Friday, October 31, 2014

Council members having pleasant race for mayor

Turner and Vandegrift (Tessa Lighty photo)
For profiles of candidates for mayor and city council, click here.

By Quinn Schwartz
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Nov. 4 Midway mayoral election is a choice between Sharon Turner, running on her longtime City Council and community experience, and one-term Council Member Grayson Vandergrift, offering a fresh vision and a step in a different direction at a potentially historic time for Midway.

The competition has been good natured. The candidates share a mutual respect and find themselves agreeing on most issues the new mayor will have to address.

Those include improvements in water lines, sewers, sidewalks and other infrastructure, which they hope to pay for with an increase in tax income from development at the Interstate 64 interchange – the management of which will be a challenge facing the city.

Turner boasts the most experience, having served on the council since January 2005 and as mayor pro tem since 2007, and for the past 14 years as secretary for the Nursing Home Task Force, which led to the senior living residence under construction in Midway. 

Turner’s record appeals to Midway residents like Alice Jacobs. “I think experience will be important,” Jacobs said.  “I would feel more comfortable with someone who best knows the concerns facing Midway and how to handle them.”

Vandergrift, a restaurateur who was elected to the council in 2012, has less experience than Turner, but expresses a passionate vision for Midway’s future and hopes to give the city a fresh perspective.

He may appeal to residents like Gary Owens, who said, “I don’t necessarily think experience is the most important thing as long as our mayor is able to make decisions that are best for Midway.”

Some of these decisions will deal with Midway Station, a development on the northeast corner of the I-64 interchange that has seen little activity since it was created the 1990s as an industrial park. It was rezoned for residential and commercial development a few years ago, but the recession and other factors thwarted development.

Recently, part of it has been rezoned to industrial on the prospect that a factory will be built there, and an adjoining tract has been recommended for industrial zoning.

Lexington developer Dennis Anderson, who has the Green Gables development on the southeast corner of the interchange, is tasked with redeveloping the rest of Midway Station. Under an agreement with the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, he pays the interest on the city and county bonds issued to create the industrial park in return for the right to redevelop it. 

Anderson plans to use tax-increment financing, which would use most of the additional state and local tax revenue from redevelopment to fund $30.7 million in public infrastructure, including parking lots, roads, sidewalks and utilities. 
               Development of the property could encourage local residents to seek employment closer to home by providing more job opportunities.  Many Midway residents commute to work in Lexington, Frankfort, Georgetown or Versailles.  If Midway Station is developed, more locals be able to stay in town for work, and the population of the city could spike with the attraction of new job opportunities.

Not everyone in Midway welcomes the idea of such a boom.  One issue with the development could be difficulty in maintaining Midway’s quaint and historic atmosphere.
“I’m not opposed to change, but if we take this development to the extreme we would destroy what we have worked so hard to preserve,” said Owens.

Turner and Vandegrift said at the Oct. 2 candidates’ forum that they would run an inclusive administration.

Asked what they hoped to be able to say after one term that would earn them a second, Vandegrift said he would want citizens to say “I felt like I had a voice, I felt like I had a seat at the table.”

Turner said she would want citizens to see that she had brought efficiencies, the right policies and procedures, and better services. She added, “It’s important to feel you’ve had a say.”

Both candidates are against the proposed Versailles-Midway-Woodford County government merger.

Turner says she does not want Midway to lose its identity. “Versailles and Woodford County could merge if they wanted to and leave us out of it,” she said. “They can’t force us into it, but we obviously have to be able to self-sustain if that happen. I think we’ve done that a lot, anyway.”

Vandegrift said at the forum that with countywide merger, “We would lose our voice as a city. We’re a small city but we have a big name. We would probably go from having eight representatives to having two, maybe three at best.”

