EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of six pieces featuring what transpired in the Ashland City Commission Candidates Q&A Session on Monday, Oct. 12, including fact-checks and context clarifications.
ASHLAND In light of Monday’s Ashland City Commission Candidates Question and Answer session aired on My Town TV and Kool Hits 105.7, The Daily Independent is reproducing the answers candidates gave to a myriad of issues.
In addition to the answers, The Daily Independent is also fact-checking and adding context to statements. As the reader, it is up to you to decide whether or not a candidates are genuine in their speech — that’s a judgment call reserved for the ballot box, not the newspaper.
In this edition, the candidates’ introductory statements and answer to the first generalized question about infrastructure are presented. The remainder of the Q&A, with fact-checking and context, will appear throughout the upcoming week.
The Daily Independent checked the candidates’ introductory remarks and found no issues or context to highlight, therefore they will be presented as is. The infrastructure portion will be accompanied with fact checking and context:
RANDY MEMMER: I would like to start by thanking The Independent and My Town TV for hosting this forum. I’m Randy Memmer, I’m born and raised in Ashland, I graduated from Paul Blazer High School — I won’t tell you the year. I also graduated from ACC and the University of Kentucky, I’ve been married to my wife Kay for 53 years. I have one daughter here, Dr. Kimberly Baldock. I got into this race because this is a service position. Ashland is good to me and I felt like it’s time to give back to the city. This was an opportunity with Matt Perkins leaving this seat, I really don’t feel like I’m running against any of the candidates, I feel like I’m running for Matt’s open seat. I appreciate the opportunity here to speak and I hope everything goes well here tonight. Thank you.
BERNICE HENRY: Good evening. I’d like to welcome everyone for joining us this evening and thank everyone who sponsored this Q and A. I think it’s a great opportunity that we have to just talk to the candidates. That’s exciting to me. I’m actually working as a commissioner and running for commissioner, so that’s a pretty good thing I have going right now and I truly enjoy it immensely. I am a widow, I have three sons, one who is deceased, I have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, so I’ve done my part in populating the area. I’ve enjoyed every moment of raising my children. I have a stake in my community because I want my family to not just live here, but grow up here and be excited about the great place we live. Two of my fellow candidates were classmates and I find that amusing — we were the class of ’64. Don’t start counting on your fingers.
MARTY GUTE: Good evening, I want to thank The Independent, the Paramount Arts Center, My Town TV, WLGC and John Clark Oil for sponsoring this roundtable question and answer event this evening. I’m Marty Gute and I’m currently a sitting commissioner on the Ashland City Commission. I’m on my 12th year and sixth term in office. My platform is a simple one — it is simply the responsibilities of a commissioner. Number 1, to provide good, efficient services to the citizens of Ashland. Number 2, to cultivate economic development and make the city appealing to attract new business. Number 3, to provide a strong, well-equipped workforce of employees who work hard to make Ashland a success. A lot of great things have happened in the last 12 years, so it’s with great pride that I’ve had the support of the voters in the last six elections and my hope and prayer is that they have faith in my abilities to be their servant-leader once again and I ask for your vote on Nov. 3.
JOSH BLANTON: Thank you all for having this event. My website is JoshBlantonaky.com. See more details about me. I am someone who is incredibly passionate about this city and I like to make sure that whenever I talk to someone that’s a citizen, I like to make sure that comes across whether they agree with me or disagree with me, I want them saying, “Man, that guy loves this city.” I want our city leaders to be people who think critically, people who are accountable, people who are motivators; not only our citizens, but people who work in the city building as well. The main thing is, I believe our city leaders, our commissioners, need to be more vocal; we need to hear more from the meetings. I’ve never heard about anyone complaining about a meeting going too long, except maybe themselves. But I think it’s important to hear how well our leaders understand the issues. I’ve served this community for a number of years and everything I talk about are things I’ve been involved in for years. It would be a true honor to be a city commissioner. Thank you.
BECKY MILLER: I am 44 years old, I’ve lived here my whole life with the exception of a year that we moved to Lexington after my husband was laid off from AK Steel, I have five children, I’m also a grandma to a little girl named Lizzy that is a year old now. I am very, very passionate about just our commissioners being accountable and our city being accountable. That is the platform I’ve stood on from Day One and that is the platform I’m going to continue to stand on when you elect me as the next commissioner. I just think we need accountability across the board and I think we need to be held responsible for the choices that we’re making with your tax dollars, with our tax dollars. I just think we need to be making better decisions all the way around.
