Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Vandegrift says he will run for state legislature next year

Vandegrift at 2018 campaign kickoff
By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandergrift says he will not seek a third term next year and will instead run for the state House seat won in November by Republican Daniel Fister of Versailles.

“I really feel like I am the right person to be state representative and start to fight for the issues that matter to the people of the 56th district,” Vandergrift, a Democrat, told the Messenger in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

There is a trio of issues that Vandergrift said inspired him to run, and the chief among them is House Bill 312, which will make the legislature the final arbiter for legislative record requests and limit the ability of people living outside the state to make such requests.

“It is a total assault on transparency that the Republicans, the House and the current occupant of the office have pushed,” Vandergrift said. “That is an assault on the people’s right to see the legislature’s business. I’ve always been big on transparency, so I’m going to fight for transparency.”

Vandegrift’s second issue is public education.

“I’m going to fight for public education,” he said. “The reason the current legislature is pushing the bills that they are pushing is because they want to move toward charter schools. They want to defund public education. They want these schools to fail. … The best way to be fair to all children, get them all educated and get them all a fair start to life, is through public education.”

His third issue is the state pension system. “The public pension system is again being underserved by the current legislature, and we need to start figuring out better solutions to make sure this thing is funded so we can attract good young talent and not push young people away from the teaching profession,” Vandergrift said.

State Rep. Dan Fister
Fister didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. The legislature adjourned about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, ending its 30-day session.

In his formal campaign announcement, Vandegrift says, “I have the vast experience it takes to build bridges among the parties and disparate organizations, and the proven, trusted ability to enhance the daily lives of the people of the 56th. My practice of good governance as mayor has led to lower taxes for our citizens while increasing revenue and improving services.” 

This is not the first time Vandergrift has announced he would run for the seat. He declared his intention to run in July 2019 but changed his mind a week later. Then Bob Gibson of Versailles entered the race and lost the Democratic primary to Lamar Allen of Lexington, whom Fister defeated, with 53 percent of the vote.

“Last time, something told me that the time wasn’t right. I think it was a feeling that the time wasn’t right for my family,” Vandegrift said, adding that things have changed for him and his wife, Katie. “My family thinks this is the right time to do it. My wife wants me to do it. She was supportive for 2020, but something there wasn’t right.”

Vandergrift said he had another reason for withdrawing: He didn’t feel right about not finishing his term as mayor. “I don’t like it when politicians use their job as a safety net,” he said. “I figured it was better to finish my term, finish what I started, and finish what the people elected me to do.”

He was elected a council member in 2012 and mayor in 2014 and 2018, respectively defeating then-Council Member Sharon Turner and then-School Board Member Ambrose Wilson IV.

Vandegrift said he declared for the General Assembly a year early to give potential mayoral candidates time to mull over their decisions. The filing deadline for mayor and City Council is in August 2022; the deadline for state offices is late January 2022. City elections are nonpartisan.

The 56th District includes all of Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties, but could be redistricted based on the 2020 census. No other candidates have announced.

Midway University plans normal operations in fall; announces new health dean and nursing recognition

Midway University will resume regular operations at the beginning of the fall semester, the school announced this week. "The university is actively planning for a more typical year which means more activity and gatherings on campus," it said in a press release.

Midway students have been on campus and in classrooms this academic year, but classroom capacity was decreased, residence-halls occupancy was lowered, masks were required, attendance at campus events was limited or virtual, and "physical distancing was required in common spaces throughout campus to adhere to safety protocols due to Covid-19," the release said.

“While we will follow all guidelines and protocols, as we have throughout the pandemic, our faculty, staff and students are looking forward to bringing back the attributes of a personalized learning environment,” President John P. Marsden said in the release. “Whether it is a gathering to collaborate in the classroom, sitting together in the dining hall or attending a sporting event, our campus community craves that time together for those shared experiences that were dramatically impacted over this past year.”

The release said plans aren't final, but "Students can expect to see more campus housing available, more classrooms getting back to typical seating and occupancy, as well as dining hall seating, spectators at sporting events and more in-person events throughout the year."

Some events will be at new facilities that will be getting their first full use. “Marrs Hall, which is the Administration Building and home of the new Ann J. Bowling Welcome Center, had its lobby and large conference spaces converted into classrooms while the Hunter Field House had limited access due to required contact tracing and health protocols,” Marsden said. “We look forward to more regular usage and events in the Hunter Field House next year for our students.”

More information on safety protocols, classes and housing will be shared with students this summer, the university said. The fall semester begins August 23.

Dean Diane Chlebowy
Health Sciences news:
Dr. Diane Chlebowy joined Midway as dean of the School of Health Sciences on March 1. She had been director of nursing programs at the University of Louisville, and a faculty member at the University of Kentucky. She earned her BSN, MSN (administration), MA (adult education), and Ph.D. (nursing) degrees from Ohio State. 

“The leadership and experience that Dr. Chlebowy brings to the university will help us continue our long legacy as one of the leading nursing education programs in Kentucky and grow our entire health sciences offerings,” Dr. Carrie Christensen, interim assistant vice president for academic affairs, said in a news release, which said "She has been recognized nationally and internationally for her diabetes research expertise, has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, and has given presentations at local, regional, and national conferences." 

Meanwhile, Midway University's nursing program has again received a high ranking from RegisteredNursing.org. It was ranked as the No. 3 online RN-to-BSN Program in Kentucky for 2021.
The university says the program is also one of the state's most affordable, with tuition of $295 per credit hour in the fall, a reduction from the current rate. The tuition rate for the MSN program is the state's lowest. It also offers all coursework online, with and practicums in the student’s home region.

Midway's health-care administration program was recently ranked second in Kentucky by Plexuss Global, which bases its evaluations on student demand and preferences and input from education partners, data scientists, employers, parents, and high-school counselors.

Mayor and council plan 3% pay hike for city employees, several capital projects at their first budget workshop

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Expecting more money for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and the Midway City Council talked at their first budget workshop about how they wanted to spend it: on the Fire Department, the cemetery, city employees and more.

The budget Vandegrift proposed estimates $900,000 in revenue from the city’s occupational tax, but based on current collections, it could go as high as $1 million, and “We’re flirting with it this year,” Vandegrift said. “I don’t know what it will end up as, but we’re ahead of schedule.” The current budget anticipated occupational-tax revenue of $737,500.

The mayor also noted the estimate of the near-doubling of revenue from the tax on net profits, part of the occupational tax, which he said was encouraging. It is forecast to bring in $55,000 next year; only $30,000 in revenue was budgeted for this year.

The two big projects in the budget are the Stephens Street trail and the Gayland sewer-repair project. The city is seeking grants totaling $275,000 for the trail, which would also get $50,000 from the city.

