Several questions were raised about changes made recently to the Historic Stafford House during a June 15 meeting of the Paintsville Tourism Commission.
During the meeting, Paintsville Main Street Director Linda Duncan and community member Rebecca Clay both addressed the changes, raising a number of issues regarding the work that was done.
Duncan questioned whether the work met the standards required due to the property’s inclusion on the National Historic Register.
Jonathan Shaw, who represents the commission as legal counsel, said the only requirements which would apply due to the register listing would be those which “significantly changed” the property.
“It’s got to be that you’re changing something that significantly changes what it was listed for in the first place,” Shaw continued. “The Stafford House was listed for its architecture and its historical significance to downtown. So interior work, for example, when that house was built, there was no kitchen, there was no bathroom, there was no electrical, there was no plumbing. There was a complete remodel of that house done back in the ‘50s. There have been additions made over the years to make it more functional.”
Duncan also said the work did significantly change the property.
“We want to work with you on the preservation,” she said. “You put in a door, the office, and that changed the Victorian look in it.”
Commissioner Kay Hall defended the decision to renovate the home and move the Paintsville Tourism office into it.
“We need to utilize that house,” she said. “Putting the tourism office there really was the best option because, let’s be honest, nobody really comes to Paintsville and says ‘we want to view the Stafford House.’ If we put the tourism office there, we’re making payments on it anyway. If people are looking for the tourism office, they’re going to come to the Stafford House and they’re going to be able to look at it.”
Clay said she appreciates that the tourism commission is utilizing the Stafford House, but said the commission’s actions are against the will of the community.
“We have no idea what has even been done. Do you?” said Clay. “Because the last time I spoke to Connie (Bayes, a tourism commissioner), she had never even been inside this Historic Stafford House. So has everyone been inside of it? Do you know the history of it? Do you know that’s our founding father’s house? Do you know that? It’s important and what you done is very hurtful for the community and for me.”
Clay’s dissatisfaction with the commission did not stop with the changes made to the historic site.
“Just sitting there listening to your guys’ meeting ... I’ve never been a part of a committee or a board who wasn’t passionate,” said Clay. “You guys are in tourism. You’re the tourism board and you’re not passionate about the activities and things that are happening here. This is just the dullest meeting I have ever been a part of or sat by and watched.”
Clay said she also took issue with the commission’s lack of interest in how its money is spent and raised questions in an open records request to the commission about the lack of attractions and events being established as a part of the commission’s efforts.
“For the past 10 years (or more), Paintsville/ Johnson County Tourism has not been responsible for any new attractions and barely any activity at our current ones,” she wrote in the letter. “No new accommodations aside from two different tourism offices within the same year have been established, while the original sits abandoned. Devoted volunteers, like myself, collaborate with any person and organization that are willing to build relationships with our community and do whatever is possible to encourage its members to engage in the decision making process so that we are able to better provide our area with fun, authentic local attractions and events that we truly enjoy. While tourism has worked with us some, our commitment has not been valued like it should. Our wishes and efforts are ignored, and the community is being excluded from the decision-making, right down to how our county festival is ran.”
When asked for comment after the meeting adjourned, Tourism Director Josh Johnson told Paintsville Herald staff “I’m not responding.”
“This is the most people I have ever seen to a meeting in months,” Johnson continued.
However, in a response to Clay from Johnson provided to The Paintsville Herald, Johnson said all work was approved during regular and open meetings of the Paintsville Tourism Commission. He also argued that the agency has done an extensive amount of work over the past 10 years.
“I am not sure where you obtain your information,” Johnson wrote. “However, by way of example within the past 10 years the Historic Stafford House was purchased, and the Sipp Cinema was purchased with tourism dollars. Further, tourism continues to pay for and maintain the Mountain Homeplace and Country Music Museum. Tourism dollars also continue to support the golf course and recreation department. Tourism also annually sponsors events such as baseball and basketball tournaments, Front Porch Pickin, Eastern Kentucky Genealogy Conference, Pumpkin Patch, Christmas at the Farm, Annual Easter Egg Hunt, revitalization efforts of the Paintsville Pavilion/ Boardwalk district, Market 606 and numerous annual community events — including Apple Day. Paintsville Tourism has also recently purchased a train and rock wall for event use ... This type of grandstanding leads to further division. I would have expected better from you.”
Attached to the response to Clay were minutes from meetings in January and February of 2020, which discussed a transfer of $8,000 from a signage budget line item into a fund for maintenance on the Stafford House for heating and cooling updates to the home, as well as an amendment adding $25,000 to a fund for the Stafford House for “painting, landscaping, gutters, etc.”