Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mayoral candidates run on their records: Vandegrift as city official, Wilson as school and state official

By Hannah Woosley
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s Nov. 6 mayoral election is a choice between Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, running on his performance in the last four years, and Ambrose Wilson IV, running on his work as a Woodford County school board member, employee relations manager and state official.

Vandegrift, left, and Wilson, right, agree on many goals for the city, such as better infrastructure, affordable housing and a city-wide notification system, but differ on the details and the order in which the work should be done.

In campaign advertising, Vandegrift says he’s running on lower taxes, better services and improving infrastructure. “We’re doing very well,” he said at his only forum with Wilson. “Let’s stay the course; let’s not mess with success.”

Wilson emphasizes his 27 years on the Woodford County Board of Education, including his efforts to establish Northside Elementary School, in what some called “a dying community” at the time, and the school’s summer reading program. “I will care about the city of Midway the same way that I’ve cared about the educational process for the past 26 years,” he said at the forum.

Vandegrift said in an interview that the place to start infrastructure work is a camera inspection of old sewer lines. “We’re going to camera almost the entire part of the city that has aging lines . . . and we’re going to clean them out as we go,” he said. “The quicker we get started on it, the better we’ll be in the long run.”

Because the city paid off the bond issues for its sewage-treatment plants, that freed up $63,000 in sewer fund money and an additional $88,000 in emergency funds, and general fund money is also available.

Vandegrift says he wants to lower sewer rates by 25 percent in December, much like the city lowered property taxes this year because occupational-tax revenue has doubled. That gain came mainly from plants in the Midway Station industrial park, developments for which he takes partial credit.

Wilson said the city needs an overall plan for infrastructure, to set priorities. He believes the place to start if elected is a notification system, in which those who register with it get automatic notice of pertinent information. He said a one-call system where “everybody receives the same news at the same time,” is something that can happen quickly, and that’s why he’s focusing on it first.

The candidates also differ on their approach to affordable housing.

Vandegrift said he wants to establish an affordable-housing task force to look at requirements for homeowners to get state and federal monies for down payments and low-interest loans, and work with owners of land that’s already zoned residential to encourage development of affordable housing.

Wilson said he wants to focus on infill development and converting old structures to single-family living or apartments. “We can’t avoid this issue any longer,” Wilson at the forum. In an interview, he endorsed the task force idea, but said Vandegrift “should have done it four years ago when he was elected mayor rather than putting it off.”

Wilson said likewise about the blighted-property ordinance that Vandegrift proposed more than a year ago. The ordinance has stalled mainly over whether a new board would consider citations. Vandegrift said this summer that he wanted to get the ordinance passed this year, but on Oct. 10 told the Messenger that it should be up to the council that takes office Jan. 1.

Vandegrift and the council have also wrestled with ways to discourage speeding.

Vandegrift said he believes edge lines have discouraged speeding on Winter Street, and the city will add them to Stephens Street. He hopes to add and decorate sidewalk “bulb-outs,” curb extensions that reduce pedestrian crossing distance and tighten lanes, on Winter Street.

Wilson said he wants to work on the issue with the Versailles Police Department, which Midway pays for patrolling the city. He said the city’s mobile radar gun and edge lines slowed traffic for a while because Winter Street looked different, but he said he doesn’t consider the lines a deterrent.

Wilson said at the forum that he would focus on streets and sidewalks. Last year, Vandegrift and the council started paying half of selected property owners’ sidewalk improvements, up to $1,000.

During his first year in office, Vandegrift pushed through the council, on a 4-2 vote, an ordinance banning discrimination in public accommodations, employment and housing based on sexual orientation, gender identity or familial status.

Asked if he’s for the ordinance, Wilson said, “I’m not for discrimination of anybody, absolutely.”

The candidates are of different generations.

Wilson, 67, says he has more than 30 years’ experience in human resources, conflict resolution, banking and government. He served the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear from 2008 to 2013, ending as secretary of public protection and regulation, where he supervised 13 agencies with budgets totaling $98 million.

Wilson said his family moved a lot as a child, and he graduated high school in Oklahoma, then attended Oklahoma State University for two years then transferred to the University of Kentucky, and dropped out in 1972. He said he went back to UK in 1981 and graduated with a general studies degree. He said he has lived in Midway on and off for the last 34 years. His father was mayor from 1993 to 1996. He and his wife Karen have three children.

Vandegrift, 36, grew up in Scott County’s Ironworks Estates area three miles north of Midway. He attended college for three years at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and one year at the University of Kentucky but didn’t graduate. He and has lived in Midway since 2007, when he and his family opened a restaurant. Since selling it, he has worked various jobs, currently as a part-time tour guide at the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington. He and his wife Katie, a banker, have a son.

He was president of the Midway Business Association in 2008, 2009 and 2012, Fall Festival coordinator from 2011 to 2014, and City Council member in 2013-14. He was elected mayor in 2014, defeating Sharon Turner, who had served eight years on the council, by a vote of 374 to 325.

Each candidate was asked why he’s the better choice.

Vandegrift said, “Because I’ve done the job for four years and I’ve proven I can work with anybody.” He said that through his “communication skills” he’s created jobs, doubled the city’s revenue, paved Midway’s worst roads, revitalized Walter Bradley Park and more. “I truly believe results speak for themselves.”

Wilson said, “I will be mayor from day one. I will start trying to accomplish things from day one. . . . There’s not a problem I won’t deal with.” He also said he thinks he will have a good relationship with everyone on the city council and can work with them well.

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