Monday, August 3, 2020

Council discusses school, OKs short-term economic developer, hears fire department has its first ladder truck

Northside Elementary School is scheduled to welcome students Aug, 26. (File photo by Megan Parsons, 2019)
By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift spent much of their meeting Monday sharing their thoughts on re-opening schools amid the covid-19 pandemic.

The council also approved a short-term contract for an economic developer, passed an ordinance easing paperwork rules for volunteer work on city property, made one block of Johnson Street one-way, and heard that Vandegrift bought a used ladder truck for the fire department.

The Woodford County Board of Education is planning to resume classes Aug. 26 with a dual option, in which parents can send children to school or have them do virtual learning, online at home. The board will have a special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11.

“We want kids to go back to school at some point,” Vandegrift said. “My main concern, though, is if you go back in and we’re not ready to control the spread, if there are four to five kids a week testing positive for coronavirus and we can’t truly test for it the spread is going to continue.”

Vandegrift’s estimate was based on research that uses county infection rates to estimate the number of infected people likely to arrive at a school of 500 in the first week.

The mayor called for delaying the in-person start date, saying said more testing is needed first, to allow tracing the contacts of infected people and asking them to quarantine.

“I think the board should seriously consider delaying an open that allows students to enter the school until we can guarantee more testing,” he said. “I’m not putting that on Woodford County; the health department has done an unbelievable job, but everywhere this thing spreads, you can’t tell where it’s coming or going, and that’s because of testing.”

Council Member Sara Hicks raised concerns about parents who have health risks but face losing their jobs if their children do not go back to school: “If you say you can your kids or not send your kids, it sounds like that’s just a free decision, but I don’t think that’s really a free decision for people who don’t have the financial wherewithal to put their jobs in jeopardy.”

Council Member Stacy Thurman didn't opine about opening but said the school board should get support no matter what decision it makes: “We need unity, we need a united front and we need solidarity with the board and the county.”

“There’s no good solution,” said Thurman, mother of a fourth grader and an eighth grader. “Both solutions are bad and inconvenient and hard.”

Council Member Logan Nance agreed, saying “The bigger risk than covid to our community is the divisiveness and the language we’re using to talk to one another.” He also didn’t give the school board any advice, and no other council members spoke on the topic.

The City Council usually does not involve itself in school matters, “but this is an unprecedented situation,” Vandegrift said, and the final call will be “the most important decision that board has made in a long time, if not ever.” 

The mayor said at the start of the discussion, “We don’t in any way ever want to step on another board or jurisdiction’s toes,” adding later, “I think it well help them to have an idea how our city, our constituency, our end of the county feels about this.” At the end of the discussion, he said Midway-area school-board member Ambrose Wilson posted his thanks on the Facebook page that carried the meeting.

Other business: The council unanimously approved a six-month contract with Fortune Solutions LLC and point person Lucas Whitt to staff the Woodford County Economic Development Authority for six months, filling the role played by retired EDA chair John Soper.

Whitt worked with Midway on the location of Lakeshore Learning Materials when he worked with the state Economic Development Cabinet, Vandegrift said: "He's well aware of what is going on in Midway Station." The city will pay him $1,050 a month; Soper was paid $1,333.

Most of the pay will come from Versailles and the county government; Vandegrift said he, Mayor Brian Traugott and Judge-Executive James Kay agreed on the temporary hire to give them time to develop “a more concrete, more comprehensive” request for proposals from potential long-term hires.

The council defeated, with lack of a motion, Council Member John Holloway's proposal to rename and replace “Sparks in the Park,” normally held on July 3 or 4, with a celebration on June 19 to honor Juneteenth, a now official city holiday, to honor the end of slavery.

Vandegrift said he had discussed with Holloway “what could be done,” and asked for a motion, but none came. He said Sparks in the Park would continue but “We are going to have a Juneteenth celebration next year on June 19, which happens to fall on a Saturday.”

The council also:

    Heard the mayor announce the purchase of a used ladder truck from Stewart County, Tennessee, for $13,500, using state fire aid money and a city appropriation that was going to be used for an antenna but is no longer needed. Vandegrift said the city needs a ladder truck more than ever, with major facilities in Midway Station. He said Stewart County bought the truck used from Beverly Hills, Calif., but “The truck’s in great condition” and has been driven less than 50,000 miles.
    Unanimously approved an ordinance simplifying volunteer work on city property. Volunteers will no longer be required to sign in and out each time, and won't be required to be under city supervision at all times, since they would sign a waiver of liability. The change confirms current practice.
    Unanimously made the 200 block of Johnson Street a one-way street, from Gratz Street to Brand Street, effective Sept. 1. Nance said he interviewed all but one resident of the block, and all but one were in favor of the change.
    Heard Vandegrift report that more than 700 people watched Wednesday’s online forum about traffic issues, and almost 80 made comments. One suggested traffic cameras to catch and ticket speeders, but the mayor said he had learned such cameras are illegal in Kentucky.

