Sunday, November 6, 2016

Crowded council field highlights down-ballot

Leaner and meaner.

That's the direction many of the candidates for city council believe Marion should head.

All of the eight men and three women on the only local downticket ballot Nov. 8 favor streamlining city government; none advocate a tax increase of any kind as the answer to the city's problems; and all seem to think it is time for nuisance property owners to clean up their act.

Last month, The Crittenden Press sent a questionnaire to all 11 candidates for the six non-partisan Marion City Council seats asking the same questions on some hot-button issues in the city. And their answers offer a bit of insight as to how each would approach their role as an elected leader over the next two years. (See the Oct. 27 print edition of The Crittenden Press.)

The friendliness of the city and small-town atmosphere is what attracted or kept those running for council here, according to their collective responses. And by running for a seat on city government, they hope to make Marion even more welcoming to residents and businesses.

The five incumbents running offer a combined 53 years of experience in governing the city and stand by the work that's been done under their terms while offering a few changes for the future.

"Any vote that I have cast as a councilman has always been what I thought was in the best interest of the citizens," said Dwight Sherer, a 16-year veteran of the council and current mayor pro-tem.

Darrin Tabor is the only current councilman not seeking re-election.

Of the six challengers, only Mike Harris has spent time on Marion City Council (1998-2000). Despite that lack of combined experience, there is no shortage of answers to issues confronting the city, with greater accountability to the people as a common theme. In August, following former City Administrator Mark Bryant's arrest on drug trafficking and other charges, four of the challengers began regularly attending council meetings, asking for a comprehensive citizens audit of city government.

One of those, Cletis Hunt, whose answers are often critical of the current council, calls for more transparency and responsiveness by the "mayor and city administrator in dealing with (the) city council and citizenry at meetings and programs of the city" as one of his three goals, if elected. Hunt is also a member of a city government audit committee led by resident Linda Schumann.

Bryant was fired by Mayor Mickey Alexander following his arrest and Marion has gotten by with a part-time, pinch-hit city administrator for nearly three months now.

Harris believes a shakeup in city government could help to "restore integrity" and "change the attitude of our city council to ensure our safety, security and way of life."

Full-time mayor
The very position of city administrator has come into question, with at least three current council members and four of the challengers clearly supporting a move to a full-time mayor that would eliminate the position altogether, despite the current council having agreed at Monday's meeting to hire Adam Ledford as the new full-time city administrator.

"I strongly favor this move and have been an advocate of it for some time," said Councilman Donnie Arflack, who believes Bryant in his former position held too much control over city finances and decision-making. "Doing away with the city administrator position will save us a small amount of money, but will give the council more control over spending."

Arflack believes the mayor, as a full-time elected official like the county judge-executive, should be the one to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city. That individual would be held accountable by voters every four years and be more accountable to the six-person council, he believes.

Alexander, a full-time investment broker with Edward Jones in Marion, has said he does not want to be a full-time administrator of city government. He does not think the move is in the best interest of the public, as it is more difficult to remove an elected official from a post than an employee who can be fired for cause.

Arflack says the decision should be made by the new council elected next month and taking office in January. The position of mayor, unlike the council, is elected every four years, and Arflack would like to see the new form of city government begin after the 2018 mayoral election.

Councilman Jared Byford, though, is opposed to the proposed change.

"The city administrator's position is a highly-skilled, technical job, and it would be nearly impossible to be sure a full-time, elected mayor would have the technical background to immediately assume the duties of mayor and city administrator," he said in his survey response.

Perhaps the largest single concern across the list of candidates is the state of housing in the city. A study a couple of years ago conducted by the city found an extraordinarily high number or rental units, unoccupied homes and nuisance properties that have many around Marion worried about perception and property values.

"I really think this is a major issue in our city," said challenger Phyllis Sykes.

A variety of answers are offered by candidates as to how to begin solving the housing problems, but it could take an overhaul of city ordinances and new approaches by the code enforcement board, planning and zoning commission and the council itself. Code Enforcement Officer Terri Hart has said it will take a commitment of more money from the council to put more teeth into enforcement.

Another area of concern voiced widely across the city is the condition of infrastructure, from pock-marked streets to crumbling sidewalks. Challenger Ricky Winders lists as his top priority installing a sidewalk along Sturgis Road to make travel safer for pedestrians walking along the busy business district. That has been on the city's radar for many years, but no progress has been made.

But financing infrastructure improvements is difficult for a city that has cut staff and programs in order to balance the budget. That's why Winders believes voters "need to elect new people or have old city officials change their way of thinking" in order to find creative means to see the projects through.

Sewer plant
One infrastructure project the city must pursue is a new wastewater treatment plant. The facility has been mandated by the state to replace the current one that has proven to be inadequate during times of heavy use. During downpours, the plant is unable to treat the millions of gallons of combined storm and sewer water flowing through the system, emptying untreated sewage into Rush Creek. If the city does not act on this perhaps $12 million project, they face hefty fines for each future environmental violation.

Finding a place for the new facility is some time off, but will probably be a question the new council has to answer with the advice of engineers. The city currently owns enough acreage off Old Morganfield Road where the Victory Gardens are located, but Industrial Park North has also been proposed as a possible site, though that land would have to be purchased.

"The reason we bought that (Old Morganfield Road) property was for future expansion," said the longest-serving councilman, Mike Byford, who is seeking a 10th term. "The industrial park is not a suitable place for a sewer plant."

Most candidates feel the least expensive route is the answer, but challenger D'Anna Sallin says that cost should not be the only determining factor.

"The location is best determined by the engineering firm hired to make such decisions," she wrote in her survey response, " however, we need to take into consideration the concerns of the neighboring property owners."