Most of the money for the Gayland project would come from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, in a low-interest loan. “We can pay it off any time we want, but it’s a 20-year fixed 2 percent loan of $200,000 , Vandegrift said. The remaining $110,000 would come from the city. “This is just a great way to go ahead and get that Gayland project done all at once,” he said, explaining that engineers had told him it would be cheaper to borrow than to split the job into two contracts, which would require two mobilizations by contractors.

The mayor said he put a 3 percent increase into the budget for city employees for “cost of living adjustments [and] other performance-based raises.” He told the council, “No salaries have gone up for me or for you all.” Their salaries were raised substantially by the council in 2018, taking effect after that year’s elections.

The mayor said he wants to hire a summer worker, partly to replace longtime city employee Terry Agee, who recently left to accept a full-time fire-department job.

Council Member Stacy Thurman asked if there had been any talk of paying the manager of Walter Bradley Park, which she said might help attract a replacement for former council member John Holloway, who is the unpaid manager. He revived the park mainly with volunteers but is “closer to the end of his tenure than the beginning,” said Vandegrift, who said he might bring up the idea with the Parks Board.

Vandegrift said leaders of the fire department have asked him to set aside an acre in the buffer zone at the edge of Midway Station for an auxiliary fire station that would house the department’s ladder truck, which is likely to be used most at Midway Station. He said a new station would be a better place for training than the current, cramped firehouse, and could be built in cooperation with Woodford County EMS to get an ambulance and crew in the city 24 hours a day.

The mayor said the city needs to spend $12,000 to $20,000 to fix up the ladder truck, which it bought used from a Tennessee city, which had bought it used from Beverly Hills, Calif., where he said it was rarely used.

“We got that thing pennies on the dollar,” he said. “It runs very well. It’s got a few leaks, here and there, nothing major … but it needs a little bit more money to get it to where it really needs to be.” He said a new truck like that could cost $750,000 at least, which was not an option for Midway.

Simoff asked when firefighters were last given a raise. The mayor replied that it had “been a long time” and he would be “all for it” if the council was. Council Member Logan Nance suggested checking other cities’ volunteer firefighter pay, and Vandegrift said he would do that.

In the only actual change the council made to the budget during the workshop was to increase the cemetery building fund for gates that will connect the Midway Cemetery and the St. Rose Tabernacle one, which are separated by a driveway and fences. They raised it from $15,000 to $22,500 on the motion of Hicks, who said cost estimates had risen.

Hicks, chair of the City Property and Cemetery Committee, asked if removal of some trees in the historically African American St. Rose cemetery is included in the maintenance budget. The mayor said it is.

Simoff asked about repairs to driveways in the Midway Cemetery, which he said “are falling apart.” Vandegrift replied that the city has many capital projects planned, but could take money from other accounts to do smaller repairs.

For next year’s street paving, the mayor has allocated $75,000; he noted that the city has $78,000 in a state-funded account for streets.

Vandegrift said the $50,000 for paving in the current year’s budget would soon be spent on paving aprons at First Street and Second Street, repaving Marvin Street after water-line work, and the driveway to the new cemetery pavilion.

The budget has $20,000 for a sign to attract into downtown motorists coming off Interstate 64 at Leestown Road. “We want to capture more of that transient traffic” that intends only to get fuel or a sandwich at the Green Gables development, he said, and “It would make that corridor look a lot nicer.”

During the meeting, the mayor created a $5,000 line item for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which previously has been funded through the donations budget. The program is mainly funded by the Woodford County Fiscal Court and the Versailles City Council.

The mayor briefly mentioned the insurance-tax increase that he had proposed for infrastructure improvements, starting with the Tin Man water tower, but withdrew.

The topic arose when Council Member Sara Hicks noticed that the budget called for insurance-tax income of $225,000, up from this year’s budget of $190,000. Vandegrift referred to the issue and said, ”At the end of the day, I just thought that March 23 was just too quick of a deadline to make a decision like that for this year.” That was the deadline to set the tax rate so the state can inform insurance companies.

Council Member Steve Simoff endorsed the idea of increasing the tax. “To walk away from this kind of opportunity doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “This gives us a year to think about this and actually do some studying, rather than guessing whether it’s gonna raise peoples rates or not.”

After Simoff’s comment, Vandegrift said, “We’ve got to think about some source of revenue to save things like the Tin Man. Right now, the Tin Man is nothing more than an expensive art project. No one wants to tear it down.”

He suggested another way to bring in revenue for the Tin Man repair: selling advertising space on the tower, with restrictions. He said the tower repair could cost up to $400,000. “We cannot dedicate General Fund revenue to that tower because it has no function for the City of Midway,” he said.

Vandegrift said the council would have two more budget workshops, one for water and sewer and the other for general purposes and a meeting with Mosquito Mate, which wants to use the city as a pilot project for its biological control of the insects.

City taking sidewalk-repair applications until Thursday

Applications for the City of Midway's cost-sharing program for sidewalks will be accepted through Thursday, April 1, Mayor Grayson Vandergrift announced.

"We have decided to extend the application period to give more residents a chance to use stimulus money should they prefer to take advantage of this program," Vandegrift wrote. "We’ve structured it to only come around every two or three years, and it is not always guaranteed to be available, so we suggest folks to take advantage of it when it’s offered."

The program pays half the cost, up to $2,500, of sidewalks that the city has designated as eligible. Vandegrift said Saturday that the city had received seven applications. After April 1, he wrote, "We will begin the bidding process, and plan to complete the improvements by the end of June if possible."

Monday, March 29, 2021

Woodford County ranks second in state for percentage of residents fully vaccinated against novel coronavirus

Screenshot of Washington Post interactive map; click it to enlarge. Click here for the interactive version.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Two pairs of very different Kentucky counties – Pike, Woodford, Perry and Fayette – have the highest percentages of their populations fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published Sunday by The Washington Post.

The CDC data show that 23.3% of Pike County's population has been fully vaccinated, well above the state average of 15.3% and the national average of 14.7%. Woodford County ranks second, at 21.6%, followed by Perry County at 21.4% and Fayette County at 21.2%.

Pike and Perry counties are deep in Appalachian Kentucky, while Fayette and Woodford are in the heart of the much more well-to-do Bluegrass, but the first three are all home to major health-care facilities, and most of Woodford County's population has easy access to Fayette, so that could be a factor.

Floyd County, which borders Pike, has a fully-vaccinated rate of 20.1%. It is the only other Kentucky county with more than 20%, according to the Post map produced with the CDC data. It is the first public report of county-by-county vaccination rates, and doesn't include all states because of limited reporting.

The report's interactive map also lists the percentages of adult and senior population that have been fully vaccinated, either one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Pike leads in adult vaccinations with 29.3% and Fayette is tops for 65 and up with 54.6%.

Twenty counties have less than 10% of their populations fully vaccinated, according to the Post map: Adair, Ballard, Calloway, Casey, Christian, Clay, Clinton, Elliott, Graves, Hart, Jackson, Lee, Lewis, McCreary, Meade, Rockcastle, Spencer, Taylor, Todd and Wayne, which has the lowest rate, 6.6%. Other low counties are Spencer, 6.7%; Casey, 6.9%; and Christian, 7.2%.

