Tuesday, February 28, 2012

As Midway's restaurant scene evolves, one of the businesses badly wants liquor by the drink

By Cody Porter
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Restaurants such as the Grey Goose, 815 Prime, Heirloom, the Holly Hill Inn, and Darlin’ Jeans Apple Cobbler CafĂ© offer a level of quality that Midwegians believe can only be found nearby in the likes of Louisville or Lexington. But only a select few of those restaurants can offer liquor by the drink, which can be important to a restaurant, and that is making alcohol an issue for the broader community.

L-R: Grey Goose, 815, Thoroughbred Theatre, Heirloom
Heirloom owner and chef Mark Wombles filed a petition Dec. 19 for a local-option election to authorize the sale of liquor and wine by the drink regardless of the number of seats. His restaurant has 58 seats, well short of the 100 required by state law without a vote of the public, but is a little more upscale than its Main Street neighbors.

“Fine dining is what we do,” Wombles said. But Heirloom only has beer and wine available for sale.

“We never thought it was fair because if you have one restaurant that sits, you know, here on the street and you have another one right next to it that’s bigger than that restaurant, or has room to add on to the back, then they can have liquor,” Wombles said. “Where we can’t add on to the back, we’re kind of doomed to never have it, so you know it doesn’t create a level playing ground for restaurants.”

Wombles said today that he has withdrawn the petition, at the request of Mayor Tom Bozarth, in favor of state legislation sponsored by Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, left, that would reduce the seating requirement to 50. The bill was introduced Jan. 11 but has not been posted for consideration.

The importance of alcohol to the Holly Hill Inn could be found with a series of cultural dishes recently prepared by executive chef and owner Ouita Michel. The cultural menu, called the Winter Dinner Club, was in tribute to various chefs around the world, manager Donna Hecker said: “We did Italian, we did Southern Comfort, we did Indian, and we did vegetarian, and we did Mardi Gras.”

A select wine was chosen for each menu, and patrons could also order one of many cocktails. For instance, in tribute to actress and food writer Madhur Jaffrey, who helped introduce Indian cuisines to the U.S., a “Bombay Cucumber Gin and Tonic” was offered.

Bar at the Holly Hill Inn (Photos by Cody Porter)
If the Holly Hill Inn could not serve alcohol, “It would cripple us,” Hecker said, because they rely on it to accompany the tastes of their various dishes. She said that wine, at the very least, is something they would need to continue to serve. The Holly Hill Inn only had a wine license when it first opened, but has since obtained a liquor license that allows it to feature a full bar. The restaurant has been the recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 2002.

The role of alcohol at Midway restaurants is more than simply what you eat, Hecker and other restaurant operators stressed. “It allows us to represent Kentucky, I think, at its best,” Hecker said.

The Grey Goose is in the former location of The Black Tulip, where the search for a high-end establishment in Midway used to stop. Now the venue has more varied offerings. “You get what you pay for,” manager Billy Oakley said. “If you just want to get a $6 lunch, you can do it. If you want to come in and get a $50 meal, you can do it.”

Oakley said the resaurant helped fill “a big hole” in Midway left by the closing of The Black Tulip. While it can be one of the more affordable restaurants in the town, the Grey Goose’s manager says it is the bar that is the draw to their restaurant, “especially when we first got started. That was one of the reasons people were coming here, because you could come here and get anything you wanted.”

On Monday evenings, a casual dining experience can be found at only two locations along Main Street in Midway, and both have liquor by the drink: The Grey Goose and its neighbor, 815 Prime and Tavern 815, located below the restaurant.

815 owner Rob Vandegrift replaced his previous Quirk restaurant and transformed the bookstore below into a cozy tavern. As successful as it may be, Vandegrift believes that the Midway restaurant scene will not return to its former level unless the horse industry in the area bounces back to pre-recession levels. “It’s so dependent on it,” said Vandegrift. When asked how his own business is doing, Vandegrift said it's for sale.

Hecker, at the Holly Hill Inn, doesn’t share Vandegrift’s view on the horse industry or, perhaps, his clientele. Midway does “not necessarily” depend on the industry, Hecker said. “It’s important, it’s vital,” she said, “but we have a real wide ranging customer base.”

Hecker said the biggest influence the horse industry has on the town, and, her restaurant, is bringing in a national clientele for such events as the World Equestrian Games or the annual Rolex event at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Wombles said a large number of his customers are from Lexington, Louisville, Midwegians, and people affiliated with the horse industry, some of them from outside the U.S., especially Europe. “They come here and eat with us a lot,” he said. “Horses are really big in Europe.”

Wombles said his restaurant’s need for liquor by the drink was illustrated during the World Equestrian Games, when Europeans asked for bourbon and he was unable to provide it, even though it is produced a few miles away, in the same county.

“You have Woodford Reserve right up the street here that makes bourbon,” he said. “If a wealthy person comes in here from Europe or something, first time traveling here and they want a Woodford, I’d have to say, ‘Well, I can’t sell you one, but it’s made right up the street. It’s ridiculous.”

Information for this story was also gathered by UK journalism student Patrick Thompson. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

About 100 attend Chamber awards event at college

By Alex Ruf
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Thursday night the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce gathered local business and community leaders at Midway College to celebrate the community of Woodford County. Twenty-three awards were given out, ranging from best local coffee (McDonald’s) to tourism achievement (Wildside Winery).

