TOP Trails manager resigns
by Jim Smothers
TALLADEGA — TOP Trails park manager Mic Barnett is working out a two week notice on the job he began March 19 as the park faces continuing financial pressure and tensions remain between the park’s board chairman and the firm contracted to develop the park. Barnett’s last day on the job will be Aug. 15.

The chairman of the board of the Public Parks Authority of the cities of Lincoln and Talladega, Tommy Spears, confirmed Barnett’s resignation Monday.

“I certainly hate to lose him, but I understand with the situation here, the financial uncertainty, it’s a much better opportunity for him,” Spears said. “We owe the bank a bunch of money, and if and when we get reimbursements from the state, the bank kind of has first dibs on it.”

Barnett said he is taking a management position at Wellborn Cabinets. He said he appreciated the opportunity at the park and commended the board, Lincoln Mayor Bud Kitchin and Talladega City Manager Brian Muenger for their professionalism. “This opportunity is one I need to take,” he said.

Barnett’s resignation comes at a time when revenue to operate and develop the park is at a low point.

C.D. Roberts and Associates won the contract to develop the park as a Professional Services Group (PSG) as permitted under terms of grants awarded for the park. The PSG has been writing and administrating grants, planning, and working with contractors as work on the park began. The park is now in the third year of a 10-year development plan. The PSG has also worked with volunteers whose free labor at the park has provided much of the in-kind contribution value used to meet the 20 percent match requirements for receiving payments through various grant programs.

Sales of timber through thinning on the property provided revenue to help with development and a $300,000 line of credit from First National Bank of Talladega made funds available while awaiting grant money. User fees have provided some revenue, generally in the neighborhood of $5,000 per month. The cutting of timber for this phase of the project had been projected to end by the end of July.

The most recently received grant money took six months to be processed, and a request for $323,000 is still pending after being requested in February. Part of the match for that grant was disallowed. PSG spokesman Leah Reddick said a check for 80 percent of that amount is expected to be processed this week, and the PSG is submitting new requests to claim the remaining 20 percent of that grant. Other grant reimbursement requests are also being filed.

Reddick said the board has not allowed her to communicate directly with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which has delayed her ability to answer questions and supply additional documentation needed for grant reimbursements.

Communications between the board and the firm’s founder, Chuck Roberts, have also been indirect. Roberts was a member of the original park board, and resigned to take on the job of development. The state Ethics Commission allowed Roberts to take the contract, but forbade direct communication between Roberts and board members for two years. Roberts said the two years will be over Aug. 15.

Danny Hubbard served as the liaison between the board and Roberts for a time before resigning that position while formally asking Spears and Ray Miller to resign from the board. Miller later did so. Reddick, a civil engineer, has been the liaison since that time.

Spears has questioned details in Roberts’ invoices during a number of board meetings, and has gone over requirements for ending the board’s contract with the firm.

Spears said a recent reimbursement request for $103,000 was returned because more than $98,000 of that amount was for administrative expenses. “We had already exceeded the allowable administrative expenses on this grant,” he said. “We’re having trouble affording a management group at $3,000-4,000 per week. That will probably be addressed Wednesday morning.”

Spears and board member Buster Taylor and the board’s attorney, Charlie Gaines, recently met with Reddick and the PSG’s attorney, George Monk, in an attempt to redefine the PSG’s duties and scope of responsibility.

A board meeting has been called at the park Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Contact Jim Smothers at jsmothers@dailyhome.com.
© 2013