By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes locked horns with Commissioner Laura King at Tuesday evening’s city commission meeting over changes made to parking spaces on First Street.
Recently, the mayor directed that several parking spaces on the street that had been reserved for county courthouse employees converted to two-hour public parking.
Barnes said the decision was made because the county had opened a new paved parking lot with additional spaces on property it owns at the corner of First and Irvine streets. A historic structure known as “The Old Creamery” formerly occupied the location.
The parking spaces down the middle of First Street between Main and Irvine streets belong to the city, Barnes said. Because the county now has sufficient parking for its employees, he directed that First Street parking be returned to the pubic.
King said the reserved spaces were important for the safety of the judges, prosecutors others who work for the courts. After spending all day in court trying to convict people, they now have to walk a longer distance to reach their vehicles while fearful of retribution, King said. She questioned whether the vehicle that transports prisoners to the courthouse has a nearby place to park.
Both Barnes and King said they had talked to County Judge/Executive Kent Clark about the issue. Barnes said he had a discussion with Clark about creating more parking for downtown events.
“He (Clark) said, ‛Mayor, I’ve got plenty of room for the people we’ve got,’” Barnes said. “They’ve got 75 plus parking spots over what they had.”
Barnes said by ordinance all parking in the city is public except the 12 spaces given to the courthouse, and both he and Clark agree the city is not obligated to provide parking for county employees.
“If we’re ever going to restore downtown, parking is a problem,” the mayor said.
King responded by saying the only people using the spaces on First Street were county employees because the street is surrounded by county buildings. She also said the city gives free parking to Eastern Kentucky University on Crabbe Street as a sign of stewardship, and the county spaces should be reinstated for the same reason.
“There’s no way you can say it (the spaces) will impact somebody else,” King said.
She said that during her conversations with Clark, the judge/executive said he was adamantly against the decision.
“I said ‛Are you OK with this?’ and he (Clark) said ‛No, I’m not OK with this, absolutely not. I’ve done the best job I can in a situation like this,’” King said.
King said the city commission was not consulted when the decision was made, and the commissioners knew nothing about it.
“One chance after another we slap democracy in the face,” she said of Richmond’s city government.
King then offered motion, seconded by Commissioner Jim Newby, to return the spaces to the county. The motion failed when Barnes and Commissioner Robert Blythe (Commissioner Donna Baird was absent) voted against it. Blythe requested that Clark be asked to appear before the commission to speak on the issue.
In a Wednesday interview, Clark told the Register opening the parking spaces to the public “didn’t make a difference” after the completion of the county’s new lot.
“If I had a problem with it, I would’ve come before the city commission,” the judge/executive said.
Clark explained that he and the mayor first talked about the change several years ago, and Barnes had waited until the county had additional parking before making First Street parking entirely public.
Now, the judge/executive said, each county employee who previously had a reserved spot has a new spot in a county lot. While some may need to walk a block to get to the courthouse, there’s parking for everyone, he said.
“I never got angry about it,” Clark said. “I’m not going to say some other people didn’t get upset, but I never got angry.”
Madison Sheriff’s Public Affairs Officer Willard Rearden in a Wednesday interview told the Register that neither he nor Sheriff Mike Coyle has heard about issues with transporting prisoners to and from the courthouse since the First Street parking change.
King said in a follow-up interview that a circuit judge was concerned about safety with the new parking locations, and another judge had told her to contact the commonwealth’s attorney. She also said several workers at the courthouse wishing to remain anonymous had voiced similar concerns.
“Some departments there (the county courthouse) haven’t been affected by the change, but some of them have been very affected,” King said.
She said that she will not back down on the issue, and that many administrators on the county level may be simply making the best of the situation.
In other business, the commission:
• Heard from visitor Tom Thilman, co-owner of Madison Garden, who announced the business’ free community breakfast will be open to the public from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
• Donated 11 MDT computers to the cities of West Buchel and Harrodsburg for use by their police departments.
• Renamed Gilbert Drive in the Dixie Plaza Mobile Home Park to be an extension of Opal Drive.
• Approved the state Department of Local Government Title VI implementation plan for the city.
• Reappointed Mary Lillian Abney to the planing and zoning commission.
Seth Littrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6623.