Jessamine County

Nicholasville might vote to elect city council members by district

Jessamine County Clerk Eva McDaniel, left, accepted a petition Tuesday from Perry Barnes, chairman of a group that wants a council form of government in Nicholasville.
Jessamine County Clerk Eva McDaniel, left, accepted a petition Tuesday from Perry Barnes, chairman of a group that wants a council form of government in Nicholasville. Greg Kocher | Staff

NICHOLASVILLE — A committee submitted a petition Tuesday that seeks to allow voters to choose between a council or commission form of city government.

If at least 2,101 signatures are certified, voters in the City of Nicholasville will decide Nov. 6 whether to change from a city commission to a mayor-council form of government.

Perry Barnes, chairman of the petition committee, submitted a thick ring binder with the signatures of 3,285 city voters to Jessamine County Clerk Eva McDaniel. She has 30 days to certify the signatures.

Former Mayor John Martin said council members elected from wards or districts would mean better representation for the city's 28,000 residents.

"You have representation in each area of your town," Martin said. The current mayor and three of the four commissioners live on the city's west side.

Barnes said council candidates would not have to campaign citywide but only in the district or ward in which they lived.

"They'd be more responsive to the people of their neighborhoods," Barnes said.

Mayor Russ Meyer is on record as opposing the council form of government.

"Do you prefer that your elected leaders make decisions as a team for the overall welfare of the city rather than looking out for only one segment's interests?" Meyer asked in an opinion piece published last year in The Jessamine Journal.

Nicholasville, the 12th-largest city in the state according to 2010 Census data, has 210 employees, a general fund budget of nearly $16 million and a utility budget of $24.5 million.

The city's mayor and four commissioners are elected as citywide representatives.

Nicholasville had a council form of government at one time, but voters switched to the commission form in 1972.

Each commissioner is paid $20,605 a year, and each has a limited day-to-day supervisory function over Nicholasville departments.

Commissioner Doug Blackford oversees the water and sewer departments, Commissioner Johnny Collier oversees the police and fire departments, Commissioner Pete Sutherland oversees the electric and meter departments, and Commissioner Andy Williams oversees the street department and the city-owned cemetery.

A petition drive in 2006 to change the form of government fizzled without gaining the necessary signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Barnes, who ran in the 2010 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District, and others collected petition signatures last year. But a problem arose in getting the signatures verified by a deadline, so the petition committee — with permission from the Kentucky secretary of state's office — continued to collect signatures for this year's general-election ballot.

A city council may have six to 12 members. Barnes anticipates that the number would be six in Nicholasville. The actual number would be set by ordinance.

The November ballot will have a presidential election, and if people are in a mood for change, petition organizers think that could help their cause.

"This should be a big year for voting," Barnes said.