Five candidates participate in Town Hall

May 11—ASHLAND — Although more than a dozen candidates are vying for a seat on Ashland's city commission, only five candidates appeared for a citizen-led town hall just days away from the upcoming primary election.

Individuals residing within Ashland city limits are eligible to vote on this race to narrow down a list of 13 candidates to eight on Tuesday, May 21.

Fred Unrue, Sean Farrington, James Moore, Anthony Kyle Gibson, and Dwain Porter were at the Elks Lodge on Carter Avenue, where each of the five candidates shared views on various topics from transportation to funding to other issues facing the city.

A topic spinning circles in Unrue's mind throughout the duration of the discourse was the downtown transformation, including five roundabouts in the city.

"It seems like they want to not have traffic, not have cars in town. I don't know what's going on," Unrue said.

"Travel around town has gotten extremely difficult with the new roundabouts. It's a great idea, it looks pretty, but a long-wheelbase truck, it's a difficult proposition to even get through town," he added.

Unrue made one thing clear: increasing the cost of using the bus system to create revenue for the city.

"It doesn't always have to be free transportation out past a certain point," Unrue said. "If they want to go to Ironton, take them to Ironton, but charge them an appropriate fee — 50 cents, a dollar. ... We don't want to break them up, but you have to buy fuel," he said.

"I don't know what they are doing with all of this — murals, the roundabouts ... it's got to be functional for the city," Unrue said.

Before Farrington became a therapist, he worked one on one with individuals teaching how to use the bus system where he noticed an issue first hand.

"Some buses are only running this hour, but then they are going to switch tracks; be on this other route, it changes. For individuals trying to just get across town to a doctor's appointment, it takes them half of the day to be able to get up there and back. It's not all right," he said.

The question of changing the mayoral structure in Ashland arose and Unrue was the first to take aim. Before answering, he made a jab some of the current commission and Mike Graese, city manager, for the "appalling" raise he received earlier this year.

"With what just happened, the raise they gave our city manager was pretty much appalling to most of the citizens," Unrue said. "Maybe he does a great job, I don't know. But he is way over pay scale in comparison to other cities."

Unrue believes the race for city commission should be partisan.

"Your party affiliation speaks a lot of how you think about things," Unrue said. "People should be able to know who they are voting for."

Farrington is not quite "sold" on the idea of changing the city-manager form of government but emphasized strengthening communication between city leaders and residents.

"We need to have more open communication between our city officials and quite clearly we don't have that," Farrington said. "Whether it be the roundabout situation, water system, we get shunned and we are not having open discussions. I want better transparency between city officials and us."

Moore said he thinks Ashland's city manager form of government should not change.

He recalled when Mayor Matt Perkins failed to have it changed in the past and said the people of Ashland have already spoken and should be the final say-so.

"It failed in ballotry, that's the democratic way of doing things by the people," Moore said. "His pay should be based on what the city is. He don't need to be that high, again it's our taxpayers' money."

There would be a lot of "wasted energy," Gibson said, about changing the form of government.

He was fine with leaving it as a non-partisan race.

Dwain Porter, who arrived 47 minutes late due to "prior obligations," was strongly opposed to switching the form of government.

"It was made that way many years ago; let's just keep it that way and we don't need to try and change it at this point," Porter said. "Obviously we have flaws, but that's why we are up here trying to make change."

Porter, Farrington and Gibson all agreed on changing commission meeting times.

Strengthening relationships was more of a common ground between the five candidates. The candidates broached the topic of working with all the counties in the FIVCO area (Boyd, Greenup, Elliott, Lawrence and Carter) and they made recommendations of ways to bring business in.

"We have to rely on one another and bust down those walls," Farrington said.

"What is good for other places is good for here," Moore said..

Porter proposed fortifying relationships across the river into Ohio and West Virginia. He said "no man is an island and we are no island, either."

A change in ordinances, outdated laws and code enforcement were brought to light.

"There needs to be an ordinance in place that after three years, the city can take over that property," Moore said.

"There needs to be some less strict code, but more ways to put payroll and houses and tax space back into our systems," he said.

Gibson told the crowd he is not an expert in current zoning laws or enforcement.

"From what I am hearing, businesses are having a hard time getting up to code," Gibson said.

"If you are a renter you still have responsibility for that property. There are ordinances, laws and codes that date way back. There's a lot of rules and regulations that are not brought up unless there is a problem," Porter said.

Unrue told the crowd plumbing and electric codes have to stay the same.

"There's huge room for development, we just have to find it and research it," Unrue added.

Quality of life was a focus of Gibson's.

"Before someone can begin to work on self-esteem, they have to establish safety. We have to find a way out for people who are struggling," he said.

Porter was passionate speaking to the crowd on the use of drugs. He proposed to fight to increase skills taught in elementary schools and knowledge about drugs.

"Reducing drugs will reduce all of our problems," he said.

Unrue proposed more police presence in the downtown area, bringing foot and/or bike patrol to watch the area.

"We need a presence downtown, probably two officers, especially in the evenings and at night," he said. "Security is going to get a lot worse, folks. There's a lot of people coming into this country and a lot of them are coming right here. They are here."

Moore agreed with Unrue in increasing police presence.

"More police presence will bring a better sense of living," he said, which will deter people from committing crime.

Farrington told the crowd locking people up for addiction is the opposite of what should be done.

He said resources and people are needed to tackle the drug problem.

"Locking them up is not the answer," Farrington said. "I understand what trauma does to your brain."

The other eight candidates are as follows: Lana White, Richard "Sonny" Martin, Larry Brown, Amanda Clark, Marty Gute, Cheryl Spriggs, DJ Rymer and Tim Renfroe.

Mike Maynard, of Hillcrest-Bruce Mission, was the event moderator.

Cathy Meade, Lee Holderness and Kay Carr organized the town hall.

(606) 326-2657 — ajohnson@dailyindependent.com