Jefferson, the state's most populous county, had 15.8% fully vaccinated, half a percentage point above the statewide average. It and Christian County both have large Black populations, and Gov. Andy Beshear has said more than once that the vaccination rate among Kentucky Blacks lags that of whites.

The Post story reports the CDC data show "notably lower rates in predominantly Black areas and counties that voted most heavily for President Donald Trump in 2020." President Biden carried only Fayette and Jefferson counties, but the data suggest that counties where Trump got over 80% have lower vaccination rates.

The Post says it included only counties for which at least 85% of vaccination records included a person’s county of residence: "For the states with usable information, 45 percent of people age 65 and older, 18.2 percent of all adults 18 or older, and 14.3 percent of the entire population are fully vaccinated." For a larger dataset and map from the CDC, click here.

Friday, March 26, 2021

EDA picks different buyer for last industrial lot in Midway Station, OKs revised deal to give city buffer-zone land

Lot 24 is marked; higher-numbered and unnumbered lots to the east and south are also industrial and have been sold.
By Al Cross and Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The last industrial lot for sale at Midway Station will get a whiskey warehouse, not a rental-storage facility, the Woodford County Economic Development Authority board decided Friday morning. The board also approved a revised agreement to give land along Interstate 64 to the City of Midway.

Last month the board authorized Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway to sign a letter of intent to sell the 4.6-acre Lot 24 to Mark Caldwell for $54,500 an acre, subject to negotiations for a final deal that would take into account the cost of regrading of what Michalisin called "a highly challenged lot."

Those negotiations didn't pan out. After a 12-minute closed session, Michalisin said the board had "decided to go in a different direction" and sell the lot for a flat $100,000 to "a distilling company" that needs warehouse space and would be publicly identified once the deal is closed.

"We've drummed up another offer," Michalisin reported. He added that storage of whiskey would bring Woodford County schools "significant barrel-tax revenue" and the board thought the deal was "the right thing to do for the community." Last month, EDA contract staffer Lucas Witt said Midway needed a storage units like those Caldwell planned, more than 400 that would have been built in phases.

Caldwell, emailed for comment, expressed thanks that Michalisin and Witt "called us personally to explain the decision. They spoke of other potential locations that they would investigate. This would require support of Planning & Zoning and the EDA. Hopefully, there will be a viable option that will allow us to support the needs of the local community while providing a viable business opportunity."

The board unanimously approved a motion authorizing Michalisin to sign a contract for the sale, and documents closing the sale. He said he expects that to happen "shortly."

That will end the sale of industrial lots in Midway Station, leaving only commercial lots on and near Georgetown Road (KY 341). Michalisin reported that the sale of Lot 25 to CSI, an automobile-robotics firm, closed March 1 and the long-pending sale of Lot 30 to Barnhill Chimney closed March 8. 

Michalisin said the sales paid down Midway Station's mortgage by about $300,000. EDA Treasurer Maria Bohanan said the mortgage now totals $1,172,007 and is incurring daily interest of $105.81 per day. She said the sales also added about $78,000 to EDA's operating account, which has a balance of about $266,000. She said the agency also has another $60,000 in its escrow account.

Buffer zone: The board approved a revised option agreement to give the city about 35 acres, mainly along Interstate 64, in return for "forbearance of the nominal debt we have to the city," mainly $450,000 for the natural-gas line that was needed to attract the big Lakeshore Learning Materials plant, Michalisin said. The EDA and the city do not list the debt as a liability or a receivable, respectively.

From the beginning of Midway Station's development, the property was intended to be a buffer zone or greenspace between it and the interstate, and it was never platted into lots to sell to pay the mortgage. Michalisin said the property has no value to EDA, "but it may very well to the city."

Vandegrift, who proposed the deal, told the City Council this month that he wants to plant trees, bushes and flowers on the property. He told the council in a budget workshop Wednesday evening that the Midway Fire Department has asked him to set aside an acre of the property for an auxiliary fire station that would house the city's recently purchased ladder truck, needed mainly for Midway Station.

The mayor told the EDA board that he is having the land appraised and will submit the revised agreement to the council when that is done. The option would run through Dec. 31. Michalisin thanked Vandegrift for the idea and said, "I think this is a great deal. It's a win-win for all of us."

Other business: The board agreed to spend up to $2,000 for signage that would be placed in the windows of vacant storefronts in Versailles to make the city more attractive to potential employers. Bohanan, who proposed the idea, said Ruggles Sign Co. is working on some mockups.

Bohanan said Midway's Main Street looks good, but small-town business districts "ebb and flow" and South Main Street in Versailles "does not look good right now." She acknowledged that some might say that's the responsibility of landlords, but "I can't fix that. . . . We have to try." Earlier, she said EDA has "the reputation of wanting to build new, but not restore old," and should support small business.

County Planning Director Pattie Wilson pointed out that zoning regulations limit window coverage to 20 percent of square footage, for security and aesthetic reasons. Board member Anna Beth Bobbitt said signs can be partly transparent. Bohanan said she would send board members some Ruggles prototypes.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Caterpillars that pose threat to foals are hatching

Eastern tent caterpillars emerge from their egg mass on a tree at UK's Spindletop Research Farm.
(Photo by Matt Barton, UK agricultural communications)
By Holly Wiemers
University of Kentucky

Eastern tent caterpillars have begun to hatch, with the first instances being seen in Southern Kentucky this week and expected in Central Kentucky by early to mid-next week, according to entomologists in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The egg hatch normally occurs at forsythia bloom, which is just beginning. The larvae are among the first insects to become active in the spring and are well-equipped to cope with Kentucky’s erratic temperature swings, UK extension entomologist Jonathan Larson says.

Consumption of large numbers of caterpillars by pregnant mares caused staggering foal losses in the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome outbreak of 1999-2001. MRLS can cause early- and late-term foal losses or weak foals.

If practical, farm managers should move pregnant mares from areas where wild cherry trees are abundant, to minimize the chance of caterpillar exposure. The threat is greatest when the mature caterpillars leave trees and wander to find places to pupate and transform to the moth stage.

According to UK entomology researchers, egg hatch occurs over several weeks in early spring. This increases the chance for survival in case of late freezes. The caterpillars grow and develop when the temperature is above 37 degrees F. Their preferred food plants are wild cherry, apple and crabapple, but they may appear on hawthorn, maple, cherry, peach, pear and plum as well.

When mature, the 2- to 2.5-inch long, hairy caterpillars have a habit of wandering from their host trees to seek protected areas to spin their cocoons, or to seek additional food if their natal tree becomes defoliated. At such times, they may crawl along fence lines and into pastures.