Before the moment of reflection at the start of the meeting, Vandegrift asked members and the online audience to remember the late Joyce Logan and the late Pat Wilson and their families.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Mayor and City Council put discussion of Aug. 26 school reopening on Monday agenda, invite public comment

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift will discuss the status of re-opening schools amid the covid-19 pandemic during their twice-monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Anyone wanting to share their thoughts on school reopenings will be able to comment on the online meeting’s Facebook Live stream on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings Facebook page.

“I hope Midway citizens will join the discussion via Facebook,” Vandegrift told the Messenger. “I’ll share my thoughts and ask the council members if they would like to weigh in as well. And all of this in the hope of helping the [school] board, not in any way stepping on their toes.”

The mayor noted that the Woodford County Board of Education is planning a dual option, in which parents can either opt to send kids to school or have them do virtual learning, online at home. School is scheduled to start Aug. 26.
“A couple of board members recently expressed concern about sending kids back to school,” Vandegrift said, especially with the rise in cases the last several weeks and a survey that showed many teachers are leery about returning to in-person instruction.”

The school board scheduled a special meeting for Monday night, but that has been postponed to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11.

While the council normally does not involve itself in school-board decisions, the mayor said he hopes the conversation will give an idea of where people in Midway stand on school re-opening.

“My goal is simply to be able to give the school board and idea of how Midway and this end of the county are thinking about this, hopefully, to help inform their decision making,” he said.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Diverse crowd of 50 people march across town to raise awareness of a sad event and celebrate Black resilience

Marchers, wearing masks, gathered at the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery. (Photo by Aaron Gershon; to enlarge, click on it)
By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

On an overcast day when rain threatened but temperatures were cooler than usual, 50 people marched through Midway to honor those affected by the July 31, 1868 attack on the Second Christian Church.

Friday's event was organized by Honoring Black Stories in Midway, a group dedicated to African American history in the city.

“In Midway, much work has been done regarding researching our Black history, but many people are unaware,” event organizer Milan Bush told the Messenger. She said the march was for awareness and to celebrate the resilience of African Americans since slavery.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said, “I think this was a very important event for our city to remember when we’re talking about our history. We have to talk about it from many perspectives.”

Second Christian Church faces Smith Street. (Photo by Aaron Gershon)
Three years after the Civil War, the church served a vital role in the local Black community, and housed a school. Whites who were determined to uphold the racial status quo in Kentucky attacked and burned the wood structure.

“We have to acknowledge the good and the bad,” Vandegrift said. “And the more I talk to Black citizens around town, the more I realize many simply want their story to be told too, and it’s most important they be the ones to tell it. And we listen.”

The march began at City Hall, went to Second Christian Church at Smith and Stephens streets, and then 0.6 miles across town to the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery at the west end of Bruen Street, where many African Americans are buried.

Vandegrift walked and was pleased with the turnout. “I thought it turned out great, even better than I expected,” he said. “Over 50 people, more than 90 percent Midway residents, both white and black.”

Midway writer Bob Rouse posted on his blog, "Of a Midway Mind," to share his experience in the march.

“In my 62 years, I have walked for miles on Midway’s streets and sidewalks: on Halloween nights with my family, during growing-up days with my friends, and on moonlit evenings with a sweetheart,” Rouse wrote. “But today I walked with purpose in my heart. I walked in the spirit of peace—as John Lewis implored—with my sisters and brothers.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who was the last living civil-rights leader who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, died July 17 and was buried Thursday in Atlanta.

Perhaps the lone concern about holding the event was having a gathering of more than 10 people in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, contrary to an order from Gov. Andy Beshear. Every marcher was wearing a mask and generally kept distance from each other.

“We live in a special community, which we knew, ” Vandegrift said. “But today showed another loving face of our city.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Honoring Black Stories in Midway group will march Friday, anniversary of 1868 attack on Second Christian

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Honoring Black Stories in Midway, a group dedicated to honoring African American history in the city, will hold a march at midday Friday to honor those affected by the July 31, 1868, attack on the Second Christian Church.

"We are in a day in age where it's open to talk about race, but it makes people uncomfortable," event organizer Milan Bush told the Messenger. "In Midway, much work has been done regarding researching our Black history, but many people are unaware.”