The awards included Best Place to Shop in Midway, which was won by the Damselfly Gallery. Midway Boutique placed second and Celtic Trends placed third. (Chamber photo: Eric Thoreson of Damselfy, left, and Clare McCarthy Parisel of Celtic Trends) In the contest for best breakfast, Lunch Box and Wallace Station, owned by Holly Hill Inn, placed third, behind winner McDonald’s and runner-up Callie’s, both in Versailles.

The last time this type of event was held in Woodford County was in 2006, and this time the agenda was very different, chamber Executive Director Tami Vater said. This year’s event was geared towards getting more business leaders to come to the event, and appreciate the community of Woodford County.

“What is good for Woodford County is good for all of us,” Chamber board Chairman Tommy Haggard said during his opening remarks. Haggard seemed to set the mood for the rest of the ceremony. Everyone seemed to be on board with the communal spirit of the awards. This was most notable during the award for best place to shop in Versailles. The top three stores – winner Pretty in Pink, runner-up Truly Bluegrass, and Marketplace On Main, are neighbors.

The chamber gave four organizations an award designed to embody the spirit of the county. Community Spirit Awards went to the county planning commission, the Woodford County Farm Bureau, the Woodford County Parks Foundation, and Woodford Tomorrow, a new group that is trying to build bridges between development and preservation interests.
From left: Chamber Executive Director Tami Vater and Woodford Tomorrow's Deborah Knittel, Dave Arnold, Hank Graddy, Patti Butler and Brett Butler. (Chamber photos)
Also announced at the ceremony was Woodford County’s recent certification as a Work Ready Community by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board. The certification takes into consideration high school graduation rates, education attainment rates of adults, and availability of broadband Internet. Woodford County exceeded all the requirements.

This year the chamber chose to try something new by including rotating categories, which will change from year to year. The categories can be suggested by members of the community. A goal of the chamber is to give every business in the county the chance to be named best in some category.

The ceremony began with an acknowledgement of the hard work it takes to run the chamber. Volunteers have clocked more than 7,500 hours, without which such events wouldn’t be possible.

After the ceremony, Vater and Pam McKinney were asked what they thought about the success of the event. Both viewed it as very successfulsaying only two people who won awards were not at the ceremony. They estimated that more than 100 people attended the event, and said they expect larger turnouts in the coming years.

Here is a complete list of the winners:
  • Leadership All Stars: Tina West, Joanie Anderson, Aaron Soard, Shannon Sloan Soard and the SIFE Program 
  • Distinguished Farmer of the Year: Bobby Payton
  • Outstanding Farmer of the Year: Bobby Gaffney
  • Chamber Business Member of the Year: Woodford Wicks Candle Company 
  • Tourism Achievement Award: Wildside Winery 
  • Education Spirit Award: Woodford County Woman’s Club 
  • Community Spirit Award: Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission, Woodford County Farm Bureau,  Woodford County Parks Foundation and Woodford Tomorrow.
  • Best Horse Farm: 1st, Lane’s End; 2nd, Winstar; 3rd, Three Chimneys 
  • Best Place to get a Cup of Coffee: 1st, McDonald;s;  2nd, Starbucks;  3rd, Cornerstone Pharmacy 
  • Best Place to Shop in Midway: 1st, Damselfly Gallery; 2nd, Midway Boutique; 3rd, Celtic Trends 
  • Best Place to Shop in Versailles: 1st, Pretty in Pink; 2nd, Truly Bluegrass; 3rd, Marketplace on Main 
  • Best Veterinarian:1st, Dr. Bradley Keough;  2nd, Dr. Ashley Keith; 3rd, Dr. Dale Eckert 
  • Best Real Estate Agent:1st, Brenda Rollins;  2nd, Cindy Shryock; 3rd, Carolyn McDonald and Brad Lawson 
  • Best Place to Get Breakfast: 1st, McDonald's 2nd, Callie’s; 3rd, Lunch Box and Wallace Station 
  • Best Bank: 1st, Citizens Commerce; 2nd, United Bank; 3rd, Kentucky Bank

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Council discusses removal of snow and vultures, changes in October marathon route

By Morgan Rhodes
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway’s extended troubles with snow removal and roosting vultures were main topics discussed at Monday’s City Council meeting. While the roosting issue was somewhat left in the air, the issue of snow removal may finally be put to rest.

Mayor Tom Bozarth swore
Charlann Wombles onto the council
as Council Member Dan Roller watched.
Other business at the meeting included a discussion about route changes for the third annual Iron Horse Half Marathon, and the swearing-in of a new member.

The council approved an agreement with Woodford County to take care of road treatment and snow removal for the remainder of this winter pending one change: a clause requiring either party to give 30 days’ written notice if it wishes to terminate the agreement.

At the last meeting, where the first draft of the agreement was reviewed, council members agreed that such a clause was needed, and that the first three paragraphs of the agreement should be deleted.

These paragraphs detailed Midway’s new fourth-class city status and said “to be fair and consistent,” the city and county had agreed that the “service cannot be provided to Midway at no cost.” They remained in the agreement signed by County Judge-Executive John Coyle, and Council Member Sharon Turner said she was “not happy” about it.

