Mayoral candidates answer debate questions

Published 6:00 pm Monday, April 25, 2022

All three Middlesboro mayoral candidates gathered at the Middlesboro Community Center on Thursday for the first debate of many sponsored by The Big One radio. Each was given two minutes to speak before answering questions.

Brian O’Brien began by stating the rules of the debate to which all candidates had agreed. To begin, the candidates introduced themselves, starting with Mayor Rick Nelson.

Mayor Nelson introduced his wife and gave mention to his daughter and grandson. He said he was a school teacher for 30 years and his father was a disabled coal miner who worked for 33 years. He said a lot of his values come from his father and his work ethic. The mayor was state representative in Frankfort for 18 years.

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Next, Councilwoman Patsy Sullivan gave her introduction. She was born and raised in Indianapolis but considers Middlesboro her home. She says she is not a politician, but a concerned citizen who loves this city. The more she got involved with helping people, the more she got into politics. She says she thinks there are some things that aren’t being done that can be done with the city in her hands. She said the number one goal is to make her father proud and the residents of Middlesboro proud.

Boone Bowling started off by saying he grew up in Middlesboro and attended Eastern Kentucky University. He has served on city council for the past four years. He is passionate about the youth and seeing the community get behind the city. He also mentioned that it takes a community to run a city.

The first question was: During the Operation Unite forum recently held, all three candidates took a stance on the harm reduction program, better known as the needle exchange. What other ways do you see that could combat the drug use issue in Middlesboro?

Sullivan said she would like to see legislative action at the state level. She believes sobriety over money is the key thing for Middlesboro. With more information, she would maybe like to see the “sobriety shot,” an injection given to alcoholics once a month to help them get sober by stopping their cravings.

Bowling said that one of the best things he sees is the creation of a new rehab facility. He supports doing more of that and partnering with the nonprofits in the community that have more knowledge on the subject.

Nelson said there are two issues. Enforcement and drug treatment. He says law enforcement does its best to keep drugs out of the county. He said that some people did not want the women’s treatment facility but says it will be fantastic. He mentioned getting help from operation unite, comprehensive care, Isaiah house and including more education in schools.

The second question was: What is your greatest weakness/strength?

Bowling said your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. He says that he can sometimes care too much, especially when it comes to Middlesboro because he is very passionate about the city. He said its not really a weakness to anyone except himself, There is nothing that means more to him than Middlesboro.

Nelson said he thinks his weakness is like Bowling’s, a double edged sword. He says even if people who do not agree with him come in with a good idea, he will help them if it will help the city of Middlesboro. He mentioned that his greatest strength would be his experience. He thinks experience and age are a plus, not a minus.

Sullivan says her greatest weakness is that she is too honest sometimes. She said she will apologize before she tells you the truth. Her greatest strength is giving 1,000 percent, because 100 isn’t good enough.

The third question was: What is more important, acting in response to the will of the people, or acting the way city officials believe is the best course of action?

Nelson said that if you are an elected official, you sometimes have to do things that may not appear popular at the time. He said you may take some heat at the time, but he does what he thinks is the best decision for the majority.

Bowling said that you have to reach the decision that is right in your heart. He says at the end of the day, they have to be trusted enough to make them. He is still a citizen, so it’s about making the community better.

Sullivan said she thinks you can do the will of the people as long as it’s the right course of action to be taken in their best interest. She said sometimes you can’t always do the will of the people, but you can if that’s the right course of action at the time.

The fourth question was: As mayor being in tune with the city is important. What is the most neglected area of the city and how can you change that in your first year as mayor?

Sullivan said she asked this question when joining council and was told they didn’t have power over that. She said Middlesboro needs jobs and one of the things she would like to do as mayor is get with the chamber and go job seeking. One of her main priorities is getting jobs.

Nelson said the thing that is most frustrating to him is codes enforcement. In 2016, the city started its own codes enforcement, and since then, it has torn down about 50 homes because the process takes so long. He said they need to work more on the codes enforcement but within the legal process, it is difficult.

Bowling said the most neglected area is the youth. There are no opportunities for those who are interested in coming back after getting an education. One of the biggest things are the city amenities. He says the first thing a large business will do is send their chief executive officer’s wife and children, and if there are no amenities then they won’t bring their business.

The fifth question was: The Middlesboro Police Department is in better shape fiscally and as far as equipment than it has been in the past, yet no body or vehicle cameras are in use. Are you for the cameras or against them? Why?

Bowling said that he is by no means against cameras but also believes that it comes down to putting trust into the chief of police to do what is best for the department. He says the cameras are very expensive and a tremendous amount of man hours would go into their operation. Bowling believes that within the next five years, legislation will require the use of cameras and there will be more opportunities for grants as a result. He says it is a matter of when, not if.

Sullivan said council has talked about it and she agrees with Bowling. She says they have to trust the department heads and added that they would have to hire more officers. She mentioned there would be privacy issues and liability issues for the city. She says she would trust the chief of police and what he thinks is best.

