Grief reveals the nature of a community
Tragedy has come to our community. Last week we were shocked to hear of the disappearance of a 2-year old girl and a man near the Barren-Monroe County line. News of missing persons is not the norm in our peaceful rural communities of south central Kentucky. Then came the ominous cloud of uncertainty that baffled everyone for nearly a week– no sightings, no leads, no breaking news to give us hope for a happy ending to the story of Laynee Wallace.
Day after day and night after night, law enforcement and emergency personnel held fast to their goal of finding an innocent little girl and the man believed to be associated with her disappearance. Neighbors, friends, and community leaders all pitched in to lend a helping hand while thousands joined in prayer and offered support in whatever way came to mind.
We are painfully aware of the discovery of Laynee’s body on Monday afternoon and the grief it has brought to our hearts and our communities. Laynee was unknown to most of us 10 days ago and today her name is on our lips and in our prayers. Ironically, there is little to report about why Laynee’s life ended too soon. What we do know is that a precious little girl won’t have the opportunity to partake of the joys of childhood or experience the wonder of exploring this world.
What we are experiencing is widespread grief and we ponder what to do. We beg for explanation, resolution, and healing. While we will learn to live with the reality of this tragedy, we won’t “get over” Laynee’s loss. For years to come, many of us will think of Laynee - a child very few of us ever knew - when holidays approach and seasons change and when we observe little girls picking daisies in fields, expressing wonder at rainbows, and giggling for no apparent reason.
Some believe that grief changes a community. Perhaps more accurately, grief reveals the true nature of our communities. We have witnessed caring hearts and dedicated souls, perhaps as never before. Perhaps Laynee has given us the push we needed to step away from our selfishness and reveal our compassionate and generous nature held together by faith and love.
Please pray for all those who are affected by this tragedy.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Why Tuesday’s election matters
For those who are interested in Kentucky’s future, next Tuesday’s Primary Election will be one of the most important in modern history. If you read the Jobe for Kentucky blog with any regularity, you are already aware that our state is in a mess. We have serious issues which must be dealt with using tried-and-true common sense with a healthy dose of honesty. It doesn’t matter whether you are a card-carrying member of one political party or another. What matters is that we use sound judgement and good practices carried out by leaders who are willing to sacrifice political gain in favor of a better future for all of us.
There are several political pundits in our midst who will never cease their efforts to convince you that everything one political party promotes is right while another one is wrong. One writer recently referred to the four candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination as a “traveling caravan of ignorance.” No offense intended, but my late grandmother Rosie Mae Miller would have some strong words of rebuke for such a statement – and let me add that she was a Democrat who named her first-born son for “Happy” Chandler. Such rhetoric demands all the attention and takes the focus off of the issues and how to resolve them.
The campaign leading up to Tuesday’s vote-tallying has been unfortunate because instead of hearing what the candidates plan to do if elected, we voters are held at bay wondering who will level the next attack, when it will come, and what its subject might be. Here in the final days of the campaign, Matt Bevin, James Comer, Hal Heiner, and Will T. Scott - the four GOP candidates, continue to duke it out everywhere they meet as well as in your mailbox and on your television screen. Don’t think all the Democrats are exactly thrilled with their party’s presumed nominee – perennial candidate Geoff Young and his modest band of supporters aren’t too happy that party leaders have effectively ignored him in favor of Jack Conway.
The sad truth about the May 19 election is that there are so many important issues that are taking a back seat to campaign rhetoric and some would have you believe they’re not issues at all. For example, the current administration’s commitment to the Affordable Care Act and its Kentucky offspring, Kynect, stand to cripple our state’s financial wellbeing – maybe not next year, but the time is fast approaching when our government coffers will be emptied in order to pay for the program. Everyone deserves appropriate and adequate healthcare but there must also be a way to fund it without gutting every facet of our state’s financial resources.
While health care consumes our precious tax dollars, we can’t seem to find a clear path to adopting Right to Work laws that have a track record of bringing prosperity in other states. Instead, we are told by some pundits that Right to Work is a union-busting notion that will take money from the pockets of workers. The reality is that Right to Work laws give workers a choice about union membership and they are an outstanding welcome mat for prospective industries considering a move to Kentucky.
