Politics & Government

New faces seeking four open seats on Lexington's Urban County Council

Voters will soon choose someone new to represent them on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council in four districts where the incumbent did not seek re-election.

Vying for seats in the 2nd, 7th, 9th and 10th Districts are a former councilwoman and a field of political newcomers.

The districts are diverse, ranging from suburban neighborhoods to sections of downtown, but they share many common issues. The most serious is a $260 million unfunded liability in the police and fire fighters pension fund. The projected shortfall grows to more than $550 million when the cost of medical benefits is included.

Solving the problem is complicated by the fact that the Kentucky General Assembly sets the rules for the program, which the city then must fund.

Other topics council members may face in the next two years include the future of an aging Rupp Arena, deciding whether to convert several downtown streets from one-way to two-way, and implementing an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency that requires costly improvements to old storm sewers and inadequate sanitary sewers.

2nd District

In the 2nd District, political newcomers Shevawn Akers and Brannon Dunn are competing to replace Councilman Tom Blues, who is retiring after three terms on the council. The district extends from the west end of downtown to Masterson Station and surrounding neighborhoods.

Akers has raised substantially more money, according to the most recent report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. She had raised $8,445 and had $1,569 on hand as of Oct. 5; Dunn reported raising $450 and had spent $556.

Akers, 38, a social worker, said the unfunded liability in the police and fire pension fund is a pressing issue.

"We can't do much until that is resolved," she said, noting that extending the retirement age for future workers is one option to consider.

Akers said she fully supports renovation of Rupp Arena and building a new convention center.

"Those projects will bring more business into downtown, more jobs and more conventions," she said. "Those are all things we need in order to raise more money to pay off all our debt."

Extending the Town Branch Trail, getting basketball courts and tennis courts to enhance Masterson Station Park and getting tough on owners of blighted property who don't make repairs are other issues Akers wants to advance.

Dunn, 31, owner of a professional cleaning service, said he would promote entrepreneurship to create more jobs and increase city revenue. He recommends adding $2 to speeding tickets as an additional revenue source for the police and fire pension fund.

If private funding can be found to renovate Rupp Arena and build a new convention center, Dunn said he would be supportive.

He said the council must work to help some neighborhoods in the 2nd District that are stricken by poverty, youth violence, lack of education and high unemployment.

"I would look at creative ways council could partner with the school system to improve education. That's one of the keys for improving people's lives," he said.

7th District

Jennifer Scutchfield, 39, a research and development officer for the Girl Scouts, is the only candidate in the 7th District, which stretches along Richmond Road from New Circle to Interstate 75. She will fill the seat being vacated by council member KC Crosbie.

Prior to the primary election, Jason Scott Rainey was disqualified as a candidate after an audit of his petition found it did not contain 100 valid signatures, the minimum needed to run for office.

On issues such as the unfunded pension liability, traffic patterns for downtown streets and renovating Rupp Arena, Scutchfield said she needed more information to make an informed decision.

In the 7th District, "we don't have a lot of super pressing issues other than criminal issues like car break-ins, traffic congestion and streets that need to be repaved," she said. "They are minor big issues."

Scutchfield had raised $3,100 and spent $2,782, according to a campaign finance report filed Oct. 22.

9th District

Former Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, 58, is seeking to retake the 9th District seat, which she held from 1997 to 2004. Her opponent, in his first race for public office, is sales representative Bill Polyniak, 41.

Incumbent Jay McChord did not seek re-election after four terms on the council.

Mossotti holds a major fund-raising advantage over Polyniak. She reported raising $15,029 and had $14,730 cash on hand as of Oct. 22. Polyniak reported raising no funds.

She said the police and fire pension fund is a major problem that will require "serious restructuring of benefits for new hires. The way it is now is unsustainable for the long term."

Mossotti supports revitalization of downtown, but wants to see a consultants' report on the feasibility of converting key downtown streets from one-way to two-way before deciding whether to back the idea.

She said it is important for the city to have a plan for the future of Rupp Arena and the convention center, "but delivery of basic services needs to be addressed first."

Polyniak said his passion is reducing wasteful spending and paying down city debt. He cited privatization of waste collection as one way to save money.

He opposes renovating Rupp Arena and converting downtown to two-way streets, saying these are projects the city cannot afford.

"Philosophically, I believe the city has lost its way when it pays more attention to bike lanes and two-way streets, things residents don't want," he said.

10th District

The contest to replace Councilman Doug Martin in the 10th District features Harry Clarke, a retired University of Kentucky music professor, and Steve Nelson, a claims consultant. The district extends along Harrodsburg Road, from the Jessamine County line to inside New Circle Road.

Clarke had a slight fund-raising lead in their most recent campaign finance reports filed on Oct. 22. Clarke had raised $8,531 and had $4,086 left to spend; Nelson had raised $5,100 and had $5,082 left to spend.

Clarke, 74, taught at UK for 43 years, including 21 years as director of all university bands and 14 years as director of the School of Music. He is now in his second term as president of the Harrod Hills Neighborhood Association.

Clarke said the city must "grow intelligently," which is why he supports Lexington's ongoing program to purchase the development rights for thousands of acres of farmland.

He also supports the city writing a vision statement for the future.

"What does the city want to accomplish in the next 20 years?" he said. "A vision plan gives you a road map, helps keep you grounded and going in the right direction," he said.

In the 10th District, Clarke said repaving streets and dealing with broken and overflowing storm and sanitary sewers are top priorities.

Nelson, 63, said his stance on renovating Rupp Arena and building a new convention center hinges on how the projects would be financed. He opposes two-way streets downtown because, he said, they would slow traffic and increase fuel consumption.

As for the unfunded liability in the police and fire pension fund, Nelson said the city has to honor its commitment to current retirees.

"But for new employees, there needs to be a different benefits and retirement plan in order to save money," he said.

Disability for police and fire need to be re-examined. "When they can have a 1 percent disability and apply for 100 percent retirement with full disability, there's something wrong with that formula," he said.

Within his district, Nelson sees the main issues as traffic speeding through neighborhoods, loud mufflers and streets that need repaving.

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