Former Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac explained for the first time Monday why she signed a petition without the city council's approval in 2003 to put two controversial Confederate-era statues under the control of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission.
Isaac's comments came during a mayoral candidate forum Monday night at the Lexington Public Library.
Isaac said she signed the petition transferring control of the statues to the commission because she had found that the state helped pay for the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge when they were erected more than 100 years ago.
"I wanted to make sure when they were moved, the state would also pay to move them," Isaac said.
She later added that she felt the statues should be in a Confederate cemetery.
Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled In October that control of the statues was not lawfully transferred to the commission because Isaac did not get the council's approval. That cleared the way for the city to immediately remove the statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse.
The two statues will eventually be placed at the Lexington Cemetery.
Isaac is one of seven candidates seeking to replace Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is running for Congress. The top four candidates — Isaac, councilman Kevin Stinnett, former vice mayor Linda Gorton and former police chief Ronnie Bastin — drew applause at the People's Campaign and Operation Turnout forum when none of them said they support allowing charter schools.
A state law passed last year gave the mayor of Lexington the authority to petition the state to allow for charter schools.
The other three candidates — downtown landlord Ike Lawrence, perennial candidate Skip Horine and William Weyman — were not invited to participate.
The top four candidates agreed Monday that more money should be spent on affordable housing and more should be done to increase the number of people of color who get city contracts.
But there were differences among the candidates about what should be done to make police disciplinary proceedings more transparent and what strategies the cities should use to address rising homicide rates.
None of the candidates expressed support for a citizen's review board for police disciplinary hearings, which Louisville and other cities use. Currently, police disciplinary hearings are not put on the council's agenda prior to a meeting, making police disciplinary outcomes difficult to track.
Gorton said police disciplinary hearings should go on the council's agenda prior to the council meeting to increase transparency. But Gorton said the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council acts as a citizen review board when it approves a disciplinary action.
"I feel like the council itself is the citizen's review board," Isaac said. "When I was mayor, I would take things to internal affairs."
Stinnett said the issue has come up at council meetings because some council members were concerned police and fire disciplinary actions were not on the agenda prior to the meeting. But Stinnett said disciplinary proceedings are also part of the Lexington Police Department's collective bargaining agreement.
"We already have a citizen's review board through the council," Stinnett said. "I would be open to other ideas."
Bastin said although the council acts as a review board "I think it needs more transparency."
"I don't have a problem with it being on the docket (agenda)," he said.
Isaac, Gorton and Stinnett said they would be interested in using strategies promoted by the National Network for Safe Communities that join law enforcement and nonprofits to focus on anti-violence initiatives in areas with high levels of gang activity.
Bastin said he has visited several cities that employ the National Network for Safe Communities strategies and is concerned the program doesn't address opioid abuse, a root cause of crime in Lexington.
Lexington's crime and homicides "are related to opioids, not gangs," Bastin said.
Bastin said he favors the "One Lexington" model, which is working in the Winburn area. That program uses social services to address violence.
Still, Bastin said there are elements of the national program that would work in Lexington, such as job fairs for felons.
Stinnett had proposed that the council pass a resolution to support House Bill 169, a bill backed by the Fraternal Order of Police that expands who can be accused of participation in a gang, increases penalties for gang activity and creates new penalties for people charged with recruiting gang members.
Stinnett said he backed off the resolution supporting HB 169 after hearing from many people who were concerned the bill would disproportionately effect the black and Latino communities. Gov. Matt Bevin has signed the bill into law.
Isaac, a lawyer, said the definition of gangs is too vague in the bill and said it's likely the bill will be immediately challenged in court.
The top two vote-getters in the May 22 primary will move on to the general election in November. The race is nonpartisan.
The Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT and the League of Women Voters are sponsoring a debate Monday at 6 p.m., also at the Lexington Public Library's Farish Theater.