By Ronica Shannon
Register Senior Writer
Richmond City Commission candidate Bobby Johns is no stranger to the race. This election season marks his second time running for a seat on the four-member commission.
Annual pay increases for city employees and promotions based on performance are just two of the issues Johns said he would support if elected.
Johns is outspoken in his criticism of the city commission’s rezoning of property at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Barnes Mill Road so a private builder could construct a student housing complex.
He also is critical of changes in fire protection service and city personnel policy.
“One of the first things I wouldn’t have done is to rezone the (John) Lackey property,” he said. “Secondly, I would not have closed Fire Station No. 5. I also wouldn’t have taken away the vacation from the city workers.”
Many cuts were made to city departments to compensate for the city’s growing debt, which has now turned into a $3 million surplus this past year.
“I would be in favor of restoring some funding if the need is there,” Johns said. “I know the playgrounds are in need of mulch and the basketball court at Lake Reba needs to be resurfaced.”
He is speaking about things taken care of by the city’s parks and recreation department, which received one of the biggest funding cut of all city departments in the 2012-13 budget.
“We don’t have enough firefighters,” he said. “I also would recommend that we re-open Station No. 5 on Duncannon Lane. I also understand that some of our firefighters are occupying different ranks instead of promoting to that position. If they are performing duties at a higher rank, then they should be paid for that rank.”
The city should aggressively seek grant funding to perform a mandated upgrade to its storm-water system, he said.
“We need to try to apply for grants from both the state and federal governments,” he said. “I would hope that we could use the $2.10 meter tax to help pay for these projects. We are going to need $1 million for the next 20 years. I would be in favor of selling bonds to cover these projects if we can’t get enough grant funding.”
A proposed “Fairness Ordinance” that would include protection of members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations also has generated controversy this year.
“There is a federal law which protects everyone from discrimination,” Johns said. “You just can’t terminate an employee without proper cause or because of their sexual preference.”
During his first term as city commissioner, Richard Thomas has helped make some major decisions for the city as well as seeing a lot of controversy.
Working to cut expenses and reduce the city budget shortfall was one of the commission’s most challenging tasks, Thomas said. The parks and recreation as well as the fire department saw the biggest funding cut.
Now that the city is operating with a budget surplus, Thomas said, “I’m not opposed to budget increases in the next fiscal year for any department as long as they are justified.”
Despite the closure of Fire Station No. 5, Thomas thinks Richmond residents still have adequate fire protection.
“I would hope in the next fiscal year’s budget, the city commission, city manager and the fire chief can come to an agreed standard for the number of firefighters our city needs. I believe our firefighters can and will continue to provide adequate protection.”
The city’s storm-water upgrade needs to have a better approach, he said.
“A storm water management evaluation completed in March 2012 noted the lack of a comprehensive approach to our problem,” Thomas said. “Our Public Works Department does an outstanding job in responding to storm-water issues, but we have not provided an adequate budget to support their efforts. Richmond is required by the state Division of Water to meet certain goals each year. This process requires over $100,000 per year. This study showed there are 23 projects needing to be completed in the next 20 years. A storm-water user fee of some measure seems inevitable.”
The change in zoning classification at Barnes Mill and Lancaster Avenue “is a win-win situation for both the city and residents of this area,” Thomas said. “If this project had not been undertaken by a private enterprise, EKU could have purchased this property and used it for any purpose they deemed appropriate without the approval of the city or the residents of the area.”
As for human rights in Richmond, the Human Rights Commission “is a vital organization to our citizens,” he said.
However, the commission is not able to adequately enforce a a so-called “Fairness Ordinance,” he said.
“There are already a number of state, federal and city laws to guarantee all citizens protection from discrimination due to race, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. I will continue to support all efforts against discrimination of any nature.”
If re-elected, Thomas said he hopes to work toward resolving the city’s storm-water issues and continue the “sound fiscal state that we have established in the last two years.” He also wants the city to continue providing a safe environment for its residents and explore more areas of cooperation between Richmond, EKU, Madison County and Berea.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@