Friday, July 31, 2020

Diverse crowd of 50 people march across town to raise awareness of a sad event and celebrate Black resilience

Marchers, wearing masks, gathered at the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery. (Photo by Aaron Gershon; to enlarge, click on it)
By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

On an overcast day when rain threatened but temperatures were cooler than usual, 50 people marched through Midway to honor those affected by the July 31, 1868 attack on the Second Christian Church.

Friday's event was organized by Honoring Black Stories in Midway, a group dedicated to African American history in the city.

“In Midway, much work has been done regarding researching our Black history, but many people are unaware,” event organizer Milan Bush told the Messenger. She said the march was for awareness and to celebrate the resilience of African Americans since slavery.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said, “I think this was a very important event for our city to remember when we’re talking about our history. We have to talk about it from many perspectives.”

Second Christian Church faces Smith Street. (Photo by Aaron Gershon)
Three years after the Civil War, the church served a vital role in the local Black community, and housed a school. Whites who were determined to uphold the racial status quo in Kentucky attacked and burned the wood structure.

“We have to acknowledge the good and the bad,” Vandegrift said. “And the more I talk to Black citizens around town, the more I realize many simply want their story to be told too, and it’s most important they be the ones to tell it. And we listen.”

The march began at City Hall, went to Second Christian Church at Smith and Stephens streets, and then 0.6 miles across town to the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery at the west end of Bruen Street, where many African Americans are buried.

Vandegrift walked and was pleased with the turnout. “I thought it turned out great, even better than I expected,” he said. “Over 50 people, more than 90 percent Midway residents, both white and black.”

Midway writer Bob Rouse posted on his blog, "Of a Midway Mind," to share his experience in the march.

“In my 62 years, I have walked for miles on Midway’s streets and sidewalks: on Halloween nights with my family, during growing-up days with my friends, and on moonlit evenings with a sweetheart,” Rouse wrote. “But today I walked with purpose in my heart. I walked in the spirit of peace—as John Lewis implored—with my sisters and brothers.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who was the last living civil-rights leader who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, died July 17 and was buried Thursday in Atlanta.

Perhaps the lone concern about holding the event was having a gathering of more than 10 people in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, contrary to an order from Gov. Andy Beshear. Every marcher was wearing a mask and generally kept distance from each other.

“We live in a special community, which we knew, ” Vandegrift said. “But today showed another loving face of our city.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Honoring Black Stories in Midway group will march Friday, anniversary of 1868 attack on Second Christian

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Honoring Black Stories in Midway, a group dedicated to honoring African American history in the city, will hold a march at midday Friday to honor those affected by the July 31, 1868, attack on the Second Christian Church.

"We are in a day in age where it's open to talk about race, but it makes people uncomfortable," event organizer Milan Bush told the Messenger. "In Midway, much work has been done regarding researching our Black history, but many people are unaware.”

Brenda Jackson, left, and Barbara Holcomb of We're Digging It Metal
Detectors found evidence in 2017 of the original log building of Second
Christian Church. They found foundation stones and handmade nails.
(Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Tom Eblen)
Three years after the Civil War, the church served a vital role in the local Black community, and housed a school. Whites who were determined to uphold the racial status quo attacked and burned the wood structure.

"Being a teacher, I begin researching school information for Blacks. The initial finding was a brief sentence of a colored school being attacked on July 31, 1868," Bush said. "The incident is really disturbing. While no one is alive from that time, I believe it served as a major turning point for Black-white relations in Midway. Nevertheless, the Black community rebuilt and thrived, something many of us didn't know. So we march for awareness and to celebrate their resilience.”

Wednesday the City Council approved a parade permit for the event. Council Member John Holloway, who said he will be marching, told his colleagues that marchers plan to use sidewalks, won't block any streets, and have agreed to break into groups of 10 or less to adhere to the state’s latest social-distancing rules.

"I want people to realize we have been communicating with them (Honoring Black Stories group) about covid restrictions," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said during the special council meeting called to issue the permit. "They're completely compliant, everyone will have masks on. . . . They will also be socially distanced, making it virtually impossible for an asymptomatic carrier to spread."

Vandegrift added that he will take part in the march and is confident in the social distancing measures in place.

The march will begin at noon at City Hall and will go down East Main Street to Gratz Street, then out East Stephens Street to its intersection with Smith Street, where the church was located on what is now Midway University's campus. From there, the march will go back down Stephens Street, then up Turner Street and on Bruen Street to the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery facing Wausau Place, then back to City Hall at 2 p.m.

"Many of the graves at Sons and Daughters cemetery say 'Gone, but not forgotten'," Bush said. "Honoring Black Stories wants to change that narrative and bring to life those people we have indeed forgotten."

A 2017 Lexington Herald-Leader story about the attack is here.

EDA sells two Midway Station lots to Creech Services, which bales and ships muck from horse stalls

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a purchase contract for two lots in Midway Station to Creech Services Inc., a firm that firm that bales and ships horse-stall muck.

“This entity serves the community,” EDA chair Michael Michalisin of Midway said during the brief special meeting. “This is a business that’s served our horse farms that are near and dear to our heart, part of our heritage and what Mr. Creech does is provide a very professional, world-class service.”

At the regular EDA meeting Friday, Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift endorsed the sale. In May, he and the board were hesitant about making a deal with Creech, since composting is prohibited in Midway Station, but then Creech showed them that composting isn’t what he does.

On July 15, Vandegrift and Michalisin told the Messenger that after meeting with Creech at his Fayette County facility that they were willing to sell two lots that Creech would use exclusively as a transfer point for horse muck that is shipped to mushroom farms.

Vandegrift said Tuesday that some Midway residents had voiced concern about odors, but the only smell they noticed was the smell of a horse farm, and “Smelling is believing.”

He noted that prevailing winds run southwest to northeast, which would take any odor into farmland, but he said there would be no problem even if the wind blew from the northeast into Midway.

Vandegrift told the EDA board that he shared the potential deal with the Messenger in order to get feedback from the public, and heard back from three Midway residents.

“They were concerned and wanted to see what this was,” Vandegrift said Friday. He said Creech invited all three to his facility, and “One of them did join him this Monday, is my understanding. I did not hear back, but I figure no news is good news.”

