An observer of city and county politics who left the country a year ago, stayed off the internet and just returned to town might be shocked by what he sees.
The Frankfort City Commission, a fractious bunch in 2018 that some believed would become even more divided by change-minded newcomers, including one who promised fireworks at City Hall, is positively chummy and businesslike. Other than a dustup over bicycle trails and Civil War history, the mayor and commissioners have plowed smoothly through their eight months together. Even on hot-button issues like the Tanglewood water reservoir, the commission has been remarkably united.
If harmony is your thing, give much of the credit to new City Manager Keith Parker, who is roundly liked by the five people who hired him — and who could fire him tomorrow if they didn’t. At the time of his hiring, this columnist had a lot of faith in Parker’s management skills, given his engineer’s mind and deep knowledge of state and local governments. Surprising has been his political acumen in serving bosses elected by popular vote and citizens who have high expectations when they call City Hall.
In a talk to the Rotary Club of Frankfort this week, Parker cited his resolve to never get mad as a key to his early success in the job. His mild manner and even keel is quite a contrast from the excitable Cindy Steinhauser, who made quite a splash in her year or so on the ground in Frankfort but ultimately alienated too many politicians to be successful.
Across the river on West Main, the Franklin County Fiscal Court has filled the void of dysfunctionality in local politics.
A year ago, Judge-Executive Huston Wells was unopposed for reelection and firmly in control of county governance, supported for the most part by magistrates who sang from the same hymnal. One year and an election later, Wells is in the battle of his political life with a new crop of magistrates who not only are asking questions but aren’t hesitant to buck the chair with their votes.
If you like dissent in your democracy, fiscal court is the place to grab a front-row seat these days.
Holding the line on last year’s property tax rate — and getting a little more revenue from modest growth in the tax base — would have been rubberstamped most years, with both fiscal conservatives and progressives claiming satisfaction with the outcome. This year, it eked through in a 4-3 vote.
Even the feel-good FrankFest, a Wells-conceived event that had a good first run over Memorial Day weekend despite bad weather, is caught in the fiscal court crossfire, its future in doubt.
What a difference a year can make in politics.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.