By Bill Robinson
Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Madison County’s legislative delegation to support rewriting of legislation that funded the $37 million facility and continues to provide $200,000 annually in operating funds.
Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark told the center’s community operations board Wednesday that Whitlock and EKU’s new legislative liaison had met with the delegation seeking to rewrite the legislation that its author, former state Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, maintains gives the board power to veto dismissal of center personnel.
The proposal would have given the university a majority on the board, said Moberly, now the board chair. The seven community representatives on the current board — four from Madison Fiscal Court, two from the Richmond City Commission and one from the Berea City Council — outnumber the six appointed by the university.
The issue arose in June after the university moved to dismiss Debra Hoskins, the center’s executive director, without consulting the board.
Since then, the board has been attempting to negotiate a new memorandum of understanding with the university before searching for a new executive director. No serious search can be conducted until an agreement on who may hire or fire the director is reached, said Jan Tunnell, the search committee chair.
A proposed understanding drafted by Moberly would allow neither the board nor the university to independently dismiss an executive director. Although he had believed Whitlock was moving toward that position, Moberly said Whitlock’s most recent counter proposal would give the board control only over programming. Instead of sharing control of personnel, the university would have retained sole power to hire or fire, he said.
As early as the board’s September meeting, Moberly said Whitlock’s latest response had left the board and the university close to an agreement.
Clark said Whitlock previously assured him that an agreement satisfactory to all partners would be reached.
Now we’re in bickering mode,” the judge/executive said.
The president’s action also undermined the spirit of partnership with the community under which the center project had been launched, Clark added.
The arts center was the second of a three-phase project that started with EKU’s Business and Technology Center and was to conclude with a conference center, Clark said.
When state funding for the project appeared uncertain after the September 2001 terror attacks, Clark said he agreed to let the county’s $6.5 million contribution be used for the university’s business and technology center with the understanding that a performing arts center would come next as a partnership with the community.
Moberly said the county’s contribution kept the entire project alive when legislative support was lukewarm and Joanne Glasser, who was EKU’s president at the time, appeared uninterested.
The university has provided a contingency fund of about $240,000 for each of the center’s first two seasons to assure it won’t run a deficit, but just having the center on the university’s campus is worth its investment, Moberly said.
If the university wants to insist on controlling center personnel because of those contributions, perhaps the legislature should reconsider its $3 million annual payment on bonds sold to finance both the arts center and the business and technology center, Moberly said.
The new memorandum of understanding proposed by the board already cedes the university more control than provided by the legislation that also provides another $200,000 to fund the arts center’s operation, he said.
Clark and Moberly apologized for sounding adversarial, but both said they were frustrated by Whitlock’s recent actions when they had been led to believe an agreement was near.
Before the board voted on a motion to finalize its position on the memorandum of understanding, Skip Daugherty, Whitlock’s executive assistant and a board member, asked that he be given a week to iron out an agreement with the president.
I think I can get us there,” Daugherty said.
However, Diane Kerby, Berea’s representative asked, “What do we have to gain by waiting another week?”
We’re not that far apart,” said board member Virginia Rollins, “there has to be room for compromise.”
Clark added his support, saying, “I believe (Daugherty) can get us there.”
By unanimous voice vote, the board agreed to convene in special session 3 p.m. Wednesday in the center’s Black Box Theater.
With about two months remaining in its second season, the center had used approximately $54,000 of this year’s university contingency funding and the remaining $19,000 from the previous year’s contingency, reported Karen Peavler, the center’s director of business operations.
Its $1.711 million in revenue and $1.784 million in expenses had left the center $73,535 short of breaking even, she said.
Although it has not been much advertised, 500 tickets have already been sold to an April 20 matinee performance by Celtic Woman that was added to the schedule, said Jill Price, the center’s interim executive director. That evening’s performance has been sold out for some time.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.