Midway mayor, council candidates speak at forum
Candidates for Midway Mayor and the Midway City Council took part in a forum sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce last Thursday, Oct. 18, at Midway University.
Incumbent Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and challenger Ambrose Wilson IV began the proceedings, with their session lasting about an hour.
All of the candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves and two minutes to answer questions and provide closing remarks. Chamber Executive Director Don Vizi told them beforehand that this was a forum, not a debate, and asked them to refrain from personal attacks. The order in which they were asked questions alternated.
In the interest of space, we have highlighted what we feel to be the most pertinent questions.
Grayson Vandegrift said he grew up three miles outside of Midway and that it’s been an honor and privilege to serve as mayor since his election in November 2014. He said when he took office, it was clear that what the city needed most was more revenue. Since then, new employers at Midway Station have helped more than double the city’s payroll tax receipts, from $275,000 to more than $550,000, he said. The extra money allowed him and the city council to spend more on roads and sidewalks and retire debt on the city’s old sewer plant and the one in use. He touted the 25 percent property tax cut passed this year and pledged to, if reelected, pass a 25 percent sewer rate cut. “Let’s stay the course, let’s not mess with success,” he said. Ambrose Wilson, a Woodford County Public Schools board member for 26 years, cited his family’s long history in Midway and said, “Experience matters.” He said he had 30 years of experience in human resources, management consultation, conflict resolution, employee relations and in four different sectors of the workforce. He retired from the state, where his last position was secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet, which had 700 employees and a $98 million budget. He said if elected mayor, he’d begin immediately working on the city’s aging water and sewer lines, sidewalks, streets and police protection “and anything else we can to to enrich the quality of life of our citizens, from our youth to our senior citizens.”
Is there a scenario where you would support a city restaurant sales tax to support tourism efforts?
Vandegrift said, “Absolutely not, in its current form.” Vandegrift said as the state law governing such taxes is constituted, proceeds from a restaurant sales tax go to the Woodford Tourism Commission. “I don’t like the idea of a tax being levied … going to people who are not elected. That’s not good practice,” he said.
Wilson said Vandegrift was correct. “I do think we need to work closely with our state representative. There are ways that other states are using other taxing opportunities to improve infrastructures, to improve quality of life, so there are ways you can explore that. But to answer your question, not the way you discussed.”
… What is your opinion about having a homeless shelter in Midway?
Wilson said the city should do anything possible to support its citizens who need shelter. “It is absolutely unspeakable to think that one of our citizens in Midway would be in a situation where he or she is homeless, especially children… Why would we send them to Lexington?” he said. He said he would work with the city council and others in the community to come up with a solution, if there is a homeless problem.
Vandegrift said he didn’t believe Midway was large enough to need a homeless shelter. He said in a couple of instances since being elected mayor, citizens have come to him about people who were walking around the streets and didn’t seem to have a place to go. “And we got local churches each time to help solve the problem. He said he’d heard talk of starting a homeless shelter in Versailles, and that it made more sense to start in a larger city.
What is your solution to getting public restrooms in Midway?
Wilson said it was largely a question of revenue and long-range planning, saying that leaders have known since 2016 that American Howa Kentucky and Lakeshore Learning would greatly increase the city’s payroll tax revenue. He said many business owners had told him about the need for public restrooms in the city (there are none, save for those in City Hall). “Once again, you have to prioritize the many, many needs that we have and then determine how you want to spend the revenue…”
Vandegrift said he saw public restrooms as being a wish list item, but not necessarily a needs list item. He pointed out that the City Hall restrooms are open to the public on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and have had groups such as Midway Renaissance staff it during weekend festivals. He said when the question was raised in 2015, he told Midway Renaissance that private equity should be raised first – at least $20,000. He said if they are built, the city would need to clean and maintain them, and that other city leaders told him, “It can be a mess, in more ways than one.”
Wilson said during a candidate forum in 2014, Vandegrift and his opponent were talking about the same issues that were brought up that evening. “We can’t wait another four years to talk about affordable housing … blighted properties … to sincerely attack the problems of our streets and our sidewalks …” he said. He encouraged citizens to become more active in politics and city government, and that when they see problems that are not addressed, to stand up. “Tell your local officials, ‘We need to deal with this sidewalk. It’s a death trap…’ I had one person tell me they were afraid their road was going to cave in before anybody dealt with it.”
Vandegrift said he’d love to be able to snap his fingers and make the city’s problems go away. “Let’s look at sidewalks, for example. Sidewalks, by ordinance … are the property owner’s responsibility. So by law the city can’t go in and fix them all unless we’re prepared to do them all on time…” he said. He pointed to the city’s cost-sharing program begun under his watch, in which property owners who volunteer to pay half of the cost to repair their sidewalk are reimbursed. They’ll issue another request for volunteers this fall, he said. “We’ve paved two of the worst roads in town with general fund revenue – Northside Drive … and East Stephens Street,” he said.