UK research revealed that horses will inadvertently eat the caterpillars in pastures and feedstuffs. Cuticles of the caterpillar hairs become embedded in the lining of the horse’s alimentary canal. Once that protective barrier is breached, normal alimentary bacteria may gain access to and reproduce in sites with reduced immunity, such as the fetus and placenta.

UK entomology professor Daniel Potter says caterpillar management around paddocks comes down to keeping pregnant mares away from infested trees and either removing or not planting preferred host trees near paddocks. Controlling the caterpillars with insecticides may be warranted in some settings. That may require treating tall trees that are difficult to spray.

Eastern tent caterpillars are also a nuisance to people living near heavily infested trees. The nests and defoliation are unsightly, and the caterpillars may wander hundreds of yards in search of protected sites to spin cocoons and pupate.

“Managing ETC in small ornamental trees, such as flowering crabapples, is easy. Just wear a pair of grocery store plastic bags like mittens, climb a stepladder, pull out the tents, turn the bags inside out to ‘bag’ the caterpillars and stomp them,” Potter said.

“Pruning out nests in ornamental trees sounds great, but in reality, by the time they are noticed, they’re often in branch crotches where pruning will compromise the symmetry of the tree. Spraying the flowering fruit and decorative trees preferred by the caterpillars can be a bee hazard – and with some products, a label violation – because the trees are in bloom with bees visiting them at the same time eastern tent caterpillars are active.”

For the latter scenario, professional arborists treat via trunk injection. Products labeled for eastern tent caterpillar control include Tree-äge (emamectin benzoate), Inject-A-Cide B (Bidrin), Abacide 2 (abamectin) and Lepitect (acephate). Applicators should read and follow all label instructions. All four of those injectable products are labeled for use on horse farms.

For farms that are interested in prevention over the winter months, Larson recommended farms search for and destroy egg masses before they hatch.

“Egg masses can be seen over the winter, they look like sparkly, pyrite gum wrapped around twigs and branches,” he said.

For more information about how to assess trees for egg masses, the UK Entomology publication, Checking Eastern Tent Caterpillar Egg Masses, is available at https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef449.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Boil-water advisory issued for northwest Midway, LIFTED

UPDATE, March 26: "The boil advisory for the northwest corner has been lifted. All samples came back clean and the state requirements have been satisfied and approved," the mayor said in an email.

Residents of northwest Midway received a boil-water notice this afternoon, after the contractor replacing the sewer main through Southern Equine Farm hit a water main.

The advisory, which Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said was issued "out of an abundance of caution," is for North Winter Street north of the grocery, Second Street, and residents along Georgetown Road (KY 341).

It does not include North Winter Court, any other subdivision areas or the Holly Hill Inn, the mayor said at the start of the City Council's first budget workshop today.

Vandegrift said the advisory will be lifted "once lab results confirm it’s safe to do so."

Friday, March 19, 2021

Cemetery panel to meet Mon. at Sons and Daughters

The Cemetery and City Property Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 11 a.m. Monday, March 22 at the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery on Wausau and Bruen Streets.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss beautification and repairs. The notice from City Hall says no action will be taken.

All City Council and committee meetings are open to the public.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mayor backs off higher insurance tax for infrastructure, starting with Tin Man water tower; special meeting nixed

UPDATE, 6 p.m.: In an email 15 minutes ago, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift backed off his tax proposal:
"After further consideration, I have decided to cancel the second reading of the ordinances scheduled for Thursday afternoon. You and I have always prided ourselves on being a transparent and thoughtful government. When I was presented the idea by our city clerk a couple weeks ago, I was informed the decision would need to be made by March 23 to conform to state reporting guidelines. I was also under the impression that this kind of tax isn’t necessarily always passed on to the consumer: it appears I was incorrect. I apologize for any confusion, but I think it best to wait, study it more, and consider it again in the future, if the council wishes to do so. While we are in outstanding financial shape, which Monday night’s audit clearly indicated, we will face millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades over the next decade. When we are presented ideas on how to best face those challenges , we should always consider them. But I fear any action now may only invite perceptions that are not consistent with our track record, and that I could not live with. Thanks for understanding." 

Lauren McCally interviewed Mayor Grayson Vandegrift about the tax proposal Tuesday morning.

By Lauren McCally and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift proposed doubling the city’s insurance premium tax, from 5 percent to 10 percent, to finance infrastructure improvements, starting with preservation of the city's old, iconic water tower known as "the Tin Man."

The tower is called the Tin Man
after the "Wizard of Oz" character
"The Tin Man has not been treated since at least the '70s," the mayor said. It will never be able to store water again, he said, but no one in the city would want to tear it down.

Vandegrift said one way to save it, and do other work on the city’s infrastructure, would be to create a new revenue stream. He said the tax rate needs to be set by March 23 to be effective this year, so he asked the council to give first reading to an ordinance raising it to 10 percent and called a special meeting for 3 p.m. Thursday to give it second reading and final passage.

“Sounds like a no-brainer to me,” said Council Member Logan Nance, who made the request for first reading. After Council Member Sara Hicks said “We should be honest and say it will be passed on to our citizens,” and Vandegrift offered the option of a 9 percent rate, which he said would raise about $200,000 a year, Council Member Mary Raglin asked for a first reading of that option. The council will consider both on Thursday.

Vandegrift suggested that Midway is so small that insurance companies do not pass the tax onto local residents, and Nance cited that in giving his opinion, but the Midway Messenger pointed out to the mayor after the meeting that state law requires companies to note the tax on their bills, indicating that they do pass it on. Vandegrift said, “We don’t need the revenue, but the Tin Man is a very expensive cosmetic project and we are currently leaving money on the table with these rates.” The city’s 5% rate is low compared to those levied by other Kentucky cities. The average is 7%; the Versailles rate is 9%.

Noting that the city has cut property taxes 40 percent and sewer rates 25 percent in his administration, he said, “I feel like we have established ourselves as a government that has improved services, improved revenue and cut taxes. . . . I think it shows we have no interest in raising any kind of taxes on our citizens.” The city was able to cut property taxes because the boom at Midway Station has more than doubled its occupational-tax revenue, and sewer rates were cut after debt was paid off.

Earlier, Vandegrift said the city has not raised the insurance tax since 1999. “I think we should always look at new revenue streams when we can because, again, the more we dig into infrastructure, the more we see, not for nefarious purposes, but it’s been neglected for a long, long time” because the city “had no money.” He said that a lot has been done for infrastructure recently, “but there’s still a lot more to go.” He mentioned sidewalks, storm drains, sewers and water lines.

The city is completing a major sewer-repair project, and Vandegrift’s proposed budget calls for spending $183,000 to fix sewers in the Gayland subdivision and $250,000, most of it from grants, for a sidewalk our East Stephens Street to The Homeplace at Midway.

He said the money from the tax increase would flow into the general fund and the council could earmark it for infrastructure, but future councils could overturn it.

