No public money will be used to pay for a new security fence at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort. Instead, the Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation, Inc., has agreed to fund the fence, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.
The foundation, a non-profit based in Lexington, has not made public its donations since it was set up in 2002 but Lindy Karns, its secretary and treasurer, said it will for the fence.
“For timing reasons we are using funds from the endowment to pay for the fence,” she said in an email Thursday. “We would like to replenish these funds through fund raising sometime in the future. To the extent, and if, funds are raised to repay the endowment for the fence we will disclose the names of the contributors.”
Bids for an ornamental security fence that were solicited in July by the state Finance and Administration Cabinet ranged from $45,155 to $206,080. The foundation has not yet disclosed how much it plans to spend on the fence.
The project was spurred by a May 24 rally on the Capitol grounds at which protesters gathered on the front porch of the mansion, where Gov. Beshear, his wife and their two young children live, to voice their opposition to Beshear’s restrictions to curb COVID-19.
Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear is president of the foundation. Other board members include Karns; Brookes Pope of Louisville; Lexington businessman Jim Host; Steve Collins, chairman of the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission; and former First Lady Glenna Bevin.
The board unanimously voted to pay for the security fence, said Karns, noting that Bevin was not in attendance.
Richard Beliles, head of Common Cause of Kentucky, said the donations to the foundation should be made public.
“I think that’s really good the foundation is going that route,” said Beliles. “It’s good for the whole state for transparency in government and good that all of us can celebrate the people who are trying to support needed infrastructure like a security fence for our first family.”
“It’s good that taxpayers won’t have to pay for the fence and the sources of the funds for it should not be private,” said Beliles.
If the donations are not disclosed, Beliles said, “it would cause people to worry about their government. With private donations, maybe Gov. Beshear would never reward any donor to the foundation but what about the next governor? It’s an ethical issue to do the right thing.”
Former First Lady Judi Patton, who formed the foundation, said she could not recall any discussion about whether donations to the foundation should be private or public.
The foundation was formed assist with restoration, maintenance and preservation of public buildings, sites, structures, places and objects of historic significance owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“It took almost a year to organize the non-profit,” said Patton. “I wanted to set up a foundation to pass on to generations to have funds to renovate the Mansion and Old Governor’s Mansion with the first lady as its president and a small board presiding. I don’t remember about the nature of the donations but I do know a security fence is needed around the residence.”
The Governor’s Mansion is believed to be the only Executive Mansion in the United States that does not have security fencing.
In May, some of the heavily-armed protesters who gathered on the front porch shouted for Beshear to come outside. He was not home at the time.
Following the same event, the governor was hanged in effigy from a tree on the Capitol grounds.
“A group of armed demonstrators crossed over barriers to stand on the front porch of the mansion, just a window pane away from where the Governor and First Lady raise their two young children, and chanted for him to come outside. They then hung the Governor in effigy on Capitol grounds,” said Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley. “At that time, the Kentucky State Police executive security requested a fence be built for the safety of the current and future first families.”
Beshear received some criticism for spending money on a fence at a time when COVID-19 has brought great uncertainty to the state budget.
“With COVID-19 impacting the state budget, the foundation did the right thing by voting to provide the fence at the Governor’s Mansion, which will serve future first families,” Staley said.
One of the foundation’s biggest projects was the 100th year of the Governor’s Mansion in 2014.
The centennial marked a yearlong celebration of events honoring the Mansion’s architectural, social and political history. Some of the many celebratory events included the premiere of a new documentary about the mansion’s history, a mansion symposium and a special legacy project involving all 120 Kentucky counties.
Jack Brammer is Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has covered politics and government in Kentucky since May 1978. He has a Master’s in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a native of Maysville, Ky.
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