Michalisin added, “I support Mr. Creech and admire what he built out there (Fayette County) and I just love the fact he wants to be here, be part of Woodford County, wants to be close to our horse farms and wants to bring jobs here.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, former Midway mayor Tom Bozarth, a bloodstock agent, spoke highly of Creech, saying he had known him for 30 years. "He just runs a real class operation, so I can't say enough about him and his integrity," Bozarth said.

During Friday’s meeting the board also:
  • Authorized signing of closing documents to sell the balance of the Roach property to Big Dog Trading and Storage Barrel Warehouse Co. The property is next to thenAmerican Howa Kentucky auto-parts plant.
  • Allocated the expected profit of $65,000 from Big Dog’s purchase to the Roach family to satisfy debt owed the family.
  • Welcomed a new board member, Anna Beth Bobbitt of Versailles. She spent six years as a senior project manager for the EDA and is a client relationship manager at Traditional Bank in Frankfort. “I'm looking forward to contributing any way I can,” she said.
  • Heard that a committee led by board member Courtney Roberts continues to work to find a replacement for former chairman John Soper as EDA’s paid staffer. Roberts said he is working with Vandegrift, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Council committee approves all 29 relief grant applications; John Holloway dissents on three

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A three-person City Council committee met Wednesday and approved all 29 Midway businesses that applied for federal covid-19 relief money through the city's $75,000 grant program. Three were approved with one member dissenting.

The committee of Council Members Stacy Thurman, Sara Hicks and John Holloway met on Zoom with Mayor Grayson Vandegrift to apply the criteria established by a prior ad hoc committee of Holloway, Thurman and City Clerk Cindy Foster.

The money will be split evenly between the 29 businesses; thus, each will receive $2,586.20.

Of the 29 businesses, 26 were approved by the three-person committee and three were approved on 2-1 votes with Holloway voting no on each. he voted against BIF Holdings, Horse Country Cottage and Throw Me A Carrot.
Holloway's concerns with the three businesses were that none of them were in a commercially zoned area of town and have conditional-use permits. Grantees are required to have a physical location in a commercial zone.

"To me, a conditional-use permit is not the same as being in an area that is zoned," Holloway argued. "That's just not what it (grant criteria) says."

"I'm not sure if it's fair to people who didn't apply because they thought, ‘Well, my claim wouldn't be submitted,’ while some other people are just like, ‘I just want money and file this thing to see if it sticks’."

Hicks disagreed, saying the city needed to show “equanimity and graciousness since people did bother to fill out the application and do contribute to our commercial community in one way or another.”

Hicks is running for re-election this fall. Holloway is the only council member not seeking re-election.

The application form asked what costs or losses were suffered due to closure related to the pandemic and required applicants agree to cooperate with any audit, certify that the information they give is correct to the best of their knowledge, and acknowledge that a false statement may require them to return the money. Recipients must have been forced to limit activities due to the pandemic, and must not owe taxes to the city.

The businesses approved for grants are: The Back Room, BIF Holdings, Breckinridge, The Brown Barrel, Commotion, Crittenden Gentlemen's Store, Damselfly, Darlin' Jeans, Don Jockey, Fisher Antiques, Gigi & George, Goose & Gander, Graviss Studios, Heirloom, Historic Horse Country Cottage, Midway Museum Store, McMahon and Hill Bloodstock, Mezzo, Midway Boutique, Midway Chiropractic, Midway Makers Market, Milam House, Rachel Riley DMD, Railroad Street Framing, Rocket Leather Repair, Southern Sunday, Therapy on Main, Throw Me A Carrot and Tithe Wellness.

The application asks what the money will be used for, and requires recipients to report by Dec. 30 how they used it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Bob Rouse, former Midway Blue Jay, makes a splash in Toronto by inviting its baseball team to our town

Bob Rouse displays his Toronto Blue Jays gear. (Photo provided by Rouse)

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A major league baseball team in Midway? Even for a shortened season? Midway resident and Toronto Blue Jays fan Bob Rouse tried to make it happen.

The Blue Jays are looking for a home for the 2020 season after the Canadian government ruled it would be unsafe for players to travel back and forth from the U.S. amid the covid-19 pandemic.

So, Rouse decided to reach out to the team to offer up Midway University's new Don Ball Stadium to host the team.

"I am an unabashed supporter of my home town," Rouse told the Messenger. "And while I didn't really expect an MLB team to roll into Midway, I wanted to seize on the chance to put us in the spotlight.”

Rouse's email to the Toronto Blue Jays; for a larger version, click on it.
In his email to the Blue Jays, Rouse listed several reasons why Midway would be a good fit for the club including the new field, no need for fans, and the town's "remarkably good restaurants” and the mascot of the old Midway High School, the Blue Jays. (He attended elementary school in the same building.)

Rouse told the Messenger that he forgot about another point he could have made in Midway's favor: Freedman's, the equine leather shop in Midway, is based in Toronto.

His email acknowledged drawbacks, such as the lack of a hotel "But as a true-blue fan, I would be rude not to offer to help the team in this challenging time. (I should add that I own three different Blue Jays ball caps — not sure if that's a point in favor of you coming or against it.)"

Despite Midway not being a reasonable home for the Blue Jays, Rouse did get a call from Director of Fan Services Christine Robertson, and has been the subject of news stories in Toronto.

"I expected a cursory email and nothing more," Rouse told the Messenger. "The Jays asked if they could share my email with a reporter, but I really didn't think he'd pick it up. And then being live on CTV News was an even bigger surprise." He also got some U.S. coverage.

The Blue Jays are still looking for a temporary home; they hoped to play in Pittsburgh, but health officials there said no.

While they won't be coming to Midway, Rouse, a writer by trade, feels he accomplished his true goal: "Down deep, this is exactly what I was hoping for: spotlight on Midway."

