Wednesday, October 19, 2016

City Council candidates explain platforms and priorities

Bruce Southworth, Steve Simoff, Libby Warfield, Sara Hicks, Steven Craig, John McDaniel; Kaye Nita Gallagher was absent.
By Alexandria Kerns
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway residents heard how six of the seven city council candidates would handle community issues Thursday evening at a candidate forum at Midway University.

The city council has six seats, and seven candidates are running. Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher said she was unable to attend the forum because of a prior charitable commitment. The other incumbents – Bruce Southworth, Libby Warfield, Sarah Hicks, and Steven Craig – were present, as were non-incumbents John McDaniel II and Steve Simoff.

The forum began with candidates explaining their platforms and priorities and identifying the city’s main issues. Simoff said, “I see a lot of growth ahead for Midway, and I’d like to see it stay the same but have the opportunity to grow.” Later, he said, “I don’t want to . . . lose the ambience this community has.”

McDaniel discussed his long history of being involved in Midway, and after the first round of answers said the city needs “a five-year comprehensive plan which would include all the items mentioned in the last few minutes.”

McDaniel, who has been close to former Mayor Tom Bozarth, said “I have worked hand-in-hand with Mayor Grayson Vandergrift during my time as Midway merchants association president, so I am no stranger to his ways.”

Warfield said if she were re-elected she would dedicate her time to finding funding to accomplish more projects, such as a visitors’ center, public restrooms downtown, improving dilapidated properties and the city’s infrastructure, and creating walking paths to encourage healthier lifestyles.

Hicks said the city needs infrastructure improvements to operate efficiently, but the council should determine priorities after going door to door and asking citizens.  Asked to name the city’s largest immediate problem, she said speeding on Winter Street.

Craig noted that the city has taken steps to make the case for a lower speed limit on Winter, and blamed the problem on outsiders. He said he hopes to use his skills from his work experience to help update Midway’s infrastructure, and would concentrate on generating jobs.

Southworth, in giving the first answer to the first question, said the city “has made some real progress” – he later mentioned bringing in industry and passing a fairness ordinance – and his first priority is to be “a good steward of the city’s money.” He said speeding, water and sewer improvements and storm water are major problems.

Southworth said he would like to see the town save the payroll-tax money from new plants at Midway Station to help fix more of the town’s problems, such as dangerous sidewalks.

Simoff said that as Midway grows, it will need to expand fire and police services, have long-range plans and fix problems with the sewer and water systems, which have been “neglected for a long time.” 

McDaniel said, “We’re going to have to spend a lot of money on replacement of sewer lines and water lines.”

Warfield said she would try to seek funding through grant writers, which could bring the town extra funds without raising taxes.

The candidates disagreed on one topic, creating public bathrooms in the city hall building or elsewhere downtown.  Craig said businesses downtown have an obligation to provide restrooms for their visitors.

Warfield said she started thinking about restrooms two years ago, before she was a council member.

“You can have the greatest destination in the world, but if you take a 6- or 7- or 8-year-old little girl somewhere and you can’t find a public restroom, that’s something that you don’t forget, and I wouldn’t want to go back again,” she said.

The candidates were asked how the city could be more transparent and create more community involvement. Simoff and Southworth said they would like to see the city council’s agenda and supporting documents made available for all to see online. Warfield said the agenda should be posted online the day before the meeting. Hicks said council members should “go out to the populace, not just have them come to us.”

Craig said the city is “very transparent” and invited residents to ask him questions at any time. “We’re all neighbors,” he said. “Let’s be good neighbors and have an open line of communication.”

The candidates were united in opposing merger with county government, but Hicks said she would like to see more cooperation on projects with Woodford County and Versailles, such as a Midway health center. “In a perfect world we would be joining for the best of all the citizens in all of Woodford County,” she said.

Hicks said the current council “has been a great team,” and McDaniel agreed, saying it “has been very progressive. It’s amazing the chemistry that they have. . . . They actually smile when they leave City Hall.”

The Midway Woman’s Club and the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, which lasted about an hour and half. Each candidate was given a maximum of two minutes to answer each question, with the sequence of answers rotated among them.

About 25 people attended the forum. Midway residents will have another chance to see the candidates Monday at 7 p.m. in another forum at Midway University, sponsored by Woodford Forward and SPARK Versailles. A reception with food from Ouita Michel will begin at 6:30.

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