New board at Kentucky Horse Park names new executive director during special meeting Thursday

05/26/2016 04:33 PM

LEXINGTON — After spending about an hour and a half behind closed doors during a special called meeting on Thursday, the newly reorganized Kentucky Horse Park Commission unanimously named Laura Prewitt as its new executive director.

The former executive director of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Festival replaces Kentucky Horse Park Executive Director Jamie Link, who was appointed to the position in October 2014 and whose contract expires June 30.

The decision comes two days after Gov. Matt Bevin abolished and then reauthorized the Kentucky Horse Park Commission with a new makeup and nearly all new board members on Tuesday. Former First Lady Jane Beshear was among those removed from the panel.

Prewitt and Link, a former aide to ex-Gov. Steve Beshear, were the only ones summoned to the commission’s executive session, and Prewitt was identified after applying for jobs at the horse park or the racing commission as Bevin took office through a website for individuals interested in non-merit jobs in the administration, according to Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet spokesman Garry Gupton.

Prewitt, a business executive in the equine industry, also unsuccessfully sought the park’s executive director spot in the national search that landed Link the job in 2014.

“I’m looking forward to continuing on a lot of the good things that are going on out here,” Prewitt told reporters after Thursday’s meeting. “I look forward to trying, doing some marketing aspects to get people in Lexington to know more about the horse park, to make it more than a one-stop destination.”

“I want people to know that there’s more than horses at the horse park,” she continued.

Link deferred comment on the decision to the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, although he praised Prewitt and said he would help ease the transition.

Prewitt will start on July 1. She said she had not negotiated a salary during Thursday’s commission meeting but understood around how much she would earn during her two-year personal service contract. Link made $151,500 annually in his contract.

She added that she expected to have a contract in place as soon as possible and that she hoped Link’s support during the transition would help her build relationships with current park staff.

Tandy Patrick, chair of the Horse Park Commission, expressed her optimism in Prewitt.

She said the board was not required to post the job and that Prewitt had previously applied for the post during a national search that led to Link’s appointment.

That was a process not worth repeating, she said.

“We actually had discussed candidates in the past, and we didn’t feel the need for a national search,” said Patrick, who struggled to speak during the meeting and afterward due to laryngitis.

While Link previously served in ex-Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, most recently as deputy chief of staff before his appointment to the horse park, Gupton, the cabinet’s spokesman, indicated that politics were not a factor in Thursday’s move.

Gupton said he could not speak on behalf of the board, but their action today showed their belief that it was time for a change in leadership at the park.

“The secretary of our cabinet, Don Parkinson, has said unequivocally that Jamie Link is a good guy and there is nothing political involved in this at all and that it was just time, according to the commission as they voted today,” Gupton said in a phone interview Thursday.

“It was time for them to make a change in leadership at the park. It has nothing to do with cause or anything of that regard. This was purely a decision made by the members of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.”

The change in the horse park’s administration not only follows Bevin’s revamp of its makeup and most of its membership, but it also comes as Auditor Mike Harmon examines certain financial practices at the park during fiscal years 2014, 2015 and 2016

“I do not think there’s anything improper, probably, so we’ll see,” Prewitt said. “I think that perhaps that there might be little things, policies, whatever, but I’m not concerned.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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