Railroad Drug & Old Time Soda Fountain is 10 years old

Railroad Drug & Old Time Soda Fountain is celebrating its 10th birthday today. As part of the celebration, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift issued a proclamation declaring it "Railroad Drug & Old Time Soda Fountain Day." Here are the "whereas" clauses, without that word:
  • Ken and Amanda Glass opened Railroad Drug on July 23, 2010;
  • Dr. Ken Glass has served as the pharmacist, and Amanda has served in a variety of management roles since that day, and their son Kaden and daughter Caroline have been fixtures there ever since;
  • Railroad Drug has offered an indispensable service to the community by providing medications prescribed by a medical doctor, supplying over the counter remedies, and giving consultation on medicines and their proper usage;
  • Railroad Drug delivers medicine to patient’s doorsteps, and offers the overall service that is often missing in modern day pharmacies;
  • Ken is often known to leave his family on evenings and weekends to deliver medicine to citizens in urgent need, young and old
  • Quality service and consistent access to medicine prescribed by a medical doctor greatly improves, health, happiness, and quality of life;
  • Residents and visitors alike enjoy the nostalgic feel of a milkshake, ice cream, or other sweet treat available at the popular soda fountain of Railroad Drug;
  • Amanda and Ken are involved citizens in other ways: Ken serves as a local boy scout troop leader, gives regular check-ins to our wisest citizens at our senior care facility, and offers vaccinations at local events; Amanda has served as president of the Northside Parent-Teacher Organization and is often found volunteering for local causes; and
  • Railroad Drug has become a staple of Midway’s business and cultural center.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Council moves to ease volunteer work, honors Soper for EDA leadership, gets 29 applications for pandemic relief

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway’s City Council took a step Monday toward simplifying volunteer work on city property, and honored outgoing economic developer John Soper, who gave another upbeat update.

Meeting via online video, the council gave first reading to an ordinance that would simplify volunteer work at Walter Bradley Park or other city property.

Volunteers would no longer be required to sign in and out each time they volunteer, and wouldn’t be required to city supervision at all times, since they would sign a waiver of liability, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said before the meeting.

“Frankly, we have not been doing it that way,” said Council Member John Holloway, who wrote the proposed ordinance with help from city attorney Sharon Gold. Holloway, the unpaid manager of the park, spearheaded a major cleanup and improvements in recent years, with much volunteer help.

Holloway said he was guided by volunteer work he did at BigSpring Park Versailles and singing that city’s waiver.

“It was a lot more inclusive than what we were doing,” Holloway said. “It gets the city a lot more coverage against possible lawsuits and makes the waiver good for one year from  the time the volunteer signs it.” 

The second reading of the ordinance and a vote on final passage is scheduled for the council’s August 3 meeting.

Grant applications: The mayor announced that 29 businesses in Midway have applied for federal covid-19 relief funding from the city. 

On July 6, the council voted to appropriate $75,000 from the city’s $129,000 relief allocation to fuel the grant program. The businesses that are approved will all get the same amount; if all 29 businesses were to be approved, each would get $2,586.

Vandegrift said he plans to meet Wednesday with his appointed committee of Council Members Stacy Thurman, Sara Hicks and Holloway to decide which of the 29 businesses are eligible for the grants.

While businesses have suffered due to stay-at-home orders in March, April and May, the mayor said the city has seen just two coronavirus cases and that both patients are now recovered.

Hail John Soper: The mayor and council honored longtime Woodford County Economic Development Director John Soper, who will be stepping down July 31. The council declared the day “John Soper Day” in the city and Vandegrift gave him a “key to the city” clock.

After thanking the council, Soper said progress continues at Midway Station, the industrial and commercial park that he helped transform from the city’s largest liability to its biggest asset. 

“We’re close or significant contract negotiations with probably every industrial acre out there in Midway Station,” Soper said. “That’s remarkable given the times that we’re in, but I think it also shows you the product.”

In other business Monday, the council:

            Approved a $5,000 donation to Court Appointed Special Advocates, a group that checks on children who may be in danger of neglect or abuse. That left $2,500 in the budget for donations.

            Deferred a request from the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce for a $1,000 donation, saying Executive Director Emily Downey should appear before the council, as should all others seeking donations. Vandegrift said Downey is “really doing a great job and I do think that we are getting a lot more attention than we used to,” but Council Member Logan Nance said the council should review other possible donations so it can stick to the budget for them.

            Nance said he spoke with several residents of the 200 block of Johnson Street and found that all but one were in favor of making the block a one-way street, from Gratz Street to Brand Street. “It’s really not big enough to be a two-lane street anyway,” Nance said. “Homeowners expressed frustration with meeting people on the street and people driving in their yards and curbs.” Vandegrift said that unless he hears objections, he would put the issue on the Aug. 3 agenda.

            Appointed lawyer and Laurel Hostetter to the county Board of Ethics. Vandegrift said she is philanthropy and engagement director for the Life Adventure Center near Versailles.

            Accepted a $31,815 in-kind grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation for 12 Sets of firefighting gear for the Midway Fire Department.

            Holloway announced he is preparing a resolution to rename and reschedule Midway’s Sparks in the Park event, which has been held on July 3. The resolution would move it to June 19 and make it the “Midway Juneteenth Celebration” to recognize emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Thurman said African Americans need to be included in the discussion, and Holloway agreed, saying, “Right now it’s a bunch of white people sitting around talking about what black people want, and we don’t know.”

Monday, July 20, 2020

Martin St. to be closed for water-main work Wednesday

Martin Street, a one-way avenue that connects North Winter and North Gratz streets, will be closed to through traffic Wednesday, July 22 for replacement of a water main and elimination of a dead-end line, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced this evening.

In budget town-hall meeting with other executives, mayor says city is adding jobs even in pandemic

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift shared updates on the city’s budget and plans for the 2020-21 fiscal year in a town hall meeting Wednesday, July 15 with Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and County Judge-Executive James Kay.

The covid-19 pandemic loomed over the event, hosted by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, but Vandegrift said job growth in Midway is continuing.

“Despite the struggles today, our city is very strong and has been growing for quite a few years now,” Vandegrift said. “The largest bit of good news has been our job growth primarily in  Midway Station, although there’s been job growth throughout the city the last five years.”

Vandegrift said the city has doubled its occupational tax revenue since 2015, thanks to the addition of more than 500 new jobs.

“Our bread and butter for the city is occupational taxes,” he said.

City of Midway budget as passed by City Council; for a larger version, click on it.
When Vandegrift was elected mayor in 2014, the city was bringing in $300,000 in occupational taxes. In the fiscal year ended June 30, “some receipts still to go,” the city brought in $700,057 in occupational taxes.

