Hiring an executive director and a chief state steward are among the first items of business for the newly created Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. The 16-member panel held an orientation meeting Feb. 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The authority is currently operating without a permanent executive director following the resignation of Bernie Hettel, who served in the position for 20 years. Jesse Skees is currently filling the position of interim executive director while the search for a permanent executive director is ongoing. Skees is the executive director of the Office of Inspector General for the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Public Protection Authority.
LaJuana Wilcher, Secretary of Environmental and Public Protection, under which the racing authority now falls, said a national search would be conducted to hire an outside search firm that will assist in the search for a new executive director and chief steward.
"The outside search firm will help guarantee that the search for an executive director will be wide-sweeping to ensure that the best qualified candidate would be hired," Wilcher said. "The time frame to chose a search firm will be very short, in order for us to begin the search for an executive director. The search firm will also aid in the selection of the chief steward."
Hettel held both positions, while the new Authority seeks to hire a different person for each job.
In addition to its search for an executive director and state steward, the authority, at the request of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, approved conducting an audit of the now defunct Kentucky Racing Commission following the discovery of policy and procedural irregularities.
Gov. Fletcher, following the Jan. 6 abolishment of the Kentucky Racing Commission, created the authority, which is now responsible for promoting economic development activities in the state, and strengthening ties between the horse industry and the state's universities, as well as promoting the horse tourism industry.
"I am committed to enhancing the state's signature industry by appointing leaders of integrity and experience to oversee the industry in this time of change," Fletcher said during the opening minutes of the meeting. "I am committed to looking for every opportunity to showcase the horse industry and draw the best owners, trainer, and breeders to the state. If we build it they will come."
Racing authority chairman, Bill Street, retired chairman of Brown Forman Corp., said the authorities first task would be to define the mission of the newly created racing authority.
"Our first goal will be to define our mission as an authority as it is broader mission than the previous commission, and to ensure that it is in line with the mission and vision of the governor," said Street. "This industry has its share of issues, such as declining attendance, increased competition from alternative gaming, and medication."
Wilcher called the first meeting a success. "There are several exciting opportunities with this commission, and this sport is what Kentucky is most related to. We are off to a good start."
The commission will meet regularly at noon on the third Monday of each month.