Politics & Government

Incumbent in Richmond mayor's race faces aggressive challenger

Jim Barnes, left, and Laura Durham King
Jim Barnes, left, and Laura Durham King

RICHMOND — Four years ago, Jim Barnes beat incumbent Mayor Connie Lawson by aggressively questioning city spending.

Now Barnes is the incumbent and faces an aggressive challenger in City Commissioner Laura Durham King, daughter of former Richmond Mayor Ann Durham (1990-2002). King is also the granddaughter of Mayor Chester Luxon (1962-66) and great-granddaughter of Mayor G.C. Cox (1949-50).

Barnes, 69, runs on his record, saying he delivered on his promise to cut spending, while replenishing the city's reserves, buying new police cruisers and giving raises to city employees.

"And we did all this without raising taxes or layoffs," Barnes said.

King, 51, said Barnes gives himself more credit than he deserves because the improving economy and the opening of Richmond Centre, a new shopping center off Interstate 75, brought more payroll tax revenue to the city.

"I can't take any credit for it, and neither can my opponent," King said.

Richmond, Kentucky's seventh-largest city by population, has a $24 million budget, nearly half of which is devoted to police and fire protection. The city's 2014-15 budget includes money for 239 full-time employees and 70 seasonal or part-time employees.

King said if she is elected mayor, "the first thing" she would do is reopen a fire station on the southern side of town that was closed in 2012 to save money. The station on Enterprise Drive, the city's fifth, served an industrial park, a child care center and an assisted living center.

The Barnes administration "had enough personnel to run it," King said. "Had they moved enough people around they could have actually kept it open."

Barnes said the manufacturing plants and others served by the station have fire-suppression sprinkler systems, so closing the station wasn't an issue with them. He hopes the city can lease the building to a prospective tenant.

As far as reopening the station, Barnes poses this question: "Where is the money going to come from? Just the payroll alone is about $1.3 million" per year.

King, who is endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters Local 3621 and the Madison County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 47, said another priority for her is to "take a hard stance against drugs."

"We have a problem with heroin right now in our community," King said. She said her administration would hire more police officers for undercover operations and put a renewed emphasis on community policing. She said the money for this could be found through grants.

"I would definitely have someone to work constantly and actively seek every grant that we can get," King said.

Barnes dismisses this idea.

"There is not a grant company in America that will give you grants for operational expenses," Barnes said. If such grants can be secured, he said, "I'll take you free of charge anywhere you want to go to get them."

Neither candidate endorses the idea of an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Berea, Richmond's neighbor to the south, rejected a so-called "fairness ordinance" in October, but seven other Kentucky cities have passed similar measures.

King said she "would like to see a draft" of such an ordinance.

"I don't know what I would support if I don't see something," she said. "I couldn't tell you unless I see it."

Barnes said he doesn't endorse an ordinance because he believes the U.S. Constitution offers protection as it is. If the state or federal government mandates specific protections, the city will abide by them.

"Whatever they bring down is what we'll enforce," he said.

The Richmond City Commission's April vote to lower the pay of the mayor and the four commissioners is another dividing line between the candidates. The commission voted to lower the mayor's base salary from $36,296 to $24,900 a year, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Also lowered was the base salary for each commissioner, from $29,972.80 to $17,900, also beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

Barnes said he voted to lower the salaries because he thought they were excessive and should be adjusted so Richmond was in line with comparable Kentucky cities.

On the final vote taken April 23, King was the lone "no" vote on lowering salaries. She said she thought the pay should have been lowered even more. Minutes of that meeting say that King felt the salaries should be set at $10,000 for the mayor and $8,000 for a commissioner.