City commission candidates talk about COVID response, community strengths, weaknesses

Published 10:24 am Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The field for the four seats on the Winchester Board of Commissioners is wide open this year.

The non-partisan race will determine who will work with the mayor and city manager for the next two years to make decisions about how the City of Winchester operates.

The four current commissioners, JoEllen Reed, Ramsey Flynn, Kitty Strode and Shannon Cox, have all filed for re-election. Former city commissioner Kenny Book is running again, as is former county judge-executive candidate Sam Williams and newcomer Hannah Toole.

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Each candidate was asked to answer six questions from The Sun in 75 words or less. Their answers are presented in alphabetical order.


1. Give a brief background about yourself.


BOOK: retired from Book’s Bookkeeping and Tax Service in 2016 after 38 years. Married to the former Betty Christy for 39 years this December. We have two daughters, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. I have been in Winchester for 58 years.


COX: I have lived in Winchester since I was 5. I am a graduate of UK and EKU. I taught in the Clark County school system for 30-plus years and coached several sports. I have been a city commissioner since 1999. I am chair of the Winchester Salvation Army Unit, a board member for Brooks Place and Habitat for Humanity, and I head the Winchester Work Camp and help with Fellowship of Christian Athletes.


FLYNN: First-term city commissioner. Married to Amy Brinegar Flynn, and have two children, Tanner, 22, and Taylor, 21. Retired from Winchester Fire-EMS after 20 years of service, and currently work for BCTC as safety and security supervisor. Board member for Winchester Clark County Chamber of Commerce, Heritage Commission, Bluegrass Heritage Museum, ASAP and Generation Center. Past board member and vice chair of Parks and Recreation. Grew up in Winchester and a 1993 graduate of GRC.


REED: I was born and reared in Winchester-Clark County. My parents are the late Joe F. and Betty Haggard Reed. I am a retired Clark County school teacher. I am the director of advocacy and community relations as the legislative liasion for Bluegrass Community and Technical College. I serve on the board of Hospice East, the Patient Family Advocacy Council at Clark Regional Medical Center and the joint city-county EMS committee, public works committee and revenue sharing committee.


STRODE: I grew up in Lexington, graduated from Henry Clay High School and attended the University of Kentucky. I moved to Winchester in 1975. Have a daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Have been employed as a mutuel clerk for Keeneland and Churchill Downs for 35 years. I serve on the Main Street board and public works committee. I also chair the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival committee, the tourism commission and Beer Cheese and Bluegrass Heritage Museum boards.


TOOLE: I moved to Winchester when I was 8 years old, and both of my parents opened their own businesses. A graduate of GRC and Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., I returned home after college and I reside in town with my two dogs, Bandit and Bogey. I have worked in beverage sales and distribution for over seven years. I am new to public service and look forward to the opportunity to serve. 


WILLIAMS: Resident of Winchester for 63 years. Four children and six grandchildren. Civil and mining engineer, land surveyor. Four years of service in the U.S. Navy. Twelve years in facilities management and director of streets and roads in Lexington.


2. What makes you particularly qualified to be a city commissioner?


BOOK: I have served the citizens of Winchester for a total of 26 years. I have training from Kentucky League of Cities for public elected officials as per the state of Kentucky.


COX: I am qualified to be a city commissioner because I have the knowledge, the experience and still maintain the passion. I am driven to make Winchester the absolute best it can be.


FLYNN: I served the community as a city firefighter for 20 years and retired in 1995. I recently received an award from the Kentucky League of Cities for 30 hours of city government training. I have volunteered on several boards throughout the years. As a community leader, I lead with a vision and passion for Winchester and I love the people in our community. Every neighborhood, street and person matters to me.


REED: With more than 20 years in city, county and state government, I know the importance of maintaining a responsible government — a government responsible to its people, a government where our citizens know their elected officials are accessible and accountable. I have always tried to respond to the individual needs of Winchester and its people, and have always tried to follow through and follow up on citizen needs and concerns.


