Frankfort philanthropist Richard Rosen has withdrawn his $500,000 pledge to the Franklin County Humane Society for a new animal shelter, citing lack of city and county funding for the project and his displeasure with recent Frankfort City Commission actions.
In a Thursday email to Humane Society President Sam Marcus, Rosen said he initially made the pledge over a year ago to encourage Frankfort and Franklin County governments to fund a new animal shelter but he now feels like that pledge has not worked.
“Furthermore, I am completely disgusted with the decisions being made by the mayor and city commission on a variety of topics,” Rosen wrote. “The withdrawal of this pledge is to send them a message that their poor decisions have consequences. I will not invest in a company that has bad management, and likewise I see no reason to invest in a community that has bad management. I am especially upset with city government as they have $14 million in reserves, a small portion of which could be allocated to this important project. If and when we get a turnover in city government, then I will be happy to talk with you again about potentially helping to fund a new humane society building.”
What do you think of philanthropist Richard Rosen's withdrawal of a half-million-dollar pledge to the Franklin County Humane Society to send a message to city elected officials?
Rosen copied Frankfort Mayor Bill May, Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells and State Journal Publisher Steve Stewart on the email.
On Friday, Rosen told The State Journal that his purpose for retracting the donation pledge wasn’t to “spite City Hall” but to make citizens aware of the “lack of leadership and misdirection” he sees in the city.
Rosen said that there are two things that current elected officials could do for him to renew his pledged $500,000 — agree to pay the amounts that the Humane Society has asked for in the past toward a new shelter and reappoint Walt Baldwin and Rosen's wife, Anna Marie Pavlik Rosen, to the Frankfort Plant Board. Baldwin's and Rosen's terms expired last month and May didn't reappoint them.
Of the Humane Society's long pursuit of city and county funds to help build a new shelter, Rosen said that the longer elected leaders put it off, the more animals continue to suffer in the current building, which is over 50 years old. He said that his pledge was always contingent upon the city and county making their own donations, so he feels that by his action to withdraw his pledge, he is "not behaving any differently" than the city or county.
“They need to put this on the front burner,” Rosen said.
According to city commission meeting minutes, Marcus and Shelter Manager Kerry Lowary went to the Sept. 10, 2018, meeting and made a Powerpoint presentation on the shelter. At the time, they requested $1.6 million from the city, contingent on the Humane Society's raising $2 million itself for the new shelter, which is estimated to cost nearly $5 million. Marcus requested that commissioners make a final decision by Nov. 26, 2018. Marcus made a similar request of the county at the Sept. 25, 2018, meeting of the Fiscal Court.
Those requests were later lowered to $1.1 million from the city and $1.35 million from the county, as the city had leased the Carpenter Farm to the Humane Society, which would save roughly $250,000 for the overall project, Marcus said. The Humane Society planned to raise $2.5 million for the project, which was another factor in lowering the request.
On the Plant Board reappointments, Rosen said that the two former FPB directors asked questions of staff in meetings and are critics of the Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency contract. FPB entered the agreement officially on May 1 to purchase all electricity through the cooperative of municipal utilities in Kentucky.
Rosen said May told him that he would not reappoint his wife and Baldwin because the former FPB directors have upset some people.
“The staff for the most part had done an excellent job, but mistakes have been made,” Rosen said.
May did not respond Friday to a call seeking comment on Rosen’s letter, but he texted a State Journal reporter to say that he was on vacation. When asked if this was to be taken as no comment, May replied with, “Mayor May is on vacation and unavailable for comment. Thank you. Will see you when we return.”
Wells said Friday that he called Marcus earlier in the day to talk about having a meeting with Rosen to discuss his concerns as well as the concerns of the city and county about the project. Wells said he was initially shocked when he learned of Rosen’s withdrawal but added that Rosen has a right to donate his money as he wants.
Marcus said on Friday that the board of the Humane Society had not met yet to discuss the loss of the donation.
“I hope this can be worked on for the sake of our community and our animal shelter,” Wells said.
Without Rosen’s donation, the process to find a shelter could be extended, as the Humane Society will have to find a way to replace those funds, Marcus said. Nevertheless, the project is still on the table, he said.
“We made a commitment and we will stick to that,” Marcus said.
Marcus said the shelter is still in funding negotiations with city and county governments. He said the group had been working toward a new shelter for a few years before making the requests for government funds.
When asked if he feels like the revocation of the donation is politicizing the issue, Marcus said yes. He added that whenever anyone wants to make an issue political, it's like settling a gun fight in public and innocent people can get hurt.
When asked to respond, Rosen said his action was “absolutely” politically motivated. It is the only way to bring attention to the actions of City Hall, he said.
Rosen said he hopes that citizens become more aware of the actions of city leaders. If those problems are fixed, then maybe the animal shelter problem will be solved as well, he said.
The new shelter would add some room for dogs and more for cats, Marcus said. In the summer, which is typically the peak season for the shelter, Marcus said the Humane Society had 224 animals at the end of July and 192 at the end of August. On Friday, the shelter was at its cat capacity, which is 200 including fosters.
City Commissioner John Sower said that any contribution made by an individual is a “very personal decision,” and he thought that it would not be appropriate to give an opinion or comment on Rosen’s withdrawal of his pledge. As for listening to Rosen’s concerns, Sower said he is open to talking with anyone and he knows that citizens can be upset with city decisions from time to time.
“My decisions are based on what I think is right for Frankfort,” Sower said.
City Commissioner Scott Tippett said he learned about Rosen’s decision from city staff on Friday and said that it was “disappointing.” When asked if he would be willing to further talk with Rosen about his concerns, Tippett said that they could talk about the Humane Society.
“His decision only hurts the animals of Franklin County,” Tippett said.
Commissioners Katrisha Waldridge and Eric Whisman did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday afternoon.