Laura Hagg2

Frankfort City Manager Laura Hagg. (Austin Horn | The State Journal)

Editor's note: One month after she began her tenure as Frankfort City Manager, Laura Hagg sat down with the State Journal for an interview regarding her background, priorities and vision for Frankfort. Read about her background and resumé here. Read part one of the interview here.

State Journal: Lots of places — Holmes Street, the KSU-East Main area, Indian Hills and more — make up Frankfort. What do you think is needed to make sure that each of those individual places feels like they're served and that they're paid attention to as much as downtown?

Hagg: We can't forget that there are other neighborhoods that in years gone by, they might have had a little food market or they might have had a small commercial area. With the evolution of time those things just disappeared. 

I like to walk, so I’ve said to staff “invite me to your neighborhood.” I need to get out and see what is happening there or what's not happening. I think this fits the overall umbrella of a local economic development plan where you're not just looking at downtown Frankfort, which we have great plans and good ideas for, but you’re looking at it more comprehensively. Frankfort is more. Downtown Frankfort is extremely important, but there are a lot of other great neighborhoods that we can be supportive of.

SJ: You mentioned real estate. Is there anything so far that you've learned about the housing situation in Frankfort that you think needs to be addressed?

Hagg: Well, it was hard for me to find a place to rent so I can personally attest to that. We have a housing problem. I haven't had the discussions yet on how to solve it, but we do need a variety of housing. I hear stories from people saying ‘I can't afford to live in Frankfort where I want to live, so I Live in Lexington or I live in a neighboring city.’ We need a better variety of low and moderately priced housing.

I think we have to have discussions about what that looks like and where it should be. We need more people downtown so we can support the businesses that we want to locate so they can guarantee that they're going to get the traffic. But looking at other areas of the city, are there redevelopment opportunities or new development opportunities? I've got to have more discussions on that because from what I experienced, and from what I and others hear, it's a problem. 

SJ: Katrisha Waldridge was the only city commissioner to vote against your hiring. What has that relationship been like since you started? Have you met with her?

Hagg: We talk every week. And I will share with you that she was very kind and sweet, and sent me flowers on my first day. She said “Welcome aboard.” We're working as colleagues, so it's been good. 

SJ: Have you spoken with past Frankfort city managers?

Hagg: Cindy Steinhauser, yes. Tommy, extensively. I haven’t talked to Keith (Parker).

SJ: How have those gone?

Hagg: Good. I mean, Cindy loved Frankfort. They loved it here and they still have lots of friends here. 

When I think about looking future-forward, I need to understand more about what happened in the past — what worked and didn’t work. Oftentimes, we want easier solutions like ‘well, if we just do this, it’ll solve that problem.’ My experience over the years is that things are generally more complicated. There’s not going to be that one-hit wonder that just fixes a problem. Talking to Cindy and Tommy about those things, that helps me think about it moving forward and maybe give an insight into adjusting a solution.

It’s common in emergency management to have after-action reviews. That’s really helpful because you can just say ‘hey, this went well, and this didn’t go well.’ That’s been really helpful with Tommy and Cindy.

SJ: What are some examples of cities that you think are run particularly? Any projects that come to mind?

Hagg: I haven't visited all these places, but here's what I've read about. So in smaller communities, a place like Bowling Green, which we know has transformed some of its downtown and development, has done a great job. It’s a vibrant city.

Let’s look at a place like Paris, France, which everbody loves but some could get overwhelmed and say ‘oh my gosh, what could you learn from that.’ I appreciate Paris a lot because they’re creative. If you’ve heard of Paris Beach, they have all this area next to the Seine River where they decided to truck in loads of sand and put out some lounge chairs. So, Paris does a great job of using public space creatively and they just think different. Once they did that, a lot of cities copied it.

Thinking of hands-on experience with some cities, another French one is Toulouse. Some cities have a lot of historical buildings and places that you must protect, and that's the reason why people may live there or come to visit — because you have these incredible historic resources. What they also do well is they find a way to keep it vibrant, so it’s not stagnant. I remember, I was in Toulouse and I went to a 14th century convent, but what they did is they had this modern art display, and it was part of a museum. If you're just going to tour the convent that might not be so interesting, but they're giving you another reason to go visit that beautiful, historic place.

Arlington (Virginia) does a lot of phenomenal work with Complete Streets. That’s where you have a lane of traffic, a segregated bike lane and a sidewalk. It’s a long-term investment where you start to rebuild and redo your streets they set a goal to where all modes of transportation are supported and people can use them safely. It’s a long-term commitment, but they’ve really done a great job.

SJ: The one similar commitment that Frankfort is undergoing is Second Street. Are there any other sort of projects or areas for similar improvements on your radar?

Hagg: My understanding is that we have applied for a grant for the Holmes Street corridor, and it’s a more in-depth look at what it would need to take to do something there. I would say similar to Second Street and Bridge street where you have a comprehensive look and you look at accessibility, but it's overall also about improving economic development with your infrastructure improvements. Those are the gateways where you come into Frankfort. 