STRODE: My years of being in public service have proven to be a strong learning curve. You are exposed to all departments of the city and how they operate. We have a strong city manager, mayor and other employees. It takes a village to have a strong city hall. I love Winchester and have a passion to work toward a better quality of life for its citizens.


TOOLE: As someone who was raised in Winchester, lives in Winchester and wants to see our city thrive, it’s easy to qualify. I am a great listener, extremely social, active, passionate about my community and eager to see growth and change. I am a committee member for Winchester Young Professionals, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Women’s Leadership Council with my employer. I aspire to make my city the best it can be. 


WILLIAMS: Education as civil engineer at University of Kentucky. Experience administering contracts, building and maintaining infrastructure on military bases. Experience managing construction and maintenance urban facilities. Administered community development block grants to improve curb, gutter, sidewalks, roadways and utilities.


3. If elected, what would be your first and second priorities in office?


BOOK: To continue to push for the Seventh Street project to alleviate the heavy truck traffic off Seventh Street and Magnolia Street. And continue to represent all the citizens of Winchester.


COX: My first priority is the safety of our residents. We need to fully staff our police, fire/EMS and make sure they have both the personnel and the equipment to do their jobs and do it well. My second priority is economic development. Whether it be small business, restaurants or industry, jobs provide the chance to not only improve lives but fosters increased development, pays for services and makes for a better quality of life.


FLYNN: I have a lot of first priorities: keep the Seventh Street project moving forward since it has started with $1.6 million from the state transportation and is in the state transportation six- year plan, keep moving forward with Main Street upgrades such as sidewalks, new ordinances and support the work by the Main Street Winchester board. Support the ASAP board and all volunteers and services that help treat drug addiction and rehabilitation.


REED: My first priority would be to push for completion of projects that have been on the table for way too long (ex. the Seventh Street alternate truck route, Fulton Road extension, push for initiation and completion of the Eastern Bypass). My second priority would be to have stated, well-thought-out long-range plans including short-term goals to ensure accountability to the citizens we serve.


STRODE: The drug crisis is a major challenge for our community as it is all over Kentucky. We have a deep task to face and many substance recovery groups. It would be wonderful to have a detox unit here in Winchester. My second focus is bringing the Seventh Street project to a reality, working on Fulton Road and the Eastern Bypass. These are essential for our community.


TOOLE: My top priorities are tourism/Main Street projects as well as green spaces. There are numerous events that have drawn people to visit Winchester. We need to expand and elaborate upon those events. I’m also interested in seeking out federal grants that could help new businesses move onto Main Street. Addiction and recovery are also important priorities to me, and needed in our community. There are fantastic services that many people aren’t aware are available. 


WILLIAMS: First priority: security and safety of the community (drug abuse issues, fire and EMS services, police services). Second priority: economic development, construct family-oriented recreational facilities and programs for all ages.


4. What is the biggest issue facing Winchester, and how would you like to see it addressed?


BOOK: The biggest issue facing Winchester is the drainage issues all over town. The lack of a grocery store downtown. Will continue to address the drainage issue as we have in the past. Ask the city to ask a grocery chain to locate downtown for a mini grocery.


COX: At the present time, the biggest issue in Winchester is COVID. It has hurt us economically. We have to have the mechanisms in place to rebound and surpass what we had in the  past. As a commission and a community, we have to continue efforts to expand our job base and equip our job force to do those jobs. I am confident as a community we will rise to this task.


FLYNN: The biggest issues that our city is facing is drug addiction, homelessness and the need for more affordable housing. Our city has wonderful volunteers and leaders that help with these issues every day in our community.


REED: It’s sad to say, but the biggest issue facing Winchester continues to be drug abuse and prescription misuse. Our goal in this community should be to not just prevent drug overdose death, but to achieve recovery and encourage those who have been affected by this epidemic to become productive citizens. Early education is critical.


