Minimum Wage Meeting Postponed

At the August 18th, 2015 Work Session, a majority of Council (9-5) voted to postpone the August 20th, 2015 Committee of the Whole discussion on minimum wage.  I voted with the minority who wanted to keep the original date (8/20/15) because many people had made plans to attend this meeting, and I believe this issue is one that the Lexington public is eager to move forward.   You can view a video of the discussion in the Council Reports section of the August 18, 2015 Work Session agenda by clicking here.  The Herald-Leader provides additional context here.

The minimum wage Committee of the Whole meeting is now rescheduled for September 10, 2015, at 4:00 pm in Council Chambers.  You can view the public meeting notice by clicking here.  This meeting will be for Council members to exchange views, and there will not be an opportunity for public comment. An earlier Committee of Whole meeting was devoted exclusively to public comment on minimum wage.  You can read more about the public comment meeting on my blog post here and watch video of those comments here.

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SeedLeaf’s Ordinary Magic

The following is a guest post by Ryan Koch, Director of SeedLeaf.  You may view the original post here.

Family-Care-Center-Planting-DayThis is only a song; it won’t change the world.
-Ben Sollee

With Fayette County Public Schools starting up again today, I have caught myself thinking about the past twelve weeks and our summer programming. June and July keeps us busy with SEEDS–our job-training endeavor with and for area youth. This 8-week program has changed over the past 7 summers based on our ongoing dialogue with our neighbors in North Lexington.

Jobs. When we began to grow gardeners and share greens and beets and tomatoes, these gifts were well-received, and our good intentions tolerated by kind neighbors, but we were also informed that community members were looking for work. For some, this had to do with real responsibility in a garden, a steady role, even if it was voluntary. I recall one neighbor on Elm Tree Lane serving in this way, faithfully watering a garden near her home. The garden thrived under her care, and our neighbor felt good about joining this work, and sharing from the abundance she cultivated. Our offering turned into her offering (and a service-recipient became a service-provider).

The SEEDS program came to be in 2008 when the coordinator of a local Kids Cafe (okay–my wife, Jodie Koch) identified a handfull of children who needed a bit of help staying out of trouble. They had a number of activities lined up, only one of which was getting in a garden with Seedleaf. But that summer was an education for me. I saw the power of chores, of a shared task, to help unite a group. I watched young, unskilled laborers, with a bit of instruction, make a difference on one small piece of land. And a major part of my benefits package is witnessing this miracle anew each summer.

A job is not the same as work. A job is a transaction. I trade my time and attention for money at a job. But work has a wider, more creative connotation. Work can be rewarded with money, or with meaning, or with connection. Work is something one is compelled to do. For many entrepreneurs, work is not financially rewarded for quite some time.

I have been monitoring the work of our Master Community Gardeners over the past four growing seasons. These folks get 20 hours of training in the winter and spring, and are invited to volunteer for 40 hours over the course of the summer. Some volunteers quickly get through those 40 hours and keep showing up for their own reasons. Many of these MCGers end up supervising other volunteers, directing work in a garden that was dear to them. And a few of these folks given part-time paying gigs. These folks have a particular skill set: great with people, positive energy, garden knowledge, flexible. These are the folks who keep Seedleaf thriving.

One Seedleafer in particular is worth mentioning here. I did not intend to hire Jevincio Tooson when I met him a year ago. He visited the Roosevelt Blvd Community Garden last fall with Dr. Mary Arthur’s class for UK freshmen, and this guy was friendly, chatty, engaging. He asked thoughtful questions throughout our brief time together. A crabby part of me wanted to tell him, Calm down, young man; its just a community garden. But his enthusiasm won the day. Instead of infecting him with my cynicism, I began to see that space anew, through his eyes.

In the spring Jevincio was a practicum student for us:

Real World Sustainability: Greenhouse Students in the Community from UK College of Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.

This summer we took advantage of his availability, and his passion for our mission, and began to pay him for his time. He helped with SEEDS and cared for the garden at Apiary Catering. His curiosity and positivity continue to affect (infect!) me. That’s how and why Jevincio came to be part of our seasonal staff this year.

I don’t mean to take too much pride in these jobs we have sort of created. While 16 gardens are getting cared for, this is still a work in progress. Nobody is getting rich working at Seedleaf. Our staff receive no benefits package. Our seasonal staff work only when they are needed. Our SEEDS kids work hard in the sun and earn every bit of their $200 gift card. What is so hard to quantify, though, is that moment when one of us gets caught up in a much bigger story of the gift economy, or the connection economy. We see nature healing itself on a piece of land on Whitney Avenue, or we hear gratitude from a neighbor for the greens she picked last week. And we remember that meaningful work is a gift in itself.