With a 133% increase in occupational taxes the past five years and more jobs coming in Midway Station, the mayor said he believes the city can bring in $1 million in occupational tax revenue by 2022.

“Midway was not known as a job hub for a long time, but it’s starting to become one now and it’s opened up a lot of doors for us,” he said.

But for the 2020-21 fiscal year, Midway is planning “conservatively” due to the pandemic, Vandegrift said. The city’s budget calls for $737,000 in occupational tax revenue, not the $825,000 Vandegrift estimated expected before the pandemic. 

The 2020-21 budget calls for less revenue and spending than the 2019-20 budget; the only category set to increase is cemetery expenses, budgeted for $7,009 more than last year, due to completion of a pavilion allowing families to hold services under cover during inclement weather. It was the last major item restored by the City Council in its budget workshops.

The budget calls for spending $1,789,533, not including the separately funded water, sewer and cemetery accounts, and reducing the city’s surplus to $751,217 from $925,800.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Mayor names committee to study rising property valuations and how a tax-rebate program might work

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has formed a committee to consult with tax experts and look into a tax-rebate program as property valuations are rising in the city, which usually leads to a rise in property taxes.
Logan Nance

The committee, at least for now, is City Council Member Logan Nance, Woodford County Fiscal Court Magistrate Liles Taylor of Midway, and Midway Business Association President Cortney Neikirk. They will study the rise in valuations and consult with tax experts, including local ones, then present their findings and offer recommendations for action to the council.

In his email to the council and the Messenger, Vandegrift didn’t explain what a tax rebate program might look like. “I’m being purposefully vague because I think the committee should hammer out the details,” he wrote.
Liles Taylor
Cortney Neikirk

He said valuations are rising due to lack of housing supply to meet demand, and the fact that the city's valuation hadn't been assessed for four years before its housing market "really took off."

He said county Property Valuation Administrator Judy Bobbitt told him she divides the county into four quadrants that are each reviewed every four years and assessed at fair market value, based mainly on comparable sales in the area.

Vandegrift quoted from Bobbitt’s email: “The market is definitely up right now. Most likely four years ago there was not an increase in sales, like this year.” She said homeowners should watch nearby sales to compare with their valuation, and “If they don't agree with our assessments please give us a call and we will be happy to review with them.”

The mayor said he had been told an "anecdotal story about a home whose valuation rose by $90,000. I doubt that's the norm, though."

With many already dealing with financial hardships amid the covid-19 pandemic, Vandegrift said he wants to avoid a rise in property taxes. He said the pandemic “has accelerated our plans to tackle the issue and help prevent folks from struggling to keep up with the taxation associated with higher values."

He said one possible solution would be to reduce property taxes, “but we’ve already cut them 30% and I don't want to hamstring ourselves or future leaders from being able to raise them if the revenue is needed." Midway's real-estate tax rate is now about the same as the rate in Versailles.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, via Zoom.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Mayor, EDA chair check out firm that bales horse-stall muck and decide to welcome it to Midway Station

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway are ready to sell Midway Station lots to a company that bales muck from horse stalls and ships it to Tennessee mushroom farms.

Vandegrift told the Messenger that he and Michalisin met last week with Tom Creech of Creech Services Inc. at his Fayette County facility, and “We agreed that what Mr. Creech wants to bring to Midway Station is not composting and is in actuality simply a transfer point. He takes muck and straw from horse farms, Lane's End being one of them, and bales it via a processor, and then ships it off.”

Composting of animal waste has been prohibited at Midway Station since Bluegrass Stockyards tried to relocate there in 2007, prompting objections and a lawsuit.

In May, then-EDA Chair John Soper that a sale of Midway Station property to Creech would require a petition for a declaratory judgment to determine "if it could exist under a settlement of the lawsuit regarding the stockyards.”

Vandegrift said Wednesday night that he doesn't see that as necessary since Creech is not planning to do any composting in Midway.

“I think that would only come into play if someone were to challenge the sale in court, based on the deed restrictions,” he said. “Obviously, anyone can sue for anything at any time, but after looking at the operation Creech wants to bring to Midway, I'd be surprised if that happened.”

One of Vandegrift's original concerns about the purchase was the potential for odors wafting across Interstate 64 to residential areas, a major concern 13 years ago. “We don't want to stir up the ghosts of the past,” he said in May. Now that he has a clear understanding of Creech’s operations, he says there would be no odor.

Creech said in May that he would like to have a baling facility in Woodford County because he serves so many farms in the county.

Vandegrift said, “Michael and I have both agreed this is a good agricultural business that supports the horse industry and does not produce any discernible odor except for when right up in the building.”

He said the facility would likely add 10 or possibly more jobs to the city.

Vandegrift said he and Michalisin have asked EDA attorney Bill Moore to draw up a purchase contract. It could be approved at the EDA’s next meeting on July 24.

“Once they are approved, the lots sold will be under option for about 90 days,” Vandegrift said. “That allows the buyer to do some due diligence like geotechnical to see what they'll be digging into.”

SWAT drill in 100 block of Turner St. tomorrow afternoon

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers of the Versailles Police Department, which patrols all of Woodford County, will be in training exercises tomorrow from noon to 6 p.m. at 118, 122 and 126 Turner St. "If you notice heavy police presence and activity in the area do not be alarmed," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift advises. "It is a drill."

Monday, July 13, 2020

The waters of Midway – South Elkhorn Creek and Lee Branch – are cleaner; still not clean enough to play in

Lee Branch just before it enters Walter Bradley Park; click to enlarge
By Lauren McCally

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

South Elkhorn Creek is a popular fishing and kayaking stream, and a beautiful feature of the Midway area. But the creek and its tributary that runs through Midway, Lee Branch, still do not meet the standards for recreation involving contact with the water, despite continuing efforts to clean them up.

However, that does not mean fishing in the creek is unsafe, or that users of Walter Bradley Park should worry about an occasional splash from Lee Branch.

The latest public samples from the streams, taken last year, showed some improvement from 2016, but with fecal bacteria levels still above the threshold at which swimming becomes risky.

