The Richmond Register

July 14, 2013

Partnerships can be complicated

But sometimes they're the only way to succeed

By Bill Robinson
Register Editor

RICHMOND —

A lot can be accomplished through partnerships. Sometimes they’re the only way a challenging goal can be achieved.

But as anyone who’s ever been in a business partnership will tell you, they can be complicated.

Further evidence of that can be seen in the recent troubles of two local public partnerships.

The Madison Airport, a joint venture by our three local governments, and the EKU Center for the arts, a partnership of the local governments, the university and state governments, are both important community assets. But both have gone through some painful learning experiences in the past two years or so.

However, the two organizations appear to be working through their difficulties, and as long as past unpleasantness can be put behind us, all may be better off for the experience.

The most recent dust-up involved the airport board.

Judge/Executive Kent Clark was unsuccessful in his bid to block the reappointment of George Wyatt to the airport board.

His objection went back to actions Clark said Wyatt and then board chair Eddie Pullins took when the airport’s fixed base operator pulled out with barely a month’s notice at the end of 2010.

The board could take no action when it met early that December because it lacked a quorum.

Instead of calling a special meeting, however, Clark said Pullins and Wyatt, then board secretary, took action on their own when they easily could have called a special meeting.

They created a non-profit corporation to run the airport, the judge/executive said, hoping to head off the prospect of Eastern Kentucky University getting the operating contract.

When the fiscal court conducted its first meeting of 2011, Clark persuaded the magistrates to back his move to “suspend” Pullins, thinking that because he had appointed Pullins, he could remove him.

Pullins challenged the move in circuit court, but the result was the discovery that state statute had not been followed when the airport board was created nearly 40 years earlier.

The three local governments then recreated it with previous members, except for Pullins.

Most observers thought that ended the matter, but Clark was not through. When Berea Mayor Steve Connelly sought to again appoint Wyatt after his term expired at the end of 2012, Clark objected, citing the statute’s provision for appointments to be made “jointly.”

That raised an interesting question of legal interpretation. Does “jointly” mean that all, or just a majority, of the partners need to agree on appointments?

Connelly and Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes said they believed it means a majority, and they carried the day when the three members of the appointing authority met formally last week, probably for the first time.

Still, Clark finally made public his reason for seeking to get both Pullins and Wyatt off the board.

It was nothing personal, Clark said, and he would not any hard feelings because of his defeat. No one has done more or worked longer to foster inter-government cooperation in the county, he added, promising to continue.

As Connelly pointed out during the meeting, the statute allows the joint appointing authority to remove a board member after a justification has been given.

At last, everyone knows how airport board members are to be appointed and how they may be removed.

Now that it is settled, let’s hope that everyone forgets past differences and works to make the local airport the economic development tool it was intended to be.

 

EKU Center for the Arts

The EKU Center for the Arts represents an even more complex partnership.

Like most partnerships, however, the arrangement was devised because without all the members, the enterprise probably would never have gotten off the ground.

Keeping everyone together has been a challenge, however. But without everyone continuing to pull together, the venture will flounder, if not fail.

The partnership nearly came apart last year over who could dismiss the center’s executive director.

The university believed only it had the authority, as well as all of the liability, in the matter. Members of the community operations board appointed by the three local governments believed legislation that provided state funds for the center gave it an equal voice.

Negotiations to create a new memorandum of understanding dragged on for months amid accusations that the university was acting in bad faith by trying to get the law changed.

Finally, common sense prevailed, and the partners arrived at an agreement all believe they could accept. The liability issue also was resolved.

Despite the acrimony and uncertainty, the center was able to attract a large pool of well-qualified candidates to be its new director.

I got to meet and hear the two finalists speak last week, and regardless of which is chosen, I think the center is certain to have great leadership going forward.

The only problem will be choosing between two stellar candidates. That’s a good problem to have.

The various members of both these two partnerships pushed hard for their particular points of view. Now that they appear to have settled their differences, however, I think what they have learned from their difficulties will strengthen both partnerships.

One thing to remember about a partnership is this. Unless everybody wins, everybody loses.