AMANDA CLARK: Thank you to The Daily Independent, My Town and Kool Hits and thank you to John Clark Oil for sponsoring. This is a great opportunity to get to know the people who want to serve as the leaders in your community. Just a little bit about me — I have served for three terms. I am seeking reelection for my fourth term. And I’m very proud of the work that the current commission has accomplished. You think about the last five years in Ashland, Charles and Betty Russell Park, the Delta Hotel, the new Broadway Square, the first commission to actually dedicate money to a waterline replacement program. Those are things that further quality of life in our community. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do and I think the next couple of years will be paramount in development in Ashland and I want to be a part of that team.
CHERYL SPRIGGS: Hi, I’m Cheryl Spriggs, and I too have a passion and a love for our city. As most of you know, I don’t have any family here and I have really been involved in a lot of things. I stay here because I love the people. As many of you know, I started Chili Fest and ran it for 12 years. I’m a member of Main Street and Ashland in Motion, I’m the PWA President. I’m a member of the AEP Community Board. I started a Community Gardens at Debord Terrace and I was the Rotary District Governor, only the fifth in all of eastern Kentucky. Currently I’m the Chair of the WWII Memorial Wall through Rotary. I have been involved in a lot of things. I was elected commissioner in 2006, 2008 and 2012. I think it’s time for me to get back on the commission and help bring it forward into the future. Thank you.
GERALD THOMPSON: Thank you. I’m Gerald Thompson and I also want to thank our sponsors The Independent and My Town TV, it’s good to have the opportunity to identify ourselves to the voters. I was born and raised in Ashland. I graduated from Paul Blazer in 1964. It was a very good year. I went off for about a 40-plus-year period of government service and returned in 2016 with my wife. It was our intention to come back and we’ve been contributing to the community through donor and foundation support, Rotary and United Way. I had the opportunity to serve at the highest levels of policy and decision-making in government and learned a great deal about leadership and consensus building. I’d like to bring those skills to bear to contribute to our commission here.
MILLER: I’ve had quite a few calls already from some residents that their sidewalks are busted and needing replaced. And the problem I find with that, in the majority calls I’ve had, the city will go out and have to bust the sidewalk to work on something, but they’ll only replace a portion of that sidewalk and leave the rest for the homeowner. Well, it’s not the homeowner’s fault a lot of times if their sewer stops up or something breaks and a lot of them are lower-income and they don’t have the money to go and replace the rest of the sidewalk. So one of the issues I’d like to work on would be how can we help the homeowner that can’t afford those things. And like Amanda said, they are putting money away now for our infrastructure needs and I appreciate that because that hasn’t been done for a very long time. So I would like to continue on that path.
FACT: According to city officials, the policy of sidewalk replacement due to a repair is for the city to bear the cost of the repair. Whenever they remove a sidewalk for waterline repair, they replace it as soon as possible. The sidewalk repair could be pushed down the list if there is needed patchwork for state roads, high-traffic areas or safety-sensitive repairs. The city replaces everything that’s damaged.
GUTE: I’m proud to say that this commission has allotted a million dollars for waterline replacement. I’m very proud of that accomplishment and we’re very aggressive about that. We took a tour of the water treatment plant last week and saw the great upgrades with the filter replacements and that will give us maximum capacity to run millions of more gallons through that water treatment plant. We do have a waste water treatment construction on the docket, it’s a $28.5 million reconstruction of the waste water treatment and we completed a $1.4 million building for our meter services and our water people up there on Mill Street. So there’s a lot of things that are happening over the last few years and I’m really proud of the direction the commission is going in.
FACT: The Mill Street meter services shop came to a total cost of $1.73 million, once design, site preparation and other factors are taken into account. The building itself, excluding other costs, came up to about $1.46 million. The waste water treatment plant upgrades, as a part of the Combined Sewer Overflow plan formulated between the city and EPA in 2007, was quoted at $28.3 million in 2018. The estimated cost of the plant is between $30 million and $40 million. It’s still in the pre-engineering phase.
HENRY: Well, I’ve had the unique opportunity of being led on a tour through all of the infrastructure of the city and met some really wonderful, hard-working people. I understand at this point the city has set aside monies of strategic plans and budgeting for future repairs and upgrades. It’s something that’s not going to happen overnight. It’s something we’re going to have to work on steadily and make sure we do provide for those people who are lower income parts of the city and blighted parts of the city that if they have problems when a repair is made, that there is something set in place so that they can have the repairs done to their sidewalk so that the city is uniform.
FACT: Again, the city bears the cost of sidewalk repair, per city officials.
