission at its next regular meeting, which will be held at the Versailles Municipal Building Oct. 17 at 9 a.m.

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