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Final appearance on Comment on Kentucky, and a farewell to the Bluegrass State

November 10, 2010

I’ll be heading over to Lexington tonight for the taping of Comment on Kentucky – KET’s weekly public affairs program featuring journalists from around the state.

It will be my last appearance on the show, as I’ll start a new position next week with the Triad Business Journal in Greensboro, NC. I’ll be moving back to reporting, with the health care industry as my primary area of coverage for the Business Journal, which covers the cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. This is a great opportunity for me professionally, and a chance for me to return to my native North Carolina.

But it means a farewell this week to Owensboro and to Kentucky. I’ve been a member of the staff at the Messenger-Inquirer since July 2004, and in that time have moved from covering the criminal justice system to City Hall, and also to the halls of the Capitol in Frankfort. As a reporter I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and to the National Mall with a group of Kentuckians to experience the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I’ve even managed to be commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel.

For the last 18 months, I’ve been the editorial page editor – a move in my career that I have relished and that’s allowed me to grow as a writer, researcher and journalist. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for the opinion page and for this blog, which has offered me new opportunities to opine about different subjects and offer my own thoughts about the issues facing Owensboro, Kentucky and the country.

I’ll be offering some more of those opinions at tonight’s taping of Comment on Kentucky, which will air at its usual time on Friday night. Being a guest on Comment is something that has grown more and more enjoyable with each visit, and has been another of the great experiences in my journalism career so far.

So tune in Friday night – by that time, I will have wrapped up my work here at the Messenger-Inquirer, and will hopefully be well on my way to getting my things packed for my move to North Carolina. This will be my last dispatch on this blog – thanks to those who’ve have read, commented and participated – it’s been a fun run.

Best,

Owen

Yonts calls for audit of Dismas Charities

September 7, 2010

Dismas Charities, the network of halfway houses in Kentucky and elsewhere, has recently garnered headlines after revelations that the nonprofit shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for luxury suites in Papa John’s Stadium and the new arena in downtown  Louisville, and offers its top executive a compensation package of more than $600,000.

Dismas conducts nearly all of its business with state or federal governments – as much as 99 percent of its revenues in 2008 came from its contracts with government entities.

Here’s an excerpt from an editorial we wrote on the subject last week —

News of these excessive expenses were met with outrage by some, and calls for investigation by others, including state Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat. State Auditor Crit Luallen issued a statement saying that “these examples of spending by an organization funded primarily with public dollars raises serious questions.”

The same was said about the Kentucky League of Cities, which was exposed for squandering money – taxpayer money paid to the League for its services – on travel, restaurants and extravagances. The same was said about the Kentucky Association of Counties, which like KLC was using taxpayer dollars to pamper top executives and officials.

With the KLC and KACo, there were many who praised the services they provided while condemning their excesses, and it’s not a stretch to see similarities in how Dismas Charities conducts business. Dismas is a not-for-profit charity, and its spending practices should better reflect its core mission of providing these valuable services to offenders at the least-possible cost to government.

Until then, the state should rethink whether tax dollars are best spent helping fund the luxurious diversions Dismas Charities officials have chosen to pursue.

Today, Yonts called on Luallen and Attorney General Jack Conway to open an investigation into the charity, and compares its business practices to “those which were condemned in the past two years by financial institutions in their greed.”

Read the full letter below.

September 7, 2010

The Honorable Crit Luallen

State Auditor

209 St. Clair Street

Frankfort, Kentucky  40601

The Honorable Jack Conway

Attorney General

Commonwealth of Kentucky

700 Capitol Avenue

Frankfort, Kentucky  40601

Dear Crit and Jack:

I am writing you concerning the issues associated with Dismas Charities as they relate to the facts the public’s perception, and the likely reality that Dismas Charities may have abused the public trust placed in them while being allowed to be a charity and receiving substantially all of their money from the governments of the United States and Kentucky.  Specifically, the first thing to remember is that this group is a charity.  There are certain perimeters and guidelines that must be followed to retain charitable status.

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Dismas Charities receives in excess of $1 million to run half way houses for the Department of Corrections.  It receives a few dollars from a Catholic charity.  The balance is received from the U.S.  government.  My understanding is based on what has been reported by the press.  Also, as reported by the press, the CEO receives an annual salary in excess of $600,000.  A deputy receives a salary in excess of $400,000, and others receive large sums as well.  The charity has rented a box at the new basketball stadium in Louisville, for four years minimum, at $92,000 per year.  The charity has also had a box at Papa John’s Stadium, for which they pay for $45,000 a year, and spent $15,000 to remodel it.  In addition, the charity has leased a renovated party caboose at Papa John’s for an unknown price and for an unknown period of time.

These appear to be the facts, and the perception is when governments are broke and monies for needed services are hard to come by, this charity has taken on activities similar to those which were condemned in the past two years by financial institutions in their greed.

This fact pattern begs for an audit and an investigation by your respective agencies under all authority you have.  The facts command an accounting.  The position of Dismas Charities offering no apologies merely adds to the public insult.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Brent Yonts

State Representative

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Catch me on Comment on Kentucky tonight

September 3, 2010

A fan of Comment on Kentucky, KET’s weekly public affairs program featuring journalists from around the state hosted by Ferrell Wellman?

Well be sure to tune in for tonight’s episode. I’m a guest on the show, and am joined by Jack Brammer of the Herald-Leader and Greg Hall of the Courier-Journal. It airs at 7 p.m. Central.

