6 women on Urban County Council become part of Lexington's history

bfortune@herald-leader.comJanuary 6, 2013 

  • Getting started

    The council's first work session of 2013 will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 15 in the council chambers. The public may attend.

For only the second time since the city and county governments merged in 1974, the 15-member Urban County Council will have six female members when it returns from winter break next week.

The last time six women served together was in 1994, Vice Mary Linda Gorton said. The women in 1994 were Vice Mayor Teresa Isaac, Kathy Pratt, Fernita Wallace, Sandy Shafer, Gloria Martin and Isabelle Yates.

Gorton, in her 15th year on the council, said she had worked with lots of members over the years, but women bring a different dynamic.

"In general women bring a different perspective," she said. "There are always exceptions, but in general, they tend to be collaborative."

The new composition prompted Mayor Jim Gray to note at Sunday's swearing-in ceremony for the 12 district council members that, like the U.S. Senate, which this session has an all-time high of 20 female members, there would be less testosterone on the council.

The changing dynamics in both places, Gray said, would lead perhaps to less bad blood on little things and more harmony on the big things.

The council's female members are Shevawn Akers (2nd District), Diane Lawless (3rd), Jennifer Scutchfield (7th), Jennifer Mossotti (9th), Peggy Henson (11th) and Gorton, an at-large member. Akers, Scutchfield and Mossotti are new to the council, although Mossotti served previously.

Akers said she is the first women to represent the 2nd District.

Other district members sworn in for two-years terms Sunday at The Kentucky Theatre were Chris Ford (1st District), Julian Beard (4th), Bill Farmer (5th), Kevin Stinnett (6th), George Myers (8th), Harry Clarke (10th) and Ed Lane (12th). All but Clarke were incumbents.

Four council members did not run for re-election: K.C. Crosbie (7th District), Jay McChord (9th), Doug Martin (10th) and Tom Blues (2nd).

Lawless was the only district council member not to attend Sunday's swearing-in, citing a medical issue in her family. She will be sworn in later.

The three at-large members, Gorton, Chuck Ellinger and Steve Kay, are in the midst of four-year terms.

Yates, a former vice mayor who attended Sunday's ceremony, said that in her experience women are "attentive to detail, and they do their homework."

Wallace served 11 years representing the 5th District. During that time, the women on the council didn't always agree, "but we got along," she said.

Even when women held half the district council seats, Martin said, she didn't recall any female-only caucusing. But council offices were on the same floor and members shared legislative aides. "We ran into each other all the time and had a chance to talk," she said. Martin represented the 12th District for 11 years.

During the period in the 1990s when women held six council seats, several difficult issues had to be dealt with, Martin said, including establishing the Rural Land Management Board and its governing policies, passing the fairness ordinance and building the two new courthouses on North Limestone.

Martin introduced the idea of branding Lexington as the Horse Capital of the World, which was adopted with council approval.

The current council will face its share of challenges.

The overriding issue will be dealing with the police and firefighters' pension fund and police and fire health benefits, Lane said Sunday.

The most recent audit by Dean Dorton Allen Ford, certified public accountants, released about two months ago showed a $595 million liability when the amounts the city is behind in pension and health benefit payments are added together, he said.

"We've got to redesign the plan because we can't raise taxes to make up this liability," Lane said, adding that the city couldn't afford to have the liability continue to escalate.

Other issues before council in the next few months will include implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent decree, the report from the mayor's task force on homelessness and its recommendations, two-way streets and continuing developments downtown.

"The budget won't be quite as tight as two years ago," council member Kay said, because, "we're not having to make up deficits. That's helpful." That budget called for cutbacks and layoffs, measures Kay described as "painful."

New member Harry Clark didn't wait to get elected before acquainting himself with how the council works, and issues before it. Clark said he had been prepping since he decided a year ago to run for Doug Martin's seat.

Clark has attended council meetings, work sessions and committee meetings, and has made it a point to meet some division heads. "There's a lot I don't know, but at least I have a foundation," he said.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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