“Green Up for the Breeders’ Cup” Council Comment

The Breeders’ Cup begins on October 30th, 2015–just a few weeks away.  The city has been hard at work making sure Lexington’s signature beauty is at its finest not only for the upcoming festivities but long into the future as well.  Keep Lexington Beautiful (KLB) partnering with the Division of Environmental Services (DES) and the Corridors Commission have all worked in concert with private sponsors to orchestrate these beautification projects.  For more information on the this work, read the most recent guest post on my blog by clicking here.

I also had the opportunity to visit one of the beautification sites near Man o’ War Boulevard across from Keeneland and talk with Susan Plueger and John Saylor, both of DES, about their work. You can view  that Council Comment video below.

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Green Up for the Breeders’ Cup

The following is a guest post by Angela Poe, a Program Manager for Public Engagement with the LFUCG Division of Environmental Services.

Green UpLexington is busy preparing to welcome guests from all over the world to our community for the Breeders’ Cup.  One such effort has Keep Lexington Beautiful (KLB) partnering with the Division of Environmental Services (DES) and the Corridors Commission to “green up” the main corridors leading into town. KLB solicited corporate sponsors for the professionally designed wildflower beds that DES is installing and will maintain.  The new flower beds are located at:

  • The intersection of Oliver Lewis Way and West High Street in the green space between Oliver Lewis and Cox with a smaller section in that same area where West High Street and West Maxwell come together
  • The north corner of the intersection of Newtown and West Main
  • The medians near the I-75 ramp on Newtown Pike
  • The median and road sides at the airport on Man O War

Lead sponsors include: Central Bank, R. J. Corman Railroad Group, Quantrell Subaru, and Lowe’s.  The Bluegrass Airport and Kentucky American Water also supported the beautification effort.

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My Interview with WUKY

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chase Cavanaugh as part of  WUKY’s “Know Your Council” series.  Chase asked about my professional background, my history of involvement in public service, and my work on council.  My thanks to Chase and to WUKY for offering this public interest programming.

You can listen to the shortened interview that aired on WUKY by clicking here, and you can hear the full interview by clicking here.

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Council Comment with Martine’s Pastries

I had the distinct pleasure of touring a wonderful local business, Martine’s Pastries, for GTV3’s Council Comment series.  The shop, located at 1039 Industry Road, has been in Lexington since 1999.  Martine’s Pastries is renowned for its superb cakes and other pastries, available at their shop and at the many restaurants around town that they supply. Martine and Jim Holzman are also known for their unique, beautifully decorated, and completely edible specialty wedding cakes; for example, they recently created a custom “upside down” wedding cake, as they discuss in the video.

I hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes tour of Martine’s Pastries as much as I did. My thanks to Martine and Jim for choosing Lexington as a place to live and grow a business, and for welcoming me and the great GTV3 crew into their shop.

You can meet Jim and Martine and view some of their incredible creations in the full Council Comment episode below.

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Design Excellence Proposal Delayed

Council has worked on the issue of Downtown Design Excellence for roughly seven years.   For the issue’s progress in Fiscal Year 2015, please see my blog posts here and here. Following a series of procedural motions before council’s summer break, the issue returned to the Planning & Public Safety Committee on September 8, 2015. You may view video of that committee meeting by clicking here.

At that meeting it appeared that a majority of the committee were not yet ready to send the proposal forward to the full Council.   As Beth Musgrave with the Herald-Leader summarizes,

After 11th-hour objections from two developers Tuesday during an Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee meeting, Vice Mayor Steve Kay reluctantly put the issue into a subcommittee for further vetting and possible changes.

While I am disappointed with this delay, I understand the concerns expressed by my council colleagues. I will work with them to address these concerns, and I will continue to seek council approval for this proposal, which helps ensure that we protect our community’s public and private investments in a vibrant downtown.

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Lexington Is More Welcoming to All with Global Lex

Lexington’s new center, called Global Lex, will offer multilingual services, citizenship classes, driver’s education and public safety classes.  It features art by foreign-born Lexingtonians and is likely to host business incubation programs.  The expected outcome from this center is a community that is more welcoming to diverse residents.  According to the Herald-Leader article about the grand opening for the center, demand for services at Global Lex is already exceeding expectations.

The opening of Global Lex is significant because it addresses a challenge formally highlighted by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in a 2010 study, Soul of the Community.  Knight’s research highlighted how much the beauty of the Bluegrass drives community attachment, but it also confirmed that Lexington is not as strong as it could be in its openness to some types of diversity.  As Knight states:

Lexington residents give low marks to the community’s perceived openness to racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants, which could be hindering attachment  among some groups and reducing the community’s appeal to new residents.  Leaders should do more to increase knowledge of initiatives to create a diverse and tolerate community that is welcoming to all people.

Given this context, I am especially pleased to see Lexington putting resources behind an effort to increase our social openness.

On a more personal note, I grew up in an old New England mill town rich in ethnic diversity created by recent immigrants.  My own father migrated as a child to the United States from Russian in 1923 with my grandparents, so I am familiar with the immigrant experience and understand the value that immigrants bring to our communities.

Many thanks to Mayor Gray, to Isabel Taylor, the city’s multicultural affairs coordinator, and to the many members of the immigrant community and so many others who worked to make the Center a reality and to make the opening event for the Center so successful.

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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.

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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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