To borrow a popular phrase of years past, “Kentucky digs coal” because “coal keeps the lights on.” We owe a lot to Kentucky’s coal industry and the looming federal regulations imposed by the Obama administration threaten to destroy what little is left of one of our flagship industries. Pay close attention to those who tell you moving to other forms of energy will be a benefit to all - the same plans didn’t turn out very well in some European countries where those new forms of energy ultimately cost every household a significant increase in their monthly energy bills and drove valuable industries away.
There’s no doubt Kentucky’s tax system needs a complete overhaul. Special interest loopholes are draining our state dry while our lawmakers continue to shuffle money from one fund to another to cover their tracks of mismanagement and deception. Meanwhile, those same lawmakers continue to drag their feet in addressing the pension crises of Kentucky teachers and public employees, yet they continue to amass fortunes in pensions for themselves.
My plea to you is to pay attention, learn about the candidates and what they stand for. At the same time, commit to vote for our future – Kentucky’s future – our grandchildren’s future – rather than the candidates whose commitment is to maintain the status quo by living outside our means and doing everything that hasn’t worked effectively for several years. It’s time for a change and Tuesday is the day to begin.
Finally, exercise your right to vote next week. You know, my grandfather and many other grandfathers, along with thousands of veterans, both men and women, risked their lives so you can vote. If you find an excuse to not vote, would you mind explaining that to the next veteran you meet?
Comparing coal to slavery?
Fifty years ago this week the venerable Edward R. Murrow, one of the pioneers of television journalism, died after a storied career that earned the respect and trust of the American people for telling the news like it is. One of Murrow’s famed quotes is “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
It seems in our modern world many in the media and in politics have a hard time seeing the obvious and to promote their stances, they tend to obscure by making inflaming comparisons and accusations. Last week we saw that very thing happen when Jamie Lucke of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote a column taking U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell to task for keeping his promises. That’s right – criticized for doing exactly what he promised to do.
In McConnell’s case, he followed through on his campaign promise made last year to oppose the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency’s war on coal. After all, McConnell is Kentucky’s senior Senator and protecting Kentucky and Kentuckians is one of the things we intend for him to do.
It should come as no surprise that McConnell is standing firm in fighting the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” that seeks to regulate emissions from currently operating coal-fired power plants to the point that many would simply cease to operate or switch to natural gas as a source of power. One of the goals of the EPA plan is to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases by 30% over the next 15 years and in order to do this, the EPA plans to set emission goals for each state and then require each state to pass laws in order to meet the federal agency’s goals. States that don’t take such efforts will suffer punishment such as losing federal highway funds and Clean Air Act funds.
It’s easy to see that one of the Obama administration’s envisioned results is to kill the coal industry. Thankfully, McConnell has been proactive in keeping his promise to protect Kentucky coal by doing things such as adding a provision to the federal budget resolution which would forbid the EPA from withholding highway funds if a state chooses not to bow to the EPA. McConnell has correctly noted that the federal agency’s demands are clearly beyond its authority.
Environmentalists and liberals are now up in arms that McConnell is actually doing what so many political figures in today’s world fail to do: keep his promise. He’s looking out for those who depend on coal both in Kentucky and elsewhere. It should come as no surprise to McConnell’s critics. He clearly stated what he would do and one can presume that his promise resonated with Kentuckians who responded by handing him a landslide victory over Alison Lundergan Grimes in last fall’s election.
If criticizing McConnell for keeping his promise wasn’t enough, Lucke was bold enough to actually compare protecting the coal industry to those who 150 years ago sought to protect slavery. Here’s what Lucke wrote: “Mitch McConnell and others who are trying to obstruct climate protections will be regarded one day in the same way we think of 19th century apologists for human slavery: How could economic interests blind them to the immorality of their position?”
According to a second column published last weekend, Lucke suggests that the word “slavery” could be substituted for “coal” to illustrate her comparison of the subjects. Shame on Lucke and the Herald-Leader for making such an outrageous comparison.
Instead, Kentuckians can be grateful to have an elected official who honors his word and keeps the promises he made while seeking re-election. McConnell is on the right side of this battle as he seeks to prevent our nation from being devoured by a government of wolves.