BLANTON: So Ashland is like a lot of towns across America, we’re having major infrastructure problems. This is something that is right in line with what I do for work. I manage a plant in the steel industry and that’s what I’ve done my entire career. Firstly, what I’ve not seen done — and it’s great that we’re setting money aside for replacements — what I’ve not seen done is real data. I’m a person who goes by the motto of “what gets measured gets done.” What I’d like to see is a chart and a frequency of how many times we have waterline breaks. That data is crucial and that’s how you pinpoint where we go. I have a lot of confidence in our departments and I’m sure they done that, but as I mentioned, I’ve worked in manufacturing plants for years. I’ve handled projects with budgets of millions of dollars and guess what? If those projects aren’t executed properly, I don’t have a job. I can’t say much more on my experience for that, but like I said, I trust our departments.
FACT: The automation of meters in the city — wherein data is actually sent digitally to meter services rather than having meter readers walk through back yards — has led to an increase in data. Today, meter services can pinpoint a leak in the system in a matter of minutes based on the meter readings. The meter at the water treatment plan — estimated to be throwing the numbers off by 15% — has also been replaced, which has helped with accuracy in the numbers. Also, according to Blanton’s resume posted to his website, Blanton began managing plants — not sections of plants — in 2015, roughly seven years into his career in manufacturing. Prior to his move to Vesuvius, he managed a battery recycling facility in South Carolina for a year.
MEMMER: Well, I have watched over the last several decades and we used to put money aside in a rainy day fund but we’ve made no plans in the last 30 years to replace anything. And all of the sudden we’ve had all these waterline breaks and so forth and we’re spending all of our time repairing holes in the ground. We need a comprehensive plan — we can’t just throw money at stuff. It doesn’t work that way. You can set aside all money you want or whatever, but you’ve got to have a plan to take care of all these situations. One of the biggest things we need is the new water line replacement situation, where we can put the sleeves through waterlines and sewer lines to help fix the problems that are there now. I’m hoping to be able to implement that while I’m there now.
FACT: The BlueWater Kentucky Study in 2018 has become the road map to prioritize water line replacement. Currently, the Department of Utilities has multiple plans drawn up and sitting on the shelves for replacement projects, as well as a list of high priority lines. Sleeves are considered a Band-Aid for waterlines, whereas replacing aging pipes is the best fix, according to the study and the water distribution department.
THOMPSON: I think one of the things we need to focus on is that the purpose of our government and the situation that Ashland is in now is to attract investment and business into the city. Having functioning infrastructure that people have confidence in and people are proud of is essential to that. There’s no question as to the priority of this work. At the same time, it is a huge job. You have to prioritize, you have program over time, you have to set aside a contingency fund for a rainy day and you have to execute. I think that is a key function of the board, as Mr. Blanton was saying, measure and check. Make sure we are executing according to the plan. It will take time. This will not get done overnight.
SPRIGGS: Well, we all knew that Ashland is an aging community like many of our cities and towns along the Ohio River. When I was first elected in 2006, that was the first time I ever heard the term CSO — Combined Sewer Overflows. It was quite a shock to me that that problem had been known for a long time and had been shoved down instead of commissions dealing with it. So now we have those done. I think there needs to be a comprehensive plan, we think we have the best water system ever and I think that we need to capitalize on that and do everything we can to expand our central distribution points to get more water customers. I think we’re doing more now than we ever have and I think we need to continue that. And it is going to take time and the dedication of the commission to stand by what we say we’re going to do. Thank you.
FACT: The CSO Plan was formulated in 2007, during Spriggs’ first term on the commission. While many projects have been completed to address the plan pursuant to an agreement with the federal government, it is an ongoing plan. Part of that is the sewer plant overhaul, which has not started yet. Again, the BlueWater Study as well as data on the ground has become the comprehensive plan the city uses to address the pipes issue.
CLARK: Just to echo a few things, one I really am proud of the work we’ve done in terms of infrastructure. I think we’re getting a pretty good handle on the water lines and the sewer. The combined sewer and the BlueWater study gave us a lot of information on what lines break most often and that led us to decide in our plan the order of lines being replaced. One of the things I think that’s being left out in our conversation in terms of infrastructure and in terms of recruitment of business and industry is that we got to start looking at broadband infrastructure. High speed broadband — we’re not going to recruit the companies of the future if we do not have the internet access that will allow them to be here. I already engaged our local delegation in Frankfort in terms how do we work with them to find partners to complete the last mile of the KentuckyWired Project. I think it’s the piece of infrastructure that nobody is really talking about that will be really important in the coming years.