Midway Magistrate Larry Craig and Magistrate Bruce Gill said the fiscal court unanimously told County Attorney Alan George to add the 30-day clause. As for the opening paragraphs, “You have to pick your battles” in contract negotiations, Craig said, adding that he saw no point in pressing the matter “and the feelings that go along with that” – a reference to city officials’ unhappiness with the way county officials handled the policy change. 

Mayor Tom Bozarth asked City Attorney Phil Moloney to contact George with the request to add the 30-day language requiring both parties to give 30 days notice of termination. He said the city is still getting informal bids for snow removal service, both citywide and on narrow streets the county says it cannot handle. “We’ll have to see which is best for the City of Midway and our citizens,” he said.

For a copy of the agreement and a list of streets that the county will handle, click here.

In light of the issue, Turner suggested that the city and the Fiscal Court send each other advance copies of their meeting agendas. “Communication seems to be an issue,” she said, alluding to the county’s late notice of its policy change. Gill endorsed the idea.

With the agreement about snow removal in process, the council moved on to discuss how to eliminate the vulture problem in Midway.

Increasing numbers of vultures are roosting at three sites, leaving a distinct odor, grounds covered in droppings and health concerns. (Photo by Morgan Rhodes)

One location is behind Midway Christian Church, where Rev. Heather McColl has already applied for a federal permit to kill and remove the vultures. McColl sent in a permit application on Friday, she said. It takes six to eight weeks for permits to be processed and approved.

McColl told the council she enlisted the help of Assistant Versailles Police Chief Fugate to help kill the vultures. If the church receives a permit, “The city will receive notice of when the birds will be killed in emails, posters, et cetera,” she said, to ensure the citizens are aware that firearms will be in use at the church and prevent any fear or distress.

A permit is required to kill vultures because they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Adam Probst, the University of Kentucky cooperative extension agent for agriculture in Woodford County, told the council. Both the native turkey vulture and invasive black vulture are in Midway, Probst said. Read more about the vultures here.

Probst suggested that property owners where the birds are roosting also apply for a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Without the permit, “You can harass them all you want, you just can’t shoot them,” Probst said.

Probst said he believes applying for the permit to kill and remove the vultures is the best course of action for Midway because other defenses have failed. Last year, the Versailles Police Department fired blanks to scare the vultures away, and Council Member Dan Roller created an effigy to hang outside the church.

Each property owner must apply for an individual permit because the city cannot kill or remove vultures from private property, Probst said.

Probst said Midway is an ideal roosting site for vultures because of abandoned buildings and covered pine trees. In Midway, scare tactics would only make the vultures move from one location to another down the road, he said.

Because Midway ideal for vultures, Probst said, there is no permanent fix for the problem.

Other business: marathon, members, ordinances
For the third year, the council issued an event permit for the Iron Horse Half Marathon, a 13-mile foot race through Midway, on Oct. 14 this year.

Chuck Griffis with John’s Run/Walk Shop of Lexington, a sponsor of the race, attended the meeting to address concerns about the disruption the event causes. It begins at 8 on a Sunday morning, complicating travel for residents heading to or leaving churches.

To reduce traffic obstruction in town and allow downtown to open back up earlier, the course will be run in a direction opposite from last year, and the start and finish line will be at the corner of Brand and Cross streets, instead of finishing at the corner of Main and Winter, a much busier intersection, Griffis said. For a PDF (2.13 MB) of last year's course, click here.

Proceeds from the race have gone to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Bluegrass. However, Griffis said he is looking for a more localized cause. Last year, the event raised roughly $10,000, Griffis said. He said he expects 1,300 participants this year, 250 more than last year.

Turner asked where participants will park. Bozarth said they will park at Midway College and Walter Bradley Park. Griffis said the college will be on fall break, possibly making more spaces available.

Before the meeting began, Charlann Wombles, a former council member, was sworn back into office, replacing Becky Moore, who had resigned with 10½ months left in her term. The council appointed her at a special meeting last week.

The council passed a revised ordinance on the administration, licensing and payment of fees for selling and serving alcohol. The second reading and final passage of a new parking ordinance was put on hold until next meeting pending corrections.

After a brief discussion, the council agreed to include the option of combined recycling and garbage pickup as it requests proposals for the service in the coming year.

Near the end of the meeting, Bozarth asked council members to think of one item they would like to see in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. And he told several candidates for council seats in the November election, who were in the audience, that he would hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to familiarize them with city issues. “We’ll try to do this on a regular basis to try to help you all move forward with your candidacy this fall,” he said.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 5 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Midway's Ted Bassett counsels caution, preservation of traditional vision as horse industry seeks casinos

By Cassidy Herrington
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Ted Bassett oversaw and guided many changes during his 44 years in leadership of the Keeneland Association Inc., but his fondness for tradition remains unchanged. As Kentucky’s horse industry campaigns for casinos, Bassett calls for the preservation of the vision of those who founded Keeneland 75 years ago.

Ted Bassett outside the Keeneland headquarters (Photo by Cassidy Herrington)
“The mission,” Bassett said, emphatically but with a twinkle in his eye. “Emphasis on the spectacle of horse racing, creating a landscape that celebrates the rural environment, tradition and customer service.”

