• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

KLC training keeps local officials sharp, mayors say

For most elected officials, the hours they spend in official government meetings are but a fraction of the time they put into the job. This week and next, we’ll look at the training programs offered to city and county elected officials, beginning with the cities of Midway and Versailles. For elected officials, there are calls and emails and letters to answer, meetings with constituents on a wide variety of issues, personal studies of issues – and, for mayors and council members, annual training sessions provided by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC). (The state Department of Local Government also offers KLC-certified classes.) Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said he’s taken a variety of KLC classes and programs for at least a decade. For the last few years, he’s also been attending meetings of the group’s board of directors, of which he’s a second vice-president. Last Wednesday morning, Feb. 12, in Frankfort, Traugott and other attendees heard from the chairs of the House and Senate committees dealing with local government and from Rep. Jason Nemes about his medical marijuana legislation. That afternoon, the KLC Executive Board met from 3 to 4:30, which was followed by the KLC’s annual City Night event, where local officials and others can relax, network, and trade good ideas and the occasional “horror story,” according to Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. Vandegrift said several of the latter were shared by his peers in other cities who’d had unpleasant experiences with planning and zoning issues. Traugott is a member of the KLC’s leadership team and is scheduled to be sworn as president of the group this fall – and he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the training he and some members of the council receive. “It has done a lot of good. Obviously, there’s networking opportunities with other cities, to see how they handle (issues) – I mean, we all have similar problems. The details differ, but we all have similar global issues. Also, what I’ve capitalized a lot on are relationships with these people who present at these conferences,” he said. Traugott said his meetings with experts on P-3 (public-private partnerships) had a significant impact on the type of deal city leaders hope to strike on the soon-to-be-abandoned police station. Another valuable bit of training came last year when Morgain Patterson, KLC’s director of Municipal Law and Training, came here to discuss code enforcement issues with Traugott, City Attorney Bill Moore and the city council’s Administrative and Legal Committee, Traugott said. (Councilmember Mary Ellen Bradley chairs that committee, and Councilmembers Laura Dake and Mike Coleman are also members.) Since then, Patterson has worked with the city on possible revisions to the city’s gross receipts tax, he said. Before being appointed to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission, Traugott was an aide to state Rep. Joe Barrows, the then-House Majority Whip, and kept his spot on the House leadership team until 2015, after the Democrats lost their majority. He said despite all those years, he still learns plenty at the KLC training sessions and board meetings. “I absolutely think they’re valuable. As you’ve probably seen by watching, I’m the kind of guy who likes to push the envelope a little on these issues, so when I see how far some other cities go, I like to see how I can take it even further,” Traugott said. State law allows cities to pass ordinances offering financial incentives for officials who attend at least 15 hours of KLC training per year. In Versailles and Midway, the first year of at least 15 hours of KLC-credited training pays participants $500, with $500 more for each consecutive year of attendance year until the fourth and successive years, when the pay tops out at $2,000. Last year, KLC’s annual training conference took place in Covington in September; this year it will be in Owensboro, also in September. The sessions aren’t mandatory, but Traugott said he highly recommends them to members of the city council. “You get inspired by people – downtown issues, seeing case studies of what other cities have done, in other states, even,” Traugott said. “You can get some creative inspiration as well as technical training.” Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift hasn’t been in public service as long as Traugott, but is equally enthusiastic about the KLC training sessions. “They’re wide-ranging … like any kind of conference you go to, and each conference is kind of built around three days and has different sessions, so you can pick and choose – they have break-out sessions,” Vandegrift said. Some of his favorites involved planning and zoning, which, like most of the offerings, included updates on new state laws. “I’ve always kind of taken the most from those classes,” Vandegrift said. Of particular value to Vandegrift – and the Midway City Council, which later passed legislation on the issue – was information about city sidewalks in disrepair. “It was at a KLC conference when I realized that even though we aren’t in charge of all the sidewalks – the property owners are – that I realized (the city’s) legal liabilities for (the sidewalks),” Vandegrift said. “It was coming out of one of those KLC sessions that I really sat down and started planning out that sidewalk (cost-sharing program) that we finally pulled off … last year, and we’re going to do it again this year. “That course led to a direct result for our city. It’s one of those things where you get out of it what you want to get out of it …” Vandegrift said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of these things are mind-numbing and boring, and you’re trying to chug coffee just to get through them, but there’s always a lot of good information … (and) there is a lot of good networking at these things …”

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