Race for state representative is part of a larger contest between parties for control of the state House

By Sidney Rose Emison
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
               The race for state representative between freshman Democrat James Kay and Republican challenger Ryan Schwartz could turn out to be part of a pivotal move for Kentucky.
               In the Nov. 4 election, Republicans have a chance to gain control of the state House for the first time since 1920-21, and a Democratic group is attacking Schwartz in radio commercials in an effort to protect Kay.
               In June 2013, Kay won a three-way special election to replace Democrat Carl Rollins of Midway, who resigned to become head of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
               Schwartz and other Republicans are criticizing Kay for his vote to reverse a small decrease in the state gasoline tax, which is dedicated to highway projects.
               “I was disappointed to see that he did that,” Schwartz said. “I think the last thing that our economy and Central Kentucky families need right now is more money coming out of their pockets. We need to look at other ways of stimulating growth in our economy, and we need to look at other ways of financing our big road projects.”
               Kay says that because the gas tax is based on the average wholesale price of gasoline, so when prices go up, some motorists may drive less, and cars are increasingly fuel efficient, so less gas is bought and less tax revenue is raised.
               The tax fell to 30.8 cents per gallon from 32.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, its first decrease since 2010. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear proposed setting the old rate as the new floor for the tax, to keep road projects on schedule. Kay voted for that, with almost all other House Democrats, but the Republican-controlled Senate blocked it.
               “They try to politicize every issue,” Kay said of Republicans. “The reality is the road plan. That’s what I voted for. . . . a plan that gave millions and millions of dollars brought back to this district. . . . Now we have one billion dollars of unfunded projects in the state on rural roads, like here in Woodford County where people get in car wrecks -- young kids, high-schoolers -- get in car wrecks and die all the time.”
               The candidates also disagree on “right to work” legislation, which would ban union contracts that require employees to join the union or pay fees to it. Schwartz favors the measure, as well as comprehensive tax reform, “to help Kentucky to get a more competitive footing with some of our surrounding states, particularly Tennessee, which seems to be attracting so many manufacturing jobs that should be going to Kentucky.”
               Kay, who is supported by labor unions, opposes the legislation. “All this really is,” he said, “is an attack on unions, and I can tell you, the states that have the right to work legislation right now are in worse shape than we are.”
               Both candidates are lawyers who live in Versailles. Radio ads from Kentucky Family Values, a committee that supports Democrats, say Schwartz is a lawyer who buys foreclosed properties and sells them for a profit.
               Schwartz said one client of the Lexington firm in which he works “is a company that purchases delinquent property tax bills. What happens is, for whatever reason, when property tax bills go unpaid, county governments all over the state suffer. . . . When the state cannot collect on these tax bills, the county clerks are required to sell them to third party investors who don’t get any kind of extraordinary profits.”
               Kay says he has earned re-election. ““I have listened to my constituents. I am responsive to their concerns,” he said. “I know my community. I’m in it, I’m of it, I’m around it all the time. I have brought home things to this community that will help this community that will better serve it, and will make it better able to serve itself. I think at the end of the day, we need somebody born and raised here that knows this community to best represent it.”
The race is in the 56th House District.
               Schwartz, asked why he should be elected, described a variety of working perspectives. “I’ve worked outdoors, I’ve worked indoors. I’ve worked in offices and I’ve worked in factories. . . . The next thing I want to do is promote job creation by getting the government out of the way.”
               Kay said job creation begins with education. “We are poised to go backwards in education and we have been going forward for the first time in a decade.”
The district comprises Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties. In last year’s special election, held before the district lines were redrawn slightly, Kay got 44 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Republican Lyen Crews and 22 percent for independent John-Mark Hack.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Midway Messenger publishes its second print edition in time to offer election coverage

The Midway Messenger has published its latest print edition, 1,000 copies of which have been distributed to several locations in Midway. However, online is always faster; for a printable 10-megabyte PDF of the 12-page publication, click here.

This edition is on newsprint; the spring edition, our first, was on copy paper. We made the change to save money; thanks to our sole sponsor for this edition, Airdrie Stud.

The spring edition was published after the spring semester at the University of Kentucky; this one was published during the fall semester so we could provide comprehensive coverage of the Nov. 4 elections. There is no story about the judicial races, but they are covered in an online story about the Oct. 2 candidate forum. Election stories in the print edition will be posted online soon.

Tom Bozarth may be best known as mayor, but he makes his living as a Thoroughbred bloodstock agent

By Erin Grigson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Most citizens of Midway know Tom Bozarth as the mayor who can often be seen strolling down Main Street, keeping in touch with citizens and businesses, and presiding over city council meetings, sometimes uncomfortably when controversies arise.

