The Richmond Register

March 23, 2013

Let’s remember lessons learned and make the most of an invaluable asset

By Bill Robinson
Register Editor

RICHMOND — The release of documents last week relating to the tenure of Debra Hoskins as executive of the EKU Center for the Arts sheds new light on the university's desire to remove her.

Defenders of university with knowledge of the case have said since her dismissal/resignation sparked controversy that if the details were known, the public would understand why Hoskins did not keep her job.

Knowledgeable defenders of Hoskins said any infractions for which she might be called to account were minor, correctable and the university was partially at fault for not providing her with a financial manager.

Hoskins had informed the university before she was hired that managing finances was not her strong suit, her defenders say.

There also was confusion about to whom Hoskins reported, who could give her direction or who could discipline or remove her.

The university regarded Hoskins as its employee and has claimed it could not share its concerns about her job performance with the center’s community operations board because it was bound by labor laws to keep such matters confidential, even if the board could have heard them in closed session.

The issue of who will control the next director, have access to his or her personnel records and be able to hire or dismiss the director appears to have been settled by a new memorandum of understanding recently approved by the university administration and the operations board.

Both must agree before a director can be dismissed, and future directors must agree to allow their personnel records to be shared with the board. Board members also will be covered by liability insurance in case a future director files suit against them.

Although the center is nearly through its second, well-received season, having its first director to resign and its second leave in a blaze of controversy is not an auspicious beginning.

Performing arts centers, especially in a market the size of central Kentucky’s, usually require public and private subsidies. Both state government and the university have provided subsidies for the center's first two seasons. But, with Kentucky’s economy recovering only slowly from the recession, and the university seeking to cut its expenses by 10 percent, the center will have to seek support from a private sector that continues to struggle.

Having misfired twice in its short history in hiring an executive director, the center cannot afford to misfire a third time. Let’s hope that past missteps can be avoided and an effective director can be found before the center's third season begins.

I was glad to see that among the experiences of the three finalists to be EKU’s next president is success in raising funds for performing arts centers and science-education buildings.

A successful EKU Center for the Arts can be a source of cultural enrichment for residents and students as well as a driver of economic growth. Or it can be a boondoggle and financial albatross.

In addition to drawing occasional visitors and attracting welcome attention, it can make Richmond a desirable place for individuals, businesses and industries to relocate permanently.

If it struggles as the result of mismanagement, turf battles or controversy, its outside funding could dry up and just keeping its doors open could be a challenge.

The press loves to cover public fights and controversies because they sell newspapers, and the EKU Center for the Arts has generated its share of news, both good and bad. Although this opinion has sometimes raised the eyebrows of my professional colleagues, I'm a citizen first and a journalist second.

I’d rather write reviews of the center's great performances for the Register’s inside pages than write hot stories for the front page about it being embroiled in controversy, much less scandal. That doesn't mean I will shy from controversy or ignore embarrassing news, but I’d rather write about success than failure.

I think everyone involved realizes what’s at stake with the EKU Center for the Arts, and I hope all will go the second mile and more, regardless of the circumstances, to attain the best outcome.