This is only a job, and for some, it is only seasonal, part-time manual labor. It won’t change the world, but it has a good chance of changing one little part of the earth for the better. And it will inevitably change the one doing the work in ways that challenge our imagination, and defy compensation.

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Celebrate National Farmers Market Week and Support Bluegrass Double Dollars

Summer CelebrationUnited States Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack has proclaimed August 2-8, 2015 as National Farmer’s Market Week.   The Lexington Farmers Market will mark the occasion with its Summer Celebration this Saturday, August 8th, 2015.

You can RSVP for the event via Facebook by clicking here.

In addition to enjoying a host of local foods and meeting farmers at the event, you can stop by the Watermelon & Cantaloupe Buffet Fundraiser booth and meet Ashton Potter Wright from Bluegrass Farm to Table, Andrea James from the Blue Grass Community Foundation, and my legislative aide, Nathan Dickerson. There you can purchase a slice of watermelon or cantaloupe for a suggested donation of $2 or enjoy an open buffet of these produce offerings for a suggested donation of $8. These donations support a new pilot program called Bluegrass Double Dollars, which, as readers of my blog know, helps double the purchasing power of low-income families when they buy local fruits and vegetables. You can learn more about the program by clicking here.

As an added bonus, you’ll get to enjoy live music by the Lexington Philharmonic. If you are participating in the Bluegrass Double Dollars program already or are a SNAP recipient, you will be able to enjoy a full match for your SNAP dollars. Please visit the Facebook event for additional details.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on local food and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Meaningful Progress for Mental Health Courts

The Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness identified mental illness as a key factor in homelessness.   This is why part of the Commission’s recommendations included supporting the creation of a mental health court, which you can find on page 4 of the final report.

A mental health court is similar to a drug court in that it provides an alternative route through the criminal justice system.  For example, an individual who nonviolently broke into a house and was preparing a meal because of voices she or he imagined instructed her or him to do so would likely be eligible to pursue treatment rather than jail time.  This option helps the mentally ill get assistance and lead productive lives instead of cycling through the criminal justice system, and thus it also helps save taxpayer dollars.

Productive and compassionate outcomes are why we are pleased to report that the tireless work of the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness, the Lexington chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as countless stakeholders and activists has yielded substantive progress on an often overlooked issue.    NAMI organized a forum on this issue in October of 2012, which continued with the Take Down the Wall/Decriminalization Committee.  The Committee’s work led to Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice, John D. Minton, Jr., signing an Order Approving Local Rules for the Mental Health Court for Fayette County on July 7, 2014.

The Court began work on November 24, 2014, and its efforts have been bolstered by a 3-year grant from the LFUCG Office of Homeless Prevention and Intervention (OHPI).  The grant was awarded to NAMI in February 2015 for administration and day to day operation of the mental health court program.  These local resources also better position the mental health court to receive federal investment.  You may read about this award, as well as some of the heartening early successes, by reviewing the OHPI newsletter here.

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Enjoy Delicious Food, Support a Great Cause

Bluegrass Double Dollars

Here’s your opportunity to have a great meal and do a good deed all at the same time. Be a part of  “Dine for a Cause” on Sunday, July 26th, 2105 at Stella’s Kentucky Deli from 4 – 9 pm.  A portion of the proceeds from your meal will go to support a worthy new program in our community, Bluegrass Double Dollars.  Please sign up for the Facebook event by clicking the link below:

Facebook event link

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, Bluegrass Double Dollars is a program that makes healthy, local produce more affordable to Lexington SNAP (formerly food stamps) recipients. It doubles the dollars (up to $10 per transaction) of SNAP recipients for local produce at the five Lexington Farmers’ Market locations, Good Foods Co-op, and Lexington Market East End.  The program is a joint effort by the Blue Grass Community Foundation and Bluegrass Farm to Table.  The program was won a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant award from the United States Department of Agriculture.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on local food and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Resignation from CommerceLexington

The Herald-Leader ran a story on July 7, 2015 about my resignation from the board of CommerceLexington. The story is accurate. Here I simply provide a few additional pieces of information about my reasons for resigning, with the hope that this will help everyone understand more clearly what I believe is at issue.

LFUCG has two parts to its relationship with CommerceLexington. In one part we contract with CommerceLexington for a variety of economic development services which in previous times have been handled in-house by LFUCG. We provide CommerceLexington with roughly $.5 million for those services and they report about them to LFUCG on a quarterly basis. Those funds and those activities are strictly segregated from all of their other activities.