In 2013, the last time the Midway Messenger looked at Elkhorn Creek’s pollution, Lindell Ormsbee, director of the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute at the University of Kentucky, said, “I would not recommend swimming in that creek.”

Seven years later, “The impairment status of the stream has not yet changed,” Steven Evans, a researcher at the UK institute, said in an email.

Lee Branch has received more use and attention since the forested section of the park along the stream was improved four years ago. It also has bacterial pollution above the limit for swimming, but isn’t deep enough to swim, and its latest sample showed a level lower than the one from South Elkhorn Creek.

Lee Branch's pollution can vary widely because it is small and subject to overflows from a faulty sewer on Smith Street. When a member of the Midway Musings group on Facebook noted the overflows, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the city’s planned sewer-repair project would resolve that issue.

The Musings thread began when a member asked if the water in Lee Branch was “safe for our fur babies.” Vandegrift said a test for the city two years ago showed it “about twice as high as normal” for fecal bacteria, but “I don’t think it’s unsafe for dogs, though. Ours cool off in it on walks and even drink in it. No human should ever drink from it, though.”

Vandegrift said even pets shouldn’t be in Lee Branch when it floods. The state Division of Water advises against swimming or playing in streams immediately following a storm event due to the increased likelihood of bacteria and other pathogens.

Data from Kentucky River Watershed Watch
For water to be considered swimmable, it must have 240 or fewer colony-forming units (CFUs) of E. coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water, about one-fifth of a pint. In 2019, a sample taken from Lee Branch by a volunteer for Kentucky River Watershed Watch showed 298 CFUs.

In 2016, KRRW samples showed 238 in May, 2,628 in July and 135 in September. That July was a very rainy month, and heavy rain causes sewers to overflow.

The samples were taken 150 yards downstream from Stephens Street, near the Midway University footbridge, according to the KRRW.

Another site, which KRRW labeled as Lee Branch “in front of Midway University,” appears to be from the unnamed tributary of the branch that runs along Stephens Street and flows into the branch halfway between Stephens and the MU footbridge. That sample showed only 179 CFUs, indicating the sewer’s influence on the main branch. In 2016 report, the tributary had much more bacteria, with an average score of 938.

South Elkhorn Creek: Samples taken last year just downstream from Ironworks Estates showed 532 CFUs, more than double the limit for swimming. That was more than the 302 average for 2016, when readings ranged from 104 in May to 691 in July.

An unnamed tributary running through Ironworks Estates showed only 47 FCUs, indicating that the subdivision is contributing little to the pollution.

Grading the streams: Conductivity is another key indicator of water quality. High conductivity signals more dissolved chemicals. It is measured in microsiemens per centimeter, with 500 the level posing risk to aquatic life. In 2019 Lee Branch had a conductivity score of 323, lower than its 2016 average of 389.

Overall in 2019, the UK research institute gave Lee Branch and South Elkhorn Creek a grade of C, or “fair,” for bacteria. For conductivity, Lee Branch received a grade of B, or “good.” The creek got a D, or “poor,” and was listed as a “site of concern,” perhaps also because of nitrogen and phosphorus levels, which are raised by runoff from fertilizers on farms.

South Elkhorn Creek runs from western Fayette County to Franklin County, and forms almost all the border of Woodford and Scott counties.

“It’s not very clean, but it’s a whole lot cleaner than it was 30 to 40 years ago,” said Mac Weisenberger, fifth-generation owner of Weisenberger Mill, located on the Scott County bank of the creek near Midway since 1865.

“I see a lot of people come down here and go fishing,” he said. “It has been on the increase.”

Lexington's role: The creek runs through horse and cattle farms, which are sources of bacteria, but in recent decades it has also been polluted by leaky sewer pipes and stormwater overflow from Lexington. In recent years, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government has completed several projects to mitigate the problem.

“Tremendous progress and investment has been made towards improving water quality in the Fayette County portion of the South Elkhorn watershed,” Evans said in an email, “ but there is still a long way to go.”

In 2019, the Lexington government completed detailed analysis of the areas that required additional work due to high concentrations of bacteria, with the assistance of community volunteers.

“There been a lot of work to move things in a positive direction,” Evans said. “The problems were not created in a day, and the solutions will not occur overnight.”

Meanwhile, there is other good news. Robert Watts, president of Bluegrass Wild Water, said in an email, “One of my members found a huge, less than 12 inch (deceased), mudpuppy salamander out there last summer. Those are an indicator species for great water quality, because of the way their skin absorbs chemicals.”

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer print edition of the Midway Messenger.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Mayor announces distillery, RV resort park planned for Mitchell farm at northwest corner of I-64 interchange

City limits in pink; urban service boundary is line above “Proj A.”
UPDATE, July 15: The conditional-use permit process for the RV resort is not expected to begin until September, and will start with the Agricultural Advisory Review Committee, Planning Director Pattie Wilson told the Messenger.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift sent this in an email to the City Council and news media today.
By Grayson Vandegrift
     I’d like to give you an overview of two new projects that are currently under option on the “Mitchell Farm,” also known as Elkwood, on the western side of 341, across from Midway Station. As you know, industrial and agricultural land has been for sale for quite a long time.
     All of this is preliminary, and by no means are they final, but there are two projects scheduled to close on land purchases in October. For now we’ll call them “Project A” and “Project B.”
     Project A is a small, local distillery that wishes to relocate from Lexington. Their facility would be built near our wastewater facility, within the Urban Service Boundary, but currently just outside the city limits. It is on industrial land and requires no rezoning (see picture).
     Project B would be, in short, called an RV resort, but it could offer much more to the citizens of Midway (see below). After speaking with the brokers involved in the investment, I was assured the RV campsites would be far from KY 341 and out of view. The resort would feature a horseback riding equine pasture on the front end, facing 341. On the rest of the land, which straddles parts of northern Woodford and southern Scott counties, they plan to offer a swimming pool, a swimming pond, a fishing pond, a lazy river, access to Elkhorn Creek, and much more which you can see from the preliminary sketch of the resort.
     While this is an RV campground that would certainly boost tourism for downtown Midway, I was pleased to learn it will also be open for the public to purchases passes for usage. It is on agricultural land and does not need to be rezoned, but the Board of Adjustments of Planning and Zoning will need to grant a conditional use permit. Current zoning laws do permit this type of use on agricultural land so long as that permit is issued. The investors are scheduled to go before the Board of Adjustments on Wednesday.
     Both Projects A and B wish to be on city water and sewer, which we have the capacity for, and which would help us keep our rates in check, if not help us lower them more in the future. This would require us to annex these lands into the city, effectively bringing the city limits to the Scott County line on the western side of 341.
     Project A has been trying to get its distillery moved to Midway for two years, and Project B is likewise struck by our charm, quaintness, and vibrancy. Both would bring jobs and tourism to town. I do not have a total job count for either project at this time.
     Project B will be presenting to the council in an upcoming meeting, and Project A will likely do the same once they get a few more things in place.
     As always, I want you to be able to see this, chew on this, and ask questions. Neither is a sure thing, and public input will be extremely valuable and will be heard going forward. Both projects fit our modus operandi of developing north of Leestown Road around the interstate, and neither requires rezoning. If you have any questions just let me know, you’ll have plenty of time for more questions as the process moves forward.
     I think it’s important to note: The land owners are eager to sell, and the buyers eager to develop. Regardless of how anyone may feel about any of this, if it’s going to happen, I want to bring it in to the city so we can benefit from the tax revenue and the relative distance from our residential centers and the separation provided by a highway and an interstate.
Here's the developer's description of the land use plan:

