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Two local leaders are stepping back from the volunteer organization Hardin County United.
Judge-Executive Harry Berry issued a letter to members of HCU’s steering committee Wednesday asking them to accept his resignation as chairman, where he promoted the placement of a new leader no later than April.
Berry does not plan to step away from the role until the committee fills the vacancy, he said.
“When they find someone to replace me, I’m ready to step down,” he said. “Hopefully soon.”
The steering committee next meets in February.
Berry’s letter of intent to resign follows the resignation of Hardin Circuit Judge Ken Howard as chairman of the HCU governance subcommittee, which managed a study of unified government.
HCU was founded after the conclusion of the Hardin County Vision Project in 2010, an extensive report identifying 24 strategic goals and initiatives for the county to evolve. The study was commissioned by Hardin County government and paid for by the Office of Economic Adjustment of the U.S. Department of Defense, which expressed interest in the changes at Fort Knox through the Base Realignment and Closure Initiative.
Berry was involved at the ground floor and has led the group since its inception. Berry said he has invested the past five years into securing money for the visioning process, bidding the Vision Project and advancing the strategic goals identified. Some of those goals involve the creation of a “powerhouse” economic development entity, the establishment of a local YMCA, trauma center certification for Hardin Memorial Hospital and expanded alcohol laws. Certain goals have been met while others have been taken on by other organizations, Berry said.
Unfortunately, Berry said, HCU is publicly shackled to the goal of unified local government. A lengthy debate ensued countywide about the merits of consolidating government services until the measure floundered after Hardin Fiscal Court rejected the creation of a commission to study unifica-tion and form a charter for the public to vote on.
Berry said HCU has been unfairly labeled as a one-issue organization despite being committed to all of the goals outlined through the project.
That being said, Berry believes those goals should be championed by leaders in the private sector rather than elected officials, one of the factors prompting his decision.
“Many of us have concluded our path forward to accomplish the remaining strategic goals would best be achieved through increased involvement of the private versus the public sector,” Berry wrote in the letter. “Additionally, I think we all can agree leadership by elected officials from the public sector also brings with it ‘political baggage’ and government stereotypes that likely negatively impact the advancement of several key remaining HCU goals.”
Berry said community issues spearheaded by public servants can cause friction for constituents and be misconstrued as government policies.
“People can’t think of us in our other roles,” Berry said. “When (they) see me, all they see is judge-executive.”
Berry also believes fresh energy is needed at the top but said his enthusiasm and support for HCU has not waned. He said he does not plan to “disengage” but will simply let someone else “paddle the boat.”
Like Berry, Howard said he feels fresh eyes and energy are needed to lead the subcommittee but plans to continue in a support role. HCU is rounded out by the education subcommittee, chaired by Central Kentucky Community Foundation President and CEO Al Rider, and the community support committee, which is chaired by Hardin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brad Richardson.
“I wasn’t asked to step down,” Howard said. “It was just something that, to me, was the right thing to do.”
Howard agreed HCU is now inextricably linked with unified government but said there are several issues the governance subcommittee has been tasked to explore — issues previously ignored because of the work required to promote the study of unification. One issue Howard said he wants to tackle is streamlining the planning and zoning process. Howard said there are several planning and zoning commissions inside the county, all of which have slightly different policies and ap-proaches.
“Sometimes that can be confusing,” he said.
As for unification, Howard said most feel the county is five to 10 years away from seriously con-sidering the notion, but the organization had to start somewhere. He believes the community benefited from HCU’s execution of a public information phase.
Luke Schmidt, HCU’s former consultant who still assists the organization in a volunteer capacity, said the leadership examples left by Berry and Howard are exemplary. Schmidt said both men have volunteered a “tremendous” amount of time in personal and professional capacities to work on the advancement of Hardin County.
Schmidt also said HCU could not have achieved nearly as much without the contributions of both men and said the immediate goal is to fill the two positions with capable successors.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.