To the many people who know him, 90-year-old James E. Bassett III is many things: a legend in the horse industry, Purple Heart Marine, courtly Kentucky gentleman and prankster. He has lived many lives, and through his leadership at Keeneland, he is a witness to the evolution of Kentucky’s signature industry.

Bassett was president of Keeneland from 1970 to 1986 and chairman from 1986 to 1991. Although retired to Lanark Farm near Midway, he is trustee emeritus on its 30-member board and has an office on the grounds. His ties to the track remain steadfast. He still visits the Track Kitchen every morning to fetch his bowl of cereal and glass of V8.

Mary Page, the kitchen manager, has known Bassett for 30 years. She started working at Keeneland as a concession-stand vendor. As president on his “morning rounds,” Bassett ranked Page’s popcorn on a scale of 1 to 10, she said. “He never gave me a 10, because if I thought it was perfect, I wouldn’t try harder,” Page said. “He’s all about quality control.”

Bassett is loved by all Keeneland employees, Page said. “From the stall cleaner to the trainer, he doesn’t talk to them any differently.”

File photos: www.TedBassett.com
His relationships are international; he’s hosted Queen Elizabeth II, right, and is a friend of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the prime minister of Dubai and owner of Gainsborough Farm near Midway.

Page said Bassett doesn’t forget a face and “makes people feel at home.” He’s also notorious for his pranks and dry sense of humor.

Keeneland’s chaplain, Mike Powers, remembers one day when Bassett gave him two assigned parking spots, one for his car and one for the golf cart he uses on Keeneland’s grounds. “Two signs went up that said ‘Chaplain,’” Powers said. “Then he told me, ‘Now don’t ever park on my grass again!’”

“If there ever was a people person, it’s him,” Powers said. “Even though he’s not chairman, he still carries a big stick around here.”

But when Bassett first started working at Keeneland, as an assistant and potential successor to the president, his presence wasn’t as well regarded. “I was as green as a gourd,” he recalled in an interview with the Midway Messenger. A Yale University graduate who had been a newsprint salesman, tobacco farmer and director of the state police, he had never worked in the horse industry.

He credits his experience in the Marine Corps for his ability to adapt successfully to the widely varied roles in his eventful life. “The values of the Marines stay with you all your life,” he said. “Commitment and focusing on the objective at hand.”

Bassett was recently elected to his sixth term as general chairman of the Marine Coordinating Council of Kentucky. Fellow member Ed Armento said the council “quickly settled” on Bassett to lead the council, which serves Marine veterans and families in the state, because of his visibility in the state and the Marine Corps.

Bassett on Okinawa
He served as an infantry officer in World War II, where he was part of the initial landing on Japanese islands. “Leading up to all of the success he’s had in life,” Armento said, “I think his defining moment was leading Marines in Okinawa as a young man.”

Bassett vividly remembers his first taste of military life when he arrived at Parris Island, S.C., for training in 1944 and got a Marine haircut: “In 10 seconds your personality changed once they shaved your head. You looked in the mirror and said, ‘My God! Who is that awful looking creature?’”

He figuratively had his head shaven again when he started working at Keeneland in 1968. His peers didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. Many had been there for years and were bitter about his initial, elevated status that would soon translate to being Keeneland’s next president.

“It was rather awkward,” he said. “But I feel that without my Marine Corps values and experience, I might have been a lost ball in tall weeds for a while.” After being broken down and built up many times before, Bassett knew he could “overcome and achieve.”

In much the same way, Bassett says Keeneland will thrive in an evolving horse industry if it “rolls up its sleeves and believes in the past 75 years.” Keeneland makes most of its money on horse sales, not racing, so it has been able to maintain its traditional feel, and that’s the way Bassett likes it: “Quality over quantity and commercialization.”

And that’s where Bassett is uneasy about casino gambling, which would come to Keeneland and other tracks under a constitutional amendment under consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly.

“I do not feel that it was in the founders’ vision of Keeneland to turn it into a glorified gambling emporium,” he said. He stressed that this is exclusively his opinion, “a myopic old fossil’s vision.”

If the gaming amendment passes, Keeneland will form a corporation with The Red Mile and open a casino “somewhere near downtown or close to Red Mile,” President Nick Nicholson said.  “Keeneland has a philosophy and mission that’s at the core of everything we do, and he’s been a part of it for many years. And our priorities are the same.”

Bassett reinvented as a Keeneland groom:
statues at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport
Bassett is remembered at the legislature for the 1994 committee testimony he gave about the “mythical armada” of casino boats headed to the Ohio River. “Bassett told me he thought that armada quote would end up on his tombstone,” Nicholson said.

Bassett defended his early stand, noting there weren’t any casino boats on the Indiana side of the river. “I changed my opinion when it looked like racing needed it in order to compete,” he said. “I didn’t quite understand the ramifications.”

Kentucky’s horse racing industry is losing footing as states like New York, Pennsylvania and Florida use gaming earnings to boost purses and other incentives to breed and foal there. Bassett called the gradual departure of mares and even stallions from Kentucky “an issue that critically needs to be addressed.”