But some may not know that the mayor’s salary is only $100 a month, and that Bozarth has another job, one in which he can approach heads of state on the spur of the moment, and one in which personal relations and trust are essential.

Bozarth is as a bloodstock agent, helping clients make purchasing, breeding and management decisions about Thoroughbreds.

In a place like the Bluegrass where horses and racing are a way of life, many people find ways to make a living that have horses at the center of it all. Bozarth said he has been a horse lover for 44 years and has always found ways to work with them.

He compared being a bloodstock agent to being a real-estate broker: “You’re going to buy a house, you get a Realtor; you’re going to get a horse, you get a bloodstock agent,” who makes sure the horse you’re buying is sound.

Bozarth’s agency, Arch Bloodstock, focuses mostly on matings and breedings, but does some work in racing stock. One horse he managed, Capo Bastogne, won the King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, N.Y., a Grade I race, the highest level of Thoroughbred stakes.

The Thoroughbred business is often based on personal relationships and confidentiality. Bozarth provided names of clients who could be interviewed about his agency, but they could not be reached for comment.

Charles Nuckols of Nuckols Farm, who has known Bozarth for many years and is familiar with his work in the horse industry, said, “I know people that have done business with him, and they say he does a good job.”

Nuckols suggested that Bozarth’s unassuming personality is an asset for him. “He’s been pretty successful even though he likes to keep it low key,” Nuckols said. “He steps up to the plate when he needs to, and now that he won’t be the mayor soon, he will be able to spend more time working with his business.”

As in most other jobs, Bozarth had to get experience and work his way up to being an agent.

Bozarth said he worked at Dearborn Farm, now known as the Vinery, for 13 years and “worked my way up the ladder.” He managed Parrish Hill Farm on the edge of Midway, which had the 1999 Derby winner, Charismatic. Later, he went back to the Vinery and managed the stallions there.

Now, after 12 years of working for himself, Bozarth says he still enjoys what he does.

“You get to meet a lot of nice people,” he said. “It’s a very good business. This is the only business in the world, I think, where you can go up to a head of state or Fortune 500 CEO and talk to them without an appointment. It’s been good to me … It’s just a pleasure and honor to be able to be around some of the people.”

Bozarth said he travels “a fair amount,” in his work as an agent, going to Indiana twice a month. He said he also goes to Oklahoma and Florida to look at horses, visit clients and help them get good horses.

“You want to try to get the best you can,” he said. To do that, you might have to give up something.

“Sometimes you have to discount something to get it in the price range you want,” he said. “You can’t have all of the ingredients. You want to have something that’s perfect for the price range and you have to give something up. You have to give up confirmation or the pedigree. It’s the same thing with a house. You have to give up location or size.”

Echoing the Rolling Stones, Bozarth said, “You can’t always get what you want… but you get what you need.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

City council hears questions and answers about tax-increment financing, to be used at Midway Station

The Midway City Council heard a consultant for the plan to use tax-increment financing to develop Midway Station answer a series of written questions from a likely council member Monday night.

After the council disposed of several largely routine items of business, John Harris of Commonwealth Economics answered six questions posed by Libby Warfield, one of six candidates for the six council seats in the Nov. 4 election. He distributed written responses to the council, then elaborated on them. A PDF with Warfield's questions and Harris's responses can be downloaded here.

Asked by the Messenger if she was satisfied with the answers she received, Warfield said she would have to check with her son, Matt, a former council member who worked for the state Revenue Cabinet and compiled the questions.

Tax-increment financing uses extra tax revenue generated by a development to pay for the public infrastructure associated with the development.

Council Member Grayson Vandegrift, a candidate for mayor, asked Harris, "What would you say in a nutshell are the biggest risks the city takes?" Harris said that since the city isn't being asked to guarantee any bonds, its risk would be to its reputation if the proposed industrial, commercial and residential development fails.

"Versailles took the reputational risk" with a redevelopment project that was delayed for years, Harris said. "I don't think it's a big risk at all." Later, he noted that the state TIF law requires a development to start within four years and "another couple of years" to reach the $20 million minimum investment.

