Responding to backlash over his leadership changes at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says he will appoint Prospect cattle breeder Jack Ragsdale as chairman emeritus of the committee he led for 41 years.
Ragsdale was replaced in Beshear’s June 23 executive order that gave the NAILE chairmanship to Kentucky State Fair Board President Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe. But it triggered concerns that the so-called North American could be in jeopardy. Those concerns were heightened by the dismissal of Vice Chairman Harold Workman and expo General Manager Corinne Fetter.
Ragsdale, 89, was one of the founders of the expo in 1974. It has grown into the world’s biggest event for purebred cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and other livestock. It draws more than 220,000 people to the Kentucky Exposition Center in November and has a local economic impact estimated at up to $18 million.
On Tuesday, the North American’s executive committee passed a motion to invite Workman and Fetter to work in the “same capacity” as they had, only as consultants. As of late Wednesday, they said they still had not been contacted.
At the same meeting, committee member Dennis Liptrap, a hog farmer in Nicholasville, asked Rippetoe to cede the committee chairmanship back to Ragsdale. He tabled the request, though, when Beshear’s head of agricultural policy, Roger Thomas, offered to “resolve” the matter in Frankfort. One day later, on Wednesday, a spokesman for Beshear said the governor was standing by his executive order but would give Ragsdale the honorary title of chairman emeritus.
Beshear said late Wednesday that he conferred the title to Ragsdale “to honor him for his 40-plus years of outstanding service to the North American International Livestock Exposition and the agriculture community.”
Liptrap was still stewing over the changes Thursday.
“I certainly appreciate and support declaring Jack as emeritus,” he said. “I would still rather have him as sitting chairman of our committee, but we need to move forward. We don’t want a hiccup.”
The governor’s office also provided an explanation Wednesday for ordering the North American leadership changes. In a released statement, Beshear said the Fair Board president — Rippetoe — was made the livestock expo’s general manager and chairman to “provide greater transparency and accountability and to bring stronger financial management to an important event that has consistently lost tens of thousands of dollars over the years.”
According to financial statements provided by the Fair Board, the expo has lost between $500,000 and $668,000 in each of the past seven years. The state used to provide funding for the expo, but ceased doing so before 2008.
The changes aren’t necessarily permanent. The executive order must be ratified by the state legislature or it will expire in mid-2016. A similar 2014 order died this year in a committee of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. If the 2015 order likewise isn’t ratified — and the new governor doesn’t issue a new order — the expo committee will resume electing its own chairperson.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6543.
This story was reported by Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.