Politics & Government

City commissioner and former mayor square off in Nicholasville mayoral race

John Martin, left, and Pete Sutherland
John Martin, left, and Pete Sutherland

NICHOLASVILLE — A former mayor and a two-term city commissioner are the candidates vying to be the next mayor of Nicholasville, Kentucky's 12th largest city.

John Martin, who was mayor from 2003 to 2006, and Pete Sutherland, a city commissioner since 2011, want to succeed Russ Meyer as mayor of the Jessamine County seat. Meyer is running against Jonah Mitchell for state representative of the 39th House District.

Martin, 74, said he would seek to make improvements in the fire department to raise the city's insurance rating. The city's public-protection rating was downgraded by the Insurance Services Office from Class 3 to Class 4 because of deficiencies in manpower and infrastructure.

"We would work with the fire department and see what they need," said Martin, who rues the fact that his administration had not built a fire station in the Brannon Crossing area of the northern city limits.

Sutherland, 59, the former co-owner of a Chevrolet dealership, said the city is already working to make fire-safety improvements.

He noted that the city purchased a new $500,000 truck, and that water pressure in the Brannon Crossing area will be improved with construction of a new tower to be built by a local water district.

Sutherland was less enthusiastic about putting a fire station in Brannon Crossing because the fire station on Elizabeth Drive is not that far away.

"I'm not saying we don't need a fire station but I think that needs to be looked at very, very carefully," Sutherland said. "Building a fire station and putting trucks in it is the cheapest part of that venture. The rest of it is going to be a lifetime of expense and manpower."

Martin said one of his top priorities is to "stop wasteful spending." Asked which areas he would cut, Martin said: "I'd have to look at it real closely. ...I don't want to be real specific right now, but I know where some of the fat is, and we need to get rid of it."

Sutherland said the city is already keeping expenses as low as possible.

"One of the things we've done, our more highly compensated employees have reached retirement age and we have not refilled those positions," Sutherland said. "We've promoted from within and basically kept the same number of employees. So we're trying to reduce our payroll expenses."

Martin has long advocated merging the city and county planning commissions as one way to be more efficient. He isn't as vocal about that now, but he said "I want to look at merging services wherever we can."

But neither he nor Sutherland support the wholesale merger of city and county governments.

"I just don't think that this city is ready for it," Martin said.

"I think it will come eventually," Sutherland said. "I don't know if this is the right time or not. ...I'm not against looking at it. But it's just something that, as the community grows, it will probably happen, if not in my administration then somewhere down the road."

More than half of Jessamine County's workforce commutes to work outside the county. Both candidates said they would work to bring jobs to Nicholasville.

Martin supports an effort to have Jessamine County designated as a "work-ready community." That designation from the state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet assures industrial prospects that the community is committed to providing the trained workers they need.

"That needs to be accelerated and we need to get that done quickly," Martin said.

Sutherland said more land for industry needs to be identified and purchased.

There are less than 18 acres available now in the Enterprise Industrial Park, so the city needs properly zoned and competitively priced land.

Neither candidate sees the need for Nicholasville to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the discrimination of gays, lesbians or transgender people, as seven other cities in Kentucky have done.

"I don't believe we need a fairness ordinance," Sutherland said. "I believe everybody in Nicholasville is treated equally. I don't see that there is prejudice for people of any persuasion."

"I can't answer you on that," Martin said. "I'm not going to say I wouldn't support it. I don't know enough about it. I don't want to put something in here that people don't want."

As a retiree, Martin said he would be a full-time mayor.

"I'm the most experienced," he said. "I'll be there every day. ...I've been there and done that. I know the job. I know what to expect."

Sutherland said he would be a part-time mayor.

"I'll probably be working at the city most every day when I get off work" from the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, he said. "And I can go in early, too."