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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Design Excellence Advances from Committee

Design Excellence Advances from CommitteeOn  June 9th, 2015, the Planning & Public Safety Committee voted to move the proposed Downtown Design Excellence Standards & Guidelines on to consideration by the full Council.  You can review the meeting materials by clicking here.  The video from the meeting will be posted here.

While final approval by Council remains to be secured, at this important juncture I thank all those who served on the Task Force for their hard work over a number of years. Special thanks to former Council Member Tom Blues, who preceded me as Chair of the Task Force, and architect Graham Pohl, landscape architect Tony Barrett, and Fayette Alliance Executive Director Knox Van Nagell, all of whom shared their expertise on the issue at this meeting and helped make the case for adopting the Task Force recommendations.

Final and most important thanks to Brandi Berryman and Jeff Fugate of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority for their staffing assistance and support throughout the life of the project. They did the heavy lifting, and the final set of recommendations is a testament to their professionalism and expertise.

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

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Public Comment Opportunity for Minimum Wage

Minimum Wage Steve KayOn Monday, June 8th, 2015 Council will hold a special Committee of the Whole meeting to hear public comment on raising the minimum wage in Lexington.  The meeting will be from 5:00 to 8:00 pm in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Government Center.  This is an opportunity for you to share with Council your perspective on this issue of great importance for our community.

This special meeting is being held because at the March 17th, 2015 Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee  meeting a large number of people who signed up to speak on this important issue did not get a chance to do so.  For further context, you may view that meeting online by clicking here:  Streaming Video of 3/17/15 Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee Meeting

I plan to support raising the minimum wage in Lexington because the minimum wage has failed to keep pace with rising costs and is one aspect of growing income inequality. Raising the minimum wage will have an immediate positive impact on those who struggle at the lowest end of our economy and on our local economy overall. You can review the research of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP) on this issue, which can be found in the following Committee packet:  3/17/15 Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee Packet

This issue will next be on the agenda of the June 23rd, 2015 Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee meeting.

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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Bluegrass Double Dollars Launches This Week (with video)

As readers of my blog know, Bluegrass Double Dollars is a new pilot project sponsored by the Blue Grass Community Foundation in partnership with LFUCG’s local food program, Bluegrass Farm to Table.  Double Dollars helps low-income families double their purchasing power for local fruits and vegetables and supports our local food economy.  You can view local media coverage about the program launch on WKTY by clicking the embedded video below:

Here are the key details about the program:

  •  The pilot phase of the grant will run from June 1st, 2015 until November 30th, 2015 or until grant funds are exhausted.
  • People who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are eligible for the program.
  • The pilot program includes three participating local food partners, each with its own process for redemption.
    • Good Foods Co-op
      • Make a qualifying SNAP purchase of at least $10 at any register
      • Receive one $10 voucher (limit 1 voucher per qualifying transaction, per customer per day) at the Hospitality Desk
      • Redeem your voucher at the Hospitality Desk that day or within 30 days for fresh, frozen, or canned local fruits and vegetables, local fruit and vegetable transplants, and local herbs
    • Lexington Market East End
      • Make a qualifying SNAP purchase of at least $5 at either register
      • Receive one $5 voucher (limit 1 voucher per qualifying transaction, per customer per day)
      • Redeem your voucher that day or within 30 days for fresh, frozen, or canned local fruits and vegetables, local fruit and vegetable transplants, and local herbs
    • Lexington Farmers’ Market
      • Visit the Market information booth and swipe your SNAP card
      • Receive $10 worth of tokens for a qualifying SNAP transaction of at least $10 (limit 1 Bluegrass Double Dollar match per customer per day)
      • Redeem your tokens that day or within 30 days for fresh, frozen, or canned local fruits and vegetables, local fruit and vegetable transplants, and local herbs at any vendor booth

For additional information, please contact Ashton with Bluegrass Double Dollars or Andrea with the Blue Grass Community Foundation:

If you would like to support the program, you may donate to it through its fiscal sponsor, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, by clicking here.

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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