In addition to Vandegrift’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the council reviewed the audit of the fiscal year that ended last June 30. After the independent auditor’s presentation, Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher said she got two things out of it: “We’ve got money [and] we have no loans out there. I kind of found that exciting.”

The council also heard the first reading of an ordinance to reduce the city’s boundaries by about 33 acres at 1132 Georgetown Road due to the desire of both the city and property owner Homer Freeny Jr, to keep the property on a septic sewer do development would require a city-sewer pump station. The second reading will be on April 5, at the next regular council meeting.

Nance said the Public Works and Services committee met to do a brief update on a few projects and will meet again in April to make a list of street and sewer projects that are necessary around town.

Hicks said the Cemetery and City Property Committee will meet at 11 a.m. Friday at the Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery to count broken headstones and discuss repair and beautification of the historically African American cemetery.

Council Member Stacy Thurman said the remembrance ceremony for 1921 lynching victim Richard James at the cemetery on Saturday was “really nice” and she appreciated everyone who planned it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Creech Services, which serves horse farms and bales muck for mushroom farms, is open in Midway Station

A front-end loader transfers horse-stall muck for processing at Creech Services in Midway Station.
Story and photos by Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

A firm that removes, disposes of and recycles muck from horse stalls, and sells fresh hay and straw, says it’s in Midway Station because of proximity to Interstate 64 and local horse farms.

“We came here because a lot of the larger farms that produce the muck are here in Woodford County,” said Charles Creech, president of Creech Services. “We are logistically closer for our trucks by coming here.”

The firm ships bales of muck to out-of-state mushroom farms. “Being on the interstate was why we didn’t build on the other side of Midway or somewhere else, and is why we are here,” Creech said. :We wanted to be on the interstate.”

Muck goes into a "fluffer box" that drops it to a conveyor. (To enlarge any photo, click on it.)
Creech said he founded the firm in 1985 and built his first facility at The Thoroughbred Center located off Paris Pike on the outskirts of Lexington, and decided to relocate after he was unable to work out a lease extension with its current owner, the Keeneland Association.

He said that he “looked around at a few things” in Fayette County before ultimately deciding to relocate to Midway.

The move had an obstacle. the settlement of the 2007 lawsuit that torpedoed Bluegrass Stockyards’ attempt to buy all or most of Midway Station states that no animal waste can be composted there. Because of potential court action, the Woodford County Economic Development Authority was hesitant to sell to Creech Services.

Creech said he took a proactive stance to show local officials what the site would look like, and more importantly, smell like: “I told them, ‘Look, guys I don’t need to talk to anybody else about this until I get the mayor of Midway and some people from the EDA to with me and let me show them what a compost facility is’.”

Mayor Grayson Vandergrift and EDA Chair Michael Michalisin made a site visit last July and came away satisfied that there would be no composting or noxious odor emanating from the facility. The EDA approved the purchase contract July 29 and the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission approved the development plan on Sept. 10.

The baler takes up a lot of vertical space -- as well as horizontal, for the end of the conveyor belt.
Construction began on the facility’s six-acre site in November 2020. The facility has steel structures, and concrete and blacktop surfaces.

Seven full-time employees currently report to the site for work.

The facility’s baling operation is in full swing.

The process begins when a truck delivers a load of muck to the facility where it is sorted into a large pile. A front-end loader dumps into a fluffer box, which Creech described as a “giant manure spreader in reverse.” The fluffed material is loaded on a conveyor belt that feeds into a baler. The baler compacts the material into a bale, which then waits at a loading dock for a truck to whisk it away to a customer or the company’s composting plant in southern Fayette County.

The firm has supplied bales to mushroom farms since its inception, Creech said, and originally served as the supplier to a division of Campbell Soup Co. until 2000, when it was sold. Since then the firm has supplied farms in states such as Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Across Bradley Street from the baling facility, construction is underway on the hay and straw buildings, which Creech said “are a couple of months away” from being finished. The firm has been in the hay business for 45 years and specializes in providing bulk deliveries to local farms.
A load of muck from a horse farm is delivered to the Creech Services facility.

Creator of Honoring Black Stories in Midway group reflects on service to mark anniversary of lynching

Norman Bush ("Bushdoctor") and Micah Lynn, who had the idea for the event, at Richard James's grave.
By Milan Bush

I am still quite in awe and still very much processing the Richard W. James service. This picture speaks to me the most at the moment. These three -- Bushdoctor, Micah Lynn, and Richard James -- represent Honoring Black Stories. Each has played a key part into how Honoring Black Stories was created and has grown into what it is today.

Bushdoctor is my dad. His interest in our history predates my existence. My father and his brother, Melvin Bush, have been learning and researching for years. I remember in the summer of ’93 my father having a family reunion at the ballpark in the area formerly known as Haydensville. I remember helping out at the small concession stand. Looking back, events have always brought us together. Him supporting me through this whole process and seeing him at the service Saturday was not surprising. I am very grateful for and to my dad.

The overall positive reception of the service was vastly different from months ago when I was first introduced to Richard James. The only mention of Midway black history on Wikipedia was of his lynching. Through heated discussion on social media the perpetual negative negro narrative lived on. I didn’t get it how could a lynching some many years ago still cause so much strife. 

Why is this story so important? This was shortly after Mayor Vandegrift declared Juneteenth a holiday, so my thoughts were already processing the significance of Black history. Richard W. James and my father led me down the rabbit hole of history, specifically black history here in Midway.

To my surprise I had a strong ally, Mrs. Brenda Jackson, who also happened to be down the rabbit hole too, and she has become my incredible guide. With the continuous help of Brenda Jackson we have built up so much education and awareness about Black lives here in Midway. She too gets all the praises. 

Brenda and I were intrigued by Mr. James. Who was he? What was his life like? Who was his family? What were his mannerisms? Brenda did an amazing job at bringing him to life on Saturday. I had the task of sharing the painful history of his life after the robbery. The research was not easy, and despite articles and hearsay, there is still much left to ponder.

Richard James's lynching and the impact of the community is still felt, and still parts of the story are yet to be told. Only time and healing will tell.

Healing is a process as Brenda mentioned in the service. It was through Sioux Finney and her, through their Huntertown Interpretative Park work, that I was introduced to Micah Lynn and his father Marcus Lynn. They both reached out to me with passion and concern in what they wanted to do and how they could get the community involved. Compassion and engagement was right up my ally, so of course I jumped in. Meeting over several zoom calls and forming a committee with other leaders in the community, we made plans.

What I enjoy about Micah is he is a thinker and a doer. He acts on what he thinks. He is a learner and one willing to share and improve life. He is young and a difference maker. His ability to stand in the face of modern-day racism is heroic. I believe in him and now he has a greater community of people who do too. Hopes were to have a marker in time to coincide with the 100th-year anniversary, but Covid had other plans. Instead a service was to be held in hopes that community awareness could be built.

