GEORGETOWN —Voters will decide between a previous mayor and an incumbent in the nonpartisan race for mayor of Georgetown, Kentucky's ninth-largest city.
Tom Prather, 63, a Scott County Fiscal Court magistrate and former mayor, hopes to reclaim the seat now held by Everette "Mutt" Varney, 76, who has been mayor 12 of the last 16 years. (Prather's time as mayor ended when he was defeated by Warren Powers in 1993. Powers, who didn't seek re-election, was succeeded by Varney, who was beaten by Karen Tingle-Sames in 2006. Varney was elected again in 2010.)
Prather and Varney agree on some issues. Both say they'd be willing to investigate the possible merger of the city and county fire departments. Both say merger of city and county governments might be a possibility in the future. Both want to pursue curbside recycling for city residents.
Neither considers passage of an ordinance to prohibit discrimination against gay or transgender people a priority, although some Kentucky cities have done so. Prather said he's "not opposed to the concept." Varney said he "sees no need for that at the present time."
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On the other hand, both candidates said during a candidate forum that they're open to exploring whether the city should be divided into eight districts or wards, each represented by a council member. A similar proposal died in 2001 when Varney cast a tie-breaking vote against wards.
The council "probably needs to take a look at that," Varney said during a Sept. 27 forum at the Scott County Public Library.
"The time for that evaluation is now," Prather said.
In interviews and at the forum, the candidates said they have different approaches in leadership.
"Where I am very hands-on and engaged, my opponent at times seems disinterested or not as engaged," Prather said. "If you watch or listen to Georgetown City Council meetings, you rarely hear the mayor's voice except to call for the next item on the agenda."
"I think of the mayor of Georgetown as the most informed and educated person on any given issue, because our mayor is the day-to-day administrator," Prather said. "I think the mayor needs to give the benefit of their best thinking to the city council and help the city council with the difficult decisions that they face. ...The mayor needs to help frame the issue for the council, and ultimately I think the mayor needs to give the council recommendations to follow."
Varney bristles at the characterization that he is disengaged.
"I feed our council information leading up to the council meeting," Varney said in an interview. "They get an agenda five days out. I'm open to questions on anything they may have."
Furthermore, Varney said during the forum, "I am the executive authority of the city. The council is legislative. They are elected into the office the same as I am. I don't believe council members want me to pull them in the direction that I want them to vote. They are put there by the citizens of this community to make decisions on behalf of this community."
Then, picking up steam, Varney added: "To say that I do not have the management ability, to say I don't have leadership qualities, that's absurd and I resent that very much. The people who have elected me into office for 12 years should be offended by that."
The city of Georgetown has a $21.5 million budget with $8.5 million in reserves and $16.6 million in debt. An incentive package for 750 new jobs for a Lexus expansion at Toyota means the city will not receive $2.5 million in occupational taxes each year over the next four years. (County government forfeits an identical amount, which decreases in succeeding years.)
Prather said the incentive package means "we have to figure out ways to make our budget work without $2.5 million that we would otherwise have. I think it's going to require hands-on and engaged management."
Varney said that as other manufacturers expand, growth in the net profits tax can offset what will be invested for Lexus.
"Every revenue source we have coming into the city is up and continues to grow," Varney said.
Varney has been endorsed by the Royal Springs Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 59 and the Georgetown Professional Firefighters Local 3681. Prather said neither organization contacted him before making their endorsements, but he said former police chiefs Craig Birdwhistell and Bernard Palmer are on his campaign committee.