Last week’s forum for City Commission and mayoral candidates probably didn’t change a lot of minds. “Issues” typically matter less in local elections than intangible personal qualities that voters judge, as best they can, from the way candidates present themselves in public and in one-on-one encounters. The Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce event gave city candidates a chance to make an impression on a live audience of about 50. Voters who stayed home can now view the question-and-answer session in a free video-on-demand recording offered on the Frankfort Plant Board cable.
The three mayoral candidates, who led off, were generally more more civil in their discourse than the group of 11 vying for four commission seats. Prospective mayors need to look mayoral just as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney strive to be presidential. In reality, mayors don’t wield that much power in the city manager form of government Frankfort has had since 1958. They preside over the meetings and have more prestige but cast just one vote like the rest of the board’s membership. Some commissioners respectfully defer to the mayor’s authority while others rebel.
In last Tuesday’s forum, three weeks prior to the May 22 primary which will trim the field to two candidates for mayor and eight for commissioner, contenders were asked how they’d handle spending in a tight city budget. Donna Hecker, Bill May and Kyle Thompson, competing to be the next mayor, all suggested public safety would be their top priority, although there was disagreement on the magnitude of Frankfort’s crime problem. Hecker contested Thompson’s claim that the local crime rate is 30 percent higher than the national average. Neither budged when given the opportunity to amend their comments afterwards.
Candidates tip-toed around the issue of subsidizing nonprofit organizations, something both city and county do each year on the rationale that such groups provide special services more efficiently than government can. Most seem to favor continuing the practice while some insist there should be more accountability from recipients of the gifts.
On “longevity” pay for city employees, three commission candidates – Lynn Bowers, Robert Roach and Tommy Haynes – were remarkably candid in saying the present budget does not allow reinstatement of the benefit, which was phased out in 2009 to save money. At one time, city workers got periodic 3 percent pay increases in addition to any across-the-board raises. That’s just unrealistic in today’s weak economy, even if some candidates imply otherwise.
The topic inevitably turned to pay-as-you-throw garbage collection, one of the most divisive issues the commission has taken up over the past year. The mayoral candidates all said they have some problems with the new disposal policy, designed to reward recyclers with lower collection fees, but none proposed its abandonment. They did offer to “tweak” the system – which even the most ardent supporters of pay-to-throw might do themselves.
Four commission candidates – Jerry Bailey, Terry Sutton, Doug McGaughey and Louis McClain – were more explicit, saying they consider the controversial waste program a waste of money. But again, no repeal proposal is on the table.
Incumbents Katie Hedden, Michael Turner and Sellus Wilder, who voted to implement the pay-to-throw regime, steadfastly defended it as a money-saving idea that improves the environment.
Two weeks from this coming Tuesday, we should get a read on who’s been more persuasive, or at least who’s more popular with voters.