WINCHESTER — A used-car salesman critical of Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner's decisions on spending and economic development is attempting to unseat the incumbent in November.
Burtner says the city has been victimized by the bad economy, but he touts various community and economic development projects that he says have lessened the blow.
"In terms of the challenges that have been before us in these nearly four years, the biggest has been the economy and job loss and lack of investment," Burtner said.
Ralph Garrett Harrison, who has never run for political office, says Burtner and other city officials have not made smart financial decisions. The 57-year-old says he wants to help the city flourish for future generations.
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"I don't want to see anybody left out in the cold," he said. "We're in the richest country in the world, and there's no reason for it."
Harrison faces long odds.
In the non-partisan primary election, Burtner outdistanced Harrison by a three-to-one margin, 1,843 to 604. Clint Jones, a University of Kentucky philosophy instructor who lost to Burtner in 2006, was eliminated with 396 votes.
Harrison's campaign raised $3,055 in the May primary, according to Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Burtner raised $50. More recent campaign finance reports are not yet available.
Harrison also has a criminal record. He pleaded guilty in 1973 to breaking and entering and burglary after being caught in an IGA store and another store on separate occasions. He received a partial pardon three years ago, restoring his right to seek and hold public office. Harrison said voters understand that mistakes are made when people are young.
On the issue of economic development, Burtner said the city has recognized that most new jobs in the country are created by existing industries and small businesses.
Burtner, a retired city manager in Winchester who became mayor in January 2007, said the city has supported the Winchester First program, which is designed to revitalize downtown and started the Beer Cheese Festival last year.
He said the city also has tried to "remove impediments wherever they are perceived to exist in regard to economic development."
For example, sign regulations were revised after a McDonald's was unable to move to the city because of height restrictions. The mayor said the McDonald's developers said new regulations would be suitable if they reconsidered opening the fast-food restaurant in Winchester.
Harrison criticized the city for failing to get the McDonald's, which would have meant dozens of jobs for residents.
Harrison also said he couldn't understand why cities surrounding Winchester, such as Mount Sterling and Richmond, are growing faster than Winchester. But according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Clark, Montgomery and Madison counties fared similarly in employment since 2007.
According to annual reports, Clark County had about 4.6 percent fewer people employed in 2009 than in 2007. Madison's employment went down 4.5 percent and Montgomery dropped 5.8 percent in the same time period.
Burtner said a dialysis center, which residents expressed a need for during his last campaign, has opened in Winchester. Forums have been held each year since 2007, during which city and county government officials join schools to discuss and document goals for the community.
"The voters said that they wanted the city and county government to work together in common cause and purpose and that's what we've tried to do," Burtner said.
One need identified under the Community Action Planning Process resulted in an aquatic center costing more than $3 million.
Burtner said about $1.4 million came from the state for that project and could not have been used elsewhere. He said his predecessor had gotten funding for the project, which is now used by more than 100 seniors for water aerobics and warm water therapy.
Harrison, however, criticized the decision to have an expensive aquatic center when the city needs $12 million for a sewer system to meet requirements of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Harrison said he was opposed to a water rate increase that was implemented to help pay for the new sewer system, placing unnecessary hardship on people who are struggling financially.