In the other part of our relationship they offer LFUCG three ex officio seats on their Advisory Board and one seat on their Executive Board. These boards are responsible for all their activities, including lobbying at the local, state, and federal level on a variety of public policy issues. With the minor exception of a few other ex officio positions, all members of these boards are dues-paying members of CommerceLexington. LFUCG is not.

It is this second part of the relationship that I question. I believe it is fair to say that CommerceLexington’s primary role and responsibility in its advocacy work is to represent and advance the interests of the business community, as they define those inerests. My view is that there are issues where those interests, as they define them, are in conflict with the broader interests of the entire community. Raising the minimum wage is one of those issues, but it is not the only one.

So, while I appreciate the intention of CommerceLexington in offering an ex officio position on the Advisory Board for the Vice Mayor of LFUCG, I believe it is inappropriate to accept that offer. Doing so would be an implicit acceptance and endorsement of their public policy positions, both by LFUCG and by the individual who happens to be Vice Mayor. I do not want my name and my elected position to be listed on the board of an organization some of whose stated policies represent, in my view, the short term and narrowly defined interests of certain segments of the business community at the expense of the long term and more broadly defined general welfare of the larger community.

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Council Advances Minimum Wage Consideration

At  the Tuesday, June 7, 2015 work session (click here for video and navigate to council reports for minimum wage discussion), I made a motion to remove the issue of raising the minimum wage from the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee and place it on the agenda for a special meeting of the Committee of the Whole. As noted earlier on this blog, the Budget, Finance, Economic Development Committee had tabled discussion of the issue until litigation on Louisville’s minimum wage ordinance is finally resolved.  The Division of Law estimated that this process could take up to two years with various appeals.  I made my motion because I believe our community needs to act sooner, especially given the circuit court’s approval of Louisville’s ordinance and the refusal of the Kentucky Court of Appeals to issue an emergency injunction sought by the plaintiffs to stop implementation.

Council approved my motion by a vote of 11-4.  Now the full council will be able to consider all aspects of the issue and move toward crafting an ordinance that can be supported by a majority of council.  That Committee of the Whole meeting will be on Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm in council chambers.

Council begins its summer recess on July 8, 2015 and reconvenes on August 8, 2015.  I look forward to advancing the issue of raising the minimum wage when we return.  Thanks to Council Member Jennifer Mossotti for initiating the proposed ordinance and to the many citizens who have engaged in this important discussion throughout Council deliberations to this point.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on minimum wage and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Minimum Wage Wins Early Legal Test

As noted in my previous blog post, the Council’s Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee voted to table the issue of minimum wage until the legal challenge to Louisville’s action to raise the wage is resolved.  The Lexington Herald-Leader provides further analysis here.

The first legal hurdle was cleared on Monday (6/29/15), as the circuit court determined that a municipality has the authority to set a minimum wage. You can read the full decision here and a report from The Courier-Journal on this development here.  The plaintiffs who brought the suit  have stated that they will appeal this circuit court decision.

I voted against the motion to table the issue and I am hopeful this early legal victory will encourage the Council to reconsider, and that we will have enough support on council to make Lexington the second Kentucky city to pass an increase in the minimum wage.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on minimum wage and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Minimum Wage Increase Delayed

The Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee discussed minimum wage yesterday (6/23/15), following a meeting on March 17th, 2015 and an opportunity for public comment on June 8th, 2015.  The committee packet from the June 23rd meeting is available for reference here.  You may also find a video of meeting by clicking here.

I was disappointed that  a majority of the Committee voted to table the issue until the legal challenge to Louisville’s decision to raise the minimum wage has been resolved.  As I have stated previously, I am supportive of raising the minimum wage and believe that Lexington should act, given the failure of action at the state and federal levels. While Lexington has enjoyed increasing prosperity over the past decade, a significant portion of local workers have not enjoyed the benefits of our growing economy. I will continue to look for ways to move this issue forward.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on minimum wage and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Final FY 16 Budget Update

Today, Thursday, June 18th, 2015, the final budget for the city of Lexington will be on the docket for its second reading before Council.  You can watch it live at 6 pm EST by clicking here.  After a final vote of approval, the budget will become law.

I posted the complete budget schedule earlier on my blog here.  For further reference, Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget is posted in full here and highlights are available here.

Council made some modifications to the Mayor’s Proposed Budget after a thorough review by subcommittees, consideration of their recommendations, and consideration of changes recommended by council members. You can view those meetings online by clicking the links below:

A spreadsheet of the Council’s modifications to the Mayor’s Proposed Budget is available here.

Thank you to all constituents, staff, and council members for your attention and feedback to this fiscal year 2016 budget.

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