Last month, the Franklin County Fiscal Court decided to cut its funding of the Kentucky Capital Development Corporation (KCDC) by $15,000 for a second year straight.
After not cutting KCDC last year, the city caught up with the county for this year’s proposed budget, as it slashed the organization’s funding by $30,000. It also cut funding for Downtown Frankfort Inc. (DFI) by $45,500.
An item of consideration for the county’s decision regarding KCDC was a letter penned by Jim Daniel, James Inman and other “concerned citizens,” sent to elected officials in May. That letter was critical of KCDC’s productivity, direction and integrity; it particularly honed in on KCDC President/CEO Terri Bradshaw’s performance.
Some local business leaders begged to differ.
A full-page ad published in The State Journal’s weekend edition titled “Let Kentucky Capital Development Corporation do its job,” signed by 26 businesses and members of the local business community, praised the work that Bradshaw has done in Franklin County.
The signatories included real estate developer Taylor Marshall, who paid for the ad with the help of funding from some of the others who signed.
“We have talked for the last decade about a better way to do economic development in Frankfort and we could never get traction because of lackluster leadership in many facets of our community,” Marshall wrote in a comment read at Monday’s city commission meeting. “That said, the way to change economic development is not to take away the few resources we have right now and starve growth in order to change it. If there is a bigger better plan, then let’s say that out loud instead of slashing the system in which we have all been forced to work.”
The ad was highly critical of both Inman and Daniel’s letter as well as the Fiscal Court’s previous decision to deny a controversial zone change on Duncan Road — a move strongly supported by Bradshaw.
“It is like asking a person selling shoes to sell more shoes, but not giving them an inventory to sell,” the ad read. “Then, coming out of a pandemic and national economic downturn of historic portions, the Fiscal Court cuts the budget of the only true purely local economic development agency in the community. This is not showing the kind of leadership needed to move our community forward.”
At Monday’s city commission meeting, several people spoke against both DFI and KCDC budget cuts. Mike Feldman, a Senior Vice President at Traditional Bank, spoke in praise of Bradshaw and asked why there wasn’t prior communication about what KCDC could do better before proposing the funding cuts.
“I’ve worked more closely with KCDC over the past eight years and I haven’t met anyone as impressive as Terri Bradshaw,” Feldman said. “I can tell you: Terri Bradshaw has tremendous talent… we’re very fortunate to have her in our community.
“I would ask: if not KCDC and if not DFI, what is the replacement plan? I would also ask the city to give these organizations advice on how to perform and give them time to perform those.”
DFI Executive Director Kaylah Smith, DFI Board President Rene True and KCDC President/CEO Terri Bradshaw all spoke in defense of their organizations’ output.
True and Bradshaw indicated that past city and county criticisms of their organizations about not hearing from either KCDC or DFI ring hollow.
Bradshaw pointed out that half of KCDC’s board is comprised of city appointees — the city is currently due to appoint a new member in the wake of previous chair Houston Barber’s resignation — and that annual and monthly reports are shared with the city.
True pointed out that city staff sits in on DFI’s board meetings, and that its participation has been strong.
Recently hired Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Tish Shade also threw support behind DFI and KCDC in a written comment.
"The proposed cut of $45,000 to DFI is almost one-third of the DFI budget," Shade wrote. "It will severely impact the members of the Chamber of Commerce. We at the chamber of commerce believe in the value of DFI and KCDC. We hope that you see the value of these entities and reconsider these budget cuts."
Other citizens speaking in support of either of the organizations include Frankfort-Franklin County Tourism Director Robin Antenucci, Mary Palumbo, Katie Otero and downtown business owner Karl Lawrence.
Ann Wingrove, who owns Completely Kentucky on Broadway and said that she was involved in lobbying for the creation of DFI, took a balanced approach to the discussion by saying while she was a “cheerleader,” she also welcomed the discussion on the organization’s efficacy.
“I’m a huge cheerleader, but I’m not as enthusiastic as I have been in the past about this organization,” Wingrove said. “… This is a great opportunity to talk about what Frankfort needs. And I don’t think it’s either/or on the budget. Maybe the way it happened wasn’t the best, but we’re here now.”
Nearer to the meeting's close, all members of the city commission stressed that the funding cuts, while perhaps drastic, could be amended. Several commissioners said they looked forward to meeting with both DFI and KCDC as well as the county to talk economic development goals.
"Our intention is to visit with the partner agencies," Wilkerson said. "… We haven’t had an opportunity to sit down with the organizations and talk about our strategy and our vision. It’s not our intent to close DFI or drastically change anything, I just think we need to make sure that we’re all in lockstep going forward… someone said earlier that if we’re going to do something we need to have a bigger and better plan — that’s the intention. I’m very eager to see DFI and KCDC succeed."
Commissioner Kyle Thompson agreed and pushed back against the idea that the commission was hindering local economic development in cutting funding.
"There are feelings that we don’t want economic development to happen. I don’t believe those are the facts," Thompson said. "The reality is that there needs to be a discussion in coordination with the county… I truly believe that those organizations have a fully-funded future in Franklin County, but there needs to be a reorganization."