The Bluegrass RV Resort is nestled in the heart of Central Kentucky along I-64 on the northern edge of Midway, a quaint city with great restaurants, friendly charm and historic equestrian and bourbon industries. Guests will enter the property with views of the entry pond and equestrian pasture beyond. After a peaceful scenic drive, guests will arrive at the clubhouse, where they can relax and receive guided access to their site when ready. This property is home to a luxury RV club resort, family RV campsites and short-term cottage rentals. RV sites provide opportunities for both family sites and adult sites. Amenities include a clubhouse with bourbon tasting and educational tours; the tables with horse riding and a horse rescue; aquatic park with a lazy river, slides, splash pad, and pond swimming; amphitheater; country store; kayak and tub rental; and an adult recreational center with a pool and swim-up bar, fire-pit, and hammock retreat.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Mayor says city will levy fines against Columbia Gas for closing part of Main Street without encroachment permit

Outdoor work on 116 E. Main started June 30.
Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says the city will levy fines against Columbia Gas for causing closure of the north side of East Main Street today.

"The work violated city ordinance, disrupted Friday traffic downtown, and burdened businesses such as restaurants, who rely on gas for their operations," Vandegrift said in an email. "We are starting the process to levy fines on Columbia Gas for violating our ordinances."

The mayor said the word was done without an encroachment permit allowing access to the city's right of way. "Encroachment permits are required of every citizen, every property owner, every utility company before cutting into city owned streets," he wrote. "We need to know before such action is taken and need to approve it so that we know the work to be done, and to have assurance that the replacement of the pavement will be to city specifications."

Vandegrift said a Columbia Gas supervisor told him that the work was being done "on behalf of 116 East Main Street," site of a historic but long-dilapidated building now being renovated by owner Ness Alamdari of Lexington under orders from the Woodford County building inspector.

"As to Mr. Alamdari, this is living proof of what we have been dealing with for more than four years," the mayor wrote. "For whatever reason, Mr. Alamdari continues to attempt to go around the city, around Planning and Zoning, and around any local law he can for his own purposes, despite the will and laws of our citizens."

Summing up, Vandgerift said, "Columbia Gas should have known better, and therefore should pay the penalty for doing such work without going through the process we as a city require. This behavior will not and cannot be tolerated. The interests of one person do not supersede the interests of the city and the people we work for."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Merchants reach foregone conclusion, cancel festival

The Midway Business Association canceled this year's Midway Fall Festival at its monthly meeting Wednesday, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a decision no one liked.

"It sucks," MBA President Cortney Neikirk and event coordinator Elisha Holt said, at different times.

Neikirk began the discussion in the Mezzo patio by saying, "I think we all know what the inevitable vote is." She said Mayor Grayson Vandegrift had made that clear, and though the City Council had issued a permit in  January for the event to be held Sept. 19-20, it could revoke the permit if necessary.

"In all fairness, we don't want to have the council make a decision that's ours to make," Neikirk said. She said the idea of having the event on private property wasn't "sensible . . . because Fall Festival is for the merchants."

Some events such as the Kentucky Derby are going ahead with limited attendance, but they are able to enforce limits because they can block access to parking, which can't be done with the festival, Holt said.

Neikirk said the merchants "still have some options to do a few things," such as socially distanced movie nights in the yard between Main and Martin streets, but "I don't know that it would necessarily help the merchants," and "The movies are pretty expensive" to rent.

Earlier, Holt said, "I honestly think that our fall time is dead." She said the association still hopes to have Santa Claus arrive on a train the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but remain on the train and have some sort of socially distanced interaction with children.

"People are itching to get out and do things," Holt said, but Nekirk gave the flip side: "The last thing we want to do is be overrun and be accused of causing an outbreak."

On more positive notes:
  • Holt reported that the Facebook commercial filmed recently, with merchants and restaurateurs waving at a drone flying down Main Street, is almost ready and will be targeted to metropolitan areas within driving distance.
  • Emily Downey, executive of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and the county Tourism Commission, said the agency is targeting markets such as Nashville and St. Louis with ads promoting "Woodford Weekends" for "families, gals and guys."
  • After a discussion of the need for a public restroom downtown, especially on weekends when City Hall is closed, Neikirk said she would again discuss the issue with city officials.
  • The city is accepting applications from businesses for federally funded grants to compensate them for pandemic-related losses. All those approved will get the same amount, Neikirk said, noting, "We fought for this." The City Council voted 3-2 for two more rounds of vouchers that citizens could redeem at businesses, but switched to grants after state officials said federal relief funds wouldn't pay for vouchers and 19 Midway business people signed a letter warning that most businesses in town could close if they didn't get direct aid.
  • Vandegrift told businesses in an email, "The application is available for you to print on our city website meetmeinmidway.com. If you are unable to print you can pick up a copy at City Hall, you may just want to call ahead. Please fill out the application and return to city hall or scan and email it back to sonya@meetmeinmidway.com by 4 p.m. Friday, July 17."