Honoring our dedicated teachers
We all had them – teachers who spent a good portion of their lives dedicated to educating us. Everyone has a favorite teacher whose memory brings a smile to his or her face. Honestly, nearly everyone also has an equally-memorable teacher who had the ability to make you shake in your boots. Nevertheless, they were there for you just they were there for me, for our parents, for our children and grandchildren. Now they’re in trouble.
Years ago our state made a deal with public school teachers to help them live comfortably during their retirement years. It was a 3-part agreement: each teacher would pay into their retirement account through payroll deduction, the local board of education would contribute an amount toward each of its teachers retirement account, and finally, the Commonwealth of Kentucky would contribute an amount to the account.
The teachers kept their end of the deal – they had little choice because the deductions were automatic. The local boards of education kept their end of the deal because they were mandated to do so.
Now the problem. Our state continues its tradition of living beyond its means. Our state officials juggle money from one fund to another on a daily basis. The notion of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” is alive and well in the halls of state government. Because legislators refuse to be sincere in meeting the state’s obligations, the state has made its contribution to the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System only two of the past seven years.
The full picture shows that the KTRS has $14 billion in unfunded liabilities. That translates to having only 54% of the money it needs to cover the future benefits of your favorite retired teacher and his or her fellow retirees. If this scenario played out in the business world, heads would roll and the story would make headlines around the country.
During its recent session, the Kentucky General Assembly considered a proposal by House Speaker Greg Stumbo to borrow $3.3 billion to temporarily fix the KTRS crisis for a mere eight years. Keep in mind that the plan was to borrow the money at about 4% interest, invest it, and hope for a 7.5% return. With state government’s track record of underfunded budgets requiring constant bailouts and shifting of money, the plan was risky to say the least. Even Gov. Steve Beshear’s bonding expert admitted that the results were doubtful and would lower the state’s credit rating. Republican leaders were right to put the brakes on the idea and look for other solutions.
In the meantime, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover and his Republican colleagues in the Senate have called for Beshear “to use the bully pulpit of his office in his remaining months as governor and become a driving force for reform.” Beshear responded that he considered the state’s obligations to teacher a priority and would work throughout the coming months to find a solution that the legislature could consider in 2016. Stumbo says he would be willing to support having a special session to address the problem.
The positive side of this problem is that everyone realizes it must be fixed. The downside is that our elected officials can’t agree on how to do. Let’s hope that our officials keep the future of our retired educators in mind now that the General Assembly has adjourned. It must be addressed but at the same time not further wreck our state’s financial standing. Our retired teachers, in the meantime, are still burdened with the uncertainty of their own livelihood and disappointment that some of their own students have failed to honor their agreement.
The Frankfort Shuffle
Last week members of the Kentucky General Assembly proved once again just how skillful they can be maneuvering their respective chambers. Building on a tradition of giving false impressions, state leaders spent many long hours negotiating which bills would become law and eagerly told Kentuckians of their diligence. Even Gov. Steve Beshear issued a press release extolling the success of the 30-day session, insisting it was one of the most productive in years. There were some good pieces of legislation that will become law but the reality is that our elected officials did little to rein in Kentucky’s out-of-control spending that is the root of many problems.
While leading the public to believe they had done great things, legislators worked the floor doing the dance of the legislature. No, it wasn’t “The Hustle,” “The Twist,” “The Limbo,” or even the “Hokey Pokey.” While all of those dance floor crazes might fit Frankfort’s antics, the legislature was performing yet another perfectly executed version of “The Frankfort Shuffle.”
You see, in the final hours of the session that ended last week, the legislature passed a state budget amendment that shuffled $63.5 million to pay for their shortfalls. More than $63 million was raided from the public employee health insurance fund and placed in the state’s rainy day fund so they can make taxpayers believe they’ve performed well.
Of that whopping $63.5 million, $10 million will go to pay for the just-passed bill addressing heroin abuse. Nearly $8 million will help defray the reduction in gas tax income that ultimately helps maintain roads throughout the state.
Another $10 million will be used to offset a shortfall in education funding that they’ve known existed for months.
Never mind that the fund legislators raided was intended to take care of public employee’s healthcare. It’s a fund that is self-insured and any time money can be saved it’s a positive because it impacts how the fund operates in the future. The same fund has been robbed of millions in years past for the same reasons – fiscal mismanagement.
