VERSAILLES — Fred Siegelman loves being mayor of Versailles, a job he has held since 1998. He says he wants to keep the job "four more years, at least."
But he has a serious challenger this year; Ann Miller has dotted the city with Wildcat blue signs and is running on a platform of opening up the city's business for greater public inspection and participation.
Siegelman has been in the pizza business for 25 years and is a partner in a group that owns eight Little Caesar's stores.
"I've always been an ambassador for the city of Versailles," he said. "I think it is the most beautiful city in the world."
Never miss a local story.
Miller hopes for an upset. Four years ago, the last time Siegelman ran for election, he defeated former Woodford County Judge-Executive Joe Gormley by a total of 1,402 votes to 1,031.
Siegelman reels off a list of the things he says he's done for the city. He has made numerous contacts over the time he's been in business and in the mayor's office, he said, and he works them. He reminds businesses where Versailles is, that it's centrally located, yet still a small town.
Siegelman makes his phone number available to anyone, and keeps it on the cards he gives out. Siegelman lists among his top accomplishments beautification of downtown, with parts of downtown showing off new sidewalks and decorative light poles.
When Texas Instruments closed its plant in 2001, he said, he helped bring the headquarters for Kentucky Community and Technical College System to the then-vacant building, which he said brought in 242 high-paying jobs. Siegelman said that he also helped bring in the Nisshin auto tubing plant.
Siegelman said that another proud moment "was helping save our local hospital. ... Without that, we probably would not have been able to attract any new business."
Siegelman said he was spurred to work on getting the city's water tower repainted — it features 42-foot-tall horses — by a stray comment made to Siegelman brought about by the water tank's appearance: "I bet that town was nice at one time."
He said that he is also pleased with upgrades in the Versailles water plant and the waste-water treatment plant. "We are set for the next 10 to 20 years," Siegelman said.
He said that Versailles has maintained its rainy day fund of almost $3 million and keeps a balanced budget.
"I pride myself on surrounding myself with people who are more intelligent than me," Siegelman said.
A major split between the candidates is the wisdom of an aborted 2008 deal that would have had Versailles issue $56.5 million in 30-year bonds toward the purchase of Frankfort office buildings. The assessed value of the properties was $20 million.
"At no time was the city of Versailles ever at risk," Siegelman said.
If the deal had gone through, Siegelman said, Versailles would have used its $1.5 million share to help pay for a new police station for the joint city-county police force.
"There's nothing wrong with discussion," he says. "There are many times I think my opponent uses scare tactics.
"I think she also doesn't understand how professional technical services work," he said.
Siegelman's ultimate goal is to get his bachelor's degree, something that he said has bothered him for years. He attended Eastern Kentucky University, but never graduated.
Miller says that Siegelman's participation in the Frankfort real estate deal was reckless for the city and that he should have been more wary of a deal that had already been turned down by Frankfort and Franklin County governments.
"I do think that we would be sitting here bankrupt today had that happened," she said.
And she disagrees with Siegelman over what Versailles' financial exposure would have been if the deal fell through, noting that state government, a major tenant in the buildings, was already then in the process of trying to consolidate its offices away from satellite office buildings.
She also said that Dexia, the bank involved, has since had significant financial problems. Dow Jones reported in September that the bank was renewing cost-cutting measures, including cutting 665 jobs in Europe.
"I wanted to look at the letter of credit," Miller said of the Frankfort deal. "I wanted to see financials."
Miller also said the process of running the city should be open: She is calling for the posting of city records, including the city checkbook, online; televised or at least recorded council meetings; the bidding of some city contracts for basic services; and the hiring of a city engineer.
"Why are we not competitive with our tax dollars?" Miller said. "... We want to put bids out for basic services."
Miller says she understands that some professional contracts are let on the basis of qualifications; she dismisses Siegelman's contention that she is an alarmist, saying that she simply wants the city to better examine where it spends its money and with which organizations.
Miller also said that the mayor may well be pursuing economic development opportunities, but "if he does that, he does not inform us."
She said that she would keep Versailles citizens informed of her activities, making her schedule available.
"You give me an idea or issue, we are going to research and investigate every corner of a deal," Miller said.