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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fort Thomas City Council Candidates Debate One Last Time

L to R: David Cameron, Jeff Bezold, Ken Bowman, Sam Shelton, Lisa Kelly, John Slawter, Roger Peterman, Chuck Thompson and John Muller. FTM file. 
By Robin Gee 

Street maintenance fees, safety concerns, city budget and housing stock were among the issues discussed Tuesday night during the second Fort Thomas City Council candidate debate and public forum held at the Midway Café in Fort Thomas.

About 70 people were on hand to hear from nine council candidates at the event hosted by the Fort Thomas Business Association and Fort Thomas Matters.

Mark Collier, Editor and Publisher of Fort Thomas Matters, served as moderator.

RELATED: Read the candidates' op-eds and listen to their podcasts. 

Candidates in two groups were asked questions in the first section. In the second, individual candidates answered questions with room for response by others. Questions sent to Fort Thomas Matters were included in both sections.

The following are excerpts of some of the candidate’s answers to forum questions. A video of the complete event is included on the Fort Thomas Matters Facebook page below. Highlands senior, Chay Rust, co-produced the video. The second part of the video is below. 

Fort Thomas is one of the only cities in the Commonwealth that asks its residents to help pay directly for street and sidewalk repair. Do you believe this is the most equitable way to pay for this?

David Cameron: The program does allow for us to repave more streets each year … but it needs some fine tweaks to it to make sure it’s equitable for all citizens.

Ken Bowman: I’m all for having a conversation about doing some sort of hybrid … and I wouldn’t rule out possibly bringing back the discussion of a franchise fee on utility bills.

Sam Shelton: Maybe we do need have an open forum for this.

The Campbell County Fiscal Court passed a needle exchange ordinance county-wide this year. But the state statute requires a city government to also pass this. Do you believe the needle exchange should be placed on St. Elizabeth’s campus in Fort Thomas?

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John Slawter: I agree with the needle exchange program but I do not believe it should take place within Fort Thomas city limits

Roger Peterman: This is a serious problem in northern Kentucky — not only addiction itself but also the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV that occurs with used needles. It’s an epidemic. … The Health Department has taken the position that it ought to be at the Department so people have the services there to seek treatment.

John Muller: It’s not about addiction. The needle exchange is about population health — HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B — all of which we are at significant risk for in our community.

During the last two property tax votes, there has been a failure to pass the tax increase unanimously. Why is that? How much should the city’s surplus be before taxpayers deserve a break?

Jeff Bezold: The difference is less than $70,000 a year between what was proposed and what was actually voted in. If you think about it, $70,000 is one bad snowfall … If you are able to run that lean, $70,000, on a multi-billion dollar budget, that’s pretty good.

Lisa Kelly: We should evaluate on a year-to-year basis instead of just automatically having an increase every year.

Is there any one area in the city’s yearly budget that you believe deserves a hard look at cutting?

Chuck Thompson: I rely heavily on Finance Committee. They take the deep dive on these types of issues when recommending the budget and recommending expenditures. They take a hard look at spending tax dollars as wisely as possible.

Muller: Our finances are extremely conservative. They are sound. … The police and fire in this environment — are you willing to trade any safety for some cuts? I’m not.

The planning and zoning commission recently changed a text amendment that included adult daycare into a general commercial zone. Many business owners were opposed. City Council passed that recommendation, but discussion was limited. Should council have been a larger part of this decision-making process?

Bowman: The only information the council was able to consider was what was presented in the committee meetings.

Kelly: I really would like that opportunity to be more involved and see the steps behind things before they are presented to us.

Cameron: On this particular issue, I do not agree with this decision by the plan commission…but I also think the council should respect the decisions of a commission. … At the end of the day they are the experts on the topics.

Sam Shelton: I do think city council should have had a bigger part … I would attend those meetings if I could, and listen to our tenants that are going to be affected by it.

Fort Thomas is consistently on the list of top places to live. What’s the single greatest threat to our standard of living in Fort Thomas?

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Thompson: The biggest threat is to rest on our laurels and not be visionary enough in moving forward.

Muller: You choose an area for the quality of life, safety, infrastructure, and schools and housing. We have all of those. Our housing has to get a little bit better. … We’ve got to find a way to move into that next level.

Slawter: The greatest threat without question is apathy. Anything that we can do to promote involvement with the community … is really what’s going to keep Fort Thomas as nice as it is.

From Adam Caswell (Tremont): Over the past couple months many young married people are moving into the city, but amenities haven’t kept up with growth. How can a city councilman be an advocate to recruit the intelligent retail options to satisfy this increasingly growing demographic?

Cameron: We have fantastic small businesses. … How do we attract more of them? I think we’re going to have to introduce some type of business incentive.

Bezold: We’ve had a major influx of businesses coming in the last couple of years. … I think the problem that we face is we don’t have a place to put them. … Something we are looking at.

From a (Sheridan Ave) resident: The heroin interdiction team used a dedicated team of three Fort Thomas police officers to patrol the interstates surrounding Fort Thomas to specifically look for heroin-related offenses. In the period they ran this program, arrests were up; many drugs were taken off the streets. Would you budget money to run this program indefinitely?

Slawter: This is one of those issues that absolutely has to be addressed. … Certainly in this period with heroin use and heroin- related issues are on the rise, literally at our back door, no question about it.

Thompson: This is a problem that filters through a lot of different areas. … We need to devote our resources, look for partners, look for assistance.

The following are questions from second section.

There are nine candidates running for six spots. Why do you think there is such a desire to sit on Fort Thomas City Council?

Thompson: I really feel confident that all nine of us here are very capable. And I think that’s a trait of a solid community like Fort Thomas … People want to serve.

As somebody who is not currently on city council, at some point you have to look and see that there are nine people on the panel and six spots. Do you feel like you can add something to the council right now that is missing?

Slawter: I grew up here. … I want to make sure all those things are still there for my kids and my grandkids and their kids. …One, I grew up here; two, I have a military background and three, I have a wife who owns two businesses in town. I think that creates a new perspective I think would be very beneficial to the community and to the town.
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You are in your fifth term now, and are the second most tenured councilperson after Mr. Peterman. At this point, do you consider yourself a politician?

Kelly: No, I don’t necessarily think of myself that way. … I’m very vested in this city. I grew up here. ... And I have two businesses in town. … I’m here every day, interacting and I think that’s important to get feedback.

Peterman: It’s unfortunate that term has gotten to be a pejorative term. The thing is politicians are active in a community. … To see other people and particularly younger people run …that’s the best for the future of Fort Thomas. … I’m committed to this community and if that what that means, yeah I am one.

You made the most newsworthy statement during the last debate when you expressed your frustration with the progress on the VA homes. Can you clarify that? Have you learned anything more?

Cameron: I actually met with Ron Dill today. … I want to continue to be an advocate for that project. … a partner in that process.

Peterman: This is a highly regulated thing. … We did not want to take a financial risk with those properties. The environmental clean up alone is somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000. The government can’t even transfer the property until the environmental problem is solved.

Who here believes that the city should act as a developer and maybe purchase the homes itself? Why would you not do that?

Muller: The city is not in business to be a developer. We are in the business of quality of life, safety and infrastructure. … The first batch of houses they sold off, as I understand, to the buyers who could do the abatement.

Slawter: I know it’s a huge challenge and tremendous red tape but there will come a time when we’ve got to do something. …This is another one of those situations where someone else in the community is going to need to get much more active in order to push this through.

The forum ended with a question asking all the candidates what issues they are asked to fix once elected. The VA homes and abandoned properties led the list followed by safety and zoning issues.

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