Layne Wilkerson 2

Mayor-elect Layne Wilkerson pictured in front of his downtown office. (Austin Horn | The State Journal)

Editor's note: After the dust settled on the Nov. 3 general election, in which Layne Wilkerson bested Tommy Haynes by one percentage point to become Frankfort's mayor, The State Journal's Austin Horn sat down with Wilkerson for an interview that touched on several issues facing Frankfort.

Below is Part 2 of that interview. Part 1 was published online earlier in the week and in Tuesday's print edition. Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Q: One part of town people are looking at is the Second Street corridor, particularly last week, after the tragic stabbing. It's a main corridor of town, and there are concerns. What do you think the future of that corridor should be? Does the ACCESS shelter factor into that?

 I definitely found that was tragic. It's awful. I'll just say, generally speaking, we want to be a safe town — and it’s a quality-of-life issue. We are a safe town, and I don’t want people to think that we aren’t. It’s much safer here than it is in bigger cities. 

I don’t worry about that, but I want to nip things in the bud. We have to protect our current residents, and we also want to be perceived as a safe community for others who are considering moving here, or relocating their businesses here. If the perception starts to become that Frankfort is unsafe, it's hard to get that back in the bag.

I just want to make sure we have a handle on who's here. I've think we've got to do a better job of keeping control of that. 

I do think, though, with the Second Street TIGER grant, we have to look at what the highest and best use is of that corridor. I don't know the answer to that.  

Q: What can you or the city do to help people who are below or near the poverty line?

Giving money to the aid organizations in town, that's one way. Talking about the homeless population, I would love to improve the homeless situation in Frankfort. I don’t know if it’s working more with the aid organizations or if it’s low-income housing. I do wonder what we can do there, and I would love to improve that situation. 

We also need to help people from an entrepreneurial standpoint, to help our youth learn how to market themselves and how to create jobs in this new economy.

if we can help people while they're younger to create their own jobs and not be dependent on going to another employer to work, I think that helps in the long term. We’ve got to do a better job as a society in general preparing our youth for automation.

I think some of the blue-collar-type jobs are still gonna be there, but there's a worldwide marketplace right now, and there are people that are learning how to sell their services online. We've got to bring that to Frankfort more than we're doing now. You've also got to have coaching and mentoring to keep that momentum.

Q: Oftentimes the conversation in city politics seems to be focused on downtown Frankfort and maybe South Frankfort, perhaps to some detriment. In your case, you’ve added “the three B's.” What's an issue that you've seen in another neighborhood or area that you would like to address? 

The west side, where I grew up, we need new areas to live. If you think about where the Century Plaza shopping center is, we need to focus on bringing new development in places like that within the city limits.

A lot of times when we’re talking about development, we're talking industrial parks in the county. I'm talking about resolving in the city, on the west side of town and even the east side of town. 

Maybe it's a demand issue. If you’re a business looking to move to a city and you see Georgetown tripling their population in 30 years, and in Lawrenceburg doubling their population in the same 30 years, you're going to go to another place. That's going to be on me as mayor to overcome those objections and really try to sell it.

Q: What's been the roadblock there? What's your understanding of why we haven't necessarily grown as much as the surrounding communities?

Being the state capital is the best thing that ever happened to Frankfort, but we’re also too reliant on it. And it's easy to get complacent. And really, we are doing pretty good here. We’re right on the interstate, you can get to an airport 30 minutes ... . It's pretty good here, but I think that there's just a complacency. 

I think that's what sells Frankfort in the new remote era: The things that we love about Frankfort, other people would love. We’re not going to get a lot of people from New York, but we might peel some people off from Louisville, from Cincinnati, from Chicago or the West Coast.

We also need to keep the people that are already here — fix the leaky bucket. That's where we need more opportunities for youth, too. 

Q: Let's move to the recently proposed historic preservation officer, Heritage Commission and amendments to the Architectural Review Board. Two of those seem to have been moved on from by the current commission, but what's your level of support for all three?

