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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fort Thomas City Council Debates at Highlands

Two tables seperated the candidate field at the Highlands PAC on Tuesday, Oct. 5. John Slawter, Sam Shelton, Chuck Thompson and Lisa Kelly sat at the first table above. FTM file. 
For the first time since 2008, the candidates running for Fort Thomas City Council convened publicly to discus their prospects for election at the Highlands Performing Arts Center.

The council's second debate will take place October 11 at The Midway Cafe in Fort Thomas at 6:00 p.m.

The town hall-style forum separated the nine candidates into two tables. Members of the Highlands Student Youth Leadership Panel posed alternating questions to each table, allowing each candidate an introduction and closing statement.

The debate was broken up into two, 45-minute segments. The first segment can be found at the Fort Thomas Matters Facebook page here. The embedded video is available below.
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Every facet of the forum's production was student-created. Members of Mr. Bill Poff’s broadcasting program and Mrs. Kym Grillot’s Student Youth Leadership Panel partnered with Mr. Jason Burgess to produce the event.

2015 Highlands alum, Sam Rosenstiel, moderated. SLYP members joined him on stage to pose the candidates questions. Those members included Nathan Armstong, Kayla Groneck, Nico Thom and Greyson Pendery.

The following are questions posed with portions of relevant answers from the candidates during the debate, with follow up clarifications after the debate if needed:

There seems to be some disparity between Tower Park, which gets the most resources in the Fort Thomas park system. How would you ensure equal use of parks and greenspace?

John Slawter: Tower Park reminds us of our military history. All of our parks have been brought up to current standards and all of them get used, it’s just that Tower Park is really nice. The infratrsucture is readily available at there for bigger events, but if we can do those things to use in the other parks, we should do that.  

Sam Shelton: Tower Park is where Fort Thomas started. It’s our local get-together spot. Highland Hills could use some updating, especially with input from the younger generation of residents. 

Chuck Thompson - I’d like to commend previous councils. All three parks have been improved dramatically, including Winkler Park, near Woodfill Elementary. 

Lisa Kelly - I’d like to see some improvements to the dog park. It’s a constant thing we’re trying to do as a council. 

Would you support city-wide wifi for internet access?

John Muller - Nothing is free. We want to be careful as a government entity so that we are not competing with private industry. 

Jeff Bezold - I think it's a good idea and we've talked about this in our visioning process. We are asking ourselves, 'where do we do this? All through town, in the central business districts or in parks?'

Ken Bowman - It's a good idea, but there are a lot of logistical concerns. Could we partner with a commercial entity? Newport is going through this process right now, which is revenue neutral, but limited in scope. 

Roger Peterman - It’s something we need to stay on top of as a community. Kentucky Wired, which is an internet pipeline, funded in part by the state of Kentucky, could be a way to accomplish this. 

David Cameron - The question here is what would work best for our community? We could implement wifi hotspots all the way to building wifi through the city. To attract young professionals, or high-tech businesses that would come to Fort Thomas, you may need to look at this option. You could be a taxi or you could be uber. 

Do you think the city should create a master business plan? What types of businesses should the city try and attract? 

Thompson - I think the city has done a good job with businesses, but it needs to improve. I’d like to see more outside dining or things that bring people to the city. The city needs to be a partner in that, perhaps by changing zoning ordinances when it makes sense, because there has to be an attraction aspect when it comes to Fort Thomas. Also, citizens have money to spend here and I’d like to see our residents shop here. 

Kelly - I'd love to see an open-air market similar Findlay Market, but it’s not as simple as wanting it. We need to make sure we are providing our businesses with the tools they need. As a small-business owner, I feel like I have good insight on that. 

To complete the redevelopment of the VA Homes, would more direct contact with officials be beneficial?
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Muller - The delay is not your elected officials, it’s the federal government.  

Bezold - To piggy-back on what John said, it’s not us, it’s the VA. 

Bowman - As a council person, we’re very limited. I feel good by January we’re going to have some good news to share. The developers just met with the city and wanted to see what kind of skin in the game that the city would have. 

Peterman - I think we’re still plugging away, moving as fast as the federal government will allow us. 

Cameron - It’s frustrating. The city tells us (the delay in development) is the VA's fault, however when I call the federal delegation, I get a different answer  They say the city's not coming to the table. I pledge that if I'm your councilman, I will get to the bottom of this. I will be the advocate these homes need and deserve.  I’m going to be the squeaky wheel that the finally gets the grease ready for the VA homes. 

We are a walking and biking community. Is there a plan to build sidewalks? Bike lanes?

Slawter - Safety is one of my top priorities. I’m not familiar with the visioning process discussions, but space and cost could be issues. What’s the impact? All of those things are going to have to be considered. I would welcome being involved in that conversation. 

Shelton - I know people that have to drive just to walk on sidewalks. There are dead end streets with no sidewalks and we need to find a way to provide those, whether that's the Safe Route To Schools grant provided by Southbank Partners or other means. 

Should the city partake in social media to ensure residents who engage there on a regular basis get city information?

Muller - Before I was elected, we had a antiquated website. NKU Informatics, which is just down the road built ours, so maybe we engage them for these functions as well. 

Bezold - I don’t tweet or Instagram, I do Facebook sometimes, but again, it's a cost versus function thing. We do have a great resource in Fort Thomas Matters that keeps our citizens informed. 

Bowman - We could do more, but we’ve made strides there. Before last term, we didn't even have city email addresses directly on the website. There has been more transparency recently and there's very little that gets by Fort Thomas Matters as well. The MyFortThomas app is not that comprehensive. It’s limited in what it provides. 

Peterman - The important thing in any community is that its members are informed and engaged. There’s a strong sense of community here because they are informed and engaged, but we could do better. I think as these tools become more widely used we can learn how to use them better, even if it's just helping to deal with these crazy things we have to deal with on city council like potholes, street lights burnt out or dead animals. 

Cameron - Communication has increased in social media, but we should still communicate via  course traditional means, like the community newsletter. Communication is so vital to the community. 

Below is a small portion of what each candidate stated during their closing remarks:

Slawter - Running the campaign on the three "S's": safety, schools, small business.  

Shelton - Don’t let age be a factor in your decision, I love this city and am passionate about it. 

Thompson - A forward-thinking city government is key. If you're standing still, you're in danger of going backward. 

Kelly - We've moved the ball forward in my four terms on council. It’s only going to get better from here. 

Muller - We are transparent and have a lot of social capital moving forward. 

Bezold - Through my first term, I was still learning. We’re just getting started. Just learning how things work. 

Bowman - I have a long history of volunteering to the community. I’m highly accessible. We need to have our ears open and listen to all perspectives before we decide on issues presented. 

Peterman - If you’re happy with the the direction the city is moving, I'd ask for your vote. 

Cameron - What we are looking at is minor improvements. We have nine qualified candidates and all are running for the right reasons. You’re not going to agree with each 100% of the time, but I'd ask you to consider your vote for someone with you best interest in mind. 

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