Seven candidates showed up for the forum, but Danielle Doth left for a class and didn’t return until there were 20 or so minutes left.
Bios: John Holloway said he moved to Kentucky when he accepted taking a teaching position in 1983, then moved to Midway seven years ago when he got married. He spoke of his volunteer work renovating and sprucing up Walter Bradley Park that began when he asked Vandegrift if he could fix a fence that had fallen down at the dog park there. “I designed the bridge, and built it, that goes over the creek … and just got so involved working in the park that I want to make sure that continues to develop…” he said. Holloway is chair of the citizen-led Park Board formed by the council. Council Member John McDaniel, a lifelong Midway resident, said he’d enjoyed his first two years on the council and would like to continue the council’s work. “We’ve got a good bunch of people. We do raise our voices at one another once in a while, but we’ve always managed to agree on items…” he said. “Midway is part of me and my family, and I just felt like getting on the city council was just one extra thing I would enjoy…” Logan Nance said he grew up in a small county in Western Kentucky and that when he was a young child, his grandfather taught him about servant leadership and leading by example and action. He said his military service, which brought him to Afghanistan, was an example of those ideals. He said he would bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the council and would be a good listener. “Mostly, I want to keep our small town small. We love Midway for a reason…” he said. Stacy Thurman said she has lived in Midway for the last decade and has been a librarian at the Midway branch for a decade, the last three as manager. “Since becoming branch manager three years ago, I’ve made it my goal to reach out and collaborate with individuals, schools, civic groups, churches and other Midway organizations…” She said she was especially proud of her library’s year-round collaboration with Northside Elementary staff, teachers and students. She said her experience interacting with residents of all ages and backgrounds would benefit the council.
Council Member Bruce Southworth said he was a Midway city administrator before taking a job as director of the Versailles Public Works Department. “You’ve heard a lot of talk tonight about infrastructure, water lines and sewer lines and … storm drainage – I’ve got a lot of experience in that… I know what it takes to run a city’s utilities department,” he said. He said that if elected to a fourth term, it would be his last. “I’m a firm believer in term limits,” he said. Council Member Sara Hicks said she grew up two miles outside Midway and was completing her third term on the city council. She said the first time she ran, it was because she didn’t want Kentucky-American Water to take over the city’s water department. She spoke of her work as a marriage and family therapist and said her goals included painting the “Tin Man” (the city’s old water tower), establishing coin-operated bathrooms, and devoting more resources to arts and infrastructure repairs.
If elected, what would be your first priority to make Midway a better place in which to live and work?
Nance said he’d work to make sure infrastructure repairs move forward. “Particularly our sidewalks … they really are an eyesore on our city. And not only that, it’s also a liability for our city…” he said.
Thurman said she wanted to help introduce neighborhood associations to Midway. She said a group was already working on the issue and that many didn’t realize what a benefit it would be.
Southworth said next year will bring a state review of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. “… I’d like to make sure we’ve got everything in line before that … to make sure we pass that inspection with flying colors…”
Hicks said, “Well, we have to do the infrastructure, and that’s the nuts and bolts of it. It hasn’t been repaired or renewed in eons, and we just have to take care of business first,” she said.
Holloway said, “I’m the park guy” and wanted to continue to improve the park, but that infrastructure issues discussed during the evening should be the first priority. He said he didn’t believe that “not so good” sidewalks were not the end of the world.
McDaniel said he wanted to keep following the course set over the last few years, work on infrastructure problems and revise the city’s blighted property ordinances. “… We do a lot of work when we leave City Hall…” he said.
McDaniel said because there is more money available now, the council should stick with present plans on parks, infrastructure and other items. “We just need to maintain what we’re doing, and I think we’re doing very well,” he said. Nance praised each of the other attendees for their service and potential, and for what they’ve taught him during the campaign. “We have a great opportunity to have a say in who is elected, and I would be honored to serve with any one of these people,” he said.
Thurman said she hoped to help the council foster young families and create an environment they don’t want to leave. She said a wider range of housing options and youth sports leagues would help create that environment. Southworth said it takes money to do infrastructure work, “and up until now, we really haven’t had the money to do big projects.” He said another term would give him a chance to do such things and squeeze another 10 years out of the wastewater treatment plant.
Hicks said the city’s future was woven with that of Midway University, and that she was thrilled to have younger people running for city council. “Bring them in, and let the younger families know that we welcome you. We welcome you to govern our town…” she said. Danielle Doth said she supported infrastructure work, a public restroom, more support for Walter Bradley Jr. Park and a sidewalk through the park. She drew laughs from the audience when she said, “Honestly, I don’t know anything. I thought it would be fun (to be a member of the city council).” She said she’d vote for any of the attendees that evening and that every Midway citizen should consider running for a council seat.
Holloway thanked Vandegrift for creating the Park Board and Hicks for her membership on it. He said the park was near and dear to his heart, agreed that infrastructure repairs were needed, and closed the forum by praising the young candidates who took part in it.