The state’s racing and breeding industry is “not just a rich man’s hobby,” Bassett said, noting the small, family-owned farms in the Bluegrass and the nearly 100,000 people whose employment can be traced in some way to the industry, according to studies paid for by the industry. The jobs include other lines of work like veterinarians, insurance companies, automobile sales and farm suppliers.

Bassett said his ideal solution to the migration of mares would be tax incentives to keep them in Kentucky for foaling. Gov. Steve Beshear and the racing industry have a more controversial idea, the constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would put casinos at up to five tracks and two other locations.

Bassett said he has accepted the need for the extra income and hopes that Kentuckians will support the amendment. But he doesn’t think it is a wise idea to compete with the “full blown” casinos to the north. One is to open in Cincinnati next year.

“They need to be guarded in their thinking that the more casinos allocated, the more revenue the state will make,” he said. “We need to be very careful that we don’t over-saturate.”

Nicholson said he agrees with Bassett that casino gaming is far from Keeneland’s early vision, “but the competitive environment has affected the industry.” The bottom line, he said, is that Kentucky’s horse industry needs expanded gambling to compete. “The reality is, we’re surrounded by it,” Nicholson said. “And we’re about to be surrounded by it even more. I don’t think we have a choice but to consider it.”

Bassett said, “A great deal of Keeneland’s success is that it is different,” relying on sales rather than racing. “But my view may be over tempered by my long-term association with Keeneland’s early days and the growth we’ve had.”

While Keeneland adapts, as he did in his career, Bassett hopes to see a continued focus on its bread and butter: the spectacle of racing. And the tribune of the “mythical armada” said that if the legislature approves the amendment, “Finally at long last, the public will have an opportunity to express their approval or disapproval on the issue of casino gambling.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

As vulture flock grows, Midwegians worry about health and safety; council to discuss options

Vultures preparing to roost soar above Midway Christian Church.
Story and photos by Morgan Rhodes
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

On a walk down East Bruen Street in Midway, someone might witness a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” The trees behind Midway Christian Church are filled with roosting vultures, seemingly waiting for a nice carcass to scavenge.

These vultures aren’t just behind the church, where they have returned in greater numbers than in 2010. Over the last couple of months, vultures have spread to two other locations in Midway: on Brand Street and the corner of Bruen and Turner Street.

UPDATE, Feb. 22: The church has applied for a federal permit, its pastor said after Monday night's council meeting.

The Midway City Council will discuss the vultures at its meeting Monday night. Council Member Sharon Turner is worried about the dangers the birds may pose. “People are mainly concerned about the health issues,” Turner said in an email, “and some are also concerned about their small pets that are outside.”

Experts downplay the health issues from the birds’ smelly droppings, but do say the vultures are the type that can kill prey, not just scavenge carrion.
Adam Probst, the University of Kentucky’s cooperative extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Woodford County, said in an email that Kentucky is home to two types of vultures: the turkey vulture and the invasive, black headed vulture.

“The native turkey vulture has been a part of the natural ecology of Kentucky for many years,” Probst wrote. “However, the black headed vulture is expanding its territory north from Mexico and the Gulf Shore states. It is a more aggressive bird that may actually kill its prey rather than exclusively feeding on dead/decaying carcasses like the turkey vulture has done.”

While Probst said there are no immediate hazards to humans, black vultures have a more aggressive nature, making pets and children vulnerable. He said Midway has options to deal with the problem and hopes to find a solution with the council.

Probst said there is no particular reason vultures are roosting in Midway. Abandoned buildings are an attraction for nesting sites, he said. “Once they become a little more acclimated to people, they may move out into other areas around town that may have a little more traffic such as parks or near churches that don’t have daily activity.”

The pastor of Midway Christian Church, the Rev. Heather McColl, said she first noticed the vultures around Halloween in 2010. “As time passed,” she said, “they became more prolific. … This year, it seems the numbers have grown. I would guess there are 50 or more on a given night.”

McColl said the church’s concerns are for the health of the community: “Midway Christian Church is trying to be proactive.” Last year, the Versailles Police Department was called on to fire blanks in the area to scare off the vultures, but the tactic didn’t work.

Dan Roller, a city council member and member of the church, also made an effigy to scare the vultures away, McColl said. This tactic also failed.

Tire on church playground shows bird droppings.
While no one has been harmed, the vultures have caused damage to the community playground behind the church. “People used to come by and use the playground,” McColl said. “Because of the droppings, it is a health hazard.”

The smell and droppings of vultures in roosting areas are unpleasant, but pose no real harmful effects, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says on its website. Because vultures have a unique digestive system, all bacteria are destroyed before being emitted back into the environment. According to the site, “Most view the vulture as one of nature’s most efficient, natural recyclers.” For more, click here.

Even so, McColl said the droppings have rendered the playground unusable by the community.

In an effort to solve the problem, McColl contacted Keith Stucker, district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. McColl said Stucker confirmed the situation at the church  is no longer a temporary and minor problem, so it can be addressed with more than harassment of the birds.

Stucker suggested that McColl apply for a permit from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to give the church permission to kill the vultures, the only surefire way to be rid of them, McColl said.

