Danville voters will elect four city commissioners Tuesday.
Incumbents James “J.H.” Atkins, Kevin Caudill, Gail Louis and Ryan Montgomery are trying to retain their seats but face challenges from former commissioners Janet Hamner and Paige Stevens, and newcomer Paul Smiley. The top four vote-getters in the non-partisan race will serve two-year terms.
All seven candidates came to The Advocate-Messenger last week to discuss their qualifications, recent controversies and goals for the city. Comments from each of the candidates appear below in alphabetical order.
James “J.H.” Atkins (incumbent): Atkins, 61, is a lifetime educator with professional ties to Centre College, Danville Independent Schools and Fayette County Public Schools. Atkins is seeking his second term on the City Commission. He and his wife, Artie, have two sons and four grandchildren.
Atkins has been involved in plenty of causes in Danville over the years, but is especially passionate about the Citizens Concerned for Human Relations. He is on the board of directors and since 1992 has volunteered for the multi-racial coalition of citizens committed to creating a “beloved community” as described by the late Martin Luther King Jr. King’s ideal community that respects and affirms the dignity of all its members, is built upon common humanity and enriched by cultural diversity.
Atkins acknowledged that donation checks indeed come to his residence in the name of the treasurer — who is not related to him. However, he never opens the envelopes and said the CCHR decided to close its post office box a few years ago to save money.
Saving money where appropriate is one of Atkins’ missions if he is re-elected to the City Commission. During his first term, Atkins said it seemed his main role was to ask the “right questions” to keep the citizens informed.
The last two years “have been very controversial,” he said. “We have accomplished very few things that improve the quality of life in our community,” besides hiring Danville native Tony¿Gray as police chief.
Atkins pointed out that he voted against the most controversial situations including the firing of former city manager Paul Stansbury and the hiring of current City Manager Ron¿Scott. He hopes if the voters choose more independent commission members that more positive changes will come to Danville during the next commission term.
“Two years has not been long enough for me to really get anything done,” Atkins said.
“I support Planning and Zoning. I support the EDP. I support downtown Danville. I support new jobs coming to this town. I supported Centre College in getting the debate.
“So, I’m really ready for re-election because I feel like in the two years we haven’t accomplished very much. I want to continue to be an example for this community ... and try to do what’s best for the entire community.”
Kevin Caudill (incumbent): Caudill, 50, has spent most of his life in Danville. His late mother, Nancy, was a City Commissioner until her death in 2002. Caudill was appointed to finish the remaining eight months of her term and elected to his first full term in 2004. On Tuesday, he hopes to be elected for the fifth time.
Caudill, a certified real estate appraiser and owner of Bluegrass Appraisal and Research, is also a prolific community volunteer. His lengthy service history includes once serving as a Kiwanis Club president, twice serving as president of the now-defunct local Jaycees and helping with both vice-presidential debates at Centre College, as well as other important events such as the Kentucky State BBQ Festival. He also was a Danville/Boyle County Chamber of Commerce Ambassador.
“I try to help wherever needed,” Caudill said.
That same principle of service applied when he stepped up to fill his late mother’s commission term.
“It kind of fell on me and I just really loved it once I started doing it,” Caudill said. “The way we were brought up is to try to give back and be involved and I kind of caught the ‘bug.’”
A Danville High School graduate, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and economics from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. An elder in The Presbyterian Church of Danville, Caudill is the father of three daughters.
Caudill acknowledged that some of the commission meetings held during the last two years were at times contentious and he vows to be a part of changing that if re-elected.
“We (the commissioners) should be able to agree to disagree without being disagreeable about it,” Caudill said.
“It affects people’s perception of the city itself, especially those looking at Danville from the outside to see what kind of community they might be moving into.”
Caudill also hopes to conduct more business in open session rather than executive session.
“I’ve always just tried to do what I thought was in the best interests for the entire town,” he said.
“I’ve worked with a diverse group of people over the years. I think I have the ability to work with all kinds of folks and be empathetic, be sympathetic and also give opinions when they’re asked for.”
