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Mayor's annual report, delivered Jan. 4, 2016

By Grayson Vandegrift

Per KRS 38A.130(3) I am required to report to the council and the public on the condition and needs of city government, and to make recommendations for actions by this body.

The audit report that was presented by Mountjoy Chilton Medley a few meetings ago made clear that the city is in good financial shape. That audit reflected a strong net position, as well as significant funds held in CD’s as a “rainy day” fund. We do have some debt, namely on the recent purchase of a new fire truck, the replacement of one of the city’s oldest water lines on Higgins Street, and of course on both the old and new sewer plants. The old sewer plant is scheduled to be paid off in 2018 (check), the new sewer plant in 2022 (check). But overall, the financial outlook of the city is strong, and there is a lot of reason to believe it’s going to get stronger.

In 2015 we continued to see significant job creation in Midway, especially in the continued development of the old Weems property and the long-awaited opening of the Homeplace at Midway. We’ve also seen new and more diversified arrivals in our downtown business district and we need to encourage more “outside the box” types of businesses to complement our very popular shops and restaurants. All indications are that we’re going to see even more job creation in 2016.

The announcement of American Howa Kentucky’s intention to build a tier 1 manufacturing plant at Midway Station cannot be overstated in its significance. AHK’s arrival is very important for two reasons: the first being that they intend to be operating sometime in the fall of 2016 with 54 full time, well-paying jobs. Secondly, AHK is likely to be the first of several light industrial clients at that site, and they are the perfect anchor for industrial development at Midway Station. With all of this it is very possible that we will begin to experience a sea change in our revenue stream over the next several years.

That’s not to say that we don’t have challenges facing us as well. We are going to have to remain vigilant in making sure that all new development is sustainable and at a steady pace so that it never infringes upon what makes Midway special.

We also still have water and sewer infrastructure that needs updating, sidewalks that need repair, and roads that need resurfacing.

The Higgins Street waterline replacement was a success, but due to the cost and difficulty of the project, it is clear that a total overhaul of Midway’s oldest water and sewer lines is more than likely to take 10 to 20 years to complete. With projects that large and drawn out, it is easy for governments to kick the can down the road. We have to resist the urge of putting these projects off. I think it’s appropriate that I use a train metaphor: let’s say every project we do is like a train going forward on the tracks, as each project is completed that train gets off at a spur and another train gets on and takes its place. We need to always make sure that there is a parallel track with a water and sewer line train running alongside it. It’s going to be a longer track but we can’t forget about the train that’s on it.

But in the more immediate future, I think our primary focus this year needs to be on roads and sidewalks. We need to allocate money in the next fiscal year’s budget for paving more roads, with Northside Drive being the first priority. We also need to develop a comprehensive sidewalk plan, which a committee of the council has already begun work on. We need a clear policy on how we will encourage and/or assist property owners in repairing the sidewalks around the city that have become dangerous to public safety.

There are many other things that we need to work on this year but I think those areas have the most urgent need. And as always I encourage each council member to bring up new issues as needs arise. The future looks good.

David and Goliath, as a message for our time

The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church near the Fayette County line, delivered the following sermon June 21, 2015. The text, taken from the church website, it as it was prepared for delivery.

Text:  I Samuel 17:32-49

Most of us loved the story of David defeating Goliath when we were growing up.  It was a Sunday School favorite.  We cheered for the underdog in the story, the boy David with his sling and five smooth stones.  We booed Goliath and the Philistines who were attacking the Israelites.

The story comes from the time of Israel’s nation building, first under dark depressive King Saul, and later under the leadership of David.  The Philistines were a culture that was comprised primarily of mercenaries, who traveled from the Aegean and wrought havoc from Syria to Egypt.  And among these Philistines, Goliath, was the fiercest warrior of the entire group. Goliath was the largest and strongest human, long experienced in warfare, and prepared for both hand-to-hand combat with the sword as well as distance battles with his spear.

Against this alpha-male, we have David, who was called a “boy” by both his own king (v.32) and enemy (v. 42). David had zero experience in war. He could hardly move when wearing armor. He was never trained in sword, nor spear, but had to rely on the device of a boy, and stones from the wadi.

But David had a special background. As a tender of sheep, he was used to protecting the flock against renegade animals.   He was later to be known for his poetry and music.  Perhaps spending such long periods of time alone led him to spiritual sensitivity God’s presence with him and around him.

