Lexington mayoral candidates Linda Gorton and Ronnie Bastin took on school safety, the urban service boundary, and even the debate over plastic straws at a 90-minute town hall Wednesday night, but disagreements were nearly non-existent.
Taking their cues from the Zack Galifianakis local access TV spoof Between Two Ferns, the two remaining contenders for the top job sat between two blue penguins – the frequent symbol of Lexington’s 21c Museum Hotel, which hosted the event.
The candidates rarely diverged on policy questions, with both agreeing on the wisdom of keeping the urban service boundary in place for now, encouraging a community-wide response to the opioid crisis, and opting for a wait-and-watch attitude on plans for a new city hall.
On the ever-present question of school safety, Gorton reiterated her opposition to arming teachers.
"I don't think that's a solution," the former Vice Mayor advised. "I think there are some things in the plan that would be helpful for schools to be safe."
Gorton was referring to Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk’s 10-point safety package, which the school board hopes to fund through a property tax increase of about $88 a year for the average homeowner. The comprehensive overhaul would bolster law enforcement presence in schools, hire more mental health professionals, and provide for a variety of facility upgrades.
Bastin steered the converation back toward what he describes as root causes, some of which trace back to neighborhoods.
"Many of the folks that I've seen who've brought guns to school, when we talk with them, they were afraid because of something that happened in the neighborhood," the former police chief recalled. "We have to deal with that."
Asked whether they support the current proposal to move city hall to the Lexington Herald-Leader building, both told the audience they’re keeping a close eye on the debate.
"I don't want to speak to the project because some of it has become political," Gorton said. "And I'm trying to stay neutral on that."
Bastin is also opting for a hands-off approach, adding "I applaud their efforts for what they're doing. I'm watching it closely and I'll be in a position to work with whatever decision they make."
The Urban County Council has yet to approve a resolution launching negotiations between the city and developer CRM. Mayor Jim Gray broke a council tie last week to put the measure on the docket.
The candidates were also asked if either would support a ban on plastic straws or grocery bags. Both stopped short of endorsing government action, saying they believe it’s better to bring the public along voluntarily.
Next on the calendar for the candidates is an interfaith forum on September 13th.