State examination concludes Kentucky Horse Park poorly run

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Kentucky Horse Park Logo

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky Horse Park is poorly run, according to the results of a special examination by State Auditor Mike Harmon’s office.

It was announced last spring the park would be examined following requests from a state lawmaker and two cabinet secretaries.

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The period of examination was from June 2013 to July 2016.

“Our eight-month examination found the Horse Park was poorly run with little or no oversight, questionable management practices, and potential conflicts of interest on operations and sponsorships at the park,” said Auditor Harmon. “Because of poor management and oversight, taxpayers have had to prop up the park’s finances to the tune of more than $24 million over the last 10 years.”

The examination produced a total of eight specific findings, which included:

-Eighty-percent of food service contracts were not billed in accordance with contract agreements, with some billed lower or higher. Documents supporting price modifications were shredded by staff following the events.

-Contracts included perks to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and to one of the park’s major corporate sponsors. Several contracts called for these outside entities to receive free tickets and access to hospitality rooms for events at Alltech Arena.

-Failure to properly bid contracts for services with several vendors, including the company that provides fuel to the Horse Park. That company has been paid more than $473,000 over the last three fiscal years with no contract in place.

-A contractor hired to consult the park’s gift shop also supplied merchandise for sale in the shop. The merchandise contract violated competitive procurement rules. Park employees were aware of the potential conflict because merchandise was initially sold under the same business name as the contractor.

-Flat rates were given to one horse show production company going back to 2006, with the discount in 2016 alone totaling more than $766,000. The company, which is owned by the in-laws of the park’s food services director, also had equipment and trailers housed rent free on park grounds.

-An agreement in 2016 that allowed the park’s former Deputy Executive Director to live in a home on the park grounds and pay only $250 per month in rent.

-Conflicts with state regulations regarding sponsorships. Documentation at the Horse Park was so poor, employees could not provide a complete list of sponsor agreements between 2013 and 2016.

-Use of Horse Park staff on state time to do work for the Southern Lights event sponsored by the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, which is a private non-profit entity. The Kentucky Horse Park surrendered a significant revenue stream from this event to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.

-The Kentucky Horse Park and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation failed to maintain separation. For example, the two entities agreed to finance new barns in circumvention of state procedures for incurring debt. This arraignment potentially avoided compliance with state procurement and construction laws.

-The Horse Park had a 300 percent increase in the amount of money spent to hire employees through temporary employment agencies, from $544,000 in 2014 to $2.17 million in 2016.

The complete findings will be referred to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, which will determine if further investigation is needed.

The new executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, Laura Prewitt, says when she took over last year, she uncovered many of the same issues cited in the auditor’s report. She says the findings reinforce the decisions that have been made to ensure ethical practices at the park.

The complete special examination of the Kentucky Horse Park can be reviewed online at www.auditor.ky.gov.

The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation released the following statement:

“The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation was created in 1985 with the sole purpose of providing private philanthropic support to benefit the Kentucky Horse Park. Since our founding, the foundation has provided over $30 million in improvements and financial support for the park. The ONLY goal of our board of directors and staff members has been, and continues to be, to raise private money to support the needs of the horse park. More information about the KHP Foundation’s long history of support can be found here: http://www.khpfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Enhancing-the-Park-Today.pdf

The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation staff and board members have only ever acted with the best interests of helping the park be the best place it can be for its many annual visitors. Every decision that has been made by the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation board and staff has been done so with the purest of motives in order to further the park’s initiatives and goals, as identified by the park’s leadership.

The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation has been proud to share Southern Lights with the citizens of Kentucky over the past 23 years. Since its founding, this beloved holiday event has been a partnership between the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and the Kentucky Horse Park, attracting over 120,000 annual visitors to the park to view the Southern Lights. The Foundation purchased all of the light displays, covered all costs related to promoting and putting on the event, and provided event logistical administration annually. Historically, the Park provided manpower to put up the lights. The State Auditor’s office is correct that until 2009 there was a revenue sharing arrangement as part of the contract related to Southern Lights. However, from 2009 until last year the park’s leadership had agreed to waive the revenue sharing in exchange for the KHP Foundation paying the millions of dollars in loans related to the construction of a three barn complex that the park needed built in order to host the 2010 World Equestrian Games. These three barns cost over $4.5 million to construct, the construction of which was funded entirely through a combination of philanthropic capital support from private donors plus the revenue generated by KHP Foundation fundraising efforts, primarily Southern Lights. The barns, upon their completion in 2010, were donated to the Kentucky Horse Park so that the park might generate revenue directly from their rental, which it has been doing since that time. While the barn revenue was being realized by the park, the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation continued to pay the principal and interest on the barn loans until they were paid in full.

The State Auditor’s office has failed to note that since 2009, the Foundation has continued to donate a significant portion of the annual Southern Lights revenue directly to the park every year. In fact, the Foundation provides well over $100,000 in direct support annually to pay for the Kentucky Horse Park’s Volunteer Program, underwrite all costs related to the hosting, maintenance and content management of the KHP and International Museum of the Horse websites, and provide a “park support” line item in the foundation’s operating budget which can be spent at the discretion of the executive director of the park to meet needs not otherwise funded through the park’s own budget. The special audit also failed to note that the Kentucky Horse Park realizes a great deal of income directly through Southern Lights related to its gift shop revenue, riding concession and food service revenue generated through the Southern Lights event, in the off season at a time when the park’s visitors would be minimal were it not for Southern Lights.

The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation’s focus has never wavered. It was created as a public-private partnership to generate private revenue for the benefit of the park. Moving forward the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation will continue to raise private support to benefit the park. The Foundation will work with the park’s current leadership to ensure this is accomplished in a way that meets all state rules and regulations, as we have striven to do previously with every park administration since 1985.”

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.