Following a two hour executive session, the Paintsville Tourism Commission elected Thursday to lay off Mountain Homeplace farm manager Russell Honeycutt, effective immediately.
The members of the commission, who also serve on the board of the Paintsville Lake Historical Association which directly supervises the operations of the Mountain Homeplace, first received questions from Honeycutt as part of his regular update to the board.
“Since you are the Paintsville Lake Historical Association commission, what I would like to know is, your responsibilities under this commission. You have one, and that’s overseeing the Mountain Homeplace,” Honeycutt said. “What I would like to know is, do you think for the last nine months at least, since April, that you have done that, and did it the way it should be done?”
With no answer from the board, commission attorney Jonathan Shaw recommended the issue be taken up in closed session, which Honeycutt opted against.
Honeycutt also distributed to the commission members a review of income for the Homeplace for the months of April through October, for both 2017, when it earned $51,923.58, and 2018, when it earned only $36,013.32, representing an approximately 30 percent loss in revenue.
“The reason why I’m doing this in my update is because I don’t want this to reflect on me,” Honeycutt said. “I’ve done everything that I could this past year to bring in revenue.”
Honeycutt said he has very little inventory for the gift shop, his ideas are routinely shot down and he has had less control of the farm’s operations for the past year. The Christmas event, as well, has seen hiccups, including an inability to purchase new lights or house the “Christmas Village” display.
Paintsville Tourism Executive Director Josh Johnson said the shakeup in the event and focus on adding vendors was done in an effort to stimulate interest, as routinely putting on the same event will result in lower interest.
Honeycutt said he is also no longer able to utilize petty cash for the farm’s needs, including new lights, because it was removed from the office.
Johnson and commission members also urged Honeycutt to instead utilize a purchase order system for making the necessary acquisitions for the farm’s needs, such as the lights or gift shop inventory, in order to increase transparency, accountability and record-keeping.
“You have to do that,” member Kay Hall said. “That’s the only way we track money and know what’s going where and when it’s going. That’s just the way it is. If we didn’t do it that way in the past, we probably should have.”
The removal of the petty cash was also a point of contention.
“I’ve not even gotten an email, I’ve not gotten a text, I’ve not gotten anything saying where that petty cash went,” Honeycutt said.
“It went right back in the bank, I’ll tell you where it went,” Johnson said. “When I text you or try to communicate with you, I don’t get a response, so I didn’t bother. It’s getting abused because not just that petty cash, but the petty cash for tourism, too, is going back in the bank, if I can’t trust you all enough to at least communicate with me and say, hey, we need 50 boxes of lights for the tree or whatever.”
Because the Christmas event would be different and offer less than last year, Honeycutt’s recommendation that they not charge admission for the event was accepted by the PLHA. The commission also informally agreed to start a planning committee early next year to ensure the 2019 event would be a bigger success.
With the PLHA adjourned and the Paintsville Tourism Commission convened, business manager Lynnette Pruitt submitted to the commission board an invoice for mileage reimbursement for the use of her personal vehicle for tourism errands. The company van, Johnson said, was in the shop for repairs but would be returned to service soon. The invoice was tabled until November’s mileage could be added and the invoice could be assessed by Johnson.
Following an approximately two hour executive session called, in part, for discussion on employees and personnel, the commission reconvened in open session and announced several motions. Effective January 1, both the business manager position and Mountain Homeplace farm manager position would be scaled back from full time to part time, with hours to be determined by Johnson and approved by the commission.
“The third motion, I need a motion to accept the request from Russell Honeycutt, farm manager, to be laid off immediately as the farm manager,” Hall said.
A fourth motion would give Johnson the authority to find personnel or new homes for the farm’s animals to ensure their continued care in Honeycutt’s absence. All four motions were approved by the commission.
Honeycutt said after the meeting that the commission’s wording that he had “requested” a layoff was untrue.
“In the meeting, they said we were going to be laid off or down to 15 hours a week Jan. 1,” Honeycutt said. “I told them, ‘It’s up to you guys. You guys can lay me off right now if you want to.’”
Honeycutt said his efforts were always in the best interest of the farm and its continual improvement.
“I poured my heart and soul into that farm,” Honeycutt said. “Here’s the thing about it: I like tourism. I like to deal with the people, the public and the farm. I wanted to see that farm succeed so bad that I couldn’t stand it. I worked countless hours that I did not get paid for, and this is the thanks I get.”