Liz Sheehan – 2020 General Election Questionnaire
Running for: 5th District Council
Campaign Website: https://www.lizforlex.com/
1. What do you see as the single most important issue facing your district, and what is your plan to address it?
Under normal circumstances, smart growth and development would be my primary area of focus. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic present the most pressing issue. The pandemic has highlighted many long-standing issues. We are witnessing residents getting ill-some dying; neighbors losing jobs and businesses; residents facing foreclosure, eviction, and food insecurity; and our children, educators, and parents adapting to new methods of education.
With the added stress on our already-strained budget, thoughtful leadership and creative partnerships, not across-the-board cuts, will be required to ensure we are meeting our community’s basic needs. We need to continue working with state legislators to increase our revenue sources, maximize federal/state funding designed to alleviate economic strains, consider what expenses are necessary, and be prepared to use more of our contingency fund.
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?
Addressing racism must start with listening. The Mayor’s commission has met since July, including subcommittees of residents and professionals from across Lexington. We should listen to their suggestions and those of our communities of color and then act swiftly. To increase transparency, we can set up a website to list an action plan, metrics, and regular progress reports. We can appoint a dedicated person to oversee this work. We also need to work to engage more of the public in government.
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?
We must have honest conversations about the priorities we collectively advance as we face budget strains. I will advocate for continued support to address affordable housing, our nonprofits, and the basics of governing. In order to attract revenue-generating high paying jobs we must focus on policies demonstrating the strength of our community. We can work to increase our revenue by building relationships with state legislators and lobbying for changes in the laws controlling our revenue sources.
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?
We must continue to preserve our agricultural economy by maintaining the Urban Service Boundary and the PDR Program, assessing development on our corridors, promoting infill and redevelopment, making progress on the consent decree and improving sustainability of government buildings. Challenges: increasing the diversity of our housing, affordable housing, pedestrian and bike safety, decreasing single-occupancy vehicles, improving sustainability in the community, incentivizing green building.
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?
Our comprehensive plan is an agreed upon document voted on by Council and should guide our decisions. Addressing our affordable housing shortage is a goal of the plan. It is the responsibility of the government to work toward this goal and to ensure we are meeting residents’ basic needs. We can establish dedicated funding for our Affordable Housing Fund. We need to prioritize mixed-use and mixed-rate development, particularly along our major corridors with access to public transportation.
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 success of local businesses affects all of us in a variety of ways, and they need our support. A local COVID-19 relief fund of $2.5mil was established for small businesses. Since the fund is a partnership with Commerce Lexington, we should ask them to hold workshops to get businesses ready to apply for future funds made available from the state and federal government. Some missed the prior opportunity to apply for these because quick action was needed before the funds ran out.
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?
PUBLIC is the first word in Public Safety. While all residents aren’t experts in law enforcement, they should have a say in the welfare of their community, especially where there are inequities. At Chief Weathers’ swearing-in ceremony, he spoke about compassion, community policing, and listening to the public about what is and isn’t working. The community asked for no-knock warrants, mandatory body camera usage and a citizen’s review board.
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?
Our Extended Social Resource (ESR) program has been used in the past to provide funding to nonprofits in our community providing essential services, such as housing support (e.g. Arbor Youth, Hope Center), addressing food insecurity (e.g. GleanKY, God’s Pantry), and safety and mental health (e.g. Greenhouse17, NAMI). We must continue this program. We could look at government owned properties that might be used for a community land trust, similar to the Davis Park neighborhood.
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?
We need to look at where the majority of revenue comes from: Occupational Tax. My priorities would be: 1) Higher wage jobs: attract high tech jobs with our gigabit infrastructure, and look at ways to raise local wages. 49% of our kids in FCPS qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning many families are not making enough income, 2) Stop our “brain drain” of young professionals and college students leaving Lexington,3) Attract businesses by continuing to increase the quality of life we offer.
10. LFUCG Council will soon have the responsibility of council redistricting. What is your approach to including public participation in the redistricting process?
A commission of diverse residents and community leaders should be appointed to create an independent, inclusive and transparent process. All meetings should be public and recorded. Accounting for future growth, the population should be evenly distributed across districts without splitting neighborhoods. Amendments by Council to the commission’s proposal should be made cautiously. Councilmembers who rely on votes to get elected should not be the people who are determining how the lines are drawn.
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?
We can attract new farmers by supporting training programs in college and the K12 level (ex. FCPS Locust Trace AgriScience Center), urban farming, and organizations like Black Soil. We can increase public involvement, learning experiences, and tourism within the industry, similar to Horse Country, the education center at Bluegrass Stockyards, and the UK Cooperative Extension Service. We can continue to expand our Farm to Table programs and farmer’s markets.
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?
To get people to consider alternatives to our reliance on cars, we need to address safety concerns and time constraints. For bicyclists and pedestrians, we need to increase safety by adding more bike and pedestrian paths, lowering speed limits, and educating the public on how to drive with bikers. For our bus systems, we need to shorten commute times. We could add dedicated bus lanes and another transfer station. To do all this, we need increased ridership so that the system can sustain itself.
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?
We need to look at who is participating in government and who is absent. If we want a city that works for all of us, then everyone needs a voice in our government. Whether it be seats on boards/commissions, shifting meeting times, providing childcare at meetings, allowing for different formats for public feedback, we need a structure that gets everyone to the table when decisions are being made.