It's now clear why Pulaski needed SPEDA

Jeff Neal

When discussions began a few years ago about a new economic development group taking shape in Pulaski County, many people wondered why.

After all, the Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation was already in place.

So why make a change?

Well, maybe now we have an inkling as to why moving from the old group to SPEDA (The Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority) was visionary, indeed.

On Friday, SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler revealed that, during the course of the transition from the old foundation to SPEDA, certain "financial discrepancies" that pointed to "an overall case of mismanagement" by the old group had reared their heads. It was so alarming that Girdler, the SPEDA board and the old foundation's board of directors took their findings to the Kentucky State Police, which is currently investigating.

Who knows what will be revealed in the coming weeks.

But it's now clear that the City of Somerset and Pulaski Fiscal Court took a step in the right direction by moving away from the old way of doing things.

In short, the old foundation was a disaster waiting to happen.

As Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley pointed out, the old foundation had a self-appointing board of directors, which allowed for virtually no accountability to the taxpayers -- even though the foundation was funded with taxpayer money.

And, quite frankly, the results the old foundation was producing didn't match up to the tax dollars being thrown its way.

So Kelley began looking for a new way. Although the formation of SPEDA sputtered in 2017 when then-Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler showed some hesitation, the group took off with Alan Keck's election last year.

With SPEDA, there is transparency -- which is in direct contrast to how the old foundation did business. The SPEDA board is appointed by Kelley and Keck, with the two local leaders also playing a key role as SPEDA board members. The board, in turn, hired Girdler as its leader.

Girdler is accountable to his board, which is in turn accountable to the city and county, which in turn is accountable to you, the taxpayer.

I don't know what type of allegations will come to light with the KSP probe into the old foundation.

But I'm confident the type of misuse being investigated now will not happen under the new regime. There are too many checks and balances, and you will not see the loose oversight we had in the past.

When a group operates in the darkness, then darkness will often seep into its business. It's sad, but it's also true.

That's why Girdler, Keck and Kelley are working so hard to make SPEDA a polar opposite of what we had with the old foundation.

"SPEDA will continue its mission to work diligently to promote our great community and demonstrate that our economic model will improve the quality of life for all of our citizens while also continuing to abide by the charge given us by Mayor Keck and Judge Kelley to accomplish more with less, be transparent in all our actions and be able to quantify our work," Girdler said.

Simply put, that means the new way will involve you and will ultimately be accountable to you.

That's the way it always should have been.

If you think transparency and accountability are not crucial, just wait and see what this investigation reveals. It may just be proof positive that we never want to move backwards in economic development.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com.

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