Janet Hamner: Hamner, a former City Commissioner and the wife of Boyle County Coroner Dr. Don Hamner, is no stranger to politics. She was a commissioner from 2006 to 2010. Hamner, an interior designer with one daughter, is also an entrepreneur. She has owned and operated Cottage Interiors since 1987.
“We need more support for our economic development partnership. Not just saying you’re going to fund them, but also with your heart and soul and your boots on the ground you need to be with them.
“Every time the EDP needs something, we should be there to provide it.”
Hamner feels her “business brain” and “heart of volunteerism” will help Danville during a critical time in its history.
“Things need changing,” Hamner said.
“There’s been a voting bloc,” Hamner said. “So if that could be unlocked so decisions could be made on the merits and not on political positions,” Danville could move forward from recent controversies such as former city manager Paul Stansbury’s firing and the handling of BISCO building purchase.
Hamner feels this year’s budget was not formulated in public for the first time in decades and that needs to change so the public can not only give input, but also have more confidence in the “transparency” of city government.
“I think the budgeting and the spending is a problem,” Hamner said. “This commission spent about $350,000 ridding themselves of a city manager they didn’t like.
“And now, if what was in the newspaper turns out to be fact, then they’ve spent close to a quarter of a million dollars more of the taxpayer’s dollars that they might have saved if they had approached the problem in a different way,” she said refering to a story last week in The Advocate-Messenger about the purchase of the BISCO building.
She noted that the water plant project appears to have been kept in the public eye and that transparency does not seem to be an issue with the expansion. She added it is the most important project the new commission will handle, especially since the estimated cost is $27.5 million.
Norma Gail Louis (incumbent): Louis, 70, has spent her entire life in Danville and is seeking a third City Commission term. Five generations on one side of her family as well as four on the other side are also Danville natives.
“My only interest is to serve the citizens of Danville to make this the best place to live and raise our families in the nation,” she said. “And I have the time (to serve Danville.) I don’t have another job. I have the love to do it, I have the commitment and I have the knowledge to do it.”
Louis enjoyed a 32-year career with the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children, the Education Cabinet and the Legislative Research Commission. She now devotes much of her free time to charity work with a number of Danville and Boyle County non-profit organizations including the Habitat for Humanity and the Senior Citizens Center. She has volunteered with the Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center Auxiliary for more than three decades and is a current member of the Sister Cities Commission.
“I think people should realize my love for Danville goes back for generations,” Louis said. “I’ve probably got twice as much experience in government as everybody running put together, though I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing.”
Louis hopes if she is re-elected that she can help see the water plant expansion project to completion.
Jobs “is one thing I think the water plant will bring,” Louis said. “We’re going to have a good source of water, we’re going to have good water, and we’re going to have a good supply of water. And I think that will bring business here. Business is jobs.”
She really wants to see the new commission “come together more” and avoid some of the public conflicts that occurred over issues such as the firing of Stansbury and Ethics Board appointments.
“I grew up in a Danville where everybody seemed to get along and it’s not been that way lately,” Louis said. “Win or lose, I’m going to support whoever is elected because that’s my philosophy.
“And I’m going to support Danville no matter who is sitting up there in that commission chambers. And I hope they’ll work with me because I’ll be there one way or another. “
Ryan Montgomery (incumbent): Montgomery, 38, is seeking his second term. He is the owner and operator of Omni Engineering, holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Kentucky. After college he spent a few years living in Lexington but then chose to return to his hometown. Montgomery and his wife, Emily, have two sons.
“I never really have regarded myself as a very political person, but I do think I can help a great deal as it comes to our infrastructure projects,” he said.
Most of the city’s major projects are related to something in Montgomery’s professional field, he said. During his first commission term, Montgomery has enjoyed feeling like “part of the process.”
“I want to focus more on the positive, but I also understand it takes time to earn people’s trust,” Montgomery said.
He says one of the current commission’s biggest accomplishments was hiring Danville native Tony Gray as the police department chief. Montgomery said the hiring process went much more smoothly than he anticipated because of helpful city employees, especially City Manager Ron Scott.
