(Editor’s Note: This is the last of a two-part series)
Comments on Bell County Fiscal Court meeting held Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.
I arrived at the meeting 30 minutes early, wearing my signature message shirt. This time the message read:
FOLLOW THE MONEY TO THE ASHER INDUSTRIAL AMUSEMENT PARK. YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK.
I had a big favor to ask of Judge Al Brock. I was expecting him to turn me down, and my T-shirt message was intended to show I meant business. My strategy was to be nice at all costs, although that seldom works for me. I was determined because my cause was heartfelt.
So, the first thing I did was to “glad-hand” Magistrate Silcox who, at the time, was sitting alone in the jury box. After all, Magistrates Silcox and Maiden had thoughtfully answered my questions and made sure I safely got on and off the mountain the evening before.
While I was also making nice with other people, the judge entered and immediately brought the meeting to order. Before I had time to find a seat, we were pledging the allegiance to the flag. By the time I sat down, he was asking for citizen comments. I was used to that request being the last thing on the docket at the Middlesboro City Council meetings, but I soon realized that Judge Brock’s meetings are big time. Judge Al was like a drill sergeant, or as I imagined one to be.
I braced myself for the worst, and then all of a sudden the judge mellowed out. He explained to me the fiscal court’s procedure was to take citizen comments on the agenda items only, before the court voted. After all, what good is it to listen to what people think after the votes are taken? However, he said, the court sometimes makes exceptions for other subjects a citizen might be concerned about.
I explained I was just a voter who had a favor to ask of him. He gave me permission to speak. As I approached the bench it dawned on me that, just possibly, the judge was trying to out-nice me. I remembered his over-sensitivity from the evening before and thought, no way am I going to win this nice-off.
I asked Judge Al if he would consider supporting a state-of-the-art drug treatment and mental health facility at the Asher Industrial Park. I figured it would cost 200 million dollars, serve all of southeastern Kentucky, bring in hundreds of jobs, relieve jail overcrowding, help hundreds of people and bring hope to families…
I told the court I felt like Asher Land and Minerals, a corporation, and Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority, also known as PMRIDA, should give the project a legitimate deed for 100 acres of land and donate $50 million to start it up.
I believe that if they, the two corporations, would support this philanthropic endeavor, the governor would appoint a board to oversee the operation and donations would roll in. An added incentive for the success of the project would be assured if it could be linked with a learning-teaching facility connected with Gov. Patton’s beloved University of Pikeville. Gov. Patton started PMRIDA, the industrial park endeavor and the Bridge to Nowhere in 1998.
And then the judge said those magical words.
“Yes, I support that project. Who wouldn’t?”
I was out-niced. I was so impressed, I shook his hand. Here we were, two bitter adversaries agreeing on a project, heartfelt and desperately needed, not only for Bell County but all of southeastern Kentucky. I was so happy, filled with hope and believing this project was destined for success.
I had forgotten one small detail… my T-shirt message, “Follow the money to the Asher Industrial Amusement Park. Your Tax dollars at work.” I had said my peace. Now, it was the judge’s turn.
Judge Brock invited everyone up to the Asher Industrial Park to see the beautiful road. Judge said not one penny of Bell County tax dollars went into paving that road. Every cent, he said, came from the Kentucky Department of Transportation. State-funded, totally. He made the argument that he would rather see the park road funded than some street in Louisville.
I was stunned. I thought to myself… please don’t make that argument, judge. You are wrong, wrong, wrong. I contended during the last county judge-executive election, and I still believe today, that the money for that road came from the Obama stimulus package. Money was given to Gov. Beshear to support Kentucky‘s infrastructure. Gov. Beshear allocated those funds to the Kentucky Department of Transportation. Eight million dollars of that fund was allocated to Bell County, which then allocated it to that project. Judge Brock vehemently disagrees, which brought about his lambasting me in a letter to the editor to the Daily News. I wasn’t allowed to respond because of the proximity to the election date, which brought about this bitter feud I previously addressed.
Judge Al Brock can make the argument that he would rather see this Asher Industrial Park road paved instead of some road in Louisville, and some Bell Countians might agree. Some, however, might argue that 10 inches of blacktop on a four-lane road to Asher Industrial Park could have better been used on other projects in Bell County.
But since it wasn’t, and what’s done is done, then the beautiful road is going to make a handsome entrance to what I hope will be the Gov. Patton Drug Treatment and Mental Health Hospital, connected to UPike, a teaching and learning place of hope for all of southeast Kentucky, with clean people, clean jobs.