Question Time in the 3rd District City Council Race

Lexington’s 3rd District City Council race is one of the more interesting on the ballot. The district encompasses downtown Lexington, the University and its surrounding neighborhoods — a diverse collection of large and small businesses with a mix of long-time home owners and short-term student renters.

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The May 22nd Primary features the incumbent Councilmember — Diane Lawless — and three challengers: Daniel Cooper, Rock Daniels and Stephanie Spires.

Two weeks ago at a candidate forum in the basement of Woodland Christian Church on High Street, the four hopefuls answered a wide-range of questions in front of a pretty packed little crowd. There was a lot of agreement between the candidates based around a series of mostly good questions (the one exception being a question about how to stop people from drinking alcohol, a teetotaler notion that all candidates essentially ignored and instead focused on underage drinking and of-age campus binge parties).

The final question of the evening asked what each candidate saw as The Biggest Issue Facing the Third District. Both Daniel Cooper and Councilmember Lawless identified the police and fire pensions, with Lawless in particular digging into the specifics of the struggle to best balance all facets and interests of the issue and its overall affect on the city. Rock Daniels and Stephanie Spires also mentioned the pensions but both also listed a litany of other Big Issues — all of which, certainly, were of concern to the 3rd but by focusing their attention on listing all the Big Problems, they strayed from the point of the question.

Which is fine. Most everyone who’s ever had multiple tasks in front of them and asked which is a priority has been told they’re all priorities. That’s just life. Still, the question was about what THE central issue was, not what ALL the issues of concerns are.

Anyway. It was a good evening and informative.

Because the race has an incumbent and three challengers in a primary election in which there’s not much else going on (there’s a Republican congressional primary, there’s the exciting choice between Obama and no one on the Left and Romney and no one on the Right, and that’s about it), the mix of low-turnout with so many candidates means the race really could go any number of ways with vote-splitting.  The top two, of course, go on to the November general.

So… the good folks at Barefoot & Progressive (okay, it was just me) decided to ask each candidate the same basic set of five questions to dig a bit deeper into who they are and why they’re running. Rather than excerpt these responses or pick out specific parts, their answers (or lack of them) are posted here in full. It’s a long post but we don’t have to pay for ink or newsprint and if you’ve read this far into a post about the 3rd District City Council race, you’re likely to want to know what these four people stand for and what they have to say for themselves.

Daniel Cooper was the only candidate to not respond to the inquiry, just as he has not responded to KFTC’s own questionnaire.

Rock Daniels initially had not responded to KFTC’s candidate survey but subsequently submitted a full set of answers (you can see those here), provided the following responses to the B&P survey:

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why did you decide to run for public office?

ROCK DANIELS: I decided to run for local public office because I love my community and feel that we can work together to create a better Lexington.  By being involved on committees with the Downtown Development Authority, Lexington Art League, Lexington Charity Club and Lexington Bluegrass association of Realtors; I have had a unique opportunity to gain knowledge of  housing needs, charitable needs, development needs and the needs of our growing art community.  As a person who runs a successful real estate business, I believe that the business of local government should be run like a business with a system of checks, balances and accountability.  After realizing that I was the most qualified person to bring fresh ideas, fiscal responsibility and real results to this office; I decided to throw in my hat.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is the central message of your campaign?

ROCK DANIELS: I would like to bring fresh ideas, fiscal responsibility and real results to the third district.  This cannot be done in a vacuum.  We have to have a more transparent form of local government.  We should utilize things like social media and modern technology to create an open platform for citizens to voice what they would like to see change.  Local government is just like the business world in that most of the time people want to be heard and know that you are going to do something.  Better lines of communication between the representative and the citizens would help this office run in a more efficient manner.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why do you feel the current councilmember needs to be replaced?

ROCK DANIELS: I need to replace the current council member because I will bring a business approach to the job.  I will treat the business of local government like a business and be on time and present all the time.  The third district needs a representative that shows up to council meetings and represents the interest of the citizens.  After performing an open records request on April 23, 2012 I learned something very interesting about the attendance record of our current council member.  In the last year our current council member has been absent from council meetings more than any other member of council.  It is no wonder that the 5th district which is lead by Bill Farmer had their roads paved a year earlier than the 3rd district.  Bill was present and turned in the necessary paperwork on time to get the job done and the third district did not.  This job needs to be taken seriously and attendance is key.  Also our current council member was quoted in the Herald Leader to have “lost or mistakenly shredded” documents which cost the city $100,000 in legal fees and audits.  In the business world there are consequences for not showing up for your job and continually making huge mistakes.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: How will you improve the Council if elected?