There are other characters in this story as well,  Saul—the reigning king who feels the Philistines are unbeatable.  If we had read earlier verses we would have heard about David’s brothers, Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah, to whom David was sent by his father Jesse with special food to them while they are fighting in Saul’s army against the Philistines, and who accuse David of leaving the sheep untended.  Finally, there are the troops, who, challenged by Goliath, were dismayed and greatly afraid.

It would be tempting in this week of terrible evil unleashed by a young man who somehow became filled with rancid hate to think that this is a story about the good guys—those people full of grace and mercy from Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston—and the bad guy with his gun who was welcomed into their church and who sat and talked with them for an hour, but then as Otis Moss, III, said earlier this week, returned the church’s hospitality with unimaginable inhumanity.

It is not enough to condemn the actions of a lone gunman.  This boy whom I will not name was not a Goliath. There was great evil within him, to be sure, but he and his ilk are not Goliath. If there is a truth to be chewed on and swallowed painfully this week, it is this: these violent hate-filled people were not Goliaths; but they are the spawn of the  Goliaths within our culture that stand across the valleys of life and that threaten to destroy our nation.  Those Goliaths embody our nation’s addiction to guns and violence, so that even as we decry the Boston bombers actions we clamor for the surviving brother to be put to death; to militaristic displays of power by local police; the on-going scourge of racism and the blindness to the ways in which we continue to tell people of color that their feelings and lives don’t matter; the growing income inequality that puts people so deeply in the trenches of poverty that they can’t find any way to climb out; the ever growing belief among some that their country is being taken away from them; the overwhelming power of money in our national politics; and here’s another big Goliath—the anti-intellectualism that, for example, permits our senior senator, and other legislators to deny the environmental crisis our planet is facing because he says he isn’t a scientist even though he is considered one of the most savvy and intelligent members of the U.S. Senate.

I could go on a rant against any and all of these Goliaths, this morning. I’m sure you could name some Goliaths that I haven’t mentioned, or might not consider. But let’s at least admit together, with Pogo, that as regards the health and future of our beloved nation, these United States, that we have met the enemy and he is us. Or as St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, said in the 5th century: “Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside yourself.”

So what are patriots who love their nation to do?  What can Christians do against these mighty Goliaths who live amongst us and some within us?  Dismay and fear, like that shown by the Israelites against the giant Goliath and the Philistine army, won’t save us.  Moral isolation—thinking we aren’t part of the problem and that we don’t have the power to bring change—is not an acceptable response.  Apathy and moral isolationism, if not Goliaths, are like flesh-eating, nation-destroying bacteria gnawing away at the very backbone and fiber and heart of this nation.  When will we say “enough”, to gun addiction, to violence, to the racial prejudice that flies its flags everywhere, especially inside our attitudes about people of color that we may be too polite to show in public?

The story of David and Goliath, I think, offers us some ways to respond, things that may transcend our sorrow, our heart-ache, and help us—if we envision ourselves as the Davids in our land—to begin to bring down the Goliaths within us and our culture that beset us, and that are doing more damage to us than Al-Qaeda or ISIS has done so far, and which only make their recruitment efforts easier.

First, David stood up and was willing to tackle the problem of Goliath.   Bill Coffin used to quip that it is much easier to beat your breast than to stick your neck out.

Second, David possessed courage:  the root of the word courage is “couer”—or heart.  David says:  “Let no one’s heart fail because of [Goliath].  For Aristotle, a person cannot do anything without courage; for Aristotle, it was, next to honor, the greatest virtue.  Courage comes from our heart’s love; and even in the face of defeat or loss, courage enables action.  Moreover, courage comes from an honest and regular, deep meditation on the ultimate human question:  What is a life worth living?

Third, David found in his work to protect the sheep from lion and bear the trust and faith that he could tackle the impossible Goliath.   It is in our struggles that our faith is forged.   None of us escapes this life without having encounters with that which would destroy us, those figurative lions and bears that lurk in every life. They are what make us strong in the weak places.   From the Psalms and other stories of David we know that he developed a faith in the living God which would sustain him, even when he himself succumbed to his own lust, even when his own son would try to betray him.  I imagine that David’s faith developed as he wrote his psalms.  If you are having trouble with your own faith, I suggest trying to write a prayer a day—even if it is only a one sentence prayer.  It can be a lament, a confession, a prayer of thanks, a plea for help.  You might be surprised at the strength, courage, and hope it will give you.

