During their first formal forum Tuesday night, the candidates for Lexington mayor gave their two cents on a number of topics. One of those issues was the militarization of local police departments.
The use of military equipment by local police remains a national subject of discussion. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says citizens count on police to respond to criminal matters in an ever changing society. "The expectations of our police, of our law enforcement, individuals and agencies has increased, so the expectation is greater," said Gray.
Therefore, Gray says the protection sought by police is also greater. Former police chief Anthony Beatty says policing changed after 9-11. Beatty says the special weapons, helmets, and helicopters local law enforcement receive from the government are assets when used properly. "I don't necessarily agree that you want to militarize police agencies because they are truly a part of the community. They're not soldiers. They're not trained to kill. They're protectors, they make you safe," said Beatty.
Both candidates for Lexington mayor believe perceived community divisions can hamper efforts to grow the local economy. Beatty said some people believe Main Street is a dividing line when it comes to economic opportunity. "How do we bring more resources to the north side to make it the kind of place that we want all of our families to be in? And the north side is really no different from the south side. It's more in the perception of people and we can keep working to change that," added Beatty.
Gray said creating jobs remains one of his three key strategies. He said job creation happens when company leaders feel optimistic about the culture of a community. "So, we've got to do all we can, all the time, in order to encourage a welcoming and inclusive community," explained Gray.
Since the formation of an urban county government decades ago, most public services in Lexington have been supported through payroll taxes. Mayor Gray said relying on employment for tax monies helps maintain focus on job creation. "There's something about that that drives us to improvement, that drives us to encourage jobs. It drives us to encourage and stimulate our economy," said Gray.
While recognizing the city's government charter calls for a payroll tax, challenger Beatty said Lexington should, in the very least, consider other options for funding government. "It would behoove the government to look at other ways, other cities, other best practices, so that we're not landlocked just into that one way of generating revenue," added Beatty.
Last night's forum, the first of several with Mayor Jim Gray and challenger Anthony Beatty, was sponsored by the Eastland Parkway Neighborhood Association in conjunction with the Lexington League of Women Voters.