Director resigns; future of RBCEP in question
According to Hodges Mayor Terry Petree, Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park Director Mike Franklin is no longer with the Hodges park, and the future of the establishment is in the balance.
The Town of Hodges has called a special meeting Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. “to discuss the status of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Trail.” Petree said Franklin stepped down last week from his position, and the park will be closed temporarily.
In a possible connection, Nov. 7 the new council had voted to rework Franklin’s current salary into hourly pay, to avoid the expected national threshold increase for salaried workers. Since that time, the threshold increase legislation was put on hold – but not before the discussion between Franklin and the Town of Hodges.
It was move that came with heated discussion at the meeting, which was the first for the newly-sworn-in administration.
“There’s no way we could pay that kind of money ($47,476, the new anticipated threshold that would have been required by law). I don’t see how we could,” said Mayor Terry Petree, in proposing the adjust to an hourly wage.
Franklin countered by enumerating the ways in which he has supported the park out of his own pocket.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I think I have been instrumental in getting more grant money here than I’ve gotten paid,” Franklin said. “Some months when we don’t have hardly any income, I take my salary and put it right back into the equestrian park. I pay bills. I buy stuff for the camp store to sell. I take care of tore up stuff. If anything breaks, I buy it. Every tool we have and work with, I bought, except for big things like the tractor and track-hoe. But I have paid for repairs for the track-hoe when we didn’t have the money. To make extra money for the park, I used one of my trailers, and I repair it and put new tires on it and keep it going, and we have made money off that trailer.
“In the concession stand, I bought the stove, freezer, refrigerator, hot water heater and things like that we needed … When we need filters and small stuff, I buy that. I also try to work the police work, and I go out at night and answer calls. I use my truck to go and do things for the town, and I buy the fuel.
“So, I mean, I understand we have to look at everything, and I understand there has to be a plan made. But for me personally, I can’t do any more than what I have been doing.”
Petree said despite those contributions, the fact remained that the money was not there to raise Franklin’s salary to the minimum threshold.
What followed was several minutes of the council trying the determine the pay breakdown between Franklin’s role as park director and his role as police chief and how to fairly represent what was previously his salary as an hourly wage. Several councilmembers were vocal about being careful not to cut Franklin’s pay in the course of setting the hourly rate.
The council at that time approved a rate of $18 an hour.
Petree expressed his confidence that the park will continue to operate, after a transition period.
“We’re just going to meet, discuss it and see where we need to go from here,” Petree said. “We’re just going to see what we have going on and go from there … We may have to close the park just for a little bit, but just as quick as possible it will be back up and going just like it has.”
Petree said included in the transition will be re-working and re-routing some of the trails. At this time, the town will not plan to name a new director because “we don’t have a lot of funding” but Petree said a new director would be put in place sometime in the future.
According to Petree, Franklin did not indicate a reason for his resignation.
Franklin did not immediately return calls for comment when the “Franklin County Times” learned about Franklin’s vacating of the park director position Tuesday, but he did confirm, through a representative, that he had resigned.
Hodges advocate Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, who has been a vocal and passionate supporter of the town and particularly the RBCEP, said it’s a sad state of affairs for Hodges.
“It’s really hard for me to take, as much time and effort as I have put into that project,” said Morrow, who has been a driving force behind improvements. “You would think a town such as Hodges – that is struggling to create jobs and have economic development – you would think people could put their personal feelings or things that happened in a political campaign aside … and work for the good of the future of the town. From what I’m hearing, that is simply not the case in Hodges.”
Morrow said during the election, he had personally spoken with candidates about setting personal feelings and vendettas aside and working together for the good of the town. “That was my message before the election, and that’s still my message,” he said.
Morrow said a lot of people have put in a lot of work to try to “make Hodges a town we can all be proud of. I know I have, and I know Roger Bedford did. A lot people – TVA officials, Norfolk Southern, the banks. So many people have worked so hard to help them try to have a future. For them to just throw it away – I just simply cannot understand that.”
More information will be shared as this story continues to develop.