I would also look at Wilkinson Boulevard. Sure we have a sidewalk, we partially have that trail, but then the sidewalk when you go down gets really narrow and is not really conducive. These things are about looking at if there’s a way we can improve. There's Holmes Street, which would take a big, big effort. Wilkinson Boulevard wouldn't be as big but it’s also important. How do we extend the bike path? How do we make that closer connection with Buffalo Trace and the community going all the way through? That's one of the gateways where people come in, so we want it to be also attractive and welcoming. 

SJ: It's easy to forget sometimes that both the city and the city commission oversee the police force. It's not as much of a hot topic here as it is in, say, Lexington or Louisville. Are there any sort of policy considerations that you have going in?

Hagg: I think we had in this last budget to buy the remaining amount of body cameras. So that is something. And I've had some discussions with Chief Adams, but it's an area I also need to learn more about. I still need to participate on a ride-along. 

I would say, broadly, one effort, I mentioned in a meeting the other week is we’ve got to also look at recruitment and retention. It's an issue with police and fire public safety overall. I think that's one policy issue, as opposed to tactics and training and some of those other really important issues. I'll be honest, I haven't delved into those yet but they’re on my radar.

SJ: Sewers are particularly important when it comes to development. A city sewer system connection has this prized role where you need it to develop a piece of land affordably. That’s part of the Farmdale project. Should the city be extending its sewers more than planned? What should that look like going forward?

Hagg: So I've had a couple conversations to understand about Farmdale. And here is one extremely important consideration: it's important for us to take their waste because we're going to do it safely and in compliance with federal and state rules and regulations. In that sense, I'm extremely supportive.

As to the broader issue of growth, when people think about growth management, they think about planning and zoning but not necessarily about sewer. I think that’s the role of the comprehensive plan process. You get citizen input and you talk about where growth should be and where it shouldn’t be. With sewers, you’re looking at where you can connect to the existing system, but that also begs the question of ‘is that a good enough reason to?’ Some may say that even though there’s a connection somewhere, we don’t want growth there.

It’s helpful to me that (development) is guided by a comprehensive plan, and not necessarily just one-off developments because development is important. We know that we have to have development. Frankfurt's population has stayed the same. If we want to continue delivering services, which also cost more, then we have to look at that.

Is the ideal that you have infill development? Yes, we’ve got to look at what's already available. For what’s not infill, that it's further afield, I think that's where the comprehensive plan is really important. I don't know if we'll have consensus, but we're going to have to have some sort of agreement where growth should be and where growth shouldn't be.

SJ: The city's staff, in terms of racial and ethnic makeup, doesn't quite represent the city population. A recent lawsuit alleges problems of racism in the city staff. What do you think the city should do about issues of systemic racism and racial imbalances in staff make up? 

Hagg: I am supportive of hiring an equity and inclusion officer. And I think that will give us a first step. Ed Powe said this at the Together Frankfort march: “We need to be intentional.” That's one of the important ways to be intentional, is putting time and resources toward that effort.

We need to have clear goals and a sense of what this person would do. There's a lot of work to be done. So, how do we prioritize that? Is the first priority working with (Human Resources Director) Kathy Fields on recruitment and retention? That might be. Or is it reviewing different policies or ordinances or something where, someone may feel there's systemic racism. This is a big issue, but I think to be successful, the Commission has to prioritize what we should do first, and what that looks like. These require long-term, intentional efforts. But I think the key is to be intentional.

SJ: What was the hardest question to answer during your interview process?

Hagg: One that’s easy for me to answer, but it's also maybe harder to understand is "why do you want to come back? Why do you want to do this?" I can say passionately. It’s nice, my mother is elderly, it's nice to be back where I spent very little time with her during this pandemic in the last two years. I'm passionate about being closer to my family, but also when I say "I like working on on democracy," people think that’s a very big thing. But democracy in the local government is really where it's at. That's democracy and action at the most essential level. We all practice it every day, when we show up to a public hearing, when you research an article about accountability for a public institution, the city responding to citizens. This is where it happens every day.

SJ: There's a natural kind of tension with the city manager form of government. Once someone knows enough about something, they often have ideas on how to improve it — but you're still serving at the will of a board of five people. How do you navigate that balance?

Hagg: This is a good question, because one of the other things that I've talked to city staff and commissioners about is how we do with the agenda setting process, and the work that we do in providing the information to commissioners so they can make good decisions. One of the things I recognize is that we need to communicate more with the commission and provide them more information. Most are still new to this, and we actually have a lot of new department heads, too.

I think we can communicate more with commissioners and research more by providing something comprehensive. It's not, ‘let's do this.’ It's more thoughtful. It's not our role to create policy. That's why we need direction from the commission on where they want to go.

SJ: What’s your favorite thing about Frankfort?

Hagg: You’ve got to say the people. People here are good to each other. And it's also just so darn beautiful, especially in the morning. I forgot how beautiful and kind of misty It is always on the river. We have a beautiful town. I love getting up early and walking in the morning because it's always just so beautiful.

SJ: Anything else you’d like to add?

Hagg: Thinking about city staff, I think it's been hard to have a lot of changes in leadership. Rebecca Hall is our fantastic grants manager, who knows so much and we're lucky to have her. She told me she's been at the city for 15 years and I am her eleventh city manager. That's tough on a team. They already do a great job, but you imagine if we're all together in working and that there is some consistency then they can do even more. You were asking about timing, and how long I’m going to stay. They're interested in that, too.

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