"These are all really very good questions," said Harris, who was the last secretary of finance for the administration of Gov. Ernie Flecther in 2007. "It took me three or four years to understand the statute I helped write." He said the state's interpretation of the law has evolved.

In a related matter, the council gave first reading to an ordinance rezoning a 38-acre tract on Georgetown Road that would be added to Midway Station, presumably for a prospective industry.

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which asked for the rezoning and owns Midway Station, will hold its monthly meeting at 8 a.m. Friday, Oct. 24 in the Anne Hart Raymond Center at Midway College.

In another matter involving Warfield, the council denied her request for reimbursement of $2,330 for a water line her father installed in 1989, on grounds that the reimbursement ordinance has a 10-year limit. Warfield told the council that the line "will now be used by entire west side of town. . . . I just thought out of fairness I should ask. Now I can tell my father that I tried."

In other business, the council voted to schedule trick or treat for Friday, Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m.; authorized Bozarth to execute a new franchise agreement with Kentucky Utilities; and decided to seek a neutral site for a meeting with the Woodford County Fiscal Court to discuss the dispute over financing of emergency management services.

The court had proposed that the meeting be held in conjunction with its regular meeting on Nov. 25, but Mayor Tom Bozarth said, "I think our meeting should be held at a place like KCTCS or Midway College, in a more inviting environment, where we can all sit down at the table and have a conversation instead of sitting in the courtroom and being in the audience."

UPDATE: Wednesday morning, a special meeting was announced for the council's special emergency-management committee from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23 at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce office in Versailles. The meeting will also include representatives from the Versailles City Council, which is also at odds with the county about emergency-management funding.

Regarding another meeting, Bozarth noted that the state Transportation Cabinet will hold a public hearing from 5 to 7 p.m.Oct. 30 on the corridor for the proposed Versailles bypass, which could route more traffic onto narrow US 62. "It's very critical for both Versailles and probably Midway to see exactly what's going on," he said.

Bozarth also announced that Habitat for Humanity will hold an open house Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at its recently built home on North Winter Street, and that bids for reconstruction of water lines on Higgins Street will be opened Nov. 6.

Council Member Sharon Turner, the other mayoral candidate, announced that the Cemetery Committee would meet Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss a proposed mausoleum and landscaping, and the Blighted Property Committee would meet Oct. 28 28 at 8:30 a.m. to continue its discussions about individual properties.

Monday, October 20, 2014

American Farmland Trust is holding its national conference in Lexington and the Bluegrass this week

The American Farmland Trust is holding its annual conference, "Farmland, Food and Livable Communities," in Lexington and the Bluegrass today through Wednesday, Oct. 22. Bus tours this morning viewed Lexington’s mixed-use and re-use development and urban agriculture and went to Dixiana Farm, Darby Dan Farm, Brookfield Farm, the Kentucky Horse Park and the Grimes Mill Winery. One of the guides for the latter tour was Billy Van Pelt, CEO of Woodford Forward Inc., based in Midway. He will be on a Wednesday panel, "Comprehensive Approaches to Local Farmland Protection." For the full schedule, click here. Walk-in registration is available at the Lexington Hilton Downtown.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Restaurateur Ouita Michel made it to Midway on her pluck, luck, skill and vision for local food

By Brian Bouhl
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

It’s hard to imagine where Ouita Michel would be today if she hadn’t told a lie about herself.

The nationally prominent matriarch of Bluegrass cuisine, Michel almost lost one of her first cooking jobs in New York City because she let her ambition overcome her honesty.

“I worked for a really nice seafood restaurant called John Clancy’s and I told the chef I knew how to filet a fish and I had never really filleted a fish in my life,” Michel recalled. “I basically just cried the first day, and to this day I have no idea why she didn’t fire my ass.”

Decades later, Michel sits in the bar area of the Holly Hill Inn, crown jewel of her mini-empire of food in the central Bluegrass region. The charming Greek Revival home, built about 1845, oozes Southern charm, from the shelves of bourbon on the wall, to the immaculate foyer and the kitchen that could very well be Mom’s or Grandma’s.

