Emails, texts reveal tension between mayor and Paducah Economic Development

Scott Darnell

PADUCAH — Should the city of Paducah focus on the arts or something else? That seems to be the debate behind the scenes.

Local 6 has new documents from a public records request that show emails and texts between city leaders and Paducah Economic Development’s former president and CEO, Scott Darnell, before he was fired.

An email from Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless was sent Aug. 1 to the PED executive committee saying, in part: “I need to know what it is going to take for us to get on the same team? At least 1/3 of the Forward Paducah plan discusses work on the creative industry.”

It seems that there has been some disagreement about the future of Paducah.

City Manager Jim Arndt said industry is important. “Of course we have to continue the support we have right now with the riverfront industries, the barges and the (DOE) plant. The plant is still very critical for us in that economy and driving the west Kentucky region,” Arndt said.

We asked if the city is focusing too much on the arts. Arndt said: “I don’t believe it is focusing too much. I think it is part of it.”

He and Harless — along with other local leaders — are in Washington, D.C. this week, and they spoke with our Local 6 crew there covering the visit.  Harless said art drives the economy. “That’s not just about art that you hang on the wall. That’s about a creative mindset. That’s about a creative industry,” she said. “The breweries, the wineries, those kind of creative industries that are possible for our community are very important. I think we have to be thinking about what does creativity mean to us. It doesn’t just mean the art on the wall. It means opportunity economically.”

Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless

They are moving forward with their vision for Paducah without Darnell. On Aug. 30, Darnell told the committee he won’t be extending his contract, but he would finish out this year until June 30, 2019. Well, the committee hit back and fired him on Sept. 7.

Two weeks before that happened, heated texts were sent by Darnell and Harless.

Harless was trying to find space in the commerce building for a tenant after Darnell had already told her there were no vacancies. Harless asked: “Can we talk tomorrow about the logistics?”

Darnell added the executive committee members to the chat. Then he said, in part: “No we can’t. I am the CEO and I make decisions on leases…your actions are uncalled for and a complete disrespect to me and our board.”

“I am done constantly addressing the fires you create… As a professional, the absolute disrespect by you will no longer be tolerated any longer. I do not report to you!” Darnell said. Those were sent Aug. 15.

The records show the former chair of the executive committee, Stan Eckenberg, was asked to be the interim CEO, but he has declined. We did reach out to Mardie Herndon, who is on the executive committee. He says relationships are important, and he has no further comment at this time.

You can find out more information about this story and others by following Leah Shields on Facebook and Twitter.