Nelson said they were all on the same page with this topic. He would like to see Middlesboro have cameras but they are out of its price range. He said it’s not so much the camerasbut the software and hiring someone just for open records requests.

The sixth question was: How do you plan to better involve residents in the decision making process in our town should you be elected?

Bowling said the biggest thing is open forum and pushing attendance for council and committee meeting. He said at the end of the day, they are elected to serve the community but they cant serve if the community doesn’t have an opinion. He said as a city, they have to see what the needs are as a whole and not just certain areas.

Nelson said he thinks they are doing what they can do. He mentioned the city Facebook, the public meetings and The Big One streaming the meetings. He mentioned the blacktop progress and said most of the response came from the Facebook page.

Sullivan said she would be an open book. She said her phone number is made public and would remain public if voted mayor. She said the main thing is making people comfortable enough to talk to you. If not, they will go speak with someone other than you.

The seventh question is: If you are elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer, financial footing?

Nelson mentioned his first term as mayor and said he faced a $196,000 garbage debt, $313,000 unpaid bills, they could not pay pension or insurance in full and a $30,000 fine from a $700,000 debt. He said he will mention later on how this turned out.

Sullivan said there are smarter ways to use their money and a smarter way to apply for grants. She said the city tends to hire more people when a problem occurs instead of working smarter, she has no problem hiring if the job is needed.

Bowling said he would like to come up with a plan for the city, one that goes beyond a term. He says they have to work towards a common goal to get Middlesboro on the map. He said the city has so much potential and mentioned bringing the pool back and converting to saltwater. With coal leaving, he said they should invest more in telecommunication and not be in the last to invest.

The first audience question is: What are some changes that would need to come from Frankfort in order to help Middlesboro? How would you address Frankfort in order to get those needed actions?

Sullivan said one thing she mentioned was cleaning up the drug issue through legislation. It also effects workers and providing homes. She said this one idea solves four major problems.

Bowling said one of the biggest things Middlesboro is at a disadvantage is the restaurant tax. He says this would help Middlesboro in so many ways and create more opportunities for larger projects.

Nelson complimented State Representative Adam Bowling and mentioned the addition of Kentucky Fried Chicken and turn lanes. He says you have to have an effective legislator in order to get those things. He also mentioned the 3 million dollar grants received and the possibility of picking up another half a million dollars on Monday.

The second audience question is: How will you help with Main Street area with support to help buildings be in better shape for businesses? Currently, we do not have an active commercial code enforcement person.

Nelson started by explaining the things they have done to help Main Street. They give Main Street $40,000 a year and gave $10,000 for the canal walk. He said most of the commercial buildings are under the state and hes not sure how much the city could enforce with the state being involved.

Sullivan said it would be tough considering the city doesn’t have a codes enforcement person. She said she has asked the mayor to provide one since she has been on council and it would be hard to get someone from the state since they don’t have one for the city.

Bowling said he thinks the mayor position has a great opportunity to go out and get to know building owners on a personal level. He says drastically need a commercial building inspector locally that works for the city so they don’t have issues like with what happened with Ike’s. He would like Main Street to receive more money and maybe look into assigning two street department roles to help with Main Street and take some stress of the street department.

The third audience question is: In the past seven or eight years, the city offered curbside recycling. How do you feel about recycling and would you consider restoring that service?

Bowling said he thinks recycling is a big things and one of the bare minimum ways you can give back to the city as a citizen. He says we are fortunate the city does cleanups and would like to see some of that recycled, maybe re-purposed. He would definitely be in favor of restoring the service.

Nelson said he is in favor of recycling but admits that the recycling center fell on hard times three to four years ago. He complimented the progress is has made since. He said he has made the offer for the past three to four months to the 109 board to restore this service but they have yet responded.

Sullivan said she would wholeheartedly do it and would even help advertise it. She said she uses a lot of plastic and would love to start it back up.

To end the debate, O’Brien let the candidates explain why they are qualified and why people should vote for them.

Bowling started off by saying it has been an honor to be a part of the council that helped eliminate the debt Mayor Nelson discussed. He said he is running because he loves this community and he says they have done a better job in his lifetime but it is also frustrating because he knows the potential that is in the city. He said it is a disservice to the community to continue to go down the road they are going. He says he is a product of this town and is ready to lead the city as a product of the city.

Sullivan said she is running because she thinks when there are accomplishes made with the mayor and council, it isn’t “I done this” it’s “we done this”. If she is elected then she will run it with all 10 and not just her. She thinks two heads are better than one and all of them can accomplish a lot.

Nelson asked the voters ‘do you reward success or get rid of success’? He said it has been an honor to be the mayor. He went back and mentioned the debt the city was previously in and stated that they now have one million in the back with two cd’s of $200,000 for a rainy day, all of the bills and pension have been paid and three million in grants. All departments are honored their requests because they have managed their money and built a firm financial foundation.

At the end of the debate, O’Brien asked the candidates if they received the questions prior and they all agreed they hadn’t as well as agreeing they were all treated fairly.