As a Danville native who grew up playing team sports, he is especially interested in furthering recreational opportunities in the area inside and outside of the commissioner’s chair. Montgomery has served as president of the all-volunteer Bluegrass Youth Soccer Association for about three years.
“We just chip in and do what we got to do to get the young kids to play soccer,” he said.
He believes increased recreational opportunities for all ages will help attract more residents to Danville, but acknowledges that the intended water plant expansion project must be the initial focal point for the next commission.
The risk of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levying hefty fines on Danville if the water project does not flow to completion by 2014 is “minute” but a potential reality that cannot be ignored, Montgomery said.
“(Possible EPA fines) is not a gamble I’m willing to take,” he added.
When dealing with any potential City Commission decision, Montgomery says he does plenty of research so he can make his own decisions and cast votes for what he feels is truly right.
“I want to continue using my skills and my experiences I have from growing up here and as an engineer to help keep Danville moving in the right direction,” he said.
Paul Smiley: Smiley, 63, is seeking his first term on the City Commission but is no stranger to city committees and public service.
He is a former Ethics Committee member, served 13 years on the Danville Board of Education and was a former board chair for the local chapter of the American Red Cross. If elected, he hopes to help see the water plant project to its completion, continue to enhance what he called already excellent police and fire departments, and increase indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities for people of all ages.
“The people in the community need to feel safe,” Smiley said. “We cannot do any budget cuts” relating to public safety.
Smiley spent 28 years as an athletic director and teacher at Kentucky School for the Deaf until retiring in 2007, though he still volunteers and substitute teaches at the school on a weekly basis.
Smiley, who holds two master’s degrees, first earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the University of Maryland. American University in Washington, D.C. awarded his first master’s in supervision and administration, and Maryland’s McDaniel College awarded Smiley his second master’s in deaf education. He and his wife, Pat, moved to Danville 33 years ago and have three sons who were born and raised here.
“A lot of friends encouraged me to run because of my background and my experience,” Smiley said.
“And I believe in public service.”
Smiley acknowledged that his candidacy has drawn some controversy and some people have labeled him as a “yes man” for Mayor Bernie Hunstad. Smiley said such rumors are unfounded and unfairly attack his personal integrity. Smiley stressed he is an independent who only wants what is best for all residents of Danville.
“I will listen to everyone,” he said. “I believe I am an independent decision maker using common sense on all issues to support the improvement of quality of life in Danville.
“I have friends on both sides, but I am going to make independent decisions. Because I’m not going to be a ‘yes man’ to anybody. That’s not going to happen.”
Paige Dyche Stevens: Stevens, 63, a professional educator, first joined City Commission in 2006 to finish the remaining five months of her late husband Alex’s term.
"I'm excited about following in Alex's footsteps," Stevens told The Advocate-Messenger at the time of her swearing-in ceremony. She added that her heart belonged to her husband and his to the city, so she would do her best to make the right decisions.
Stevens, a native of London, first moved to Danville to attend Centre College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education and later completed a master’s in education from Indiana University and multiple administrative certifications from Eastern Kentucky University.¿Stevens works part-time administering grants for public schools in Jessamine County. During her career, she has worked in a number of teaching and administrative capacities for area school districts including Danville and Lincoln County.
“I’ve lived my life here,”¿Stevens said. “I love this town.”
The public discord among some members of the current City Commission has the potential to prevent Danville from moving forward, she said.
“I would love to see us spend our energies on making Danville a better place for all of the citizens,” Stevens said. “I feel like there are so many important issues that we could be addressing in the community.
“It’s just not productive to spend it all on acrimony and we’ve had so much of that. I worry about how it makes us appear to people who might want to come here, think about bringing their business here, think about starting a business or bringing employees or other members of their family...”
While Stevens acknowledges the need for executive sessions for issues such as pending litigation, she feels there have been too many closed-door meetings in the last two years.
“To the extent that we’re able to operate in front of the citizens, that’s what needs to be done. That’s what I’m accustomed to with school councils and school boards. They’re very good about following” open meetings laws “and I think that’s what city government needs to do as well.”
Stevens says her campaign slogan, “No Agenda But Danville,” will govern her votes if the citizens elect her to City Commission on Tuesday.