Louisville attorney Robert Heleringer has resigned from his position as the executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP).
In a brief email sent to news outlets on Wednesday night, Heleringer stated that he was resigning effective immediately, but did not go into any further details.
Heleringer, an 11-term member of Kentucky's General Assembly who made an unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 2006, was hired by KEEP in November 2013 to replace Patrick Neely as executive director.
KEEP, formed in 2004 as an advocacy group to give all of Kentucky's equine businesses a greater voice in the state capitol in Frankfort, has lost some key members in the last couple of years, including Churchill Downs and Keeneland – Kentucky's two premier racetracks. The loss of those members and their annual dues had an impact on the organization's profile and its revenue stream. The budget for KEEP in 2012, the most recent year for which its IRS Form 990 is available, was $479,239.
In that IRS Form 990, KEEP stated that among its purposes was “lobbying for expanded gaming and equine beneficial legislation.” Recently, however, the KEEP board of directors voted to change direction on the issue of casino gaming and drop efforts to lobby for its passage with the Kentucky General Assembly. KEEP said it would favor historical racing machines, or Instant Gaming, which have been successful for Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park and soon will be installed at the Red Mile harness track in Lexington under a joint operating agreement with Keeneland.
Corey Johnsen, the president of Kentucky Downs and chairman of KEEP, issued a statement on Thursday about Heleringer's departure. “The change in organization staffing was decided at our Board meeting on Dec. 2,” Johnsen said. “While we want to be involved in any dialogue in Frankfort which concerns the economic health of the horse industry, it was decided that we needed to strengthen our statewide footprint. So, we arrived at a strategy that would change the makeup our staff and make other expenditures to better represent that new focus. We believe that this gives us the best chance to achieve sales tax equity with the other sectors of the agriculture industry. Rather than be a Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort based organization, KEEP needs to be statewide group that represents the economic interests of all breeds and all disciplines of horses in all 120 Kentucky counties.”
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