A permit is required to kill black vultures because they are a federally protected species. Probst said the first line of defense is scare tactics, but since the situation has progressed to a point where the birds would simply move to another location in Midway, “I’ll be discussing at the city council meeting some options that the city can take including additional scare tactics, and the permit process for taking and removing these birds.”

Since scare tactics have already been used, Probst said he believes taking and removing the birds is the best option.  Stucker suggested to McColl that killing the birds after receiving an approved permit is the best option at this point. Because the vultures have spread and multiplied, Stucker told McColl, removal is the only available option to get rid of the problem this season. Also, according to the Alabama website, roosting vultures habitually return to previous sites, making it very likely that the birds would keep roosting in Midway.

McColl said the church will take its cue from the city council. If the city applies for a permit, she said, the church will be a part of that.

“As long as ideal roosting sites are around Midway,” Probst said, “this may need to be addressed again in the future, but it may be several years before it gets to the point that we are at today. The good news is that the city does have some options in dealing with this problem and that hopefully we can create a solution soon.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Charlann Wombles appointed to city council

The Midway City Council unanimously appointed former council member Charlann Wombles to a council vacancy this morning. Wombles will fill the 10½ months remaining in the term of Becky Moore, a former mayor who was elected to the council in 2010 and resigned last momth.

The council chose from among 10 applicants, five of whom are running for council seats in the November election, and expressed its pleasure at their number and quality. "I was really impressed with some of the resumes . . . and the backgrounds of a lot of the people who are running," Council Member Aaron Hamilton said.

Council Member Sharon Turner, the mayor pro tem, said the council agreed in its private discussion of the applicants that they should be encouraged to remain active in city affairs, and that the applicants who are not successful in their campaigns should consider running again in two years. Other members indicated their agreement. "We have a lot of great people in Midway," Council Member Doris Leigh said.

Wombles is not running in the election and was not among the early applicants for the position. She said in an interview that she applied because "I'm just a server when it comes to this community," thought "there wouldn't be a lot of education" necessary for a former member, and City Clerk Phyllis Hudson told her when she asked that no other former members had applied.

"There have been so many delays about so many different issues, I just wanted to move things along," Wombles said. She served on the council from 2005 through 2010 and later filled an unexpired term as the city's representative on the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.

The council discussed the applicants in a closed session, allowed by state law in such cases. As it prepared to start the private discussion, Council Member Dan Roller asked if Mayor Tom Bozarth would have to leave or if he would voluntarily excuse himself, since the appointment was by law a council decision. Bozarth said he had planned to remain only to explain the appointment process. He left the closed session after a few minutes. Upon return to open session, Roller made the motion to appoint Wombles and all agreed. The meeting took 25 minutes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Much overlap among council applicants, candidates; should candidates be eligible for appointment?

By Lauren Conrad
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Five of the 10 Midway residents who have applied to fill a vacancy on the city council are candidates for council seats in the November election. And five of the eight non-incumbent candidates for the council have applied for the council seat made available by Becky Moore’s resignation.

Applicants who are also running are Michael Ashton, Kevin Locke, Bruce Southworth, Grayson Vandergrift and Libby Warfield. Applicants who are not running are Phillip Burchell, Dan Elkin, Joseph Haydon, Curt Savage and former council member Charlann Wombles.

Savage said in his application that appointing a candidate would give an unfair advantage in the election. Vandergrift said likewise on Jan. 31, the deadline to file for the election, but apparently changed his mind, because when yesterday’s deadline to apply for the vacancy passed, he was among the applicants.

The council may make the appointment tomorrow morning. Council Members Doris Leigh and Dan Roller disagreed on whether or not being appointed would give a candidate an advantage in the November election.

“I definitely think that filling out the end of this term will give them a leg up,” said Roller. “Last year was my first and it takes a while to get going. Anyone on council now will be on the budget process, which will be an advantage to them, and they will generally find out if they want to do it or if they’re not interested at all.”

“I don’t think it gives them any advantage in November,” Leigh said. “Not in a small town. You just think about the people that have the knowledge.” Council Member Joy Arnold, who is not seeking re-election, wasn’t reached for comment.

The more senior council members said they had mixed feelings about the question, but were open to the idea of appointing a candidate. “Sometimes there is not a choice,” Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Turner said before the application deadline. “For example, what if all the letters [seeking Moore’s seat] are from people who have filed to run in November? What choice would I have then, so I don't back myself into those corners that there is no option in.”

Council Member Aaron Hamilton said the person who completes Moore’s term should just have the best for Midway in mind, whether that person is running in November or not. “I really don’t have a problem with it,” said Hamilton. “It seems as though if some one were to fill it just to fill out Becky’s term that would be okay. On the other hand, some one running in November and filling this position now would allow them some time to feel out the job and see what’s going on. Hopefully it wouldn’t be like were trying to endorse anybody.”

Locke and Warfield said being appointed would improve their chances for election. “I do believe that there is an advantage to seeking the appointment now,” said Locke. “The first and foremost being that it would give the new council member an in-depth look at the issues that council is facing. That familiarity would be very beneficial to a candidate in November as he or she would be able to speak to the issues more intelligently.”

Warfield said, “The apparent advantage to me of being appointed for these 10 months would be that I could make a true determination as to how much time and energy is actually required to serve as a councilman in a sufficient manner. In addition, I think it is an advantage to be allowed to experience the interaction that must take place in any group involved with governing.”