The service was moving. From the purpose statement Micah gave to the amazing words of prayer given by Mr. William Hale to the incredible song sung by Brother Aaron Mason, healing and reconciliation was in the air of the mass crowds. Thankful for Richard James, Bushdoctor and Micah Lynn, for these three represent the past, present, and future of Honoring Black Stories.

There are still plans for the marker to be obtained and with the support of the community as shown on Saturday. It will be a great way of honoring those black stories of the past, present and future today tomorrow and forever. If you would like more information or to be a part of the Woodford County Remembrance Coalition contact Honoringblackstories@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Ceremony at his burial site marks the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Richard W. James of Midway

Descendants of Richard W. James gathered for a photo after the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of his death.
The event was Kentucky State student Micah Lynn's idea.
Story and photos by Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

More than 100 people gathered at Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery in Midway on Saturday for a solemn remembrance service marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Richard W. James, a Black resident of the town who was lynched by a white mob near Versailles.

Micah Lynn of Versailles, a freshman political science major at Kentucky State University, helped organize the service and said it should serve as a reminder to not forget the darker aspects of history.

“We know about this country’s racist past,” he said. “Many of us do not recognize it as our past. When studying our history we can’t afford to make the mistake of resigning racial terrorism to some faraway corner in a state we’ve never seen.”

Sadly, not much is known about James prior to his tragic death.

Historian Brenda Jackson told the history of the James family.
Milan Bush (L) was mistress of ceremonies and wrote a poem
that was read by Midway City Council Member Mary Raglin.
“His immediate family and friends . . . could have a lot to say about him -- about his character, his mannerisms and who he was,” local historian Brenda Jackson said. “However, they . . . are not here to tell us his life story.”

James only shows up in one official government record, the 1920 Census, she said, but further research revealed that he was born in 1881 to Elijah and Caroline. He had 10 brothers and sisters, and was survived by his wife, Nora.

Milan Bush of Honoring Black Stories in Midway, served as mistress of ceremonies and recounted the events that led to James’ death. He was arrested in October 1920 in connection with a failed robbery and fatal shooting at a local distillery. James was charged and put on trial for two counts of murder.

The judge declared a mistrial when the jury deadlocked debating on James’ punishment, Bush said. A mob of 50 men, incensed that the defendant did not get the death penalty, stormed the Woodford County jail and seized James. They later hung him from a cottonwood tree at the intersection Midway and Frankfort roads near Versailles, now an intersection of US 62 and US 60.

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott (L) and Woodford County Judge-Executive
James Kay issued proclamations with Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift.
Midway Mayor Grayson Vandergrift, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay were on hand to sign proclamations declaring March 13 Richard W. James Day. Kay also read a special proclamation from Gov. Andy Beshear.

Several of James’s descendants were on hand for the service and received copies of the proclamations.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about it [the lynching],” said Gracie Caldwell, James’s great-great niece. “I had heard over the years different things, and I really learned a whole lot more today. My heart is full for what the committee has done.”

Caldwell said she and her children traveled to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, two years ago, and found a memorial stone dedicated to her great-great-uncle. The museum is dedicated to individuals who lost their lives to white supremacy.

The remembrance service fell on the one-year anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot by police in her Louisville apartment.
Richard James is buried in Sons and Daughters of Relief Cemetery, at the intersection of West Bruen Street and Wausau Place.

Friday, March 12, 2021

EDITORIAL: Voters need to let Ky. legislators know what they think of bills to limit openness of government

By Al Cross
Editor and publisher

Next week is Sunshine Week, the annual attempt by news media and other advocates of open government to remind the public that our democratic republic works well only if the governed know what their elected and appointed officials are doing in their name.

This is not a subject that the public appears to care much about, except when officials try to hide things that should be subject to public scrutiny, such as correspondence that can reveal or suggest how or why they made decisions, or discussing behind closed doors things that don't fit any of the exceptions to open-meetings laws.

A couple of those examples cropped up in Woodford County and the Kentucky General Assembly this month, providing a handy predicate for Sunshine Week and illustrating why you should care about it.

The Woodford Sun reported that Versailles City Council Member Aaron Smither defended the decision of the council committee he chairs to meet confidentially with an out-of-town law firm hired to explore public-private partnerships to finance reuse of the city's old police station. "Council Member Lisa Johnson, a member of the committee, disagreed, saying the stated purpose of the meeting had nothing to do with an acquisition or sale of property (which are among the reasons a government body can vote to go into executive session)," the Sun reported. Smither said he acted on the advice of lawyers, one of whom said a closed session is “universal in that type of meeting.”

Whoa! It may have become universal in the minds of some lawyers and government officials, but it isn't universal, and it shouldn't be. The exception the committee used is narrower than they seem to think; it applies "only when publicity would be likely to affect the value of a specific piece of property to be acquired for public use or sold by a public agency," the law says. And if Versailles is considering a public-private partnership, that indicates that the city isn't even going to sell the building.

Another oft-abused exception to the law is "discussions of proposed or pending litigation." Our 47 years' experience with this law teaches us that too many public boards go behind closed doors to discuss things that might lead to a lawsuit; that's not good enough. They also abuse what many call "the personnel exception," even though it's clearly stated: "Discussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an individual employee, member, or student without restricting that employee's, member's, or student's right to a public hearing if requested. This exception shall not be interpreted to permit discussion of general personnel matters in secret."

The Kentucky Open Meetings Act has 14 exceptions, but it says they "shall be strictly construed" because the 1974 General Assembly declared "that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret." The 1976 legislature put a similar policy statement in the Open Records Act: "The General Assembly finds and declares that the basic policy of KRS 61.870 to 61.884 is that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest, and the exceptions provided for by KRS 61.878 or otherwise provided by law shall be strictly construed, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others."

Inconvenience and embarrassment seemed to be two of the driving forces behind a rewrite of the records law in the current legislative session.

House Bill 312 would have limited requests under the law to residents of the state, addressing cities' complaints that they get too many burdensome requests from out-of-state companies. The ban would have applied to news organizations, prompting many complaints -- and a deletion of that provision in a Senate committee.

Left unchanged was the most important part of the bill for legislative leaders: one giving them, not the courts, the final say in appeals about requests for legislative records. That didn't sit well with legislators whose constituents include many legislative staffers, including Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham of Frankfort and new Republican Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg, whose district is Anderson, Woodford, Franklin, Owen and Gallatin counties.

Southworth told the Senate State and Local Government Committee that if the legislature is going to handle its own appeals, it needs a set of guidelines like those the court system adopted in 2017 for its administrative arm. (The state Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature couldn't apply the records law to the court system, which has stuck in the legislative craw for decades.) Current law can be read to greatly limit the sort of legislative records that are open, and Southworth noted that the overall law presumes "Everything should be open unless it meets this criteria. The way this is, is upside down."