It’s a shuffle we’ve seen repeatedly in Kentucky. It’s the same scenario as one recently-revealed in which more than $8 million the state’s drivers had contributed to fund nature preserves through the nature-themed license plate program was simply diverted to other uses.
Just last summer Gov. Beshear and state leaders took around $50 million from 45 various funds in order to balance the budget – that was the budget with a $91 million deficit. Those funds came from fees paid by various professionals regulated by the state. For example, the Board of Nursing saw $1 million disappear while the Firefighters Foundation Program lost $2 million intended to train volunteer firefighters. Environmental programs saw around $3 million disappear from their coffers while a fund intended to clean up leaking underground fuel tanks lost more than $2 million. The Kentucky Pride Fund which has given grants to several of our area counties for worthwhile projects lost $1 million that was projected to help properly shut down aging landfills. The Agent Licensing Fund of the state’s Department of Insurance lost $2.5 million. Around $15 million was taken from the Behavioral Health Development and Intellectual Disabilities fund intended to aid residential institutions.
How is it that every year our state’s budget advisors miss the mark and over-estimate the state’s income and under-estimate the state’s expenses? A business operating in the same manner as our state wouldn’t likely last very long; businesses don’t have other funds to rob to cover budgetary bobbles. Should our state have the luxury of commandeering monies taken in for one purpose and then gobble them up to pay for something else?
Apparently many legislators feel it’s okay – last week’s quiet transfer passed 37-0 in the Senate and 96-3 in the House. (Incidentally, we can thank Reps. Mike Harmon, Phil Moffett, and Tommy Turner for the nay votes.)
While the state’s budget advisors are partly to blame, our elected officials deserve the greatest portion of the blame because they continue to adversely affect Kentucky and Kentuckians because they refuse to reform our tax code or operate with the funds available. As I’ve said before, there’s not much difference between how state finances work and the old shell game at the carnival.
Beshear noted last summer that the practice was perfectly appropriate and legal and it prevented cuts to state agencies. Even the Kentucky Supreme Court says that fund transfers are acceptable. Both show that while you have the right to do something, it doesn’t mean doing it is right. Taking monies collected from Kentucky citizens for a specific purpose and then converting those monies to the state’s general fund or rainy day fund is simply misleading and wrong.
That, folks, is how you do “The Frankfort Shuffle.” It’s a shameful dance, but it’s the one our state officials perform all too well.
Frankfort’s “dog-and-pony” show
Like a merry-go-round that dazzles with elaborately painted galloping horses, twinkling lights, and cheerful music, the world of Kentucky state government and establishment politics moves constantly but doesn’t seem capable of moving forward.
Since early January, the General Assembly has met off-and-on in their odd-year 30-day session to achieve lackluster results. As usual, the most important issues affecting the future of our state and the well being of Kentuckians were postponed until the final days rather than being addressed head-first.
We’ve witnessed political divide and a reluctance to come together to make good decisions on serious issues. Simultaneously, we’ve seen 92-0 votes in the state House of Representatives to designate a National Day of the Cowboy in Kentucky. I’ve yet to find anyone who knew there was an overwhelming movement for such a designation. Cowboys are to be admired but, seriously, what about the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System funding crisis or any of the other many issues that hang like a dark cloud over our state?
Instead of figuring out how to decrease the state’s debt, we’ve witnessed the burden of even more debt with flimsy ideas about how to pay our way out of it. Instead of reforming our tax system, we’ve witnessed more budgetary switcheroo games, fund-robbing (such as the nature license plate fund which drivers thought supported state nature preserves), and the creation of new fees.
Lest you think Frankfort’s dog-and-pony show ends with the legislative session this week, fear not – there’s more. To divert your attention and/or impress you, communities all over the state – our area in particular – are being treated to visits, press conferences, and check presentations by high-ranking officials.
To some, all of the royal treatment seems inspiring until one considers the numerous reasons for it. A lackluster legislative session that failed to accomplish a lot certainly comes to mind. Then, there’s the reality that Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration will end in just over eight months with a record of actually passing one – yes, one – piece of legislation it proposed in 8 years in office. If you can’t win the admiration of the people with actual accomplishments, dazzle them flattery and feel-good visits.
