Local officials are largely silent on the dismissal of Ralph Tharp, executive director of the economic development agency.
Libby Marshall, chairwoman of the Kentucky Capital Development Corp., announced Saturday Tharp’s one-year contract would not be renewed when it expires in October. She declined Tuesday to explain what was behind the decision.
It’s unclear if the board of directors voted on the matter and if a vote was taken whether it was behind closed doors or in open session.
The board of directors had been conducting a review of Tharp’s performance but has not finalized it.
The State Journal filed an open records request Tuesday seeking documents related to Tharp’s dismissal. KCDC has three days to respond.
Marshall said the performance review will remain in draft form, making it exempt from an open records request. She did not explain why the board decided not to adopt the evaluation.
She also declined to say when a search for a new executive director would begin or how the effort would be conducted.
Tharp proposed a number of projects including high-speed trains, electric cars and a boutique hotel. He earned $80,000 per year plus benefits. Tharp submitted a two-page response Saturday but declined further comment.
Marshall praised Tharp when he was hired in October 2010.
“Ralph’s experience spans all levels of planning and development – community and commercial projects, urban planning initiatives, green space preservation and international economic development,” she told The State Journal last year.
KCDC board members Clay Hulette, Jon Vaught and Dr. Gus Ridgel declined to comment on the matter. Members Dave Weller and Rex Fowler did not respond to a request for comment.
The mayor and county judge each appoint three of the six-member KCDC board.
Reaction from fiscal court was mixed with some calling Tharp a visionary and others criticizing his ideas.
Judge-Executive Ted Collins said he supports the board’s decision to let Tharp’s contract expire.
“We put the board in place to make tough decisions and move the community forward,” he said.
He said Tharp had good ideas but questioned how much time he spent on recruiting new industries and employers.
“Long-range planning is good and that’s probably Mr. Tharp’s greatest strength,” Collins said.
Fifth District Magistrate Huston Wells said he didn’t know Tharp would be dismissed until he read about the decision in The State Journal Sunday.
“I actually thought he was visionary and liked his ideas,” Wells said. “I personally kind of like where he was going. But I have a lot of faith in the board and feel like they know what they’re doing.”
First District Magistrate Jill Robinson said Tharp did not keep in contact with fiscal court.
“I haven’t had much contact with him but I think some of his ideas were intriguing,” she said. “I think when he first came on board Libby brought him over to one meeting and he said a few words. It was months before we heard any more about him. I’ve always felt like they really need to keep close contact with us.”
She attended a conference on railroads with Tharp in Chicago in April and said he made a lot of contacts there.
“I think it was a valuable experience,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she didn’t know about the decision to dismiss Tharp until Friday night. She said she had the impression Tharp did not have widespread support in the community.
“When he got in a hole with his board not a lot of people rallied around him,” she said.
Third District Magistrate Don Sturgeon said Tharp or his ideas did not impress him.
“He seemed to be a big city kind of guy and Frankfort is not that kind of place,” Sturgeon said.
Tharp was hired in October 2010 with extensive national and international development experience including work in the Baghdad International Zone, Afghanistan, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Although he had not read Tharp’s performance evaluation, Sturgeon said he was told Tharp scored low.
Magistrates Lambert Moore, Phillip Kring and Larry Perkins did not respond to a request for comment.
City officials also said they had little contact with Tharp, including Commissioner Katie Flynn Hedden. She said she only met Tharp a few times and had no comment about his dismissal.
Commissioner Sellus Wilder said he doesn’t question the authority of the KCDC board of directors to terminate Tharp but is sad to see him go.
“I think he brought a lot of good ideas to the table and I hope the ideas don’t leave with him,” Wilder said.
Commissioner Bill May said although he only met Tharp a couple times and he is anxious to find out why Tharp’s contract was not renewed.
“I never got to know him at all,” May said.
Mayor Gippy Graham said he is ambivalent about Tharp’s departure.
“We have to let the board make their decisions,” Graham said.
Commissioner Michael Turner did not respond to a request for comment.
Few community leaders who worked with Tharp questioned the decision to terminate him.
Kelly Everman, director of Downtown Frankfort Inc., said she wishes Tharp well.
“I don’t wish for anyone to be out of work in economic times like this,” she said. “I mean that sincerely.”
Attorney John Gray said he was impressed by Tharp’s resume. He worked with Tharp on plans to convert the old YMCA building on Bridge Street to a boutique hotel.
“It was more impressive than anybody’s I’ve seen in a long time,” Gray said.
He questioned if city and county officials had any role in Tharp’s dismissal or knew of the decision in advance.
“I’m not as upset as I am concerned about the way things operate here in Frankfort,” Gray said.
Gray said he’s concerned about how long it will take to recruit Tharp’s successor given the nature of his dismissal.
“How anxious would a qualified person be to come to Frankfort knowing what happened to their predecessor but not knowing why?” he asked. “Frankfort always takes one step forward and a couple steps back.”