More than $41K in Tax Dollars Expensed and some May Have Died
By Jeff Jobe
The Barren County Fiscal Court is under fire from the community because they have once again found themselves in the dark when it comes to how county tax dollars are spent. The issue at hand involves 9-beautiful animals that found themselves inside a court case and then having their ownership transferred to Barren County Fiscal Court.
There was a criminal case regarding the horses, which had a man named Greg Turner charged with cruelty to animals in September of 2019. Because of the pandemic, the courts shutdown and continued to move at a snail’s pace for several months. It took until February 8, 2021 to have it resolved. On this date, Turner plead guilty to nine counts of cruelty, 2nd degree.
According to Barren County Attorney Kathryn Thomas, this was one count for each of nine horses transferred to the county at that time. She confirmed a condition of the case was that he relinquish ownership of the horses. His sentence was 30-days suspension for 2-years probation.
Thomas indicated one of the horses had died prior to the county taking ownership but believes nine were living at that time. An open records request shows a single visit in October of 2019 for a veterinarian with a fee of $378 and an animal clinic fee of $120 for travel and visit.
The costs associated with removing the horses and having them cared for properly has never been a question of the magistrates. The issue at hand is they claim not knowing the case had been resolved for more than a year and they were not notified they no longer were required to keep the animals.
The issue came to light recently when Magistrate Jeff Botts brought up the issue of purchasing a horse trailer for the county in the March 15th fiscal court meeting. Judge-Executive Micheal Hale had county employees speak on behalf of the need for purchasing a horse trailer.
Clearly Hale was allowing and perhaps encouraging a county employee to be less than completely honest when selling the need for a new horse trailer—saying it was for loose animals causing danger when, in fact, he wanted it to transport what appears to be a taxpayer hobby of his, enjoying time with the nine horses.
This meeting had another one of those moments when Magistrate Botts will step up and say something that absolutely contradicts a position he had moments earlier. This time he said, “…everything should be brought to the table…let’s just bring it on the table.” Botts also said, “Bottom line is there’s this air of dark horses that I think is reason this may not pass.” He continued, “Is it potentially going to be used for the horses that we’ve been dealing with for three years?”
This lit up the room. Magistrates Carl Dickerson immediately asked how much money has been spent on these horses. Hale said some $26,000 has been reimbursed by the CARES money. Yet written on an open records request was a note that $35,059.84 had been reimbursed. The same request disclosed by the county has Steve Bulle named for the boarding and care of the horses and cared for them on a Tick Ridge Road farm. He billed the county $15 a day per horse, or $135 a day for nine—a total of $4,050 for a 30-day calendar month. The total costs for caring for the horses for the period of time the court removed them from Turner and placed them in care until the court case was closed on February 8, 2021 was $35,059.84.
In response to an open record request for documentation requesting money for horse expense reimbursement and an amount the BCP was told “The CARES money that was assigned to Barren County was a pre-determined amount. We were awarded $1,506,510.00. The description was “Reimbursements for expenses incurred during COVID 19 pandemic.” I don’t know that the individual expenses were discussed in court…” Jenny Hoffman, Barren County Treasurer.
It seems the horse reimbursement, although a real expense due to Covid 19 pandemic was a decision Hale made on his own and outside Fiscal Court.
Records indicate other expenses since that time has been $6,013.44. Hale said in open meeting that several individuals in the county have donated hay for the horses. The records requested show he thanked Aaron Shirley for nine rolls donated and Charles Embry for 38 rolls.
This new amount shows checks written to Lowe’s, Rural King, Tractor Supply, Bailey Shoeing and Will Jackson. Billing details show purchase of halters, concrete, a cart, hay, feed, a shovel, gloves and hoof work done on nine horses.
On March 28, 2022, the BCP sent a photographer to the state park and only found five horses being housed at the state park barn. The same photographer found two horses and what appears to be a donkey at the home of Judge Hale.
On March 30, 2022, the BCP reached out to Judge Hale with both a text message and an email of a photo with the animals at his home asking if these were some of the horses now owned by the county. He chose not to respond to either.
Again on April 11, 2022, a BCP photographer visited the state park and this time found eight horses at the barn and now only one at Hales’ home. Another message was sent by text and phone calls were made to Hale with no response. He has his text messages set showing both had been read. We simply want to find the horses.
Dickerson was asked where the horses are and he said, “nobody knows anything other than the judge and he refuses to tell us anything.” Botts was asked to get this information and he said, “After speaking to the judge, he told me two of the horses have died.” When asked why it wasn’t discussed in open meeting he said, “The judge said with the pandemic and things being so crazy, it was just not realized it hadn’t been discussed.”
Botts had no other information on when the horses died, or if they had been seen by a veterinarian prior to death. The BCP is asking for some quantification on this information as well. We are trying to determine if the Barren County Fiscal Court was informed they could sell the horses, and where are the nine horses given to the county on February 8, 2021.
As of press-time, Judge-Executive Micheal Hale has yet to respond if the horses at his house on March 30, 2022 or the one on April 11, 2022 were the same ones now owned by Barren County. Keep reading for updates as they are made available.