Finally, bear in mind that in less than two months voters will go to the polls for the May Primary Election. The current administration and the House majority understand that 2015 marks the best chance of a Republican Governor being elected in several years. With four credible GOP contenders seeking the nomination to oppose the establishment candidate, there’s much at stake and those currently in power know it all too well.
Welcome to springtime in Kentucky where the red vs. blue battle for power unfolds just as the leaves emerge from their winter’s rest. The arrival the fabled “dog and pony” show is right on time to impress or divert the attention of voters.
Who will speak for you?
On many occasions most of us have a tendency to become so engrossed in so many activities and distractions that we fail to give proper attention to the actions others make on our behalf. Once the impact of such decisions hits our homes, families, businesses, and our wallets, we seem to sit up and take notice and wonder aloud, “Now, how did that happen?” The people we’ve assumed are looking out for our interests make some of the worst decisions. Elected officials in every level of government are some of the most notorious and every elected body from city council to fiscal court to state legislature to Congress has made some not-so-great choices.
We’re watching the last days of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 30-day session that so far has proven that when everything is said and done, there was a lot more was said than was done. Sadly, some very important legislation has been killed and quickly buried, some bills have been sent to the Governor’s desk that should never have made it that far, and a great number of issues that need attention continue to be held hostage by the all-too-familiar political games Kentucky is known for.
There are some examples that should have every Kentucky citizen thinking and acting.
First, we’ve watched both chambers of our General Assembly pass legislation that forces a legitimate, successful company out of business because some well-heeled, politically-connected contributors happen to want them out of business. The so-called “beer bill” forces Anheuser-Busch to sell off its distributorships in Louisville and Owensboro so other businesses can seize the business opportunities. Fellow officials who convinced them it was all about “fairness” and who said it would be “good for business” have misled our elected officials. Friends, it’s neither fair nor is it good when politicians can force an existing company to give up its property. The legislators who supported this travesty are on both sides of the political aisle but that makes no difference: wrong is still wrong no matter who is for it.
Another piece of legislation that will assuredly be signed into law by the Governor is the so-called “AT&T bill” which releases one of the largest corporations operating in Kentucky from responsibility for providing affordable, reliable telephone service. Yes, many of us have switched to cellphones and chosen to stop using the reliable landlines we all grew up with and that helped our state modernize several decades ago. You see, by not being held accountable, the large corporation can simply not offer the cheaper landline phone service and force citizens to embrace newer, fancier, and more expensive wireless telephone service. And what about geographic areas where cellphone service is poor or where big business decides it is not profitable to provide landline service? Well, they’ll just have poor service or no service.
Perhaps we should be paying attention to the fact that AT&T spent more than $434,000 in a recent 24-month time period to hire as many as 31 lobbyists to sweet-talk our officials into voting for their desired legislation. Not only did the corporation spend a huge amount of money to promote the legislation, they spent years doing it. Oh, and they just happened to make over $60,000 in contributions to state political campaigns in the years 2012-2014. A bit of rural wisdom might remind us that any one bill that takes dozens of lobbyists and hundreds of thousands of dollars is probably not in the best interest of everyday Kentuckians.
A third example, Senate Bill 76, should be signed into law but the leadership in the House of Representatives continues to stall it in hopes of a sure death. In case you’ve not followed this legislation, it gives direction to schools to protect the privacy of our students in their respective restrooms – that is, boys in their designated restroom and girls likewise. What should be a non-issue has become a big issue because students questioning their gender identity were allowed by Louisville’s Atherton High School to choose which restroom they wished to use. Simply put, a young male student might identify himself as female and he might choose to use the girls’ restroom – that is, a young male using the girls’ restroom or vice versa.
A good and appropriate policy, such as Senate Bill 76, guarantees students that everyone in their respective restroom, shower room, or locker room is of the same gender. While it’s an indicator of the complex society in which we live, it’s an issue that demands sensitivity and privacy to all persons. Senate Bill 76 also suggests that schools may offer other options such as providing a single-user restroom, or a unisex restroom, or even allowing the gender-conflicted student the use of a faculty restroom with appropriate oversight and protection.
To not pass this legislation is equally troublesome as passing legislation to take away a company’s business.
These are only three examples of legislation that deserve loud public opinion. Unfortunately, many Kentuckians have been content to sit back and pay little attention to what’s been going on in Frankfort for the past few weeks.
