Paducah Mayoral & City Commissioner Candidates Debate 'Guiding a Changing Community'

Oct 14, 2016

With numerous projects underway in the City of Paducah: from neighborhood revitalization to riverfront development, workforce development, the foreign trade zone, efforts to attract young entrepreneurs and much more, this November's mayoral and city commissioners race has many in the community wondering about the leadership will look like guiding a changing Paducah. WKMS and The Paducah Sun hosted a forum Thursday night where candidates expressed their views on these topics.

Watch the forum on the WKMS Facebook page.

Listen to the  forum here:

Candidates are:

Mayor:

  • Brandi Harless
  • Gayle Kaler

Commissioner:

  • Richard Abraham
  • Frank Bennett
  • Anne Fowler Gwinn
  • Raynarldo Henderson
  • Sarah Stewart Holland
  • Eddie Jones
  • Allan Rhodes*
  • Sandra Wilson

*Was not able to attend the forum due to an out-of-town engagement.

Candidates were seated alphabetically and the questions were staggered so that each had the opportunity to respond first (and last). Two minutes were allotted for opening statements. One minute for general response. Thirty seconds for rebuttal. One minute for closing statements.

Moderators: Matt Markgraf, WKMS News Director; Steve Wilson The Paducah Sun Executive Editor

Here's where the candidates stand on issues as addressed:

Opening Statements:

Harless: Running for mayor because Paducah is "at a tipping point" and said she has the skill set to bring change in the next generation including economic opportunity and fiscal responsibility.

Kaler: Running for re-election as mayor because her connections with the leadership community enables her to make "sound decisions" for the city's future. Touted $60M in commercial development with another $60M in the pipeline - wants to continue this progress.

Abraham: Running for re-election as commissioner. Touts city assets and partnerships - community scholarship program, said "education is a tremendous stepping-stone in changing a person's life."

Bennett: Said Rotary playground project an example of bringing people together. Said he has experience in business leadership and economic development the city needs. Campaign is about: looking at how tax payer dollars are spent, taking a deeper look at improving economic growth, treating the entire community as one community.

Gwinn: Said she is the oldest commissioner candidate at the table and put her hat in the ring for her experience in 'education, preservation and the arts.' Said she had foresight in drafting historic zoning ordinance for LowerTown, advocated for higher ed delivery with the 2+2 Murray State agreement.

Henderson: Reverend at Washington Street Church, oldest African American congregation in western Kentucky. Said he has served on numerous Paducah boards and brings skills needed as a "tomorrow thinker."

Holland: Said she is running to see the city's growth continue and says it's 'time for the next generation of Paducah.' Spent time working with small businesses and listening to concerns about relationship with city. Through board work said she understands the needs of Paducah's "most neglected neighborhoods and citizens."

Jones: Small business owner and experience maintaining historic buildings in LowerTown. Said he's a "fix the canopy" candidate when it comes to City Hall. He also supports "rethink and retool Paducah Power" and wants to change the relationship. He also wants Paducah to be "bikeable/walkable" with a vision to create a 'campus-like' city connected with routes.

Wilson: Running for re-election as commissioner. Said the MSU Paducah Regional Campus forum inspired her to run initially, touting her time as part of a lobby for the approval. Said she working together and uniting for priorities is part of the success of her current term in office and moving forward.

Need or Needs Facing Paducah

Kaler: Workforce development. Not enough people to fill the jobs available, even high paying jobs. -- Abraham: Jobs at the top of the list. WKCTC has a seat at the table now. Industries looking for particular skill set and the city's ability to address those needs.

Bennett: New perspectives from people 'from the outside.' And a culture of 'no sacred cows' challenging the way things are done.

Gwinn: Opportunities to address in the foreign trade zone and the educational process.

Henderson: Jobs and skill set development. Also, having an inclusive government "who listens and understands the needs of the city."

Holland: Underlying problem is a loss of trust between citizens and city hall. People feel like they aren't being listened to.

Jones: Develop the city as the place 'people want to live, people want to work, people want to play.'

Wilson: Having a positive, can-do attitude about what can be achieved. Celebrating the good things about Paducah.

Harless: A solid 'ten to twenty year plan' citizens can believe in and a vision for the future.

Attracting New Business

Abraham: Thinking outside of the box. Said Greater Paducah Economic Development Council doing a great job. Taking a look at the past and welcoming new ideas.

Bennett: While economic group is great, getting new jobs and new business is everyone's responsibility at city level.

Gwinn: Things are in place for the city to shine. What's missing is infrastructure. Wants to make better use the waterways as a resource and the foreign trade zone status.

Henderson: Creating an atmosphere of growth by tearing down the perception that Paducah only wants certain kinds of businesses. Offering incentives for businesses.

