Frankfort is in the midst of private and public investment that is unprecedented for at least a generation or more — the federal grant to upgrade the Second Street corridor; the newly constructed Mayo-Underwood Building; Simon Warehouse Building and Marcus Building renovations; the opportunity presented with the vacated Department of Insurance offices on 215 W. Main St.; the construction on the Firehouse Building; the proposed development of Parcels B and C; and many others.
Downtown Frankfort is coming alive.
Downtown Frankfort Inc., with a mission “to foster a vibrant historic downtown by facilitating improved infrastructure, aesthetics and building integrity; encourage a progressive business environment; and to promote quality arts, cultural and community activities," is working to create a business-friendly environment to facilitate increased investment downtown.
What could stop such an exciting transformation to the heart of our community? Of course, Frankfort is impacted by state, national and world economies like any other community. But what we can control is the election of local officials who “encourage a progressive business environment."
A few weeks ago, DFI, in cooperation with Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Capital Development Corp., developed questions for candidates running for local office. The questions were designed to determine how candidates felt about pro-growth and pro-business issues facing the community, including some questions specifically focused to show how a candidate would “encourage a progressive business environment” in downtown.
The DFI board was concerned with participating in the local candidate questionnaire, only from the standpoint of our IRS 501(c)(3) status. Our legal counsel advised that as long as our efforts are to educate voters and not endorse any candidates, we are within the IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations.
According to IRS guidelines, certain voter education activities conducted in a nonpartisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. DFI quickly backed away from participating in any efforts to grade candidates that could be construed as endorsement of a specific candidate(s). After clarifying the involvement of DFI as educational only, some individuals, groups and candidates still raised concerns about DFI (and KCDC) participating in the questionnaire.
In order to ensure the broadest response from local candidates, KCDC and the Chamber joined DFI in deciding not to grade any candidate responses. Even after making it clear that DFI, and now even KCDC and the Chamber would not grade responses, some still questioned DFI’s right to participate because we receive partial funding of our budget from local government.
The DFI board stands firm that it is well within our rights to educate voters by participating in candidate questionnaires that further the part of our mission to “encourage a progressive business environment.”
The DFI board is pleased that the business community is working to educate voters on their local candidates. It is reckless for the candidates to imply that DFI does not have the right to ask questions of our local candidates. Indeed, the right to determine how candidates stand on public policy issues is a major part of our democratic process.
We understand that we cannot grade the candidates or their answers, or endorse specific candidates, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of asking relevant questions that impact downtown Frankfort. To do any less would be an abandonment of our responsibilities as board members.
The monumental changes occurring in Frankfort are too significant for us as a community to not ask pointed and hard questions of those that chose to ask for our vote.
René F. True is president of Downtown Frankfort Inc. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.