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Council OKs $75,000 in federal relief money for grants to businesses; mayor exploring options to fight speeding

Green lines show sewers involved in cleaning and renovation project; red outlines big main targeted for replacement.
By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council voted 4-0 Monday evening for a grant program to provide federal covid-19 relief funding to local businesses. 

This program will “keep them afloat, make up for lost revenue, pay their employees, purchase their goods, pay their bills, or keep their lights and water on,” Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said.

The council voted to appropriate $75,000 from the city’s $129,000 relief allocation to fuel the grant program. Vandegrift said the city has another $53,000 in pandemic-related expenses that the allocation will cover.

The $75,000 will be split evenly between businesses approved by a three-member council committee. “If 30 businesses apply and were granted this money, you divide it evenly, which would mean each business would get $2,500,” the mayor said.

Vandegrift and Council Members John Holloway and Stacy Thurman, members of an ad hoc committee, debated and worked out most of the details at a meeting last week.

“I think that we simplified it and mainstreamed it enough where we’re still showing some guidelines and that this is a serious application,” Thurman said. “But we give them enough credit that they’re going to be honest . . . with the money in the best way that they can to stay open.”

The application asks what costs or losses were suffered due to closure related to the pandemic. Vandegrift said city attorney Sharon Gold added a final section in which applicants agree to cooperate with any audit, certify that the information they give is correct to the best of their knowledge, and acknowledge that a false statement may require them to return the money.

Grantees must have a physical location in Midway, have been forced to limit activities due to the pandemic, and must not owe taxes to the city. No grant can exceed the amount of the funds business lost. The application asks what the money will be used for, and requires recipients to report by Dec. 30 how they used it.

The application also asks, “Is it your intention to continue operating your business in the City of Midway for the next six months?” Vandegrift said Versailles is requiring its recipients to stay open for a year; he asked, “How can you guarantee that?”

Council Member Sara Hicks said, “We’re just asking them to act in good faith.” For more details of the program and the application form, see the council meeting packet, downloadable here.

The plan is for the applications to be posted as soon as Tuesday and have the program launch on July 8, “time is of the essence,” Vandegrift said. All applications must be turned in by July 17 and can be picked up and turned in either online or at city hall.

As soon as the committee of Holloway, Thurman and Hicks reviews and approves applications, the mayor said, he will instruct Foster to begin writing checks. 

The three voted for the program along with Council Member Logan Nance. Vandegrift said Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher was ill, and Council Member Bruce Southworth was absent because his mother, Ann Southworth of Georgetown, died unexpectedly; services are Tuesday in Georgetown.

Last month, Nance, Gallagher and Southworth made the 3-2 majority (Thurman had left for a work obligation) that voted informally for a second and third round of a voucher program that allowed residents to use $50 in “Midway Bucks” at local businesses, which the businesses turned in for cash.

The program was popular, but the state Department for Local Government said the federal relief bill didn't allow the city to be reimbursed for it, and 19 business people signed an open letter warning that some of them could close without help, so the council chose the grant program, which is specifically authorized by the relief bill.

Vandegrift noted that the council funded the program with $40,000 in unspent economic-development funds before the relief bill passed. He said only $27,000 in vouchers were redeemed by the end of the program on June 30, but he and the council praised the program.

Nance said, "I think a lot of people felt kind of helpless and wanted to help but didn't really did not know how, and I think the voucher program gave them a way to say, you know, I have this little bit of money that I can use to invest and I can support a business I appreciate. With everything going on right now that separates us, I feel like this was a really good way to connect us to come together and do something."

Vandegrift added the voucher program was one of his proudest accomplishments as mayor but feels the grant program will help give businesses a much needed “shot in the arm.” In originally proposing the grant program, he said retailers didn’t benefit from it as much as restaurants.

Nance said, “I definitely think this is going to be a great way to help our businesses.”

In other business Monday, the council:
● Heard Vandegrift say he wants to try rumble strips or speed tables (slightly elevated sections of a street) “on a bunch of streets” to reduce speeding, which he said is the main complaint he gets from residents. “I feel like we have to change the tactics here or lose the game,” he said, adding that he would check cost, probably refer the issue to a committee, and “I’m not saying we’ll vote on anything anytime soon.”
● Heard the mayor say that the next step in the city’s sewer work should be replacement of a 10-inch main leading to the treatment plant with a 15-inch main. He said sediment in the line in causing problems upstream, but cleaning of those lines has stopped manholes from overflowing during heavy rains.
● Heard Vandegrift say he would swear in and update the city’s new Code Enforcement Board on Thursday, even though the city still hasn’t named a code enforcement officer. He said that has been delayed by the pandemic.
● Appointed Michael Hunter to the county board overseeing the 911 dispatch system and its funding. Hunter, a Midway native and resident, is a former Woodford County EMT and 911 dispatcher who knows the system, Vandegrift said.
● Debated returning one block of Johnson Street to one-way. Holloway, who lives off the street, said one way or the other would make it difficult for residents to get into their driveways. The council agreed that residents need to be consulted.
● Approved encroachment permit for a new entrance for White Dog Trading Co. in Midway Station to separate the bourbon-warehousing firm’s office and truck traffic. “We just feel it’s a safety issue,” White Dog consulting engineer Matt Carter said.
● Approved an encroachment permit for Tom and Mur Greathouse to park their pumpkin-sales wagon in a space at 112 S. Gratz St. this fall, as they did last fall.
● Agreed to waive the sewer tap-on fee for 230 S. Gratz, the former home of the Midway Woman’s Club. Vandegrift reported that the new property owners discovered their sewer had never been hooked to a city main though the Woman’s Club had paid sewer charges for decades.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Secret Service took Danny Smith around the world; when he came home to Kentucky, he chose Midway

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush signed this photo of himself and Danny Smith in Beijing (then Peking).
Smith shows his Secret Service ID. (Photo by Madison Dyment)
By Madison Dyment

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In a town as small and close-knit as Midway, it’s easy for the phrase “everybody knows everybody” to roll off your tongue. But given a closer look, how well do we really know our neighbors? So many peoples’ stories float around Midway, often not getting the recognition they deserve. So, Midway, meet your neighbor since 1985, Danny Smith.

