City Council challengers say they bring fresh ideas

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By Randy Patrick

Past and current Bardstown city officials have experience, but it’s often experience doing the same things again and again without thinking there might be a better way.

That’s why eight of the 16 candidates for the Bardstown City Council who have never held elective office say they’re running; they believe change can be good.

“I saw a need for some new ideas,” said Frank Thompson, American Legion Post 42 commander, the day after he returned from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he and other volunteers had gone to serve those who are serving their country.

Thompson said that since he moved here in 1976, some things have changed for the better, but some things “don’t change.”

“I want to see the city of Bardstown be the star in the state,” he said.

And while he’s never held public office, he thinks he does have the experience to help make positive change. In the Navy, Thompson was master chief of a battalion, a position in which he said, he could be both a leader and an advocate. He thinks he can bring that experience to bear representing police officers, firefighters and other municipal employees.

“Everybody has experience” that might relate to public service, he said, even if it isn’t in local government.

Thompson said that newcomers often have new ideas. One that he has thought of is the use of public-private partnerships. Rather than go in debt or raise taxes to build a new firehouse, for example, one thing the city could do is what Shepherdsville did. There, a company built a new city hall, police and fire station and leased it to the city. At the end of 20 years, the people of Shepherdsville will own it.

Lee Evans, who is known to many people in Bardstown as Stephen Foster’s mother in the musical drama, has lived in many places around the country and watched other local governments. She moved back to Bardstown 22 years ago.

“I think there are probably a lot of people on the City Council who have never lived any place other than Bardstown,” she said. Living elsewhere helps “expand your thinking” and see how others do things, she added.

Evans has been dismayed by the lack of compromise she’s seen in Bardstown’s city government.

“If there’s gridlock, you don’t solve the problems,” she said.

Evans thinks that changing from a strong mayor/council government to a city manager form might help in that regard.

She mentioned that her campaign manager, Archie Twitchell, is a former Boulder, Colo., city manager who has helped her better understand local government.

Two things Evans would like to do as a councilwoman are to explore the possibility of a curbside recycling program and do something about the odor and taste of the city’s drinking water.

David Dones has never served in local government, but he owns an electrical contracting business that is doing work for Bardstown Bourbon Company and Luxco, so he knows a lot about utilities and has relationships with Salt River Electric and the city of Bardstown’s municipal electric service.

He was recruited to run by former Mayor Dick Heaton, who is also a candidate for the council, and others.

“I think that’s mainly what they had in mind when they asked me to run,” Dones said. “They thought I could bring something to the table as far as utilities are concerned, and make decisions based on my experience with electrical and mechanical systems.”

He also has some experience in money matters, having been involved in fundraising campaigns for United Way when he worked for Woodbridge and INOAC, and he said he has pored over the city’s budget and consulted with the city’s former financial officer, Mike Abell and others.

One thing Dones has seen as an outsider looking in is that delving into the city’s utility reserve to fund general government services such as police and fire service is a bad idea.

“That’s my number one issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the taxpayer base as a whole, because not everybody contributes to the utility fund.”

The other thing he said he would work hard at is repairing the damaged relationship between city and county governments.

The Rev. Freddy Riggs also said people in the private sector have experience that can transfer to the public sector. Before he was a clergyman, he was involved in glass-and-metal building construction, and oversaw the design and construction of Faith Worship Center, where he is the senior pastor. Being a pastor also involves counseling people, and he thinks being a mediator is an area in which he is “well-gifted.” He believes the City Council is in need of conflict resolution, and he could be helpful in that regard.

“After being at several council meetings, I don’t see a willingness to work together among council members,” he said.

Improving “camaraderie” among city officials and between city and county officials would be his “first objective,” he said.

His second would be growing tourism.

Like Riggs, Richard Nest has run for a council seat before. This would be his third consecutive time. Although he has never been elected to public office, he has served in city government in Maine in appointed positions, mostly in planning and zoning, and currently serves on the Development Review Board here. He believes he can benefit Bardstown with that expertise.

Nest said one of his objectives as a councilman would be to try to re-establish better cooperation between the city and county governments.

“Joint efforts between the city and county … keep costs down,” he said. “I think that went astray.”

“You have to sit down and work it out. You can’t just say, ‘That’s not fair; I’m going to get out of it,’” he said.

Rick Molyneaux, a real estate agent, said he has experience in “negotiating and dealing,” and his observation is that the city government needs more of that skill.

“I’m very mad, and everybody should be mad at what’s going on in city government,” he said.

Some of the challengers, like Dones and Riggs, said there needs to be a mix of experienced public servants and new people on the council. But Molyneaux doesn’t think anything would be lost if the voters threw out the whole lot.

“You just need six good people. It doesn’t matter if they’re experienced or not,” he said. What’s needed, he said, is more “common sense” in decision-making.

As a city councilman, he said, he would work to “eliminate waste, fraud and abuse,” reduce taxes and decrease spending.

And he would bring more common-sense decision-making to historical district issues, he said.

David Erickson has been a Bardstown resident for only about a year and a half since he moved here from Liberty, Kansas, but has served on city boards in other places, he said, and has owned businesses.

He said he doesn’t yet know Bardstown’s mayor or council members personally, but is running because of what he’s read and seen of conflicts in local government.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said.

Being an outsider could benefit him, he said, because he isn’t on anyone’s side.

“I won’t fight with anybody, but I will sit down and talk with them,” he said.

He also said he will bring a fresh perspective.

“I think people get stale,” he said. “Somebody who’s been on the board five times is going to run out of ideas.”

One thing he would put more emphasis on, he said, is beautification and creation of “more green space” for people to enjoy.

Sean Ralston may be the greenest of the candidates in terms of experience, but he doesn’t see that as a liability.

“I’ll admit … I’ve never been a leader of any organization,” he said, but he is someone who is “willing to listen,” and is good at bringing disparate people together.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m somebody who can think outside the box,” he said.

Ralston works nights at a produce warehouse, so he would have to take time off from work to attend council meetings, but he would be willing to work fewer hours in order to serve, he said.

He said there is a perception among people he knows that those who serve on the council are of a “higher class,” and he would be someone who would try and represent “the common people.”