I will say that Frankfort is lucky to have the history of the state capital being a city that was formed in the 18th century. On the West Coast, you don't have that. It's something we need to feed off of, and I think that heritage tourism is important. And the characters of our neighborhoods are important, too. 

So I support the historic preservation officer. I think that's a good idea. The Heritage Commission, I don't know. We would need to see where all that could fit in. I would want to know how it would work with all the other departments, including ARB. How would that be structured? There are a lot of questions.

But generally speaking, history is one of the big things we've got. If we don’t protect our history, then other cities will gladly jump on it. A city like Bardstown, they'd love for us to tear down our buildings. 

I like the idea of the officer. The Heritage Commission, I have questions. ARB changes, I have questions.

Q: Is a diversity and inclusion officer, like Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge has proposed, something that you would support?

I would entertain that. On the one hand, we're not that big of a city, and we might be able to handle that within HR as it is. On the other hand, there seems to be a lack of diversity. 

But it goes beyond just the city directory. The mayor can guide the city manager, and with the commission they can oversee diversity within city government. But if I were going to consider the diversity officer, I think it'd be somebody that's out in the community — not just in city government, but overseeing and promoting it throughout the whole community.

So I like the idea, but I would want it to be promoting communitywide diversity, not just in city government.

Q: How will you ensure that the commission doesn’t violate the open meetings law?

Training and understanding what the rules are, which we will do, is important. If people know what the rules are, I don’t think anybody is going to willfully violate the rules, if we have proper training and make it a priority, I think that should be enough.

Q: The law appears to be interpreted in a way that currently allows for “prohibited conduct” as long as there’s not proof you intended in the moment to violate the law — a bit like not enforcing the speed limit as long as you didn’t mean to break it. Will you work to avoid “prohibited conduct”?

Of course. It’s the spirit of it, not the technical interpretation. I don’t know the exact law from heart, but I know that I’ll follow the spirit, and I’ll do my best.

Q: Do you plan to exclusively use your city email account for public business? 

Of course. I don’t want to mix the two. I intend to use my public address for all public business.

Q: Are you committed to the YMCA being downtown?

A wellness or fitness center downtown, yes. The YMCA, they're already here, so they're the logical choice. 

I do think that that's going to be important. We need the density downtown, and one of the ways we build the density downtown is to have activities downtown, so the YMCA or whatever it’s going to be is important.

If the city funds part of that, I think that taxpayers should get some weighted membership fees for a little bit or something for city residents. There needs to be a tradeoff there.

Q: I can't speak to your client base as a financial adviser, but I’m assuming a number of them live in Frankfort. As mayor you'll make choices that will affect people with a lot of money — those who might use your kind of service. How can the people of Frankfort know that you're not going to make decisions based on whose account you’re working with?

As far as the business, one of the parameters I have to follow in order to be able to do this is I have to get approval from the regulators to be mayor. One of the things is that I can't commingle the two. I wouldn't be able to make direct decisions that affect clients that come before me. The clearest thing I could think of would be a board appointment. I couldn’t appoint a client to a board.

Now, of course, if we decided to cut taxes or something that affects everyone. You can’t give anybody favor or disfavor. People have to be able to trust me and I understand that.

I hope four years from now we're looking back and people say ‘you know, there were no issues.’ I've got a reputation politically and in business, and that's all I’ve got.  

Q: Is this a position that you would want for a long time? Or is this something that you just want to do for a little while? 

I think we'll see. You never say never, and if I'm sitting here four years from now and things are just clicking right along where we don't want to break our stride, I’d consider it. 

Going into it, I don't have any long-term plans to be mayor. I have four years to make a difference. We’ve got to have focus and intensity for those four years. I'm acting like I've got a four-year window and then we sail off into the sunset. That's not my intent, to be mayor for a lifetime.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

We had such a close race. I’m honored to have run against Tommy Haynes. I have to do well by him and his supporters. I'm excited for the opportunity. I think there's a high standard that I'm going to be held to and I don't take that responsibility lightly.

You don't get these opportunities in life that often to be mayor of your hometown. I’d like to make a difference.


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