Michel moved to New York after graduating from the University of Kentucky, but returned to Lexington in 1993 once she married her husband Chris Michel (pronounced "Michael"), whom she met at the Culinary Institute of America on the first day of school. “I originally just came back to Lexington to get married,” she said. “I moved down here to plan the wedding with my mom and I got home and I just didn’t want to go back to New York.”

After jumping around jobs in Lexington in the mid-1990s, Michel opened up her first restaurant with Joe and Elizabeth Coons: Emmett’s, on Tates Creek Road. Michel credits the restaurant, “a fantastic experience,” for teaching her about Southern cooking and traditional Bluegrass dishes. But the 350-seat, fine-dining restaurant had its downsides, especially the stressful 80-hour workweeks, and Michel always wanted something smaller.

Little to her knowledge, fate was on her side, and one conversation with just the right person led to the acquisition of the centerpiece of her culinary family.

Michel was giving a tour of Emmett’s to Midway food writer Bob Rouse one night and the two were wrapping up their interview. She recalls it this way:

“You must love this place, you’ll never leave it,” said Rouse.

“Well, I do love it,” said Michel. “But I’d only ever leave it for the Holly Hill Inn in Midway.”

“Well, I own that with my dad,” said Rouse.

“If you ever want to sell it,” Michel replied, “call me.”

Unbeknown to her, Rouse and his family had started talking that week about how they needed to sell the Inn.  He eventually called, Michel and her husband came and looked at the property, and the rest was history.

Rouse confirmed Michel's account. "I consider that the greatest thing I've ever done for this community," he said. "They have been remarkable assets to the community."

Owning and operating the Inn since 2001, the Michels have called Midway home ever since, living in a cottage on the same property.

Though she wanted something smaller than Emmett’s 13 years ago, Michel now owns four other restaurants in Central Kentucky: Wallace Station Deli and Bakery on Old Frankfort Pike, Midway School Bakery at the south edge of town, and Windy Corner Market and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington. Adding to her tower of hats, she is also the chef-in-residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery, which has a new visitors’ center.

But Holly Hill is still home, and it’s where her mission started. “I think every business needs a mission beyond the bottom line, she said. “Our mission is to express the culture of Midway and of Central Kentucky through its food and to move it forward, not just continuously expressing the past but saying this is what we can do here.”

Michel is a leader of the farm-to-table movement that has taken off in Central Kentucky and many other parts of the nation. She is often asked to appear at culinary events around the state, and she is nationally recognized as a chef and leader in the local-food movement. And that helps make a civic and business leader in Midway and the Bluegrass.

That status wasn’t something planned, she said, but something she needed as a person.

“It’s nothing I set out to accomplish. I didn’t wake up one night and say I want to be a community leader. I want to be a community leader because I want my community to be great,” said Michel.  “I don’t want to just brainlessly make grits every day. I want to see the beauty in those grits because they come from Weisenberger Mill. I want to share that with the people who come to Midway.”

Being a leader to Michel also means supporting her employees, which number around 100.

“I want to change my community from the ground up. I want to support the people and encourage the people that are working for me in my businesses instead of always marching out front,” Michel said. “I want my young chefs to get more exposure. That is one reason I’ve tried to change my role. I’m not really the chef anymore at the Holly Hill Inn. I have all these fabulous people who I want to push forward.”

Despite her rise in stature since her move to Midway, Michel doesn’t see herself becoming a regional or national figure, because of guidance from her stepfather, the late Robert Sexton, longtime executive director of the statewide Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“He was very influential in my life in terms of focusing me away from chasing this national Food Network-style fame,” said Michel. “It was more, ’Hey, I’m in Kentucky, I’m the Kentucky chef and I want to be the best. I want to change the way we think about food in Kentucky. I want to impact it, I want to develop it, I want to be a part of it. So Kentucky would always be my top priority because it’s my community.”

Pictures, awards and newspaper clips adorn the walls of the bar at Holly Hill. But outside of her five James Beard Foundation nominations for best chef in the Southeast, there seem to be three constant words: local, community, and leader.

“I moved back to Kentucky to feed a community,” Michel said. She’s done that and much more from her base on North  Winter Street. She’s changed the landscape of food in the Bluegrass for the present and future.

Luckily for Midway and Central Kentucky, that chef in Manhattan didn’t fire her all those years ago.