Brenda Jackson, left, and Barbara Holcomb of We're Digging It Metal
Detectors found evidence in 2017 of the original log building of Second
Christian Church. They found foundation stones and handmade nails.
(Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Tom Eblen)
Three years after the Civil War, the church served a vital role in the local Black community, and housed a school. Whites who were determined to uphold the racial status quo attacked and burned the wood structure.

"Being a teacher, I begin researching school information for Blacks. The initial finding was a brief sentence of a colored school being attacked on July 31, 1868," Bush said. "The incident is really disturbing. While no one is alive from that time, I believe it served as a major turning point for Black-white relations in Midway. Nevertheless, the Black community rebuilt and thrived, something many of us didn't know. So we march for awareness and to celebrate their resilience.”

Wednesday the City Council approved a parade permit for the event. Council Member John Holloway, who said he will be marching, told his colleagues that marchers plan to use sidewalks, won't block any streets, and have agreed to break into groups of 10 or less to adhere to the state’s latest social-distancing rules.

"I want people to realize we have been communicating with them (Honoring Black Stories group) about covid restrictions," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said during the special council meeting called to issue the permit. "They're completely compliant, everyone will have masks on. . . . They will also be socially distanced, making it virtually impossible for an asymptomatic carrier to spread."

Vandegrift added that he will take part in the march and is confident in the social distancing measures in place.

The march will begin at noon at City Hall and will go down East Main Street to Gratz Street, then out East Stephens Street to its intersection with Smith Street, where the church was located on what is now Midway University's campus. From there, the march will go back down Stephens Street, then up Turner Street and on Bruen Street to the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery facing Wausau Place, then back to City Hall at 2 p.m.

"Many of the graves at Sons and Daughters cemetery say 'Gone, but not forgotten'," Bush said. "Honoring Black Stories wants to change that narrative and bring to life those people we have indeed forgotten."

A 2017 Lexington Herald-Leader story about the attack is here.

EDA sells two Midway Station lots to Creech Services, which bales and ships muck from horse stalls

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a purchase contract for two lots in Midway Station to Creech Services Inc., a firm that firm that bales and ships horse-stall muck.

“This entity serves the community,” EDA chair Michael Michalisin of Midway said during the brief special meeting. “This is a business that’s served our horse farms that are near and dear to our heart, part of our heritage and what Mr. Creech does is provide a very professional, world-class service.”

At the regular EDA meeting Friday, Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift endorsed the sale. In May, he and the board were hesitant about making a deal with Creech, since composting is prohibited in Midway Station, but then Creech showed them that composting isn’t what he does.

On July 15, Vandegrift and Michalisin told the Messenger that after meeting with Creech at his Fayette County facility that they were willing to sell two lots that Creech would use exclusively as a transfer point for horse muck that is shipped to mushroom farms.

Vandegrift said Tuesday that some Midway residents had voiced concern about odors, but the only smell they noticed was the smell of a horse farm, and “Smelling is believing.”

He noted that prevailing winds run southwest to northeast, which would take any odor into farmland, but he said there would be no problem even if the wind blew from the northeast into Midway.

Vandegrift told the EDA board that he shared the potential deal with the Messenger in order to get feedback from the public, and heard back from three Midway residents.

“They were concerned and wanted to see what this was,” Vandegrift said Friday. He said Creech invited all three to his facility, and “One of them did join him this Monday, is my understanding. I did not hear back, but I figure no news is good news.”

Michalisin added, “I support Mr. Creech and admire what he built out there (Fayette County) and I just love the fact he wants to be here, be part of Woodford County, wants to be close to our horse farms and wants to bring jobs here.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, former Midway mayor Tom Bozarth, a bloodstock agent, spoke highly of Creech, saying he had known him for 30 years. "He just runs a real class operation, so I can't say enough about him and his integrity," Bozarth said.

During Friday’s meeting the board also:
  • Authorized signing of closing documents to sell the balance of the Roach property to Big Dog Trading and Storage Barrel Warehouse Co. The property is next to thenAmerican Howa Kentucky auto-parts plant.
  • Allocated the expected profit of $65,000 from Big Dog’s purchase to the Roach family to satisfy debt owed the family.
  • Welcomed a new board member, Anna Beth Bobbitt of Versailles. She spent six years as a senior project manager for the EDA and is a client relationship manager at Traditional Bank in Frankfort. “I'm looking forward to contributing any way I can,” she said.
  • Heard that a committee led by board member Courtney Roberts continues to work to find a replacement for former chairman John Soper as EDA’s paid staffer. Roberts said he is working with Vandegrift, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Council committee approves all 29 relief grant applications; John Holloway dissents on three

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A three-person City Council committee met Wednesday and approved all 29 Midway businesses that applied for federal covid-19 relief money through the city's $75,000 grant program. Three were approved with one member dissenting.