STRODE: The drug issue is huge. Continuing all we are doing. We need to grow our community. We need to promote and attract developers to invest in Winchester and Clark County. This is happening on the bypass as well as Boonesboro Road. We are working on better housing for low-income families. Lincoln Street is an example of that’s as well as plans for Habitat houses.


TOOLE: Growth, generating new business growth as well as supporting and growing out existing businesses. This has always been a challenge. There is no easy answer. Working with the industrial authority, as well as researching applying for federal grants, is a starting point. 


WILLIAMS: Decaying downtown, loss of commercial businesses and shopping opportunities. How to address: Revitalize Main Street, reconfigure sidewalks, parking and vehicle lanes to create pedestrian plazas, and improve curb appeal, access and shopping experience, develop engineering plans, write grants, seek partnerships with businesses and community leaders.


5. What is the city’s greatest strength and how would you capitalize on this strength in office to improve the quality of life for Winchester residents?


BOOK: We have the interstate and the Mountain Parkway so we could attract industries and more retail businesses on the north end just off the interstate.


COX: Our greatest strength is our people. We have a great community that always steps up to take care of what we need. Being involved in the charitable work I am, I often brag to others about how Winchester steps up to fill a void or provide for something. We need to continue to use these organizations and programs for their benefit and see if there are additional things they can do and ask others to step up. 


FLYNN: Winchester’s greatest strength is its citizens, history and values. I would capitalize the strength of Winchester by always having an open mind and listening to the citizens of this community and their concerns. I have worked for the people in this community most of my life and loved it. I know how to make a project or a great idea happen by bringing the right people to the table.


REED: The city’s greatest strength is its people. If I could, I would give our citizens a new or renewed spirit of community, a community with a vision and open to positive change that would make us a community where many want to live and work. By respecting each other, by communicating with each other, we increase commitment and a sense of connection, then others start to feel part of the team and that brings about community unity.


STRODE: The word “we” is the key to our city’s strength. We have a very healthy relationship with the hospital, schools, businesses to work to make Winchester a better place and improve quality of life. We are a caring community that reaches out to help each other. Downtown is a good example of what working together can accomplish.


TOOLE: Resiliency. The people that are involved, and want to see our community do well, is a driving force. “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committee people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead.


WILLIAMS: Location as the geographic epicenter of eastern half of the United States with primary rail and highway access to over half of the US population.


6. How can the city help in the fight against COVID-19, if at all, and what steps would you take to make this happen?


BOOK: The citizens can help fight the COVID-19 by wearing a mask and saying six feet apart and get a flu shot to help fight the COVID-19.


COX: The city needs to make sure we do what is best for our citizens. We need to provide the mechanisms for as normal a routine as possible, as safely as possible. I would like to provide more free internet spots to citizens and students. I want to work with non-profits to provide for the needy in our town. Working with  Parks and Rec and Community Education, I want to provide workshops to benefit local businesses and individuals.


FLYNN: The city will continue working with the Health Department and CDC on their recommendations on the fight against COVID-19. 


REED: The city can continue to remind our citizens to wear their masks, wash their hands often, socially distance and to respect each other in this unprecedented time we are living in. We can continue to encourage our citizens to follow CDC and local Health Department guidelines.


STRODE: The city should continue to repost the guidelines of our Health Department and encourage all citizens to wear masks and social distance. We can lead by example. Don’t support or promote events that put people at risk.


TOOLE: In regards to health, continued encouragement of masks wearing and other PPE is important. We also need to shop and dine locally, show support for our local businesses. The effects of COVID will be echoed for years to come. If we don’t respect and support one another now, we will be behind before we even are in the clear. 


WILLIAMS: Listen to the health professionals and follow their guidelines in providing access to government services. Help local businesses to implement health guidelines so their services are still available to the community and their businesses survive.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email or call 859-759-0051.

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