Candidates for Paducah Mayor squared off in the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce forum Thursday morning. Incumbent Gayle Kaler and challenger Brandi Harless outlined positions on topics ranging from regulations, manufacturing jobs, neighborhood revitalization, population decline and diversity outreach.
During opening remarks, Kaler said Paducah has a "new energy" since she has taken office and touted $60 million in commercial development with another $60 million in the 'pipeline;' Harless said Paducah is 'at a tipping point' where there is opportunity for a different skill-set for decision-making.
Here's a breakdown of their positions:
Business 'Friendliness' and Regulations:
Kaler: City officials need to have more personal contact with local businesses to enforce ordinances and regulations handed down at the state level. She said there must be a willingness to reach out and communicate.
Harless: She said Murray is an example of how to put business leaders in the same room and uses a "lean thinking process" to address problems from the consumer's perspective. She wants to do the same for Paducah.
Manufacturing and Exports, Staying competitive while preventing job loss:
Harless: Wants to increase regionalism in the surrounding communities, using the river industry as an example for opportunity. She said jobs that have been shipped away return in advanced manufacturing. She said Paducah can be competitive in this field but there need to be a regional focus.
Kaler: Agrees with the idea of regionalism. She said she has reached out to Judge Executive Bob Leeper to consider forming a coalition of local counties and city mayors. She said Paducah is not an island.
Kaler: The next set of plans for revitalization haven't yet been presented, but involves working with Urban Renewal and the Planning department to come with stats and long term goals. She said the next plan might be to take "a shotgun approach" to issues in various neighborhoods or enhancing the area between LowerTown and Fountain Avenue.
Harless: While proud of the work done in LowerTown and Fountain Avenue, She expressed a concern that there are 52 neighborhoods in Paducah and by focusing on a couple, the others may feel 'ostracized.' Wants to bring neighborhood leaders together and provide resources they can take back to their communities (like how to leverage assets and bring in grant money), calling it a "neighborhood empowerment model."
Sansone Group and TIF (Tax Increment Financing)
Harless: TIF money not a good way to incentivize retail. She agrees with leadership decision on this. She said, however, that the city put up a "big wall" which prevented a conversation about other opportunities available.
Kaler: Said there were several conversations early on and that the city doe not give incentives for retail - "bottom line." She said incentives to put retail in the community 'is the community.' She said with another $60 million for development in the mall area, the city is 'doing great' in this area.
Kaler: Citing a 10-year contract at the Department of Energy Site (Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant) this adds $3 billion into the economy. She said the site has the same number of employment as when USEC was in full operation. She also touted the medical industry and expects another 1,000 employed in the local healthcare industry. She said it's important 'to be nimble on your feet' when it comes to taxpayer dollars.
Harless: Reiterated that the city is at a 'tipping point' when it comes to competing in the modern economy. She wants to find ways to attract 'remote workers' (people working at home for companies elsewhere).
Harless: Said in conversations about this with business leaders that it takes an intentional effort to improve diversity in the workforce. Skimming over issues of race is too common, she said, and encouraged honest conversations to address biases.
Kaler: When she was first elected, she didn't know any African Americans, she said. Has made it a point to develop those relationships, including an effort to increase diversity on city boards. She said Paducah needs to develop new, young African American leadership adding "we have people that can do this."
Paducah Power System:
Kaler: Said issues with high power rates was a priority when she was elected mayor. She said she has since made sure the general manager was fired and that the chairman was taken off the board, and put two new people in power. She said the utility has done an 'immense' job in reducing power rates and that the problem is not unique to Paducah but all over the country.
Harless: Said she wants to improve relationships with the city and the board and applauds Kaler for her initial work on this. In planning for the future, she said she wants to maintain a good relationship so that the city can have more oversight into potential situations. Said there's still a long way to go in rate relief.
Harless: Said young people seeing cities with mayors in their own generation make them feel confident in coming home or starting business. She wants to focus on the 'modern and freelance economy' and adds that the population declines because of the lack of jobs.
Kaler: Touting Forward Paducah initiative, Kaler said she has incubated young entrepreneurs and jobs in the region. She said she has listened to groups of young people finding ways to bring jobs to Paducah. "YOu don't have to be young, but need a young attitude."
In their closing remarks, Kaler said "I'm not young, but I think young" and said she seeds great potential in Paducah. Harless said Paducah has significant potential and that honest conversations need to happen about the city's future.