Holland: Moving past the idea that 'one big employer' like USEC will come in and save Paducah and create a diverse portfolio for a diverse population.

Jones: Making Paducah more "bikeable/walkable" and beautifying the city to be a more desirable place to live.

Wilson: Says many companies have moved to Paducah over the past four or five years and existing businesses have been hiring. Have to keep "home-growing our own."

Harless: Regionalism is important for the future, working with the eight surrounding counties to find ways to attract new business, particularly in the river industry.

Kaler: Can no longer use the "pay to play" model to attract business. Instead, need to work with local businesses to ensure they can grow.

Addressing Population Decline

Bennett: Need to diversity jobs available to that people have room to grow and get promotions in Paducah.

Gwinn: An aggressive neighborhood revitalization program from the grassroots up and engaging with citizens.

Henderson: People leave Paducah to find lucrative employment and entertainment. Have to find ways to engage young people to have ownership and meet these needs.

Holland: Drawn to Paducah for high quality of life, low cost of living. A lot to offer, but economy is changing and need to think about meeting these needs.

Jones: The county hasn't lost population, so why live in the city when historic reasons for living in a city are gone? Paducah has a unique way to connect from home to amenities.

Wilson: Has seen a resurgence in young professionals. Wants to continue to build networking opportunities for young professionals.

Harless: Millennial generation just outgrew Baby Boomers in the United States. Young elected mayors doing a good job of attracting and recruiting peers.

Kaler: A problem not unique to Paducah, but across the country. People are having fewer children.

Abraham: Revitalizing neighborhoods a tool to grow the city.

Improving City & County Relationship

Gwinn: Not cooperating across lines like Paducah used to. People need to be on the same path going toward the same goals. More 'joint sewer agency' kind of problem solving.

Henderson: Everyone looking out for themselves. Better together. Need to get past personal agendas to determine what's best for the masses.

Holland: Not a good level of cooperation. Lack of trust. People that live in the county also concerned about population decline and economic growth.

Jones: Everyone in the city is also in the county. County has to be a county, but the city chooses to be a city. Probably too big to "do the Lone Oak threat."

Wilson: MSU Paducah Regional Campus a good example of city/county cooperation. City and county both at the table as a united front in Washington DC representation.

Harless: Cooperation has improved over past several years. Intentionality lacking - direct communication between mayor and judge executive.

Kaler: Says she has a great relationship with Judge Executive Bob Leeper. Meet on a regular basis on issues related to the Department of Energy site. Will soon meet about a transportation issue. Also credits working together on issues related to the animal shelter, 911, police and sheriff's department, fire departments.

Abraham: Is the rift a perception or is it real? Cited a recent metro government ballot initiative where voters chose "no."

Bennett: A rephrasing of the language needed. Not two teams working together, but one team. Either successful as a region or not successful together. Rethinking to one culture.

If Local Option Sales Tax Passes Next Legislative Session

Henderson: Will benefit city. Would be in favor of it.

Holland: A good way to improve trust in city government.

Jones: A great idea. Encourages state officials to pass it.

Wilson: Supports the initiative and says it empowers community to decide on projects like a sports park.

Harless: An incredible opportunity for cities timid about raising taxes.

Kaler: Supports lobbying legislators in Frankfort to make it happen.

Abraham: An opportunity to move forward and gets community excited about potential projects like a sports park.

Bennett: Would be great way to bring tax dollars in the community. Wants to address places to cut in current budget.

Gwinn: Good if the city and county works together on a particular project. Generally doesn't support increasing taxes. Cites a payroll tax in 2006.

City's Role in Paducah Power System and Reducing Power Rates

Holland: Encouraged by Paducah Power leadership. On a positive track. Drastic changes is how the mess started. Trusting the leadership moving forward.

Jones: Not unusual for a city to help regulate the price of the power grid. Wants transparency in reasoning for future increases.

Wilson: Unfortunately decisions made that impacted the city negatively, increasing rates. Steps were taken to remove management. Believes Paducah Power has strong leadership now. Hopes the board continues to turn things around.

Harless: New management was a good hire. Had over invested in 'different streams of power.' Will keep finger on pulse as mayor. High rates hurt competitiveness.

Kaler: Encouraged the board to fire the previous manager. Took steps to encourage the chairman to resign. Appointed two new board members. Board "very well run" now but caught in a dilemma with few options other than continue to sell excess power.

Abraham: "Actions taken years ago have come back to bite us." New leadership doing a much better job.

Bennett: A stronger board now. The fundamental flaw that still exists is that five people on the board can make any decision they want without oversight to the process. Other cities have "tripwires" in place for making certain approvals.