While Comment is normally broadcast live, we actually taped the show last night because today is one of six furlough days this fiscal year for state workers, including those who work at KET. In tonight’s show, we cover recent additions to Kentucky’s governor’s race, a look at the U.S. Senate race and analysis of the push for “instant racing” at Kentucky’s horse tracks.

I also provide an update for folks on the open records lawsuit brought by KCTCS against the Messenger-Inquirer,  and the recent ruling that KCTCS must produce public documents including the evaluation of former OCTC President Paula Gastenveld. The ruling was a big win for the newspaper, and a big win for the public, who has so many unanswered questions about why Gastenveld was removed from her post in May 2009.

Be sure to tune in for all the fun!

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Williams, Farmer post campaign video

September 1, 2010

Well that didn’t take long.

Even before this morning’s announcement of their candidacy for governor and lieutenant governor, Republicans David Williams and Richie Farmer have already launched a website, a Facebook page, and now have a YouTube channel with its first campaign video.

Titled “Righting the Ship in Kentucky,” the video calls for change in Frankfort because “Kentucky is adrift” and “many Kentuckians have given up hope.” The 3-minute video features Williams saying “we have to take the government back for the people,” and includes mention of Richie Farmer’s time at UK, as well as his time in government as agricultural commissioner.

Check it out.

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Williams, Farmer announcement coming, website counting down the minutes

September 1, 2010

After weeks of speculation, Senate President David Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer are slated to make an announcement about their political futures this morning at 10 Central.

The announcement is likely to confirm an anticipated move for governor by Williams, with Farmer coming along for the ride as a candidate for lieutenant governor. Leading up to today’s announcement, Williams has been much more active in getting out and about around the state, including a stop in Owensboro on Monday for the official opening of the Daviess County Republican Party campaign headquarters.

And just to give more credibility to the speculation that a Williams-Farmer ticket is to be announced today – check out www.WilliamsFarmer.com.

The site, which pays tribute to Farmer’s spot in UK basketball history with a basketball in the logo, is supposedly counting down the seconds until this morning’s announcement, but appears to be off by an hour. As of 7:45 a.m. Central, the ticker reads 3 hours, 15 minutes to go, yet the announcement is scheduled for 10 a.m. Central. Hmmm.

But the site does include the required notation of “Paid for by Williams-Farmer 2011.”

There’s also a Facebook page for “Williams-Farmer for Kentucky”, that as of this morning had about 58 fans.

We’ll see what’s coming later this morning, but it looks like next year’s campaign will certainly be a doozie.

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Column: The forgotten fight for women’s suffrage

August 25, 2010

On Tuesday, we offered an editorial calling on the public to mark this month’s celebration of the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage by heading to the polls in November. There’s no better way to recognize past struggles to secure such an important right by recognizing it as a duty of citizenship.

As Christine Stansell noted in Tuesday’s New York Times, the push for women’s suffrage, which brought about the largest enfranchisement in our country’s history, is often viewed as inevitable though the view was quite different in 1920.

From Stansell’s column

In the ensuing decades (following the Civil War, the nation backpedaled from the equal-rights guarantees of the 14th and 15th amendments. Black voters in the South were refused federal protection, and even in the North and West, literacy tests and educational requirements were used to turn immigrants and laborers away from the polls. The suffrage movement itself embraced anti-immigrant and anti-black views. In 1903 in New Orleans, at their annual convention, suffragists listened to speakers inveigh against the Negro menace. Black suffragists met far across town. (An elderly Susan B. Anthony paid them a respectful call.) It was the nadir of the women’s movement.

Even after the 19th amendment was backed by President Woodrow Wilson and pushed through Congress over opposition, it was far from a done deal, Stansell notes.

Thirty-six of the 48 states then needed to ratify it. Western states did so promptly, and in the North only Vermont and Connecticut delayed. But the segregated South saw in the 19th Amendment a grave threat: the removal of the most comprehensive principle for depriving an entire class of Americans of full citizenship rights. The logic of women’s disenfranchisement helped legitimize relegating blacks to second-class citizenship.

Female voters would also pose practical difficulties, described bluntly by a Mississippi man: “We are not afraid to maul a black man over the head if he dares to vote, but we can’t treat women, even black women, that way. No, we’ll allow no woman suffrage.”

Give Stansell’s column a read to learn more about this struggle that is often overlooked, and commemorate that struggle this Thursday in Owensboro during an event downtown. Here are the details –

The “Votes for Women” celebration will be held at noon Thursday starting at City Hall, 101 E. Fourth St. and finishing at Fourth and Allen streets with a program on the Daviess County Courthouse lawn at the flagpole.

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Highlights from the 2010 Fancy Farm Picnic

August 12, 2010

The unofficial start to the fall campaign season in Kentucky – the Fancy Farm Picnic – drew one of its largest crowds in years, organizers said, and set the stage for candidates to gear up their push toward November.

The crowd certainly seemed larger to me, and not just from the addition of national media that have taken a keen interest in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race this year. I had hoped to be able to post updates during the speeches on Saturday, but my iPhone wasn’t up to the task. Hopefully next year will go more smoothly (and be cooler).

I did shoot some video – a first for me – and put together this brief look at a few highlights from the day. Included in the video, along with Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul, both candidates for U.S. Senate, are Mark Wilson, one of the picnic’s organizers, Charlotte Whittaker of Hartford, who was joined by a group of seniors and AARP members from Ohio County, and Todd Inman of Owensboro, vice chairman of the Daviess County Republican Party.

Enjoy…

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