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One diversity training session won’t rectify way tourism director was “objectified” at Fiscal Court meeting

Jennifer Kirchner had her daughter with her the last time she was on WKYB-FM Radio. (Larry Vaught Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

By the time I got up this morning I had 10 text messages about Tuesday’s Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting. A friend told me he got text messages from people in Elizabethtown and Lexington before 8 a.m. about the same thing.

Everywhere I have been in Danville today, folks have been talking about the way Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was treated at the Fiscal Court meeting.

Advocate-Messenger editor Ben Kleppinger was at the meeting — one big reason that many should hope local newspapers never die or news like this might never get reported — when magistrate Phil Sammons first joked about Danville mayor Mike Perros not wearing socks. Kirchner was there to discuss the tourism budget but Perros whispered to Sammons — according to Kleppinger — that Kirchner had “no socks.” Not everyone heard exactly what Sammons said the first time but one magistrate told Kirchner “they’re talking about you” and Sammons said the major was “making fun of you,” something Perros denied.

Then Sammons repeated what he said before.

“I said, ‘If he had legs like that, he wouldn’t have to wear socks,’” Sammons said.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Kleppinger — who Sammons asked later to leave his comments out of his story — reported that others at the meeting laughed — which was also horrible — about what Sammons said. Kirchner fired back that she was trying to do her job and “not to be objectified about my legs.”

Boyle County judge-executive Howard Hunt held a press conference today saying he did not “agree or embrace” what Sammons said and that he had accepted an offer from Danville city manager Ron Scott for the fiscal court to participate in diversity training on Oct. 16.

I’ve seen no apology from Sammons and really don’t expect that we will. Just not his style. And for those thinking he might resign, I would not count on that at all. Again, just not his style.

I also got an email from a former high school female athlete and high school coach who is also now a high school teacher with children of her own. I thought I would share that with you without her name because I don’t want her to be harassed by anyone. Here’s what she wrote”

“What happened to Jennifer was awful and I’m so glad that it was reported in the Advocate. Unfortunately in male dominated spaces this type of thing is all too common. I’m sure that if you ask Jennifer it isn’t the first time and it probably isn’t the 50th. The good ole boy clubs are still alive and active in many places.

“Now that I’m past 40 I do a lot more reflecting and listening. I was fortunate to grow up in a post Title IX culture. But as I listen/read etc. I’m always amazed by the strength and courage of women who were fighting for the opportunities to use their gifts and their passions in a sports setting prior to and right after Title IX. They were ridiculed, given second rate equipment, and so many other things.

“And while we have come so far we still don’t think twice when a man coaches women or a male is a referee for a female sport, but when the opposite happens its a huge discussion about their qualifications or whether it is a good idea or not. (And it still rarely happens.)

“My point in all of this is that I think that there is so much to the Maya Angelou quote, ‘Do the best that you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ I think that unfortunate circumstances like this allow us to step back and find those spaces where now that I know better, I will do better. If we don’t do that in our lives we miss great areas of growth and in some cases influence.

“I write this to you for no other reason than I know that this situation has bothered you. Also I do appreciate your coverage of female athletes in the last several years as a focus of your work. Let’s just all do better where we can.”

Say amen to this and I know Kirchner would. I admire her for not backing down at the fiscal court meeting and she’s not going to back down going forward either. Right is right, wrong is wrong. What was said to her was just wrong and why has no one has really apologized to her publicly for this baffles me.

Seems to me Sammons should have been at the press conference with Hunt answering for his own actions. Diversity training might help, but it will take a lot more than one session to correct what went on here in Danville Tuesday and hopefully a lot of elected officials understand that even if some might not.

2 comments

  1. I am appalled but not surprised. Diversity training will not help. It’s political speak for “oops I let out how I really feel and got caught”. It happens all the time. It’s usually followed by I was misquoted. Or I will make a donation to the effected persons cause. Diversity training will not be effective until there is TRUE diversity across all areas of public service and business. So not in my lifetime. Just my opinion.

  2. It’s all about power my friend. I was chosen to be a spoke person to meet about diversity on the job never got on the ground.

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