Monday, October 6, 2014

Candidates for mayor, council and judgeships face off

Story and photos by Tessa Lighty
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Against a seemingly boring blue background at the Anne Hart Raymond building at Midway College, candidates for office in Midway and the courts met in front of an audience Thursday night to discuss their stands on important matters in preparation for the election on November 4.

City Council Members Sharon Turner and Grayson Vandegrift were the concluding, main event, agreeing on the main issues in Midway, but offering different backgrounds and styles.

Turner has been on the council for almost eight years and her pitch has always been her background and experience, having lived in her native town for a long time, owning a small publishing business and running a beer distributors’ lobby in Frankfort.

“With a background in government relations,” she said, “I really feel like owning and operating a business gives me the skills to handle daily challenges and to problem-solve.” Turner took implicit partial credit for the city’s good financial condition: “Eight years ago … we had $40,000 in reserves. We now have that built up to $600,000 for rainy day funds, major projects.”

Vandegrift, in his second year on the council, is a restaurateur. “In running my family’s restaurant on Main Street for the last seven years, and, in guiding a small business through a massive recession, I was able to learn and hone skills that are valuable to any leadership position,” he said.

Also in his opening statement, Vandegrift said Midway's downtown is "in good shape," and citizens want to see the same attention given to the rest of the city.

Both candidates seemed in agreement on the big issues. They said the most important one is the city’s infrastructure: water and sewer lines, streets and sidewalks. Both said the city should start doing projects on the priority list of a task force that examined water and sewer issues, and said the city is expecting new revenue, presumably from development on both sides of the Interstate 64 interchange.
On the proposed Versailles-Midway-Woodford County government merger, both candidates said Midway needs its own government to maintain its identity, but combining services is still a beneficial idea. “We would lose our identity,” Turner said. “We have to fight for the identity we have now.”

Vandegrift shared those sentiments. “We would lose our voice as a city. We’re a small city but we have a big name," he said. “We would probably go from having eight representatives to having two, maybe three at best.”

Both candidates said Midway’s community spirit would serve it well as it remains independent.

“Together is the key word in all of this,” Vandegrift said. “If we work together as a united community we can achieve every one of our goals. We as Midway citizens are on the verge of being the envy of small cities all across Kentucky,” Vandegrift told the audience of about 50.

Turner said, “It’s a community of hard work and dedication and people do this because they love it. … And we all work together.”

Both candidates indicated 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.”

Asked to sum up first, Turner said, “I feel like I have the experience and the proven leadership to help serve all of Midway.” Vandegrift said, “It doesn’t matter who has the best idea, as long as we always go with the best idea.”

The city council forum, which preceded the one for mayor, was possibly the calmest of the five, perhaps because there are only six candidates for six seats. Newcomer Kaye Nita Gallagher wasn’t afraid to answer “I don’t know” to a question about the proposed merger.

Much like the mayoral candidates, newcomer Libby Warfield and Council Member Sara Hicks also opposed the merger but said they are open to the idea of merging services.

Much like the mayoral candidates, Warfield referenced the poor infrastructure of Midway. “I think that the sidewalk issue is an important safety issue that we have and that needs to be addressed,” she said, adding on another topic, ”I feel that we have begged and pleaded long enough for an ambulance hub close to Midway.” That is a decision of the county government.

Judicial races create a few sparks

The evening began with Circuit Court Judge Paul Isaacs and challenger Ethyle Noel, both of Georgetown. While they seemed cordial and Isaacs kept his calm demeanor, Noel said, “I decided to seek this position because we need a change.” Noel said.

Isaacs did not respond during the forum to Noel’s main charge, that he moves court cases too slowly. Asked about it afterward, he said, “I find it hard to respond to vague allegations.”

Isaacs has been circuit  judge for 15 years and referenced his experience on many issues. Noel said, “You heard my opponent say he’s been there 15 years and he still wants a chance to go to work every day and I admire that, by the way, happy belated 70th birthday, Judge Isaacs.”

Family Court Judge Tamra Gormley (left) of Versailles and challenger Lisa Hart Morgan (below) of Paris talked of community relations and the importance of knowing the families that judges serve in court. Gormley, however, said her seven and a half years as judge is more valuable to the community than Morgan’s practice of divorce cases and other family law.

Both Gormley and Morgan said the public needs to know more about what Family Court does. “We are under, at least, an ethical obligation to help the community understand the process and make sure that their rights are protected,” Morgan said. Gormley agreed, saying, “Family Court is a team approach.”

The last of the judge candidates were District Judge Vanessa Dickson (left) of Paris and challenger Chad Wells (below) of Versailles.

“If you believe that an incumbent should remain in office just for the fact that they are an incumbent, then I think you have an issue with the democratic process,” said Wells.

Dickson replied, “I’m not running on any expectation that you will elect me because I’ve been your judge. I’m running on an expectation that you will elect me because I’ve been a good judge for you.”

Dickson mentioned she has been an attorney for 32 years and judge for 12 years, implementing new programs such as Teen Court, a “peer sentencing program,” and expanding drug court to District Court.

Wells acknowledged Dickson’s experience and said, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you I know every facet of every field of law that would come before me in the first few months.”

The event was sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and the Midway Woman’s Club. Another forum will be held Oct. 16 for candidates for state representative and representative in Congress.

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