Politics & Government

In race for Frankfort mayor, it's experience vs. change

FRANKFORT — To hear the candidates tell it, the choice for Frankfort mayor is between an old hand, Bill May, and a young gun, Kyle Thompson.

May, 53, served three consecutive terms as mayor but was prohibited by law from running for a fourth. Now, after serving four years as Frankfort city commissioner, May wants to reclaim the mayor's office.

"The most important issue in this race is experience," May said Thursday during a candidates forum at Kentucky State University. "My three terms as mayor and four terms as city commissioner are an absolute competitive advantage over my opponent in this race. I've done the job. I know how to do it."

Thompson, 36, a lawyer making his first run for public office, said he is the new blood needed to reinvigorate City Hall.

"My goal as the mayor of Frankfort is to stop 20 years of the same old leadership in this town," Thompson told the forum audience. "That's all I want to do. I want to make a change in the leadership we've had for two decades."

The two seek to succeed Mayor H. "Gippy" Graham, a former state representative who succeeded May in 2009. Graham did not seek re-election.

A scandal at City Hall this summer has been the subject of campaign rhetoric in recent weeks.

On July 31, Frankfort Transit Superintendent Betty Burriss resigned, and it later came out that she was accused of taking city surplus property without permission and made personal purchases on a city credit card.

Burriss, who had been superintendent of the bus system since 2006, denies the allegations. But a report to city commissioners accused her of taking a Yamaha power generator and furniture.

The report did not recommend pursuing criminal charges, but the commission later instructed the interim city manager to turn over evidence to the commonwealth's attorney for possible prosecution.

Thompson said that May did not say anything during a lively discussion about the issue at a city commission work session in early October.

"He stayed silent on the issue because it's politically convenient for him," said Thompson, a former assistant county attorney. "I think that's a problem."

May said Thompson, as a lawyer, should know why he and Graham were silent.

"The mayor and I were concerned about personnel issues being discussed in open session" because that could lead to litigation, May said. "But I was for very stringent and very forceful action to set an example that employees can't steal or misappropriate funds from city government."

Burriss forfeited her job, gave up at least $5,000 in accrued leave time, will not collect her full 20 years of retirement benefits and returned the surplus property, May said.

As he did in the May primary election, Thompson continues to say that Frankfort needs to do a better job fighting crime.

"Frankfort is in the top quarter of all counties in the state for all major crimes," Thompson said in the forum. "This is not a new trend. We have been in the top quarter for over the past six years in nearly every statistical category."

Thompson said that if he becomes mayor, he will appoint a task force to analyze crime rates and work to lower them.

May said he doubts whether a task force would accomplish anything.

"I prefer to have more neighborhood watches," he said. "Have the patrols targeted to hot spots. And have our bike-patrol officers and foot-patrol officers out working in neighborhoods, which we did when I was mayor, and we saw a decrease in drug deals and the smash-and-grab-type crimes."

As in the 2008 mayoral race, the city's three-story, multi-million-dollar public safety building — which houses the police department, fire administration, dispatch center and an emergency operations center — is an issue.

Thompson said the city pays $975,000 each year on financing for the building. "It just didn't need to be the Taj Mahal that it became," Thompson said.

May said it would have been wrong to trade a cramped, outdated space for a cramped, new space. The building includes offices for future growth of the police department, he said.

"It's a very functional building," May said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader