‘I’m a way better mayor than I was five years ago’,Traugott faces first general election
In July 2013, after then-Versailles Mayor Fred Siegelman resigned, Council Member Brian Traugott was chosen to take his place by votes from Council Members Owen Roberts and Mary Ellen Bradley. The other four council members, including Traugott, abstained.
The following year, Traugott was unopposed for reelection.
This year, he is opposed, by Lisa Johnson, executive director of the Mentors and Meals program, but Traugott has gained the backing of some who had their doubts about a man who was just 34 when he became mayor. At a recent fundraiser, Council Member Ken Kerkhoff, who cosponsored the event, said, “I did everything I could to prevent Brian from becoming mayor in 2013. I’m doing everything I can to keep him now.”
Traugott told the Sun that the city’s in “about the best fiscal shape” it’s ever been in, with revenues up despite cuts on utility and motor vehicle property taxes and $2 million added to its rainy day fund. He acknowledged that some of those improvements are due to an improving national economy over the last several years, but said he and the council have made smart spending choices. Traugott pointed to major hiring by More Than A Bakery, Quad/Graphics and other companies as a sign that Versailles is seen as a business-friendly city.
The largest investment made since Traugott took office is the ongoing $20 million wastewater treatment plant expansion and renovation, which supporters said was necessary to meet new water quality rules and an increased population. It is being paid for largely by three 17 percent rate increases, and Traugott said he’s heard from critics on the issue.
“I have gotten grief, and I’m very sympathetic towards people who have a hard time making ends meet before (the rate increases),” Traugott said. “That old saying about planting a tree that gives you shade in 20 years – 10 years from now, every city in Central Kentucky is going to be scrambling around to raise rates and invest in their infrastructure. We’ve done it… Outside of routine maintenance, we should be good for two decades.”
The new sewer plant is scheduled to open next September.
Traugott said one of the reasons he enjoys his work is that he can help improve the city he’s lived in all his life.
“Versailles is special to me,” he said. “I was born here, I grew up on a street named Woodford Street and my mother still lives there. It’s just always been home to me; I’ve never lived outside of here. Even when I went to college, I stayed here. And being able to give back and make a difference and do things – not the immediate gratification, but things that my son and grandchildren will reap the benefits of...”
While many politicians boast of being outsiders, Traugott makes no apologies for pursuing a career in government service. His bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Kentucky was followed by a master’s in public administration from the University of Louisville, which he finished while serving as an aide to then state House majority whip Joe Barrows.
“I don’t believe that experience in policy-making, networking with executive branch officials and getting things done to help people, is a disadvantage to me. Some people may twist it that way,” he said.
Before being elected to the city council in 2012, Traugott served on the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission. He’s currently chair of the Bluegrass Area Development District, a member of the executive board of the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC), and chairs the KLC’s Ad Hoc Economic Development Committee.
He said he’s grown in the job. The sometimes-public feuds with Woodford Fiscal Court the first two years or so of his tenure seem nonexistent now, and he more often turns the other cheek when engaging upset constituents on social media and elsewhere.
“I have gotten a lot better at that. It takes a toll, being in a small town sometimes. My mother lives here, and sometimes is exposed to things like that… Temperament-wise, I came in feeling like I had to prove myself. I was young. I think I have really grown to appreciate different opinions. I’ve learned some things, made a few missteps when I came in, learned from those, and I think I’m a way better mayor than I was five years ago; I think I’m a better person than I was five years ago because of this job,” he said.
Another reason for that growth is the long struggle he and wife Laini had to adopt a baby. In March, they flew to Florida to pick up the infant they would name Liam. The baby was born with serious health problems, and the Traugotts spent a month with him in the children’s ICU. Liam is healthy and happy now, Traugott said.
“It was a challenging month, but it really gave us a unique opportunity to bond as a family. It was just me and Laini there in his room. I don’t want to complain about it, because it was a blessing, really,” he said.
As a father with a young child, time management has become more challenging, he said, adding that Liam has helped him become a better person.
“It has given me a lot more compassion, which I didn’t think I was lacking to begin with, but it has really given me a lot more, and it’s given me a selfish reason to make sure the city does well way into the future,” Traugott said.
A year ago, the council voted unanimously to make the position of mayor a full-time job – and raise the pay from $34,000 to $66,500, while prohibiting the mayor from holding outside employment. The pay hike takes effect at the beginning of next year. During the Oct. 16 Sun interview, Traugott said he’s surprised that it hasn’t become an issue in the race.
“…I think part of it is because I’ve committed full-time hours to it… The work of mayor is what I’m passionate about, not necessarily the glory or the title. And I think people appreciate how much has gotten done, and they’ve got to realize, it really is the job of the voters to hire somebody who’s worth that. That’s… the case I’m going to continue making until Nov. 6,” he said.
While easing off on the rhetorical throttle, Traugott hasn’t stopped entertaining council members and visitors with a funny quip or two most meetings.
“It is a tool to disarm and relax people, yes. Because, really, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. We can have political opponents; we shouldn’t have political enemies. And you ought to be able to laugh at people and joke with people,” he said.
If reelected, Traugott said he wants to build on the economic and budgetary successes of his first five-plus years in office.
“…We’ve really held the line on spending while still investing in things I think we need investing in,” he said.
He said he had a good meeting with U-Haul representatives lately, though he still opposes the company’s plans for the Lexington Road Plaza that have been stymied by the Board of Adjustment, and hopes to lure a retailer to the old Kmart building. He aims to continue what he calls the city’s progress on the drug issue. A few days before the Sun interview, Traugott signed an executive order establishing the Angel Program, in which drug users can surrender their drugs to police, not be charged, and ultimately be taken to a treatment center.
“I look forward to serving my hometown another four years. I’m excited about where we are now and real excited about where we’re going to go,” Traugott said.
Asked if he had something good to say about Johnson, Traugott smiled and said, “I think she’s done a great job with Mentors and Meals. I really do. I think she’s met a need there and I’m hoping to let her keep doing it for the next four years.”