Jessica Mohler – 2020 General Election Questionnaire
Running for: 3rd District Council
Campaign Website: https://jessicafordistrict3.com/
1. What do you see as the single most important issue facing your district, and what is your plan to address it?
Growth. The 3rd District feels the brunt of Lexington’s growth. And with growth comes disparity. From affordable housing and spatial inequality to preserving older neighborhoods’ identities, while addressing economic segregation in neighborhoods and schools, each decision around growth must be seen through a SMART and EQUITABLE prism. I believe we can take care of current residents and welcome new neighbors. I will always prioritize working to make sure ALL of our city’s population is served.
Growth is only sustainable when it is done with an equitable framework in mind. I am committed to advocating for initiatives that help decrease economic disparity while listening to all perspectives before making decisions surrounding growth and development. I will work to bring ALL voices to the table to hear each perspective on growth in order to champion initiatives that mitigate economic and racial inequality.
2. Given your understanding of Lexington’s long and complicated history around racial injustices, what do you plan to do to directly address inequality and its root causes in our city?
I will always listen to and follow the lead of those most directly impacted by racial inequality. To that end, as a councilmember, I will support the NAACP and local Black faith leaders’ stipulations that Lexington has 15% minority representation in city contracts. The current Commission for Racial Justice & Equality must be a permanent government department with a direct revenue stream to help develop and track equity-related metrics. Such data will identify where the city is failing BIPOC.
3. In recent years Lexington’s budget obligations have outpaced its ability to generate revenue. In the FY 20/21 budget, this has dramatically impacted everything from economic development to social services. What strategies do you recommend to address revenue shortages while balancing spending priorities?
COVID-19 has shown the importance of diversifying revenue streams. I will explore many options to balance revenue with spending needs, such as restructuring the taxation system so the bulk of revenue is not coming from one source; renegotiating state agreements and contracts to give equity across government organizations; and examining public safety funds to find ways some departments could contract directly with organizations whose services they rely upon, such as Arbor Youth and GreenHouse17.
4. Lexington’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan encourages infill and redevelopment as Lexington’s main growth strategy. What specific implementation aspects of the Comprehensive Plan are working and what challenges need to be addressed?
I support the goals in the plan that focus on “building-up” instead of “out.” One of my top priorities is ensuring that conversation is geared toward smart, equitable growth. A challenge is incorporating the neighbors into the early stages of development to avoid the long, expensive process of defending their neighborhoods. The key to solving this challenge is through community engagement, collaboration, and listening––approaches that will drive all my decision-making as a councilmember.
5. Lexington faces challenges across districts with regard to housing affordability, diversity and accessibility. What is the City’s role in addressing affordable housing and how would you recommend prioritizing policy change to address these challenges?
Safe, adequate, and affordable housing is a cornerstone of a just and equitable community. Fully funding the Affordable Housing Fund is the No.1 policy to pass. Forging creative partnerships with mission-driven organizations maximizes the efficiency of current resources. I support the impactful use of our city’s vacant land to secure long-term housing solutions. We must ensure our city’s growth is self-sustaining, accessible to all, and considerate of neighborhood identity and culture.
6. The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses and non-profits will be significant and long lasting. What will you do as a council member to support their recovery and foster their resilience?
The interplay between citizens, business owners, nonprofits, and the government has never been more important. Lexington’s greatest asset is our people. Listening directly to the business owners and nonprofit directors as we move into this phase of recovery will strengthen those relationships. The city has a responsibility to make sure that data about our local economic recovery efforts is looked at with an equitable framework, to confirm aid is not being distributed disproportionately.
7. In recent months, much of our country’s attention has been directed to issues of systemic racism, specifically as it applies to policing and the justice system. What measures would you support to ensure that Lexington’s policing and justice system is equitable?
Accountability and transparency among government entities are critical to build a safe, trusting community. Changes to the LPD’s collective bargaining agreement, such as forming a disciplinary citizen review board for police and banning officers from removing past disciplinary actions from personnel files, will help. We also must strive to hire officers who reflect the communities they serve, by race and gender. Faith and trust in our officers, in those who protect and serve, make us ALL safer.
8. Revenue shortfalls have made it difficult for the city to continue supporting external social resource agencies at a time when they are needed most. What specific city-level policies do you support to ensure that every resident has access to a basic quality of life?
Funding the Affordable Housing Fund and making it a permanent line item in our budget is the #1 policy that needs to pass. Second, all our workers deserve to make a wage that commensurate with our cost of living. While this is tied up in Frankfort, Lexington could lead by example and pay a living wage to all city employees–even part-time. It’s our everyday people who make up this community that inspires me to fight for a unified Lexington. My heart is with the people. That’s why I’m running.
9. Lexington’s tax revenue base is dependent on a thriving and sustainable local economy. What are your top three priorities for helping the city promote and support economic development?
Investing in education & closing the “achievement gap,” which I prefer to call the opportunity gap, is essential to a strong economy.
Added assistance to businesses that are more vulnerable due to structural inequalities. It’s important to make sure they are seen & receive needed resources.
Work with economic entities to develop & sustainably grow the great community of Lexington businesses so they can hire more people – and pay them more – is just as important to bringing in more revenue.
10. LFUCG Council will soon have the responsibility of council redistricting. What is your approach to including public participation in the redistricting process?
I will appoint an advisory committee to aid the County Clerk in gathering citizen input from the community. The committee would include 12 citizens, each representing the district where they live, their council member, and an at-large member to oversee. The committee would offer a series of digital public meetings & public educational opportunities in each district to solicit public input. An online survey will be available for additional input or a printed survey sent by mail if requested.
11. The agricultural sector has a $2.3B economic impact on FayetteCounty, accounting for over $8.5M of the city’s payroll revenue. It is poised to grow with the support of Mayor Gorton’s Administration for making Fayette County a center for ag-tech. As a councilmember, what are your priorities for the agriculture and food system economy?
Fewer hungry mouths in Lexington will always be my top priority when it comes to agriculture and food systems. As a councilmember, I will bring together local farmers and community members to develop a sustainable system that incentivizes an increase in food production being allocated to those who need it the most. I also would like to help create economic programs that foster new ag-tech research and development in Lexington, as well as attract existing ag-tech companies to our city.
12. Well-planned infrastructure strengthens communities, boosts local economies, expands opportunity, and promotes equitable development. What policies would you support to achieve a more accessible, efficient, and sustainable transportation system in Lexington and the Bluegrass region?
Our streets were designed for the hurried driver. Instead they should be envisioned as public spaces everybody has a right to use. The lack of multimodal convenience is one reason I support public transportation and transit-oriented development. The only agency Council has over Lextran is their budget, which I will scrutinize. However, I will support new Lextran initiatives that diversify their vehicles to entice drivers to keep their cars at home and attract new riders with different options.
13. Lexington has temporarily suspended public comment in all public Zoom meetings. Meaningful public participation is vital to a responsive local government, and COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges in that regard. What strategies would you support to make ongoing public participation accessible for all?
I was in the meeting overrun by racists. What our councilmembers endured–CMs James Brown and Angela Evans, the only two Black members on the council, were specifically targeted–was appalling. I believe that voices need to be heard and have a direct impact on council decisions. I am mindful of how traumatic comments can be, especially when those spewing hate are clothed in anonymity. It makes sense to update our current technology to allow for prescreening of those signed up for public comments