With its job growth and low unemployment during the past four years, Lexington is one of the best places to live in Kentucky and is on its way to being one of the strongest cities in the country, Mayor Jim Gray said Sunday during his second inauguration address.
"Being the best city in America does not mean being the biggest city in America," Gray told the audience that packed Lexington Center's Bluegrass Ballroom for the inauguration ceremony. "Being best means managing the basics and thinking aspirationally and implementing the things that matter."
Gray, who won re-election in November with 65 percent of the vote, took the oath of office along with new Vice Mayor Steve Kay and members of the Urban County Council.
During his speech, Gray focused on the past four years and key steps the city took to right its finances after a recession rocked the city's revenue. Those steps included focusing on basic services such as police and fire, and making key reforms to city employee health insurance and to the police and fire pension.
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Gray also touted several initiatives the city wants to tackle during the next four years, including making high-speed Internet available to all citizens.
"We look ahead to becoming a gigabit city, making the information superhighway available and affordable for all our citizens and businesses," Gray said.
The former CEO of Gray Construction also mentioned building a stronger public parks system — including getting started on Town Branch Commons, a proposed urban park in downtown Lexington. Plans for the park were stalled after Gray halted work in May on a proposal to renovate Rupp Arena and the attached convention center.
Gray also said the city also would try to come up with a solution to save the old courthouse on Main Street, which has been closed to the public since 2012 because of asbestos and other hazardous materials.
"In the campaign I heard from many of you, 'Please mayor, fix the old courthouse,'" Gray said. "And you are right. Taking care of our history says a lot about a place."
Gray did not offer specifics about ways to improve Internet speed or save the courthouse. He might do so this month when he delivers his state of the city address.
In his speech, Kay took a moment to remember former Mayor Foster Pettit, who died in November. Kay became emotional as he remembered Pettit, who was the first mayor of the merged government, serving from 1972-77.
"He was one of our key architects of our merged government and its first mayor," Kay said. "We will do our best to uphold the tradition and the example of service set for us by Foster Pettit and so many other fine leaders."
Kay, who was elected as an at-large council member four years ago, was the top vote-getter in the at-large race in November, making him vice mayor. The other two at-large members are Kevin Stinnett and Richard Moloney. At-large members serve four-year terms. Urban County Council members are elected to two-year terms.
Kay said the city was at an important crossroads and was on the verge of becoming a nationally recognized city.
"As a community we are shifting away from looking elsewhere and wanting to be like some other place," he said. "More and more we appreciate and celebrate the wonderful community we have."
Kay, who will lead the 15-member council, said he did not expect an adversarial relationship between the council and Gray's administration.
"To Mayor Gray and members of the administration, our message is that we are in this together," he said. "Our task is to seek common ground wherever and whenever possible."
Gray, too, pledged to work with the council and not to let partisan politics interfere with the city's day-to-day operations.
"There is not a Republican or Democratic way to pick up the trash," Gray quipped.
Also sworn in Sunday were several new and returning members of the Urban County Council.
New members of the council are J. "Jake" Gibbs, District 3; Susan Lamb, District 4; Angela Evans, District 6; Fred V. Brown, District 8; and Amanda Mays Bledsoe, District 10.
Returning council members are Chris Ford in District 1; Shevawn Akers, District 2; Bill Farmer Jr., District 5; Jennifer Scutchfield, District 7; Jennifer Mossotti, District 9; Peggy Henson, District 11; and Ed Lane, District 12.
Sunday's inauguration also featured a diverse musical lineup, ranging from standards such as Feeling Good to Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music. Gray is raising money privately to pay for the inauguration ceremony.