Lexington elects 12 members of the Urban County Council from geographic districts and three from the whole county.
Besides representing more constituents, the three elected at large serve longer terms — four years instead of two — and are expected to bring a broader vision and longer-range perspective to leading the city.
The recipient of the most votes in the at-large race becomes vice mayor.
Nine candidates are competing in the May 18 primary for six spots on the November ballot. From those six, the three at-large council seats will be filled.
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The clear best choice is council member Linda Gorton.
Gorton is knowledgeable, effective and well suited to the demands of the vice mayor's office. She's a role model for how to disagree without being disagreeable and living proof that civil debate is not only possible but also productive.
During her 12 years on the council, the last four as an at-large member, she has tackled some of the city's most complicated problems.
Particularly noteworthy is her long push to solve flooding and water pollution caused by failing sewers. This was her issue before the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in. Since then, Gorton has done a lot of the heavy lifting to comply with the EPA mandate, including chairing development of the new water-quality fee.
Taxpayers will get more for their money if she's bird-dogging how proceeds of the fee are spent and whether the capital outlays are actually producing less flooding and cleaner water.
The other incumbent on the at-large ballot, Chuck Ellinger II, also wins our primary endorsement, although he contributes far less than Gorton and has made a faint impact in almost eight years on the council. He voted against the water-quality fee and sidewalks along Tates Creek Road and for tax increment financing of the stalled CentrePointe development. But Ellinger has also made some smart votes along the way, is a reliable presence on the council and chairs the services committee. Between now and November, he should make a stronger case for keeping him.
A candidate who has the potential to contribute much, Steve Kay, is making his third at-large bid. Kay articulates a thoughtful approach to sustainable economic and urban development. His extensive civic involvement as a former vice chair of the planning commission, on the LexTran board and as an activist in the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association well qualify him for council. He's co-founder of a Lexington consulting firm that specializes in research, organizational development and facilitating consensus, skills that would be useful in city hall.
George A. Brown Jr., who represented District 1 for the maximum six consecutive terms, is a strong advocate for growing the economic pie so that those on the margins can finally get a piece, or at least a bite.
In our view, Brown has been shortsighted in his almost slavish support for development and business interests and opposition to the Purchase of Development Rights program. But he offers an informed perspective and voice that are often missing. He criticizes the current administration for closing the Mayor's Training Center, which helped low-income residents find jobs, and for outsourcing economic development to Commerce Lexington.
Brown, who works in facilities management at the University of Kentucky, would enrich the debate leading up to the November election.
A newcomer to electoral politics, Kathy Plomin, served nine years as president of the United Way of the Bluegrass and before that was vice president of marketing and community relations at WKYT (Channel 27). She touts her consensus-building skills, promises creative thinking, wants to promote regionalism and says development of light rail would be a good regional project. Like most newcomers, she needs a stronger grasp of the details surrounding city issues but certainly has the ability to master them.
To voters looking for a less conventional choice, we recommend two candidates, each of whom could bring something of value to the council.
Don B. Pratt is a dedicated activist for social and environmental justice who campaigned for city ownership of the water company and has taken an active interest in many of the challenges facing Lexington. He promises to push for a more independent council and heightened accountability and less waste in city government.
We've shied from endorsing Pratt when he ran for a district seat because his uncompromising nature might undermine his district's interests in a setting where compromise and alliance-building are required to get anything done. Voters who want the council to have an agitator-in-residence should consider Pratt.
The novice on the ballot, Ismael Shalash, a young businessman, is running a limited campaign, but is worthy of consideration because of his interest in neighborhoods. Shalash says that a lower level of enforcement by police and city inspectors contributes to the decline of certain neighborhoods and this deterioration hurts the whole city and its image. He has put his finger on something that the council should be talking about.
We can't recommend Ralph Ruschell, a developer and rural land owner, whose motivation for seeking a council seat is to dismantle the Purchase of Development Rights program. Ending PDR would pull the rug out from under a land use plan that is working well to keep rural land rural and steer new development to already developed areas. So far, an investment of $26.1 million by city government in PDR has attracted $31.5 million in state and federal funding.
We also can't endorse Christopher Hignite, whose accounts of high and low crimes and corruption in Lexington might make a film noir screenplay but don't recommend him for a seat on the council.
Candidates not endorsed in this race may submit a statement of no more than 250 words by noon Monday.