ROCK DANIELS: First and foremost I will bring transparency to the issues that face the 3rd district.  I will listen to the citizens in the third district and work along side them to move the district forward.  I will also be present and on time all the time.  You have to be there to do the job.  I will also bring a business approach to local government.  This will help as we try to be more fiscally responsible and tackle tough issues such as police & fire pension plans, infrastructure problems, sewer problems and how to bring more retail business into our downtown.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is your relationship with the At-Large members, the Vice Mayor and the Mayor?

ROCK DANIELS: Jim Gray and I know each other well and have met one on one several times.  We have discussed many of the issues that face our great city.  He ran a successful construction business while I have a successful real estate business and we are in agreement that the business of local government should be run like a business.  This year when the Herald Leader did an article on Jim, they published a picture of the two of us talking about issues in the city.  I look forward to working with our mayor, his office and the rest of council to move the city in a positive direction.

 

The same five questions were posed to Stephanie Spires:

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why did you decide to run for public office?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: I had been approached several times by neighbors and downtown business leaders encouraging me to run for the 3rd district council seat over the past couple of years. They argued that with my professional background, strong ties to the University of Kentucky, and understanding of historical renovation and restoration (we are renovating a 100-year-old student rental back to a single family dwelling) I would be an ideal candidate. Based on those conversations, I think they felt that we needed a council representative that was professional and accessible, and that they were frustrated with our current representation. Regardless of the argument, my answer was always no.

Last summer, I was appointed to the Commission on Youth Violence and Public Safety, created by Mayor Gray and Chris Ford, as a foster parent representative, and for lack of better words, I had an epiphany. My neighbors wanted me to run on the issues that I mentioned above, by how many other council members have children that fall into the at-risk population that the Commission was established to help or have children who frequent the community centers or play in the Police Activities Leagues (PAL)? I realized that I could bring a unique perspective to council as a patron of social services, parks and recreation, and other community programming, along with my background as a mother, small business owner, and community volunteer.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is the central message of your campaign?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: The central message of my campaign is Conversation and Collaboration. I think we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions, and begin working together to identify our priorities and plan for the future our city. During tough economic times, it is common to overlook important issues like infrastructure and find temporary fixes for problems like the fire and police pensions, but our community cannot continue to ignore these concerns.

The 3rd district is a unique district made up of downtown, the University of Kentucky, and neighborhoods housing both students and families. The 3rd district is the economic center of Lexington-providing jobs, education, and culture to our community.

If elected, I will work alongside our neighbors, community leaders, and university officials to restore our neighborhoods, examine historical and downtown design guidelines, promote green building initiatives, advocate for downtown businesses and events, and work to continue to build a strong Town and Gown community.

As a council member, I would be accessible to my constituents and their needs. Additionally, I would like to start something similar to Steve Kay’s Cornbread Suppers for the 3rd district, where people can come together and discuss issues and concerns, as well as work together to find solutions.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why do you feel the current councilmember needs to be replaced?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: When I decided last fall to run for the 3rd district council seat, I did not believe that Ms. Lawless would be seeking another term. She had been complaining of several illnesses and struggling to attend committee and board meetings and fulfill her obligations as a council member.

I think the 3rd district needs a representative that is committed to the position and is accessible to constituents and community leaders.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: How will you improve the Council if elected?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: I think my background in organizational structure, will translate into more efficient council meetings and work sessions. Additionally, I feel that there is not a mutual respect amongst current council members and I believe council members must be respectful of each other’s talents, personal beliefs, and opinions, if we are going to have the tough conversations that are needed to build a strong foundation for Lexington’s future.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is your relationship with the At-Large members, the Vice Mayor and the Mayor?

STEPHANIE SPIRES: I would not say that I have a strong relationship with any of the At-Large members, the Vice Mayor, or the Mayor. I have met each of them several times and I believe we all have respect for one another. The Vice Mayor, Linda Gorton, does attend the same church as my family and her husband is in Rotary with me. The Mayor and I seem to share a lot of mutual friends and have met several times at community events and fundraisers. It appears that Mayor Gray and I share a love for the Arts and both recognize that supporting and strengthening the Arts, will strengthen our community and attract top professors, researchers, professionals, and companies to Central Kentucky.