Ashton sees both a benefit and a detriment to his seeking the appointment and running in November. “I think there could be an unfair advantage if I got appointed and ran as an incumbent,” said Ashton, “but then if I was appointed and did a miserable job it would hurt my running. I did put my name in, but that’s not as important as that I am running for the seat in November. If some one else was appointed before me then that is fine.”

Steven Craig, a candidate in the November election who did not apply, said he sees no problem with those who are running in the November election being eligible to fill the vacancy.

“I think they should be able to apply for it,” said Craig, the brother of Magistrate Larry Craig, who defeated Savage in the last election. “I’m sure some candidates think it is going to give them a leg up in the election. If you’re a new time candidate and you’re jumping into a situation midstream, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I would rather start out in a new election.”

Roller expressed his excitement to get a new council member in to complete Moore’s term. “They may be someone with special skills who wants to fill out the term but not run next year; something they think they have to offer or something they think we have been lacking and want to contribute,” he said. “It is the obligation and responsibility of the council members and not the mayor and we have been given a deadline to gather information and go over it.”

The council meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday in the upstairs community room at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public, but the meeting notice indicates that the council may discuss the applicants in closed session, which state law allows. A vote to appoint someone must be made in open session.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Petition and legislation seek liquor, wine by drink

Two efforts are under way to make it easier to get liquor and wine by the drink in Midway: a bill to relax the seating requirements for restaurants in state law, and a petition for an election to generally authorize sales by the drink.

House Bill 241, sponsored by state Rep. Carl Rollins, left, D-Midway, would reduce to 50 from 100 the number of seats a restaurant must have to get a drink license in a city of the fourth class, which Midway became last year. The measure would make drink licenses possible for some restaurants that do not qualify because they are not large enough. The bill was introduced Jan. 11 and has not been posted for hearing in the House Licensing and Occupations Committee. To read the bill, click here.

Midway restaurants licensed to sell liquor by the drink are the Grey Goose, the Holly Hill Inn and 815 Prime. Those are also licensed for Sunday drink sales, along with Heirloom and Darlin' Jeans Apple Cobbler Cafe.

On another front, a petition was filed Dec. 19 for a local-option election that would generally authorize sale of liquor and wine by the drink, without regard to the nature of the business or the number of seats, but with a limit on the number of licenses. County Attorney Alan George told the county Fiscal Court this week that the petition fails to include the word "sale," which could make it or a resulting election invalid.

The initial ruling on the petition is up to County Judge-Executive John Coyle, who would schedule the election for March 13 if he considers the petition valid, George said this afternoon. Local-option elections cannot be held in conjunction with any other election and must be scheduled within 90 days of the filing of the petition. The county would have to pay the cost of holding the election.

George said Steve Humphries, general counsel for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, told him that Midway's population would qualify it for only one retail drink license, but the board would probably grant two licenses because it does not like to create local monopolies.

Council may appoint new member Friday morning

The Midway City Council may appoint a member to fill a vacancy at its special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday in the upstairs community room at City Hall, according to the official meeting notice sent to the five council members this afternoon.

When the council scheduled the session, during its last regular meeting, Mayor Tom Bozarth said it would be to discuss the vacancy. Today's notice that Bozarth had called the meeting says "Possible action will be taken" and includes on the agenda "Executive Session," citing the state law that allows a meeting to be closed for discussions "which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal" of a member. The law prohibits taking action in closed session.

Several Midway residents, including some candidates in the November council election, have applied for the vacancy created by the resignation of Becky Moore. The Midway Messenger has requested copies of the applications.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Council to consider snow deal, vultures, recycling, ordinances on parking and alcoholic beverages

The draft agenda for the next meeting of the Midway City Council, to be held Monday at 5:30 at City Hall, has been released. It includes approval of the memorandum of understanding with Woodford County for snow and ice treatment and removal, a discussion of what to do about vultures roosting in the city, second reading and final passage of ordinances on parking and alcoholic beverages, and discussion of recycling issues.

The agenda does not include appointment of a council member to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Becky Moore, which is to be the topic of a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday, but agendas can be revised up to 24 hours before a meeting. All city council and committee meetings are open to the public, and citizens' comments are taken near the start of meetings.

Friday, February 10, 2012

UK equine program drops 'Initiative' from its name, reflecting maturity and growing role in industry

The University of Kentucky's program for the horse industry, a key part of the Midway area, is growing up. Formerly called the Equine Initiative, it is now UK Ag Equine Programs, reflecting its home in the College of Agriculture and its growing number of offerings.

The program was launched in 2005 when the college "set out to radically change how it served Kentucky’s signature equine industry and provide a suite of services appropriate for a land-grant university," a UK press release said. Since then, "We have indeed transformed the ‘initiative’ into established, world-class, service-oriented programs across the board," said Nancy Cox, the college's associate dean for research and administrative leader for program.

Norm Luba, executive director of the North American Equine Ranching Information Council and chair of the college’s equine advisory committee, said in the release that UK “has delivered on its promise of initiating a diverse portfolio of equine research, teaching and service programs. The UK Ag Equine program is now a permanent resource to the Kentucky horse industry, as well as poised to benefit an international horse industry that looks to Kentucky as the horse capital of the world.”

