Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

January 27, 2014

Donor for mansion seat found

Bell secures private funding for statewide project

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — It turns out Barren County will have a seat at the table, so to speak, with private money financing it.

Last week, Barren County Fiscal Court declined a request from Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear’s office for contributions of $1,000 toward a project to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Governor’s Mansion. Each county was invited to sponsor a commemorative chair for the “County Seats” Legacy Project.

When Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer read magistrates an email about the request, at least two said they didn’t think taxpayer money should go toward the initiative. But the request did not actually ask for public money – instead, it asked county leaders to identify people or organizations who might wish to contribute. A website devoted to the mansion’s centennial specifically discourages using public funds for the commemoration.

Upon reading a report in Friday’s Daily Times about fiscal court’s interpretation of the request, state Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, made some calls and found someone willing to sponsor Barren County’s chair.

Based on his conversations with members of the fiscal court and the community at large, “everybody felt the community should be represented in the centennial celebration of the commonwealth’s mansion for the governor,” he said, specifying it is actually the people’s mansion, not the governor’s.

“I understand the fiscal court’s position and the judge-executive’s position that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on this project, and I agree with them,” Bell said Saturday. “However, the way I interpreted it was that they were asking for private donations.”

He said the donor wanted to make sure Barren County was not left out of the mix.

“A private citizen who wants to remain anonymous gave us a private donation for the chair, and it will say ‘Barren County’ on it,” he said. “They were pretty adamant about not wanting any recognition for what they’ve done. ... They wanted to do it for the community.”

Bell emphasized that he is not the donor.

Bell called the first lady’s office and told officials there that the donation was in place, and the person with whom he spoke said Barren County’s name would be placed on a chair.

“That’s long-term thing; those will be there a long time,” Bell said.

The Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation Inc. contracted with Berea College to produce “120 new durable, functional and beautiful chairs for use at the Mansion,” according to the email sent to Greer. “These chairs will be handcrafted of locally sourced, sustainable maple wood and are being designed, built and upholstered by Berea College students.”

Jaclyn Farmer, a special assistant to Beshear who has been tracking and processing the donations, said she expects to receive a check from a man from Barren County. She said an unveiling reception that had been scheduled for last week has been postponed until April 3, and every individual donor still will be invited.

“The processing of the chairs took longer than expected,” Farmer said, adding that they were still in production in Berea.

In addition, organizers did not want to interfere with the legislative session, she said.

Farmer said about 70 counties have either paid or made solid verbal commitments; of the others, some have declined, but some are still trying to gather donors. The county names will be on a plaque attached to the back of the chair, she said.

She noted that a quilt that hangs in the state Capitol has block in it that represents each of the 120 counties.

“This is kind of a really cool way to have that same idea in the mansion,” Farmer said.

Bell said he wanted to express his appreciation to the contributing resident.

“I think it shows the spirit of Barren County that people step forward to make things happen. I think that’s part of what makes a great community,” Bell said. “We all must pull together if we’re going to have success – citizens, politicians, everybody.”

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