Despite efforts to bring back two people considered vital to the success of the annual North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, the show will go on without them.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s shakeup of the expo’s leadership in June rippled throughout Kentucky’s livestock-breeding industry. He replaced longtime NAILE executive committee Chairman Jack Ragsdale with State Fair Board President Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe. Beshear made Rippetoe the general manager of the livestock expo, prompting the previous job-holder, Corinne Fetter, to resign. Rippetoe later dismissed Harold Workman, who had served as vice chairman on an unpaid basis.
The events rattled NAILE committee members, most of whom are breeders from around the state. At their Aug. 11 meeting, members expressed fears that the livestock expo — which draws more than 220,000 visitors to Louisville and generates upwards of $18 million in economic impact — could deteriorate and be lost to another state without experienced leadership.
At the motion of Murray horse breeder James Rudolph, the committee voted to return Fetter and Workman to their duties. It left the negotiations and terms up to Rippetoe.
On Tuesday, committee members learned that the negotiations had failed.
The two sides could not agree on terms. Workman said Rippetoe and Fair Board Chairman Mark Lynn would not give him and Fetter authority to make decisions for the so-called North American exposition, which runs Nov. 3-20. Workman and Fetter would not be allowed to bring along their “team” of unpaid superintendents, directors and longtime expo publicist Claude Brock. Moreover, Fetter would not be paid.
“We won’t be going back,” Workman told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. “We weren’t going to make any decisions that were inappropriate or wasn’t necessary for the production of the event.
“Compensating Corinne (Fetter) was a key issue because she isn’t retired, could use the source of income and had a world of knowledge and had a lot of work that had to be done.”
Beshear defused the uproar over Ragsdale’s removal by giving him the honorary title of chairman emeritus of the executive committee.
Fair Board spokeswoman Amanda Storment said state law prohibits agreements or contracts with former employees within six months of their departure. Besides, she said, outgoing Kentucky Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Steve Kelly starts Sept. 16 as the new director of Fair Board expos, including the North American. She said the “decision was made” not to recall Brock because the organization already has a public relations staff.
Storment said there are enough superintendents, judges and other workers for the expo.
“It will have some fits and starts, but it will go on and it will be produced in the manner that we’re accustomed to producing it, which is to have the best purebred livestock show,” she said.
Rudolph, chairman of NAILE’s Equine Advisory Committee, was not happy about the development.
“They failed to make a good-faith effort to bring them back is, I guess, the way I’d summarize it,” Rudolph said. “I think it’s pretty evident that they don’t want the team back. They think they can handle it all by themselves.”
As to Storment’s claim that the organization is sufficiently staffed to run the North American, Rudolph said, “The staff would be sufficient if they had the leadership.”
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.