Gwinn: Suggests Eddie Jones be appointed to the Paducah Power board.

Henderson: Meets with people who can't afford to pay their power bills. New board doing an excellent job. Needs more oversight.

Riverfront Development Project

Jones: Doesn't necessarily make people want to live in Paducah, but adds to the city's quality of life.

Wilson: Project has changed over time, but would not give back $10M to the federal government. Once it's unveiled people will be excited about the new green space. As a 'river city' why not expand?

Harless: Flaws in decision making process but hesitates to look back. Doesn't think the level of boating will occur as anticipated.

Kaler: Some plans had to be scuttled along the way, have to be nimble and take bold steps to make things happen.

Abraham: A "crazy" project in its changes along the way. Make a decision and stand by the decision. Knew there would be 'naysayers.'

Bennett: There needs to be docking in Paducah but wouldn't have spent as much money.

Gwinn: Holds current commission accountable for not holding the department head accountable for a 'flub' regarding the expense of laying down rocks for the project. An opportunity and obligation to develop land for economic uses and jobs for citizens.

Henderson: Excited about the project, however, will not be excited about other revitalization plans until seeing a plan that revitalizes the entire city. Most people in his church will not benefit from the boat dock. Wants to see what will be done "for the Average Joe citizen of Paducah."

Holland: "People are really mad about the rocks." Central to the issue of 'loss of trust.' Says citizens feel like the project was 'not for them.'

Paducah's Diversity: Is Everyone's Voice Being Heard?

Wilson: Diversity makes the community unique. Spoke with WKCTC president about increasing international student diversity.

Harless: Wants to develop an "empowerment model" giving tools to leaders in the city's 52 neighborhoods.

Kaler: Neighborhood associations formed to address problems. Needs to be a coalition of people that want their neighborhood's voices heard. Racial Unity Group doing a good job.

Abraham: Doesn't want to live in a neighborhood with rundown houses. Encouraged when people from neighborhoods come to City Hall to talk about issues. Supports diversifying department heads when openings are available.

Bennett: Job of city commission is to represent the community and be accessible to everyone. Wants more public forums with city commissioners. Needs leaders that understand everyone 'floats together.'

Gwinn: Active early on in the LowerTown neighborhood. Project wasn't successful until artist relocation effort. West End neighborhood wants sidewalks. South and UpperTown more interested in filling vacant lots and increasing the housing stock. Find what works for each neighborhood, make a plan, prioritize.

Henderson: Citizens don't feel as if they have a voice of what's taking place in city government. Would challenge fellow commissioners to partner with businesses and churches to explain to citizens what's going on in layman's terms. Praises race relations group. There has to be honest conversation.

Holland: Praises work by Racial Unity Group. Diversity in hiring at city hall. "When you have the same kind of person around the table you get the same kind of solution." Representation at city hall among department chairs needs to be more diverse. Many department chairs coming up for retirement. Decisions made now could have an effect on the city for decades.

Jones: "You don't have to see eye to eye to work shoulder to shoulder." Important to be inclusive. Combining intellect, communication and kindness diversification can be a strength.

Final Remarks:

Harless: Though young feels education gives her the skill set to "take the city to the next step." Wants to take Paducah over the 'tipping point.'

Kaler: Asks people to look at her record over four years. Has been fair and works to increase racial and gender diversity. Has experience to lead Paducah forward.

Abraham: Appreciative of opportunities living in Paducah.

Bennett: The next ten years will determine the path Paducah takes as a city. People need to be in the seats with knowledge and experience to make a difference.

Gwinn: Will try to change the culture of city hall, hold city manager and department heads accountable. Will try to establish a 'can do' and 'how can I help' attitude. Wants to increase funding for neighborhood revitalization.

Henderson: Has experience being a community servant at Washington Street Church. AVID: Aware of the needs of the community, Vision for all of Paducah, Independent thinker, Diligent that every vote passed will be for Paducah.

Holland: Loves Paducah and passionate about the city. Invested in seeing the city grow. Will bring that passion to city commission.

Jones: A 'nuts and bolts' kind of guy. Will give due diligence, study and analyze questions. Sheep: important the next commissioner is not a 'sheep.' Cheerleader: important that the commission lead and not the city manager important to not be cheerleaders. Collaboration: important to collaborate and work together.

Wilson: Will be a cheerleader for the city. A great community and not "doom and gloom." City can be better and working on that by helping businesses be more successful, leadership and educational institutions.

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WKMS gives thanks to the candidates for participating, to The Paducah Sun for co-hosting and co-moderating the event, to Murray State University Paducah Regional Campus for donating use of their space and to our audience for sharing the evening.