Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Joint meeting of councils and Fiscal Court creates Youth Council and committee for an 'age-friendly community'

The officials are pictured just before the start of the meeting. The Midway City Council and half of the Fiscal Court sat on the left; the Versailles council and the other magistrates sat on the right. The executives and clerks sat at the middle table.
The first joint meeting of the Midway and Versailles city councils and the Woodford County Fiscal Court had a short agenda but longer-than-expected discussions Tuesday evening.

Mayors Grayson Vandegrift and Brian Traugott, and County Judge-Executive James Kay, had drafted resolutions creating a committee for an "age-friendly community" and a Youth Council with members from each jurisdiction. Each governing body passed the resolutions, but on the Fiscal Court there was dissent from its two Republicans. (City offices are nonpartisan.)

The age-friendly initiative was explained by Bill Frederick, who said he was a semi-retired workforce and economic-development consultant who moved to Versailles with his wife Jane from northern New Jersey two years ago. He said having a committee would make the county part of a network that has 363 members, including Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, Owensboro and Berea.

One goal of the network is to help people live in their own private homes as long as possible. "Aging in place is an alternative preferred by many to living in a retirement community," he said.

Mary Crowley Schmidt of the Bluegrass Area Development District told the officials that a 55-question survey in Lexington got 1,048 responses and more than 800 written comments, and resulted in construction of a 32,000-square-foot senior center with 225 participants per day, age-friendly language in the comprehensive plan that guides local planning and zoning, and a current effort to allow accessory dwelling units, sometimes called "granny pods" or "granny flats." She called the work "the most exciting" she has done in her 33 years with the regional planning agency.

"The Bluegrass is turning gray," she said, but added that making communities livable for the aging can also help younger people: "What's good for a wheelchair is also good for a stroller."

Frederick said the committee would assess local seniors' needs in eight "domains of interest" (housing, transportation, communication, health services, responsiveness and inclusiveness, outdoor recreation, social participation and civic participation) and develop a three-year action plan, using "flexible guidelines" by AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons.

AARP's Kentucky lobbyist, Scott Wegenast, said the organization provides technical assistance, research, training and consultants to communities in the network.

The involvement of AARP was questioned by Magistrate Mary Anne Gill, who called it "an insurance company" and suggested that it was seeking "more opportunities to sell insurance."

Wegenast said the group does not sell insurance but does advertise for insurance companies with which it negotiates, and has "a significant firewall" between its business activities and its "social outreach." The group does not make political contributions or endorse candidates, but has been supportive of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare."

The other Republican magistrate, Matt Merrill, said the work could be done without the involvement of an outside group, and he objected to creating "an entity beyond the voters and ultimately past the elected," and asked the names of the 121 stakeholders identified by the advocates. He was handed a list, which Frederick called "a draft, provisional list." Frederick said names could be added or deleted at the advice of the three governing bodies, which would have representation on the committee.

Kay told Merrill and Gill that the committee "is designed to answer the questions you're bringing up," and couldn't spend any taxpayer money without Fiscal Court's approval. "I believe your concerns are valid," he told Merrill, "but any concerns will be resolved through this committee."

Magistrate Liles Taylor of Midway said the process "is about self-awareness of needs for seniors, not a new layer of government." His motion to approve the resolution creating the committee passed the Fiscal Court 5-3, with Magistrate Jackie Brown also voting no; the councils approved it unanimously.

Taylor also made the motion to create the Youth Council, which Merrill, a retired teacher, said is vague ("youth" is not defined) and "fortifies a culture of the power elite . . . that is causing so much problems in our country today," with appointments coming from groups such as 4-H and FFA.

Kay said Merrill's remarks were "over the top," adding, "I don't know when 4-H and FFA have been considered the power elite."

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, whose youth council is the model for the new one, said "I resent a little bit the 'elite' comments," adding that the adjective isn't appropriate for high-school students. "If the structure doesn't work, we can change it."

The resolution passed with one clarifying amendment. Merrill cast the only vote against it.

In their final piece of business, the three governing bodies recognized the efforts of firefighters and other first responders who dealt with the fire at the Jim Beam warehouse in Millville.

The meeting was a victory for Vandegrift, who had sought regular such meetings soon after he was elected mayor in 2014 but was spurned by John Coyle, then the judge-executive.

Vandegrift called the meeting "an important steppingstone. . . . I think our working relationships are great." The three governing bodies held a joint town hall in February at the Kentucky Community and Technical College system headquarters, where the joint meeting was held.

Kay said, "Our cities are not our rivals. They are not our political enemies, They are our people. And we seek every chance to work together to make us all better for the people of Woodford County."

The 77-minute meeting included some good-natured jibes. Traugott joked that the meeting "almost didn't take place for a couple of reasons," including that "We had to schedule it real quick before Mayor Vandegrift changed his mind."

Vandegrift, who ran for state representative for a week last month before dropping out, countered, "How late were you up last night with that joke?"

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