I think the fact that Mayor and Council continue to appoint me to positions like the Lexington Public Library Board of Trustees and to the Commission on Youth and Public Safety illustrates that they have confidence in my ability to serve this community.

 

And finally, the responses of the incumbent candidate, Diane Lawless, who has served as the 3rd’s Councilmember since 2008. Two of the questions, obviously, were altered to reflect her current position as the incumbent.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why did you decide to run for public office?

DIANE LAWLESS: I have been involved in community work all my life. I never had any intention of running for an elected office. I graduated with a BBA from UK, and then got a Masters in Social Work. I started working at the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, first as a volunteer and then as the Executive Director for almost 30 years. After my retirement from the BRCC, several people asked me to run for the 3rd District Council seat. After much consideration, I decided to do it. That was in 2008. For me it has been a new way to use the skills I have acquired with my professional, political, and volunteer work since the 70’s for community service. I am currently serving my second term and am excited to have the opportunity to serve another 2 years.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is the central message of your campaign?

DIANE LAWLESS: Lets Do it Right. There has been too much “kicking the can down the road” and ignoring the critical issues that have faced our community. It has created infrastructure and financial issues and a decline in our neighborhoods and community. Demolition by neglect, flooding, allowing inappropriate housing additions, density in rentals, and the huge under-funded Police and Fire Pension funds to name a few. Now we are paying the price and, more than ever it is time for a transparent, financially responsible government, that has the political will to do what we have to to make the District and the Community all it can be.

I have worked hard to build relationships with UK, both students and the Administration. What is good for UK is good for Lexington and what is good for Lexington is good for UK. We are in this together. The 3rd District is the city in the city. Like our iconic rural landscape, when people see Urban Lexington, they see the 3rd District. I see both as the economic engine of the Community.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: Why do you think you should be re-elected?

DIANE LAWLESS: I am not sure I would put it in those words but I do know I have been responsive to constituents, I have gotten things done that everybody said couldn’t be done such as the moratorium on the building of “vinyl boxes” so they could be rented to large numbers of people in our neighborhoods that already had failing infrastructure. I have pushed for higher fines for code violations so it is too costly to let properties fall into such disrepair that they are demolished. I have worked to bring people together to solve problems. If you live in the District you are my constituent.

I can’t abide the waste of single tax payer dollar. I have never shied away from a challenge and will work hard to find solutions that are good for everybody.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: How will you improve the Council if re-elected?

DIANE LAWLESS: I am not sure any single Council Member can improve the Council. I will continue to be open, honest, and work cooperatively with the other Council Members. As they say, take the job seriously but not yourself.

There will be at least 4 new Council Members. There will be a new dynamic. As a CM, if I give my word, I stick with it, I don’t believe in blind-siding others on the Council and to be effective, you must be able to agree to disagree on some issues and work together on others. There is no reason for it to be personal.

If we all agreed on everything there would be no point in having a 15 member Council. I have found that the difference of opinions brings about compromises and ideas that make the best solutions and policies.

BAREFOOT & PROGRESSIVE: What is your relationship with the At-Large members, the Vice Mayor and the Mayor?

DIANE LAWLESS: I work well with the At-Large members, the Vice Mayor, the Mayor and the Administration. I think we all work in a collaborative manner. If we disagree I am not afraid to speak up and am always open to working through it.

 

There’s a lot in there. At the candidate forum, all four seemed genuine in their interest in the community and the district. Rock Daniels stressed his real estate background and the idea of running government as a business, just as he did here. Daniel Cooper, the youngest of the bunch, seemed dedicated and smart and he could have a future in politics (though it would be nice if he responded to surveys, but that’s his choice). Stephanie Spires was reminiscent of the version of Alison Lundergan Grimes who ran for but did not win the party nomination to succeed Kathy Stein in the state house back in 2008 (Kelly Flood won that one). Diane Lawless was impressive in her answers — though she often ran out of time, she did so by offering pretty comprehensive answers breaking down the work and struggles of the Council on each issue.

We’ll leave it here for now, as they say, and let you ruminate on it all. The election’s a week away. It’s silly season! Enjoy it.

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