Despite coming from humble roots in Lebanon, Ky., Smith found himself along a different life path as a member of the Secret Service.

“After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson ordered Secret Service protection for presidential candidates, which is kinda how I found out about it,” said Smith. “I met some FBI and Secret Service agents through my brother, Jack Smith, who was a federal prosecutor, and they asked if I would be interested in it.”

Smith went through rigorous study and was “off and running” in 1969, he said. His work had him stationed across the country through some of the most defining historical moments.

He was stationed in D.C. during the anti-war demonstrations at the end of the Vietnam War, went through the resignation of President Nixon and Watergate and personally served and protected every president from Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush, who served in 1989-93.

Smith, who graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1967 with a double major in history and political science, a minor in German and taught history at Lebanon High School for two years, found the position intriguing for someone with his interests.

“It was a very serious employment and, especially as someone who had an interest in history, political science and world affairs, it was an exciting career for me,” said Smith. “It was just a very interesting period of history.”

Smith was stationed directly in the White House in an “intelligence role” during the Nixon administration from 1971 until 1974.

“If people came up and were exhibiting irrational behavior, the White House Police would get ahold of them and the intelligence guys would come out and deal with the situation,” said Smith.

Although Smith declined to comment on any personal opinions or stories regarding the presidents he served, he holds the utmost respect for them and others he protected. His basement is filled with photos and notes, including a photo of Smith and George H.W. Bush in China, signed by Bush with an accompanying note thanking Smith for his service. A framed collage of Jimmy Carter hangs on the wall as a memory of his time serving and traveling with that president, who appointed his brother U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.

Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel,
autographed a picture of her for Smith.
“I don’t like to talk about their personalities or little stories,” said Smith. “The protectee has to have utmost confidence that what they do will be kept private. You have to have respect for their privacy, official and personal.”

Smith protected other interesting figures, such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and Pope John Paul II.

“To be able to meet and be around these people was just fascinating to see and interact with these historic world leaders,” said Smith.

Despite the close interaction with political figures, Smith never allowed his experiences to sway his political views or opinions. Professional to the core, he took his job seriously and never let anything come in the way of his duty.

“I’m proud of the agents from my era, we were pretty apolitical,” said Smith. “It didn’t make any difference if the protectee was a Democrat, Republican or foreign dignitary, we had a job to do and we did it.”

Smith credits the Secret Service for bringing him to Midway in 1985. When the service opened an office in Lexington, he jumped at the opportunity to return Kentucky. He had previously visited Midway and enjoyed the small-town feeling and proximity to Lexington.

In this position, he worked on intelligence cases at the Federal Medical Center on Leestown Road, with individuals such as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme of the Charles Manson family when she was detained for trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975.

In 1989, Smith left the service and took up work with the Department of Justice through the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, in Lexington. He served as a coordinator of law enforcement efforts, bringing together law enforcement officers from all levels to address initiatives such as anti-terrorism, gun violence, or drug laws. He retired in 2006.

“I was very fortunate that I was able to have two great law enforcement careers in two different agencies that I enjoyed,” said Smith.

Smith served on the city's water-sewer task force in 2011. (Photo by Dick Yarmy)
Now, sitting on his front porch talking with his neighbors is just the level of excitement the 74-year-old Smith wants. Having raised his three daughters in Midway, he and his wife, Georgette, enjoy the small-town atmosphere and homey environment of the town.

“I’ve always known everybody on my street, Gayland Drive, and in my neighborhood and I think that’s fantastic, I really enjoy that,” said Smith. “We would sit on our porches and talk with each other at night and that small-community feel of Midway is just lovely.”

Smith promotes these neighborly values in his everyday life. Between going to breakfast every Saturday with neighbors and friends, to cherishing the opportunity to see people at the post office, and promoting local shopping and support of local business, this worldly person has become a Midway man through and through.

“Staying in contact with your neighbors is so important,” said Smith.

You may wonder what the one big takeaway is for a man who has seen so much in a lifetime. To Smith, it’s a simple mantra that he’s repeated countlessly.

“Be prepared for opportunity when it knocks, because it will knock several times in your life and you need to be prepared for whatever comes to your door,” said Smith. “I hope we don’t lose that message in our future.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Mayor reinstates open-container ordinance, recounts fireworks rules, calls for empathy in that and masking

By Aaron Gershon
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said today that he has reinstated the "entertainment destination district" that allows customers to carry open containers of alcoholic beverages from the city's restaurants and bars. Vandegrift suspended the ordinance in March as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Vandegrift made the announcement near the end of his biweekly video update on coronavirus matters, which he said he would now do monthly "unless circumstances dictate otherwise." He talked about the need to wear masks and said "I'm glad to see that mask wearing has become less of a political football."

Vandegrift offered more praise to Midway residents for doing "very well" with their response to the pandemic. "We are seeing spikes in cases all over the country, but in Kentucky, we're doing relatively well," he said. "In Woodford County, we're doing well and in Midway, we're doing very well."

He said that's because residents have stayed diligent and vigilant, with social distancing and wearing masks.

"I think mask-wearing is one of the most typical, straight on examples of empathy," the mayor said. "When I see someone wearing a mask I say that person cares about me.  If I can do the same we build on each other’s empathy."

Vandegrift also noted that wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor areas is important that masks are not necessary when people are spread out outdoors. "When you're outdoors in open areas and there are not a lot of people around, I don't think a mask is necessary," he said. "There's so much open air even if you were unwittingly carrying covid-19, the odds of you getting someone enough of a virtual load if you spread out is nearly impossible science has shown."

Fireworks: Ahead of the July 4 holiday on Saturday, the mayor reminded residents of rules and regulations regarding fireworks. "If you are someone who's going to shoot off fireworks, you're allowed to," he said. "You can't be shooting them the week before or after July 4."

He reminded those planning to shoot fireworks that they must be 100 feet from any structure, and can't shoot them before 10 a.m. or after 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, midnight Friday and Saturday.

Vandegrift again encouraged empathy, for those who have served in the military and may suffer from PTSD, as well as residents with dogs who may fear fireworks. "If we do empathize with each other I believe we will find a common ground," he said.