Fourth, David possessed enough self-knowledge to know that he couldn’t use Saul’s armor.  He couldn’t use someone else’s methods.  He had to find his own.  But he did find them, and he did cast off the methodology that Saul tried to drape across his shoulders.   We cannot defeat war and war-mongering with the tools of war.

And fifth, David picked up five smooth stones, his wooden staff, and his sling, with which to throw them.  Not to push the analogy too far, but our sling as citizens and as Christians is surely our intelligence to know that we cannot continue as we are, and our staff, if we are Christians first, and Americans second, are the words of Jesus that we are to love our neighbors—and he told the story of the hated Samaritan to make sure we understood just who our neighbor might be—as ourselves.  And he taught us further, that if we are to save our lives, we must be willing to lose them.  Self preservation is an NRA value, not a Jesus value.

David’s five smooth stones, stones useful for us in the present dilemmas of our nation facing such giants as racism, poverty, guns, political corruption by money, and anti-intellectualism, include at least these, which we would do well to pick up and put in our pouches:
  1. The first stone is empathy which is  grown from intentional listening with reverence to the experiences of others whose lives may be very different from our own.
  2. The second stone is that of confession, which can only happen with honest self-examination. Let’s admit that we are very blind to our white privilege and deaf to the ways in which our culture continues to tell people of color that they are worth less, that their lives don’t matter.  Let’s confess that the Civil War was the greatest act of treason unleashed against the ideals of this nation.  Let’s admit that the “lost cause” wasn’t about states’ rights but about the right of states to allow people to own and enslave thousands upon thousands of other people. Let’s admit that Jim Crow laws continued to advance the belief in white superiority and the inferiority—both morally and spiritually—of people of color, and that the remnants of Jim Crow still exist.  Let’s confess that our status and privilege are more accidents of our births than they are of any inherent worth achieved from our own efforts.
  3. The third stone, a powerful stone, is the stone of our voice.  We can speak up.  We can write emails and letters to a member of Congress or the state legislature, or the local newspaper.  What about pledging to let at least one member of government know what you think, as a Christian, about one of the Goliaths threatening us and the world, at least once a month?  Would that be so difficult? And there is yet more we can do with our voices:  Let’s speak up and, for two other examples,  let the name of Jefferson Davis become a mere footnote in the history of Transylvania University and not ever let it be used again on a building at Transylvania. Let’s write to the governor of South Carolina and tell her that the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, not flying beside their capitol.
  4. The fourth stone is our right to vote:  let’s use it and make sure others use it.  Let’s elect people who are not beholden to corporations.  Let’s elect people who can be simultaneously conservative and liberal, people who put principle above loyalty to the money, folks who know how to think and dialogue and find compromises to complex problems. Let’s elect people who believe in using their intelligence, not denying it.
  5. And finally, my friends, there is one more stone that perhaps Christians should use, in conjunction with their voice and vote:  the power of the boycott. For example, Christians should leave stores and restaurants where open carry of weapons of any size and capability are allowed. Just walk out. Leave your food on the table and don’t pay for it. Leave the objects you were buying at Kroger or Target in the basket and just walk out. We can stop investing in guns, putting pressure in equity firms and various funds to get out of the business of guns.  Today is Father’s Day, and no doubt many fathers will get a Hallmark card.  Did you know that Hallmark not only allows guns in its stores but has promised the arms lobby that they love guns?  And Hallmark rejected a letter from the National Gun Victims Action Council and the Newtown Victims and Clergy for Corporate Responsibility to change their policy.  Personally, I’ll be letting Hallmark know that I care enough to send the very best and it will no longer be a Hallmark card.
Our tools are nonviolent.  Our heart has to be more than hating the evil that we see more than we love the good, lest we become, as Bill Coffin once said, only damned good haters.  We have enough of those.  Our anger at events like the one that happened at Mother Emanuel AME Church this past week, our anger—with its two daughters hope and courage—must be like that of Christ and must always and only be a measure of our love for God and neighbor.

The church today can be David. And we should realize, too, that to love effectively, we ought to act collectively.    Goliath is before us and among us and within us.  Let’s take up our staff and sling and five smooth stones so that all the earth may know that there is a God who does not save by sword and spear.

Amen.

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