The committee of Council Members Stacy Thurman, Sara Hicks and John Holloway met on Zoom with Mayor Grayson Vandegrift to apply the criteria established by a prior ad hoc committee of Holloway, Thurman and City Clerk Cindy Foster.

The money will be split evenly between the 29 businesses; thus, each will receive $2,586.20.

Of the 29 businesses, 26 were approved by the three-person committee and three were approved on 2-1 votes with Holloway voting no on each. he voted against BIF Holdings, Horse Country Cottage and Throw Me A Carrot.
Holloway's concerns with the three businesses were that none of them were in a commercially zoned area of town and have conditional-use permits. Grantees are required to have a physical location in a commercial zone.

"To me, a conditional-use permit is not the same as being in an area that is zoned," Holloway argued. "That's just not what it (grant criteria) says."

"I'm not sure if it's fair to people who didn't apply because they thought, ‘Well, my claim wouldn't be submitted,’ while some other people are just like, ‘I just want money and file this thing to see if it sticks’."

Hicks disagreed, saying the city needed to show “equanimity and graciousness since people did bother to fill out the application and do contribute to our commercial community in one way or another.”

Hicks is running for re-election this fall. Holloway is the only council member not seeking re-election.

The application form asked what costs or losses were suffered due to closure related to the pandemic and required applicants agree to cooperate with any audit, certify that the information they give is correct to the best of their knowledge, and acknowledge that a false statement may require them to return the money. Recipients must have been forced to limit activities due to the pandemic, and must not owe taxes to the city.

The businesses approved for grants are: The Back Room, BIF Holdings, Breckinridge, The Brown Barrel, Commotion, Crittenden Gentlemen's Store, Damselfly, Darlin' Jeans, Don Jockey, Fisher Antiques, Gigi & George, Goose & Gander, Graviss Studios, Heirloom, Historic Horse Country Cottage, Midway Museum Store, McMahon and Hill Bloodstock, Mezzo, Midway Boutique, Midway Chiropractic, Midway Makers Market, Milam House, Rachel Riley DMD, Railroad Street Framing, Rocket Leather Repair, Southern Sunday, Therapy on Main, Throw Me A Carrot and Tithe Wellness.

The application asks what the money will be used for, and requires recipients to report by Dec. 30 how they used it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Bob Rouse, former Midway Blue Jay, makes a splash in Toronto by inviting its baseball team to our town

Bob Rouse displays his Toronto Blue Jays gear. (Photo provided by Rouse)

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A major league baseball team in Midway? Even for a shortened season? Midway resident and Toronto Blue Jays fan Bob Rouse tried to make it happen.

The Blue Jays are looking for a home for the 2020 season after the Canadian government ruled it would be unsafe for players to travel back and forth from the U.S. amid the covid-19 pandemic.

So, Rouse decided to reach out to the team to offer up Midway University's new Don Ball Stadium to host the team.

"I am an unabashed supporter of my home town," Rouse told the Messenger. "And while I didn't really expect an MLB team to roll into Midway, I wanted to seize on the chance to put us in the spotlight.”

Rouse's email to the Toronto Blue Jays; for a larger version, click on it.
In his email to the Blue Jays, Rouse listed several reasons why Midway would be a good fit for the club including the new field, no need for fans, and the town's "remarkably good restaurants” and the mascot of the old Midway High School, the Blue Jays. (He attended elementary school in the same building.)

Rouse told the Messenger that he forgot about another point he could have made in Midway's favor: Freedman's, the equine leather shop in Midway, is based in Toronto.

His email acknowledged drawbacks, such as the lack of a hotel "But as a true-blue fan, I would be rude not to offer to help the team in this challenging time. (I should add that I own three different Blue Jays ball caps — not sure if that's a point in favor of you coming or against it.)"

Despite Midway not being a reasonable home for the Blue Jays, Rouse did get a call from Director of Fan Services Christine Robertson, and has been the subject of news stories in Toronto.

"I expected a cursory email and nothing more," Rouse told the Messenger. "The Jays asked if they could share my email with a reporter, but I really didn't think he'd pick it up. And then being live on CTV News was an even bigger surprise." He also got some U.S. coverage.

The Blue Jays are still looking for a temporary home; they hoped to play in Pittsburgh, but health officials there said no.

While they won't be coming to Midway, Rouse, a writer by trade, feels he accomplished his true goal: "Down deep, this is exactly what I was hoping for: spotlight on Midway."