Program director Ed Squires said, “The name change reflects the broad nature and many areas of expertise, across many departments, of our equine programs at UK. We continue our commitment to be a world leader and premier resource for the equine industry.”

UK has long had equine-health and nutrition-research programs, and outreach programs targeted to horse owners, but until recently did not have a dedicated undergraduate degree in equine studies, or a focal point for the college's equine work. It now has a four-year degree in equine science and management with 39 graduates and 220 students; an internship program completed by 94 students; several new equine-focused faculty and staff doing new research; an online monthly newsletter; and new outreach programs, such as one to evaluate pastures. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Council wants to tweak snow-removal deal; city looks for private contractors to do narrow streets

By Cody Porter, Morgan Rhodes, Alex Ruf and Kristen Vinson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway City Council members decided Monday night that a few changes were necessary before they would approve a memorandum of agreement with Woodford County for snow and ice treatment and removal. They also saw a map of streets that the county won't handle, and heard that other help is being recruited for those streets this year and perhaps the whole city for the next fiscal year.

“The memorandum will get us through this year,” said Mayor Tom Bozarth, “but next time we need to have a better understanding of our options.” On Jan. 11, shortly before a snowfall, Midway city officials learned that the county would no longer remove snow in Midway, leaving the city little time to assess alternative options. Officials made a temporary agreement for the city to reimburse the county for its costs of labor, equipment and materials. The memorandum would formalize the agreement.

The proposed agreement, prepared by County Attorney Alan George, refers to Midway's recent rise in status to a city of the fourth class, which County Judge-Executive John Coyle said was the reason for ending the free service. Several council members said they wanted those references removed.

“I don’t understand why we don’t just have a basic understanding,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Turner. She also suggested, and her fellow council members agreed, that a clause should be added stating that the city or county could terminate the agreement on 30 days written notice. City Attorney Phil Moloney will take the requests to county officials.

The county cannot treat all the streets in Midway because many are too narrow, with limited turnaround or backup space. However, private contractors may be available for these roads, or for the entire city, if the council decides not to continue the agreement with the county.

City Attorney Phil Moloney, Mayor Tom Bozarth hold street map
Council Member Aaron Hamilton, chairman of the Streets Committee, said, “We will have to know which way we are going to go before the next budget,” which the council must adopt by July 1, the start of the 2012-13 fiscal year. Hamilton and Bozarth assured members that the issue is being worked on. Bozarth produced a map marking the roads the county would and would not be able to handle.

Although the council members were in general agreement about the memorandum, they questioned the cost of the service. “What is the county paying for salt? How much are they paying for labor costs?” said Arnold. “We need more information from the county so Midway can appropriately pay for snow removal in the budget. . . . If we're going to be paying for this, I would think that we would need to know by the fiscal year what the county was going to be paying for salt and what the employee rate per hour would be so that we could realistically compare the cost” with private contractors.

Later, Hamilton said that for a snow of one to three inches removed by the county, salt would cost $468.84 and removal would cost $225, at total of almost $700 for 1.14 lane miles of streets.

Other business

The council agreed to let Midway again be the fiscal agent for a grant being sought for a third time by Woodford County’s Drug Free Communities program. The most frequently used drugs in Woodford County are alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, M.E. Kobes of the Bluegrass Prevention Center told the council.

Among the other guest speakers at the meeting was Midway resident Brad McLean, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority. After he mentioned possible business locations and expansions, and specified one in Versailles, Bozarth asked him what the EDA was doing for Midway. McLean said the EDA was looking into a building owned by the Gibson Corp. on Brand Street and with the help of real-estate agents would put the property on the EDA website.

Toward the end of the meeting, Bozarth said he hoped that in the next six months, the council could make the city's property-maintenance code stronger and improve the recycling program.

The council gave second reading and final passage to a revised alcohol licensing ordinance, and first reading to a related alcohol ordinance and a revised parking ordinance; second reading and final passage may occur at the next regular meeting, on Feb. 20.

The council scheduled a special meeting for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 17 to discuss candidates interested in occupying the council vacancy created by the resignation of Becky Moore. The deadline for applications is Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chili day in January serves up good time for Midway

By Justin Wright
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Phil Burchell took home the first prize in the chili cookoff that was held at Midway Christian Church Monday night. The cookoff was the theme of the monthly dinner, which the church holds for the community on the last Monday of each month.

Although the church holds the event, only eight to 10 of the 28 pots of chili came from members of the church, said the Rev. Heather McColl, the pastor.

The second-place winner was Ron Gruzesky. Jim Wombles came in third. The judges were Mayor Tom Bozarth, Versailles Asst. Police Chief Jimmy Fugate and Northside Elementary School Ryan Asher. About 175 people attended.

Highway Dept. finally discovers Elkhorn Creek

Despite its historic and environmental significance, South Elkhorn Creek has never been recognized with a sign on Interstate 64. The Midway Messenger inquired about that last year, and the state Department of Highways corrected the oversight last month, as part of a series of sign replacements along the interstate. A like sign greets westbound motorists heading into Woodford County, just east of the Midway interchange.