Jessica Mohler – 2020 Primary 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?
Growth. The 3rd District feels a great brunt of Lexington’s growth, and as our city grows, so does the economic inequality. The racial wealth gap is widening. Neighborhoods are at risk of losing their character. From affordable housing and spatial inequality, to historic preservation and the economic segregation of our neighborhoods, schools, and school districts, it is more important than ever that we approach every decision surrounding growth in a way that is both SMART and EQUITABLE.
What is your plan to address this issue?
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; to listening to all perspectives before making decisions surrounding growth and development; and to ensuring that the voices of the most vulnerable––whose needs are often ignored––are brought to the table. Compassion and LISTENING will always inform my decisions, and I will always fight for the best interest of our residents.
2. 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?
The majority of Lexington’s revenue comes from one source (payroll taxes), and COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of diversifying revenue streams. I’d explore restructuring the taxation system; renegotiating state agreements & contracts to give equity across gov’t organizations; looking closely at our public safety funds to explore ways specific departments could contract directly with orgs whose services they rely upon, such as Arbor Youth and GreenHouse17. Nothing should be off the table.
3. 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 the conversation is geared toward smart, equitable growth. A challenge is incorporating the neighbors into the early stages of development plans 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 councilmember.
4. 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?
Affordable housing is not a problem that Council alone can solve. Forging creative partnerships with mission-driven organizations with our underserved at heart will maximize the efficiency of current resources. Fully funding the Affordable Housing Fund—a necessary building block in the creation of an equitable framework—has been a priority of my platform since day one. My compassionate perspective will ensure that together, we will flourish.
5. 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?
Balancing the budget shortfall with the need to support our businesses and nonprofits will require outside-the-box ideas, great communication and a deep understanding of the interplay between our city’s businesses, needs and services. My background in communications, fundraising and nonprofits equips me to approach this conundrum by fostering creative local fundraising options; providing tools for business owners and nonprofit directors seeking relief; and exploring other creative approaches.
6. Over half of the city budget’s General Fund is allocated to public safety, yet those needs are different in each district. How will you address the specific public safety needs of your district while ensuring that those services are responsive to and effective for the community as a whole?
Between UK, downtown and dense neighborhoods, the 3rd District sees a lot of crime that can be traced to root problems such as homelessness, addiction & mental illness. I will advocate for harm-reduction approaches for our neighbors battling addiction & encourage permanent supportive housing models to help resolve root issues, while working to make the 3rd safe for all. I’ll also explore creative ways to approach our public safety contracts to ensure that we are maximizing that funding.
7. 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 is 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 inspire me to fight for a unified Lexington. My heart is with the people. That’s why I’m running.
8. 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 and 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. Working with economic entities to develop and sustainably grow the great community of Lexington businesses so they can hire more people – and pay them more – is just as important to bring in more revenue.
9. In light of the COVID-19 crisis and new voting regulations, what can you do as a council member to improve voting access, education, and security?
Improving voting access is a priority of my campaign. I believe in the power of civic engagement to create a more equitable, fair and just society. I am pleased with the nonpartisan decision to expand voting by mail and early voting options. I created a page on my website (JessicaForDistrict3.com) highlighting the new information. Equalizing voter turnout is essential to our democracy. That is also why I support restoring voting rights to former felons. I believe in power for all the people.
10. The agricultural sector has a $2.3B economic impact on Fayette County,
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 strive to bring together local farmers and community members to develop a sustainable system that incentivizes an increase in food production is allocated to those that 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.
11. 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. I would pursue more “people-first” designs by envisioning streets as public spaces that everybody––cyclists, pedestrians, drivers alike––has a right to use safely. The only authority Council has over Lextran is its budget, which I will diligently review. I would also support—in any way I could—new Lextran initiatives that diversify its fleet of vehicles to entice drivers to leave their cars at home and attract new potential passengers.
12. Meaningful public participation is vital to a responsive local government. What are three innovative approaches that you would advocate for to make government processes more accessible, equitable, and transparent?
First, I will advocate having all city websites meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which make data easier to consume for people with disabilities and more accessible on more devices. Second, I will work to create a model for a citizen participatory budget, which would produce a more equitable distribution of public dollars and resources. Third, and most importantly, I will prioritize listening to my constituents. As your councilmember, I work for YOU – I will never forget that..