When Southworth tried to press her case, the committee chair, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said the committee was pressed for time and called a vote. Southworth said, "That's really upsetting that we're the legislature and we can't talk about legislative records." But the 20 minutes that the committee gave the bill was longer than the whole House spent on it, quickly rewriting an unrelated bill in committee and passing it on the floor the next day, thumbing its nose at the principle of open government. Some who voted for the bill said they were doing it to keep private their correspondence with constituents, but the very first exception to the law is "Public records containing information of a personal nature, where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

In my fortnightly political column, I called the House's maneuvering "one of the more ironic but emblematic moves I’ve seen in more than 40 years of watching our legislature closely." There were other objections, so the bill was slowed down and improved in the Senate, and it still drew more than the usual party-line opposition. That suggested that if the legislative-records issue hadn't been driving the bill, the Open Records Act wouldn't be changing at all. But by their very nature, governments like secrecy, so it's up to the public to be vigilant for open government. One way to observe Sunshine Week would be to check the roll-call votes on House Bill 312 and other anti-open-government bills and tell legislators what you think of their work. Email and contact information is on the biographical web pages of senators and representatives. The number to leave messages for them is 1-800-372-7181.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Ness Alamdari, owner of two historic buildings on Main, talks about them in video; mayor gives Rau Bldg. tour

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In a Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation video that went up on YouTube Thursday, Nasar “Ness” Alamdari spoke a bit about some challenges he has faced in repairing the historic building at 116 E. Main St.

“I have never seen any property, any structure, the way it was deteriorated,” Alamdari said. “It was totally ignored for the past, I would say 70 to 60 years, sadly.”

He said the building was “very, very smartly” built and it was unfortunate that previous owners had let it go down. It is one of the few buildings on Main Street to have been constructed by an African American organization and used for Black-owned businesses.

Alamdari described a few things that can happen to a building like the one at 116 E. Main when deterioration occurs. He said “nails come loose” and start to rust. and the building starts to change shape.

According to a text box superimposed on the video, Alamdari hopes that it will one day house an African American history museum. It was built by the Odd Fellows Lodge, an African American men’s organization.

Alamdari talked more about the clock tower building at the corner of Main and North Gratz, the first building he bought in Midway.

”I came to Midway through a good friend of mine,” Almadari said. That good friend is Helen Rentch, the daughter of Dr. Ben Roach, a famed Midwegian.

Alamdari said Roach took him to see the clock tower building, which had been damaged by fire. “He said, ‘Ness, look at that building; since it caught on fire, the whole downtown became a ghost town.” He said Roach “looked dead straight into my eyes” and said “I want you to go in there, purchase the property and do something with it.”

The clock tower building, which has a distinctive turret at the corner, is included in the 136-142 E. Main group that was built in phases starting in 1882, according to the video.

“After I purchased it,” Alamdari said, “I went inside and took a closer look.” He said four or five steps were missing from a semi-round staircase because a bank that had occupied the building removed them to make room for a vault. When he found that someone had saved the step treads, he “felt like somebody gave me a check of one million dollars,” he said. “I was very excited.”

Alamdari also spoke about some of the inspiration behind the design of the upstairs units in the building. “I did some creative things on the baseboard on the second floor,” recalling designs from his childhood. “I remember the bottom of the walls . . . you could see up and down hill, like rolling hill, like design on it, so as soon as I saw that, it was déjà vu, took me totally back to my grandparents’ house, and I applied the same on this building.”

The video ends with Alamdari inviting everyone to visit Midway and have a glass of bourbon with him.

The first third of the video features a tour of City Hall and the rest of the Rau Building by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who was long at odds with Almadari over the slow pace and safety of his renovation of 116 E. Main but recently signed a deal with him to head off its demolition.

The middle third of the video features the Historic Midway Gift store, owned by local historian Bill Penn and his wife Leslie. The full video is available by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Council hears options for sidewalk to Homeplace, plan to swap EDA debt for Midway Station buffer land

In their meeting Monday evening via Zoom, the Midway City Council and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift heard from Michael Michalisin of Midway, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, about the proposed deal to forgive EDA's utility-related debts to the city in return for Midway Station's strip of land along Interstate 64. 

By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council got a look at various layouts for the proposed East Stephens Street sidewalk Monday night.

The sidewalk would run a fourth of a mile from Stephens and Brand streets to the The Homeplace at Midway’s entrance on Sexton Drive. The issue stumping city officials and HMB Professional Engineers of Frankfort is exactly where to put it.

"One thing that we have been going back and forth on is what side of the road to put it on," Mayor Grayson Vandergrift said. "I told you all initially that I thought it might need to go on the Midway University side, but we've taken a second look at that, and we think there is a way to possibly do most of it on the residential side."

David Brown of HMB briefed the council on the different options for the asphalt walkway, which will be called a trail in order to qualify for grants.

The first option would see it start on the north side of Stephens. There would be a crosswalk in front of a brook between Oak and Richardson streets where the trail would cross to the south side of the road. Another crosswalk would be near Midway University’s entrance, shifting the trail back to the north side of the road. A third crosswalk would be located near the entrance to the Mill Road Place apartments, and the fourth would be at the Homeplace entrance.

"This option has four crossings of Stephens -- not ideal -- but definitely the easiest to install," said Brown.

The second option would keep the trail on the south side of the road with one crosswalk at the university entrance, but it would require more construction.

"Potentially a resident from the Homeplace would travel without crossing East Stephens,” Brown said. “This one . . . would involve some significant retaining walls."

The third option would be a hybrid of the other options. The trail would begin on the south side of Stephens and cross over at the university entrance, then back to the south side at the apartment and Homeplace entrances.

"It would limit the crossings on Stephens and would avoid the costly retaining walls," Brown said, but would require removal of some "mature trees."

A high bank and a detention basin at the Mill Road apartments complicate plans for
a trail to The Homeplace. (Image from Google street maps; to enlarge, click on it)
Vandergrift said the third option was "the most doable" and that the second would be hard to do because of retaining walls eating into residents' back yards and a storm drain near the apartments.

Council Member Sara Hicks said she was concerned about a crosswalk in front of the Homeplace due to speedy drivers entering and leaving town.

"It's my impression that the further out of town you are, the greater danger there is of getting hit by a car that is going fast because of people's perception of being out of town and being in town,” she said. “I don't think that people think about slowing down really until they get to the Homeplace.”

Hicks said the crosswalk would be dangerous to older people who don't see or hear well. To avoid installing the crossing, she asked if there was any way that the trail could be moved back off the road and around various impediments, including a drainage detention basin near the street and the apartment complex.

Brown said that the plans "are not set in stone," but he doubts whether they have the width to build up an embankment to push the detention basin back.

The mayor said that the city would "go all out" to ensure pedestrian safety by installing flashing lights and a rumble strip to slow cars down at the crossings.

Council Member Logan Nance asked if it would be possible to start the sidewalk at the Homeplace and then have a crossing to the north side.

