This is the first in a series of op-ed commentaries by Frankfort’s three mayoral candidates. Donna Hecker is a Frankfort native with 30 years’ experience in the restaurant business.
“Why would you want to be mayor?” I’ve heard that question a hundred times over the last few months!
There are lots of reasons but the most important one is that I grew up here and I love my hometown. Frankfort has given me a wonderful place to live and raise a family and now I want to give back through public service.
I’ve always been fascinated by how communities operate and wondered why some are desirable and others dysfunctional. We create our own environment and we can either do so accidentally, without considering the consequences, or we can do so intelligently and intentionally.
Someone once wrote that leadership and design are the same thing – “they both require the creation, articulation and defense of a vision – a proposal that there is some outcome that is superior to what currently exists.”
Here’s my vision for Frankfort: As Kentucky’s capital, we should lead the way for communities across our state. Frankfort should truly be Kentucky’s “First City.” Here’s how we get there.
First, we focus on basics like keeping our public spaces clean and welcoming. When last year’s Candlelight Tour was over, downtown Frankfort was trashed. I didn’t know what to say to a visitor from Denver who asked if she was in the historic district and whether it was safe to walk around. All I could do was assure her that she’d be fine and that Frankfort normally didn’t look like that.
Second, we acknowledge that preventing crime isn’t just a law enforcement issue. We have brave, capable police and firefighters but they need our support. There have been three suspicious house fires in a two-year period. During the most recent one, our firefighters further risked their safety by having to break into a boarded-up home that everyone, including the owner, knew was used by squatters.
And my own mother’s neighborhood is full of empty buildings that are unlikely ever to be renovated. It’s time to stop tolerating the presence of vacant and deteriorating properties that are breeding grounds for criminal activity. Despite the fact that Frankfort’s overall crime rate is well under the national average we continue to see an increase in property crime.
Next, let’s consider our economic potential. At 8 percent, Frankfort has the lowest unemployment in the Bluegrass, after Woodford and Fayette counties. Our residents are some of the best educated in the state and our household income is one of the highest. Let’s put this wealth to work.
The best investments are those we make in ourselves. In the past few years, city revenue losses from a static state government have been offset by increases from the private sector. There are so many young, talented entrepreneurs in our city! We must focus our best efforts on helping them grow their ideas and expand their businesses.
It’s time to re-think our relationship with our bigger sibling, state government. Frankfort received just under $200,000 in fiscal year 2011 from the Commonwealth, under the euphemism of “state participation.” Let’s do the math and calculate the true value of the services rendered by Frankfort to the state.
And we must develop our infrastructure with a focus on long-term growth. Frankfort is party to a consent judgment with the state to upgrade our storm-water system. Estimates put the price tag around $100 million. More than half of the impervious surfaces like parking lots and rooftops within the city are on untaxed property. We have to connect the dots between the factors that cause poor drainage and excessive runoff and determine a fair and equitable way to pay for needed improvements.
Finally, let’s look to the future. We need to keep our dedicated, hard-working city servants and continue to provide the services our citizens deserve while maintaining a balanced budget with healthy reserves. It’s also imperative that we plan for the extras that make a community worth coming home to – parks, pools and other recreational facilities; citywide events; public art and cultural activities.
I know from my experience as a restaurant manager that you can only cut expenses so far. To keep the doors open, you have to increase revenues. And the most effective way to do that is to expand your customer base.
For Frankfort, that means supporting business development; attracting new residents; implementing prudent fiscal strategies to fund long-term investments; and working with our regional government, academic and business partners to meet our challenges.
Three people are competing to be your mayor. One has spent the last 20 years occupying City Hall. Another seems to have ambitions far beyond local elected office. I am the only person in this race who has spent her life in the world of business and customer service. I am the only person in this race whose sole agenda is to advance the best interests of the citizens of Frankfort.
And I am the only person in this race who is fully committed to serving you with an open mind, an open heart and an open door. As your mayor, I’ll work hard to help turn Frankfort into Kentucky’s First City. Together, we’ll build a brighter tomorrow!
Next week: Bill May