By Ronica Shannon
Senior News Writer
RICHMOND — Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling the 13 candidates for Berea City Council.
Chad Hembree, 37
Already serving in a community service capacity, Chad Hembree wants to expand his duty to Berea residents by becoming a city councilman.
Hembree, who serves as co-chair for the Berea Human Rights Commission, is the information technology manager for Hospice Care Plus. He also has served as youth minister for Berea United Methodist Church.
“I wish to give back, in service, to the community that has provided for me my entire life,” he said. “Berea is a very special place.”
The top three issues facing the Berea City Council, in Hembree’s opinion, are maintaining financial stability in an unstable economy, re-evaluating city services and revenues and “breaking through social barriers that have polarized our citizens onto opposite sides.”
When it comes to the city’s future financial status, “I want to help guide Berea in good stewardship toward a brighter future without significant cuts to current services and employees. But, to do this, all city departments will have to give a little to be frugally sustainable,” he said.
The city’s tax base needs to be reevaluated as do the services it provides, he said.
“The restaurant tax, insurance tax, hotel tax, property tax and payroll tax all need to be revisited to ensure the citizens of Berea are getting their money’s worth out of this government or if they are paying too much,” Hembree said.
Smaller meetings and meaningful discussions are more likely to help break down social barriers that he says exist in Berea.
“The growing majority of this community does not wish to tear it apart and are willing to work through the social issues,” Hembree. “I have already spoken with many organizational, community and religious leaders to offer my assistance in starting the discussions.”
Robert “Peanut” Johnson, 73Working as a cab driver and owning PCAB in Berea has been a great way to meet the city’s citizens, according to Robert “Peanut” Johnson. In addition to the cab company, he also is the owner of Madison County Handicapped, the Greyhound Bus Stop and Kiln Time Ceramic Store, all of which are located at 301 W. Jefferson Street.
This is Johnson’s third time running for Berea City Council. The first time he ran, he was forced to leave the race because of sickness.
“Two years ago, I was beaten by 17 votes,” he said. “You have council people who have been on there for 20-something years, but whatever the mayor wants, they agree with him.”
All of Berea’s city population should be represented by the council, he said.
“We need to represent the 15,000 people in Berea, not the 15 or 20 who come to the council meetings,” he said. “They will eventually give in to those 15.”
Some of the biggest issues facing the council include the economy, he said.
“We need to see if we can create more jobs,” Johnson said. “Some of the council people have small businesses and they don’t want to bring in other businesses. We also have to work to give incentives to some of these factories to get them to stay. We have to offer them something to get them to come in. You have to give before you can receive.”
The council is weighed too heavily with those who represent Berea College, he said.
“We need to go to precinct voting because you have six people who work for (or have worked for) the college,” Johnson said. “Anything that the college wants, they get with those six people.”
Johnson said voters may rest assured he wants only to serve the public interest.
“I’m not in it for the money,” he said. Council members make about $4,200 a year.
“If I’m elected, the salary they pay me will go to charity. I will represent the 15,000 and not the very few that the council (now) represents.”
Jerry Knowles, 51
This is the first political race for Berea Aflac Insurance agent Jerry Knowles, 51. “I was actually asked to run by several people from Berea,” he said. “I moved here in early November (last year).”
His main interest is taking what Berea already holds dear and expanding.
“Where my heart lies right now is sustainability,” he said. “I see a need for business owners who have vacant property to bring in larger and more profitable businesses to Berea. When you talk about business, we need industries. We don’t pay what I consider a good wage. The benefits aren’t adequate. The median (yearly) income is $38,000. A family of four can’t live on that.”
If elected, Knowles said he will not be afraid to get his hands dirty.
“I want to see what we all can do to bring in a different lines of businesses to Berea,” he said. “You work, but you’re not making much money. You have a job, but you’re still broke. That bothers me.”
When asked about the city’s proposed “Fairness Ordinance” that allows for protection of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) population, “I’m a Christian,” he said. “My endorsing or agreeing to any special rights would be condoning it. I am not opposed to people who have a different lifestyle, but standing on a Biblical platform, I cannot endorse or approve of the gay and lesbian community. It’s a shame that there’s hate crimes. The Bible teaches to love the sinner and hate the sin.”
An important part of being an elected official is being able to truly care about the citizens, he said.
“I will be a council member the same way I’m an insurance agent,” he said. “I care more about the well-being of my customers and citizens than the popularity I may get. My phone is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Jerry Little, 66Berea business man Jerry Little, co-owner of Near New Auto, a builder, landlord and developer, already has served two terms on the Berea City Council.
“Berea’s been pretty good to me, and I have extra time now,” Little said. “I thought I might have something to offer. I have all kinds of experience. My work experience and values are very important.”
Some crucial duties of a Berea city council member is to keep expenditures in line with revenue, he said.
“We need to do that and try to keep the costs down for our citizens and have a good city government ? good police, good fire (protection), good streets and good parks,” he said. “We also need to make sure that we keep our storm-water drains clean to keep them from flooding.”
An upcoming challenge for Berea City government is to find a way to fund a federally mandated storm water upgrade project.
After reaching a population of greater than 10,000, Berea fell under the category of cities that are required to make these changes, referred to the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System).
The concept behind the initiative is to collect storm water from places where it might cause trouble and move it into waterways that will guide it to a proper collecting point, according to information provided during an August meeting by
Sandy Camargo, president of CDP Engineers based in Lexington.
Berea city voters can look at what Little has done since being elected, he said.
“Look what I’ve stood for for the past two years,” Little said. “You can see who I am and how I’ve voted. You can promise people everything in the world, but it’s what you do that matters.”
Ronica Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6608.