Brown said that is possible, especially in front of the apartments, but that "a more significant retaining wall" would be needed there. A diagram he showed the council said the wall would be six feet high.

Lee Branch at Stephens Street (HMB Engineers photo)
Council Member Stacy Thurman asked what would be done about the small bridge over Lee Branch near the university's soccer field.

Brown said their initial idea was to set up a steel pedestrian bridge next to the street, but there is hope to use another idea: "We are optimistic at this point that there may very possibly be enough room for the trail to hug along the side of the road there and use flexible delineators," bendable posts with reflectors and to separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Vandergrift said the city "plans on doing this project and budgeting it for fiscal year 2021-22" and that officials are looking into grants to pay for it.

He estimated the project would cost anywhere from $230,000 to $300,000, and with grants, the city might have to pay between $50,000 and $75,000.

Midway Station buffer land: The mayor briefed the council on a proposed agreement that the Woodford County Economic Development Authority approved in May 2020.

The property is about 35 acres along Midway Station's southern boundary. It serves as a buffer between the industrial park and Interstate 64, and was initially designated as a green space. Under the agreement, the city would take it in exchange for forgiving a debt ranging from $500,000 to $750,000 owed to it by the EDA for utility work done in the industrial park, most of which stems from the installation of a gas line.

EDA Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway said Vandegrift proposed the deal, and “I thought it was very elegant . . . an interesting, creative idea.” He said EDA’s auditors “don’t recognize it as a real debt” but the authority is “trying to be responsible” and the land needs to be “in the hands of the city.”

Vandergrift said the city’s auditors stopped listing the debts “years ago.” He said the city plans to restore the land with the intent of "beautifying Midway Station" with trees, bushes and flowers.

He also reported that Homer Freeny Jr. has signed a letter of intent to donate 13 acres of land adjoining the property to the city, including access to South Elkhorn Creek.

The creek access presents several opportunities for the city.

"We could lease it to Canoe Kentucky or the proposed RV park if they come in," Vandergrift said.

The Freeny land’s creek entry point, the mayor said, is nine miles from where the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience RV Resort would be located.

The land could also benefit the Midway Fire Department.

Vandergrift said the department needs more space, and the city looked into buying the building next door to the department's downtown location, but "It is not currently for sale."

Instead, an auxiliary fire station could be built on the newly acquired land that could serve as a training facility, he said. It could also house the department’s new ladder truck, which does not fit in the current station.

Vandegrift said city attorney Sharon Gold is revising the proposed agreement with EDA and he may present it to the council for approval as early as March 15.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Police answer questions at first meeting of City Council's Equity and Equality in Policy Committee

Assistant Chief Rob Young (upper left), Chief Mike Murray and members of the Equity and Equality in Policy Committee listened to City Council Member Stacy Thurman, chair of the new committee, on Zoom Thursday night.

By Lauren McCally and Al Cross

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The police who patrol Midway are professionals with a lot of experience who use body cameras and get continued training, Versailles Police Chief Mike Murray and Assistant Chief Rob Young told the Equity & Equality in Policy Committee of the Midway City Council at its first meeting Thursday night.

The committee chair, Council Member Stacy Thurman, had a list of questions, starting with the training that officers go through, specifically anti- bias and implicit racism.

“We’re very particular about the officers we hire here,” Murray said. He said about 13 of the 40 officers have more than 25 years’ experience, which is helpful to younger officers.

Murray said state law prohibits racial profiling, and the police officers’ code of ethics says their personal feelings should not influence their decisions.

This past summer, the police department went through some additional training for community based policing, bias-related crime and cultural awareness, Murray said, and will do the training every year.

Murray said new officers have to go through 800 hours of training in basic academy, which includes segments on community-oriented policing and bias-related crime, before they can patrol on their own.

Council Member Sara Hicks asked if new officers undergo a mental-health test. Murray said they go through psychological screening before, during and after a polygraph test.

Murray said the Versailles department, which patrols all of Woodford County, has used body cameras since 2015, and recently included detectives and chiefs in that. He said officers are not required to activate a camera on every contact, but on all enforcement contacts, traffic stops, investigative work, all pursuits, and “all contacts with distraught, disorderly or argumentative persons,” and when in doubt, they should opt to record.

Young said “We love body cameras,” and Murray said “They protect our people from frivolous complaints” and help gather evidence.

“We get very few complaints against our personnel,” Murray said, adding later that only one Versailles officer has had a disciplinary hearing since 2006, and “That officer is no longer here.”

Young, who handles complaints, said “The public needs to know it’s a formal process and one that’s thoroughly looked into,” with a goal of completing the investigation within a month.

In response to a question from Thurman, Murray and Young address the difference between regular warrants and no-knock warrants, something that became a big issue after the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Louisville, last March.

“I can’t remember the last time we did a no-knock warrant” Murray said, before deferring the question to Young.

“You usually hear it in case of drug search warrants,” Young said, explaining that a no-knock warrant is issued by a judge if an officer believes that a knock and announcement would not work. “I’ve been doing law enforcement for 30 years; we’ve never used a no-knock warrant,” he said. He said Versailles Police use them only if approved by the chief or someone he designates, and then by a judge.

Asked about community-oriented policing, the officers discussed things police do in the community outside of police work.

That includes officers getting out in the evenings and doing business checks, Murray said. he added that they can patrol places for people who are on vacation.

“You can call dispatch, tell the dispatcher your address, your name, [say] you’re going to be out of town for extended period of time,” Murray said.

The police also have the citizen’s ride-along, where people can see what it’s like to be a police officer; drive-by birthday parades and meal delivery during the pandemic; and a Christmas-gifts program for underprivileged children.

“I think the perception some folks have,” Young said, “is that we’re out to make arrests and chase bad guys and that’s not it.” Murray said that is “just a small part of what we do.”

Murray was promoted form assistant chief to chief in September of 2018 after James Fugate retired. He said he is a Lexington native, Catholic, and one of five boys. he got his start in law enforcement in 1989 with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, which he left in 1994 to go an work for the Versailles police in January 1995. He had retired, but was given an opportunity in 2014 to go back.

Young is originally from New Jersey. He began his law enforcement career at the Office of Inspector General in New York City, then transferred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. in 1998 he transferred to Kentucky and retired in 2017 as head of the Lexington office. He joined the Versailles Police as a detective. “I’m getting close to about 30 years in law enforcement,” Young said “Most of my time was on the federal side and there are some things I had to learn coming to the state and local side, but I really enjoyed it.”

Boil-water advisory lifted for southwest corner of town

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced at 10:24 a.m. that the boil-water advisory for the southwest corner of Midway has been lifted, now that lab testing has shown the water to be safe. The advisory, caused by a break in a water line, was for all of West Stephens Street, Gayland Drive, Merrywood Drive, West Higgins Street, West Cross Street, South Turner Street, and Fawn Leap Farm.