Issues surrounding the Paducah Riverfront Project, community outreach and economic development took center stage of the Market House Theatre Monday night in a forum of the 2016 Paducah Mayoral Candidates.
Constituents polled by iList Paducah, host of the event, submitted questions that were drawn at random by debate moderators Paducah attorney Sam Wright and marketing professional Rosemarie Steele.
Candidates Arthur Baskin, Brandi Harless, Buzz VonTesmer and Incumbent Gayle Kaler each had 70 seconds to answer questions presented. Elliot Polach bowed out of the race Monday due to a "significant life change" according to an email he sent to All Good Media.
Paducah resident Phillip Skipper says he felt the questions touched on most of the issues constituents are concerned about.
“I think they narrowed in pretty well on everyone’s thoughts and opinions, especially the riverfront project. People have been staring at a pile of rocks for the last year wondering which direction that is going. I think the whole community is ready for change,” says Skipper.
Brandi Harless says studies utilized in the decision to implement a transient dock in the riverfront project were conducted 10 years ago and the method in the decision-making process needs to be revisited. -- “We need to make decisions based on current information, we need to be able to be adaptable and flexible when those decisions might change,” says Harless.
Buzz VonTesmer says the project is necessary for the development of the downtown area, but parts of the project are simply “a waste of funds.”
“If you notice when you stand at the riverfront you see trees, debris even the occasional cow goes floating down the river. I’ve tried to take my family out there and there is a reason there is only big boats out there, they can put up with the debris. You take your family out there, you are taking their lives in your hands,” says VonTesmer.
VonTesmer says the transient docking system is dangerous and wouldn’t be used by the community as a whole.
Mayor Kaler says few people believed the Carson Center was a good idea for the area and now the community sees the benefits.
Baskin says “unless you are taking the Blue Man Group or showing the Nutcracker down at the dock, it’s a bad idea.”
Baskin and Harless agree, however, there is no sense in stopping the construction of the transient dock, it is already in progress, but would have liked to see those funds spent on more green space for families. -- Paducah resident Larry Furmann agrees.
“It should be completed to a point, not necessarily the marina. I would like to see more about infrastructure outside of Downtown and LowerTown, specifically sidewalks. I’m 75-years-old, I like to take a walk to maintain my health as much as I can. Many of the areas where I live we don’t have sidewalks, or they start out and you end up in the grass or mud,” says Furmann.
LowerTown and Downtown
While Kaler says she wants to continue with improvements to LowerTown and Downtown, that doesn’t translate into neglecting other parts of Paducah.
Paducah resident Jermaine Jones says he feels the focus is always on LowerTown and Downtown “not about all-around-town.” Jones says the debate was structured with “cookie cutter questions” and didn’t get to the heart of issues of the community.
“They didn’t get deep into the real issues of Paducah which are mainly cultural and social economical and until you address those things you can’t address progression… It was kind of what I expected, they didn’t address anything that was about cultural diversity or about the recidivism in our community or the drug problem in our community, so it was kind of pointless and didn’t seem productive,” says Jones.
Baskin commented several times he feels “There is a disconnect between the people and the government.”
Jermaine Jones says he would simply like to see more candidates for mayor.
Other topics including curbside recycling, protecting structures like City Hall and bringing in business opportunities that would provide jobs paying more than minimum wage were also touched on.
In the closing statements, the candidates reiterated why they were on the stage.
Baskin says his motivation to run lies in his desire to invoke change.
“We definitely had a lot of talking points that was memorized. I can say I’m going to put a chicken in every pot, and a gold bar on the table, but I'm pretty sure everybody in Paducah is tired of the lies and the false statements. I don’t have all the business savvy everybody else has but I do have people. I connect with people and that is my business. I don’t want you to come to city hall to tell me what is wrong, I just want you to come,” says Baskin.
Harless says she has done a lot in the community to bring people together including leading decision making processes like with the Purchase Area Connections for Health Coalition. Harless says empowering leaders from each of the communities, not just LowerTown and Downtown, is a driving force for progressive development.
“The Fountain avenue health park is an example of what can be accomplishment with community wide cooperation. Plans for a park have been in the works for several years. But funding was short. When we started the Purchase Area Connections for Health Coalition, we were approached by the Foundation for a Healthy Ky to apply for their funding. Members of the coalition put together a proposal with the City of Paducah, Baptist Health, Lourdes and the United Way to work towards the park. It was because of the cooperation they were excited to fund portions of this project, to the tune of $400,000 dollars. We have 30 members in our coalition working on health related problems in our community and that is the kind of consensus building that I want to bring as mayor and the kind of consensus building I want to bring to our community as we move forward,” says Harless.
Mayor Kaler says her six years as City Commissioner and four years as Mayor has allowed her to bring significant changes to Paducah.
“Changes that keep us from being just a small town, changes that make us a cooler place to live, a cooler place to do business. I want to continue to do that as Mayor the next four years. I feel like I have the experience, I have the business experience to continue that. I have the experience to work with people within the community, to listen to them, to believe in them, and to make what they want happen, happen,” says Kaler.
VonTesmer says if you don’t vote for him, at least be informed when you vote.
“Be aware of everybody up here and what they are capable of doing and what they have done. I’m not going to bash them for what they have or have not done. Their business skills are not business skills, mine are pretty upfront. I’ve positioned myself to take my skill set and push it towards the city of Paducah, every day you will see me there… My goal is to make this a hub for training because of its great economy and my development, when it comes to these restored houses my company is working on buildings from the Yeiser building to the Diamond building on the corner of 3rd and Broadway, putting in high-end Air Conditioning and hiding it so you guys don’t see it. We do beautiful artwork, in the end it's the only artwork you never see,” says VonTesmer.