To fund or not to fund
Earlier this year, as the current budget was being crafted, some community organizations that had received funding from the city in the past were left out as a cost-savings measure. Pleas brought before the council got most of the funding restored, but raised the question of whether city government should be funding outside organizations over which the it has no control, even if they are for the welfare of citizens.

None of the candidates fully oppose funding programs like the senior citizens center's home-delivered meals program, the drug-free coalition's efforts to address the burgeoning problem locally or Crittenden County Food Bank, which feeds hundreds of people each month. Some suggest reduced participation by the city, while others feel like it's government's role to take care of its people.

"...All forms of government, including city government, share the responsibility of the health, safety and welfare of their citizens," said challenger Minnie Lou Brown, who sees the need in the community regularly as a volunteer with and treasurer of the food bank.

Each candidate in The Press's questionnaire was also asked why the voters should elect them to the next city council. Councilman Junior Martin is running on his record, simply pointing out his efforts to keep city government from dipping further into the pockets of the people it serves.

"For two years as a councilman, I have strived to stay up to date on issues, voted no to raising taxes and voted no to the environmental fee on water bills, which the records show," Martin said.

He was the lone councilman this summer to vote against a property tax increase of a 10th of a penny and was joined by Jared Byford in June in voting against an additional fee placed on city water bills to finance the mandatory wastewater system upgrades.

Other races

Five political parties have sent a nominee to the presidential ballot and there is also one independent. Everyone should be aware of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, but the Libertarian, Green and American Delta parties also have a candidate in the running. There are also 23 write-ins eligible.

Following are the candidates, their running mates and their party:
  • Donald J. Trump/Michael R. Pence, Republican
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton/Timothy Michael Kaine, Democrat
  • Gary Johnson/Bill Weld, Libertarian
  • Rocky Roque De La Fuente/Michael Steinberg, American Delta
  • Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka, Green
  • Evan McMullin/Nathan Johnson, independent
U.S. Senate
After a failed bid to earn the Republican nomination for President, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will try to keep his seat in the upper house of Congress. He will face the Democratic Mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray.

Paul is projected to win a second term, which would help the GOP in its bid to maintain its narrow 54-44-2 majority.
  • (R) Rand Paul
  • (D) Jim Gray
  • There are also two write-in candidates
U.S. Representative
Voters in Kentucky's 1st Congressional District, which includes Crittenden, Livingston and Caldwell counties, will vote twice for someone to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield. It may seem tricky, but it's not.

Whitfield, who served almost 22 years and was the first Republican ever elected to the seat, resigned Sept. 6. To fill his unexpired term, there will be a special election, sending the winner of the two-person race to Capitol Hill in a matter of days. To fill the next two-year term that starts in January, the same two men will face-off. It is conceivable, but not likely, that two different congressmen could be elected to one seat on the same ballot.

Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and candidate for governor James Comer is the favorite, which would help the GOP in its bid to maintain its tenuous 234-201 majority.
  • (R) James R. Comer
  • (D) Samuel L. Gaskins
  • There is also a write-in candidate
State representative
In his bid to win a third term to the Kentucky House, Lynn Bechler, a Crittenden County Republican, is essentially a lock. He is running unopposed on the ballot for the first time in House District 4 – Crittenden, Livingston, Caldwell and a part of Christian County. However, there is a write-in candidate.

Currently, the House is made up of 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Democrats have held the House for 95 years, but that stranglehold on the party's only state legislative chamber in the South is precarious due, in part, to the environmental platform pushed by the top of the ticket.

At a March town hall meeting, referring to her party's push to transition to clean energy, Clinton said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

That has made Trump somewhat of a hero in coal country. "The New York real estate developer's anger on the campaign trail matches the mood of many in Appalachia, where job losses associated with the declining coal industry have fueled a backlash against national Democrats that has slowly trickled down to the local level," a recent Associated Press story reported. The same can be said for those dependent upon the coal fields of western Kentucky.

Kentucky is one of only seven states where the legislature is split, as the GOP controls the Senate 27-11. Republicans hold legislative control in 30 of the 49 states with both a house and senate. Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature.

Crittenden County
Board of Education
Besides the Marion City Council race, three educational districts will be voting for school board representatives. However, all three will be unopposed. They are Bill Jay Asbridge, Christopher E. Cook and Pam Collins.

Livingston County
Salem Mayor
Two filed to run for the top office in Salem currently held by Stanley Wallace, who is not seeking re-election. The mayor's race is non-partisan.
  • Todd Hansen
  • Rell Peck
Salem City Commission
Like the mayor's race, the election for Salem City Commission is non-partisan. All four incumbents will be re-elected to the four-person city government body.
  • Crystal Belt-Franklin
  • Gary Damron
  • Janet L. Hughes
  • Craig Dossett
Carrsville City Commission
No one filed to appear on the ballot.

Board of education
Voters in the Joy and Burna areas of the county will elect a new member to the board of education. There will be two choices.
  • Joseph K. Smith
  • Kathleen Sullivan Cockrel
Meantime, voters in the Lola and Salem areas will send David Kitchens back to the board. He is unopposed.

Caldwell County
Fredonia City Council
At least two-thirds of Fredonia's six city council members will change after next month's vote. Four current members – Steve Stewart, Glenna Rowland, Hannah Brasher and Denny Brasher – are not running again. Angela Blair and Donnie Boone will keep their seats. There are only five individuals on the ballot.
  • Angela Blair
  • Donnie Boone
  • Melissa "Missy" Faughn
  • Mollie Bennett Tabor
  • Jimmy Don Seibert
Board of education
Bill Clift will be running unopposed in the district that includes Fredonia.