Candidate forums: the city races

Published 5:30 pm Monday, May 2, 2022

The nine candidates for Winchester City Commissioner faced the public last Monday at the second candidate forum held at the Clark County Extension Office.

Incumbents Shannon Cox and Kitty Strode are running for reelection.

They face challengers in the forms of Kenny Book, John Flynn, Robin Kunkel, Roi Mayes, Paula Thomas, Hannah Toole, and Greg Yates.
Each candidate was afforded two minutes for an opening statement and one minute to answer the four questions posed.

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Due to the number of candidates, this article will not focus on two questions asking the candidates how they would describe Winchester and what their strengths/weaknesses are.

The next candidate forum will be this Wednesday at 6 p.m. and will feature candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Question: What can you do to change the narrative that Winchester is the city of “No” when it comes to economic development?
Book: “We’ve got a good workforce out here in the industrial park. We have two new sewer treatment plants for our infrastructure and a new water treatment plant for our infrastructure. So that part will handle any growth that we need.”

Cox: “I take exception with the idea that Winchester is the city of “no” because I remember what Winchester was like 25 years ago. It is a dynamically different place now. What we need to do in this town is promote the local person that wants to do something. We need to have more local people open up restaurants because look at where you eat. Do you eat at a chain restaurant, or do you eat at a locally owned restaurant? … We need to do local things and promote the local person because that is the only way we are going to achieve the success that everybody wants.”

Flynn: “We need to continue to fund tourism and probably fund them even more. We have people coming into our community. Our high school facilities draw hundreds and thousands of people every season … We’ve got to look at how we can connect and bring companies in and recruit. One thing we need to look at and go out and solicit is electrification and hydrogen fuel cells. That is the way of the future. These companies are building in Bowling Green and South Carolina. They could be building here.”

Kunkel: “I think we should take advantage of this unique opportunity that we have, unfortunately, due to COVID … With American Rescue Plan funds, there are a lot of restrictions on how they can be spent, but the few restrictions that don’t exist center around infrastructure and internet investment. We can use those to broadly expand access to a lot of things and to take advantage of those funds that we are not going to see again–ideally–and really get our city in better shape so that people want to stay here and want to come here.”

“I think we need to solicit small businesses, offer them tax breaks, help them get in our buildings downtown–which are mostly empty–and build up the downtown. We have a huge bypass–two of them, actually–with not a lot of businesses on them; we should have businesses there, and then we will draw all the people we need. We can keep our young people and not lose them to Lexington and other places.

Strode: “I’m going to speak to the downtown revitalization. If any of you all have been down there lately, we have people that are coming in from other states to buy property in downtown Winchester … They are buying these buildings and putting money into them, and I think that is a real coup for us. Our restaurants downtown are alive and well. I think that speaks volumes about wanting to come here, but it is hard when Lexington is 20 minutes away, so it takes everybody that lives here to support what we have for sure, and that isn’t always the case.”

Thomas: “We need to work with our county and our state and with our grants so we can start growing so that we are not known as “Deadchester”, which is the city of “no”. We’ve got to have things for our young people. We lose our young people. They have done a great job downtown and the early childhood development center, the younger kids, but when you get to your older kids … We lose them, and we lose them to Lexington because they’ve got more things for them, so we have got to get more things here.”

Toole: “Having grown up here as well and reflecting on what Shannon [Cox] said about someone so eager to get out of our town and then wanting to come back, I am a single woman with no children and chose to come back to Winchester to live my adult life. I think it is important to remember that the city commission, in addition to numerous other positions, are non-partisan. So, we really just need to come together to think about Winchester. There are a lot of really big topics that we all can stand divided on, but in the end, I think we all just want what is best for Winchester … How we build the interest of first people coming to visit and see the great spaces that we have, and then, in turn, the people that chose to move here to start their business initiatives. Progression can be scary, but we have to dive in headfirst and putting our feet into the ground.”

“I think we need to find a way for the city and the county–and I’m not saying that we don’t do this–the commission and the fiscal court to work together. And I heard some people say this last week. We need to build the infrastructure in our community to support adding the houses … We have 38,000 people in our community, and it takes 50,000 for these big restaurants and places to come in here. So we’ve got to figure out a way to build up the population of our community.”

Question: How can our community collaborate to assist with Clark County Public Schools?
Book: “We are just going to have to have a joint meeting with the public school system and the fiscal court. We already do a joint meeting with the fiscal court so we need to include the Clark County Board of Education.”

Cox: “What this community needs to do, has done, and is doing more of is have work sessions with the folks at the board of education … We have talked about what each other’s priorities are and how we can help each other out. Our facilities out on Boonesboro Road are better than any in the state, and we need to help them promote the use of those facilities.”

Flynn: “I know currently–more than anything–that it is hard to hire anybody. Nobody wants to work anymore … What we need to figure out is the bridge between our high schools and our factories, companies, and businesses out here … By golly, those people out here in the industrial park should be recruiting all those kids at the high school.”

Kunkel: “I would love to see what impact we can have between the city and the county working together on the quality of those jobs–those teaching jobs, those extracurricular staff … There are a lot of hours that take place at the schools that are not accounted for in the pay. I know that teachers have struggled to get the benefits that they really need over the last few years, and some of that is at the state level, but I would love to see how we could support the teachers in them having a sustainable, good quality of life.”

“I personally think that we should press our schools, especially George Rogers Clark, on their shops. They have a great auto shop and they have a great welding shop. They have a carpentry shop. We should press these things because 65 percent of the people who have college degrees don’t work at what their college degree is in. We need people who sweep streets, run motor graders, build roads and build houses. That is the kind of people that we need.”

“The college [BCTC] has a lot of classes for kids who are coming out of high school who go right to work like a nurse’s aid. I know that some of the kids are already working as welders and in industries within the industrial park. I do want to say that our new superintendent is so involved in this community, and it is the first time I’ve really known somebody to come on board–she comes to meetings, and she wants to work with us, and she wants to know what is going on.”

Thomas: “The high school, when it was built, was supposed to be college and career ready. That’s what they called it. I think they have got everything in place up there. Of course, the athletic complex does not hurt us a bit either. I know it is a little bit spectacular … If you build an athletic complex like that, then you will have families that move here who want their children to play sports.”

“One thing that I think is great is free sports program attendance for all the students. I do believe that was privately funded. However, it takes just one person to start an initiative. We can keep rolling with it along with the summer food program, not leaving children out with missing a meal and being able to pick up those food boxes that we are able to provide … We’ve had a lot of recent job fairs at the high school, we can continue to do those and possibly offer work training and credit hours for anyone who is attending public school.”

Yates: “I think we need to do more of this dual credit stuff that we have been doing. My daughter is doing it right now. We need to push that more with BCTC and the schools. But the gem we are missing is the Area Technology Center. We’ve got 600 kids who are learning welding and automobile construction. We aren’t doing what we need to be doing with the co-op-type stuff. If we can take advantage of that, I think we can keep more of these kids in our community.”