The position of Danville mayor wasn’t on the ballot, but the man who currently holds the office was heavily involved in the waning weeks of the City Commission election.
Mayor Bernie Hunstad publicly supported the candidacies of Ryan Montgomery and Gail Louis, both of whom lost their bids to remain on the commission Tuesday night. Incumbents Kevin Caudill and J.H. Atkins, who were sometimes at odds with Hunstad, were elected along with former educators Paige Stevens and Paul Smiley.
“It was a very vicious campaign. I don't think they had as much of an opportunity to get their side of the story out," Hunstad said in reference to Louis and Montgomery during a phone interview Tuesday night.
Hunstad was elected in 2010 along with new commissioners Louis, Montgomery and Atkins, as well as Caudill, the lone holdover from the previous commission. Perception grew that Louis, Montgomery and Hunstad were part of a voting bloc on the commission following contentious votes on the dismissal of former City Manager Paul Stansbury and the hiring of his replacement, Ron Scott.
Hunstad, though, said that perception was advanced by a group of detractors who used a liberal policy on public input during city meetings to incite discord. He said vocal residents had a clear agenda that included making things difficult for he, Montgomery and Louis.
“It's been a boisterous two years, and there was a lot of negative press,” Hunstad said. “You had some of the candidates who are now elected complaining about all of the divisiveness in the commission room, but 95 percent of it was carried into the commission room.”
“This commission as a whole — and really, I am talking about all five commissioners — I think we did a good job,” Hunstad said. “If you take the Stansbury issue out of it, there was really very little dissension.”
Hunstad has railed against The Advocate-Messenger’s coverage of the race and an article that ran on Oct. 31, which revealed a business relationship between Montgomery's father Mike and Mitchell Barnes, the Lexington businessman who sold the BISCO building to the city earlier this year.
Hunstad believes the story — which he called "screwy" — was intentionally published the week before the election to sway voters.
The mayor, who has two years left on his term, campaigned on behalf of Louis and Montgomery, which he said was no different than office holders at any level of government endorsing candidates. In addition to prominently displaying campaign insignia on his truck and at his home, Hunstad also took up for his legislative allies in the press and a series of automated telephone calls to voters in the days before the election.
In the phone messages, Hunstad decried the article about BISCO and another story about the topic, and urged voters to support Montgomery at the end.
Hunstad said he personally paid for the “robo calls” through the website 2centsutocall.com without Montgomery's knowledge. He said he was able to obtain the phone numbers of city voters from the last four elections — about 3,760 in all — through the Kentucky Board of Elections.
Hunstad said two rounds of phone calls that lasted about 30 seconds cost $76 and $74 respectively. The cost for the second set went down, he believes, because some people asked to be taken off of the list after the first round.
Whether or not the divisiveness on the commission was overblown, Hunstad acknowledged there was friction between he, Atkins and Caudill.
He recently questioned Atkins’ vote against allowing the city to more thoroughly review finances of agencies that receive city funds, in light of Atkins’ leadership of the group Citizens Concerned for Human Relations, which asked for $500 from the city.
Although he praised Caudill for generally being good to work with, Hunstad said he was disappointed with the stances Caudill and Atkins sometimes took both publicly and privately.
“I wasn’t happy with their conduct sometimes, and it’s not that I always disagreed with their views,” Hunstad said. “Each of them in their own way, I feel, politicized the commission.”
Hunstad knows he will potentially have to negotiate a different kind of split on some issues and could end up on the short side of a different voting bloc. He believes the group can transcend any divisiveness.
Among the issues the new commission will have to continue to work on and will await the newly assembled body in January is a water plant that will cost in excess of $20 million. Hunstad believes the city also needs to renegotiate what he called a bad solid waste contract with M&M Sanitation, which he believes allows the hauler to profit from its service while taking money from recycling out of the community.
Ultimately, Hunstad said he viewed Montgomery as an important part of helping the commission take on the issues it will face.
“Ryan was absolutely one of the best commissioners we’ve had, so I view this as a disservice to the community. We are about to build a multimillion dollar water plant, and it would have been great to have an engineer sitting on the commission.”