For The Independent
OLIVE HILL —
Love helped bring Kenny Fankell to this Carter County town in 1985.
The 53-year-old Fankell thought so much of Olive Hill, he stayed — he has been on the city council for more than 11 years. On Dec. 4 he became mayor, replacing Danny Sparks.
“Tired” is how Fankell describes himself these days, and he has the requisite wrinkles to prove it. “I’ve been busy,” he says.
Fankell said he’ll serve at least a year of Sparks’ unexpired term, which lasts until November 2014, but doesn’t know what he’ll do after that.
“I told them I will look at it after a year to see if I feel I’ve been able to accomplish things and things are going the right way,” Fankell said.
Fankell, a Grayson native, retired after a career in the Carter County School District, where he was the warehouse and custodial supervisor, and he’s been involved in local Democratic Party circles for years, including a stint as county precinct chairman.
Still, it took his bride, the late Lesley Fankell, to make his decision to move the 15 or so miles west on Interstate 64 a lot easier. “It was a good place to live,” Fankell said.
But not always the easiest choice.
On Nov. 28, Sparks was arrested after he allegedly sold marijuana to an undercover informant working for the FADE Drug Task Force; the transaction took place in a parking lot near Olive Hill Elementary School, police said. He is charged with trafficking in marijuana within 1,000 yards of a school, which is a Class D felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years. An open-container charge is a misdemeanor. Sparks’ case was bound over to a grand jury in December, and he has pleaded not guilty to charges of marijuana trafficking and having an open alcohol container in a motor vehicle.
Three council members — Tony Williams, Jerry Callihan and Enoch Hicks — asked Fankell to take over as mayor, and the entire council (Fankell abstained) unanimously approved.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions, but we need to move forward and that’s what we intend to do,” Fankell said last month. Callihan said Fankell was a good choice because he is retired. That’s important, he said, because previous mayors often did not have the time to answer residents’ questions and inform council about city business.
“He’s the longest on council,” Callihan said. “I believe he’s honest.”
Two issues, replacing Olive Hill’s aging water system and extending city service to the Smokey Valley Truck Stop near I-64, are among the most pressing. “We need to get our water loss down,” Fankell said of the water system. “We have some major leaks downtown.”
Fankell said some business owners may wish things would move a little faster, but at least one seems pleased. “He seems to be off on a good footing,” said Randy Stegall, who manages the Do It Best hardware store on Scott Street. “Everything I’ve seen seems positive.”
A third project involves what is now — courtesy of the 2010 flood that ruined most of downtown — a rock-strewn lot across from Tyler’s Pizza on Cross Street. Fankell said the city is applying for grants to turn it into a green space with picnic tables and other amenities.
Four businesses, Scenic Hills Realty, a Cash Express store and the Ink King tattoo parlor, have opened on Railroad Street, with a coffee shop scheduled to open in February. A fifth business, Trinity Salon, was scheduled to open this week on Scott Street near Do It Best.
Fankell has little time to think about his legacy, but he said Olive Hill is “coming back” from the flood.
“It’s been a hard struggle,” he said. “We’re still trying, but it’s going to take time.”