Few citizens have spoken up and shared their opinions with their legislators and our Governor; all assuming someone else would do so. I am reminded of the famous poem by a German minister named Martin Niemoller when he wrote about the cowardice of the Germans in standing against the Nazi rise to power. Niemoller’s writing mentions several groups and with each is the statement along the lines of “I did not speak out because I was not one of them.” The piece ends with the haunting final line, “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As our legislature jockeys to either take action or refuse to act, and our Governor chooses to enact a law, let’s remember to do our part as citizens and speak up for what is right. After all, the day may come when there’s no one left to speak for you.
Leadership that embraces the future
One of the great desires of the American people is to have leaders who will inspire and enable us to be what we know we could be. While those words sound lofty and perhaps idealistic, they are true. We all know what we can be as individuals and as a country - provided we have good leadership. The same can be said of Kentuckians’ aspirations for our state.
Fortunately, some of our counties are led by men and women who are not afraid to lead boldly and with determination when they know what is right. Within the past few weeks, leaders in Butler and Monroe Counties have shown what they are made of and they’ve shown courageous direction on behalf of the people they serve.
You see, Butler County Judge Executive David Fields and the majority of that county’s magistrates, and Monroe County Judge Executive Tommy Willett and entire Fiscal Court have shown their leadership as they have unflinchingly adopted local right-to-work ordinances. On Monday evening Butler County made their ordinance official with a 4-1 vote on the final reading of their legislation. Last Thursday, Monroe County became the latest local government to make strides toward providing a brighter future for the entire state.
The leaders of these counties understand the twofold purposes of enacting right-to-work legislation. First, it guarantees their citizens the right to choose – something that all Americans enjoy doing unless they are oppressed by power-hungry groups who force them into one action (joining a union) in order to accomplish another goal (keeping a job). Second, right-to-work legislation is a matter of creating a work environment that is welcoming, wholesome, and ripe for economic success. We’ve witnessed how 24 states – including most of Kentucky’s neighbors – are enjoying unprecedented growth and opportunity. These effective leaders have done their homework, they’ve listened to the desires of their constituents, and they have taken charge of their destiny.
Kentuckians find themselves with a state Senate embracing right-to-work and doing all they can to follow the desires of the citizens while the state House of Representatives has once again killed any chance of right-to-work legislation even being discussed, not to mention granted a simple floor vote. While this situation seems grim, that’s not completely accurate. Our neighbors in Warren County – both frustrated and determined – stepped up as the first to take action despite elected officials who refused to do so. Now, more of our neighbors have joined what has become a movement to move Kentucky forward.
Our neighbors in Warren, Butler, Monroe, and other counties have grown weary of seeing prospective companies – employers of people – turn and walk away from industrial recruiters because Kentucky is not a right-to-work state. These leaders are determined to provide our citizens with a choice and build a foundation for the next generations of Kentuckians.
Ironically, if right-to-work laws are put in place in Kentucky, unions will still be organized and workers can choose to join or not. Rather than hurting the entire state, right-to-work laws would merely level the playing field by giving everyone a choice and a chance. It’s inspiring to see leaders who can’t be swayed by innuendo or outright threats of being shunned by a lame-duck Governor or legislative leaders or fear of losing out on a check presentation, ceremonial visit, or board appointment.
Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the great things.” Both Butler and Monroe Counties have been set apart from the rest because they have elected legislators such as Jim DeCesare and Bart Rowland, two stalwarts who have consistently led the way for right-to-work legislation and yet, have been unsuccessful in getting our House of Representatives to heed their wisdom. Thankfully, they have been true leaders by inspiring local leaders to do what is best for our future.
Jobe Publishing is honored to be on public record to stand for right-to-work in all of our counties and we encourage other local officials to join in leading our families and friends into a brighter day for all of Kentucky.
More of Frankfort’s budgetary shenanigans
About the time one concludes that deceptive practices within our state government might be decreasing, comes the revelation of yet another example of why Kentuckians continue to be dismayed and dumbfounded by Frankfort’s budgetary shenanigans. Last week drew back the curtain of deception once again – it just took a few months for the trickery to come into the light.
If you didn’t take the time to read the story found elsewhere on the pages of this newspaper, you need to go back and prepare to be infuriated as you review the facts. In a nutshell, Kentuckians have been able to purchase specialty license plates for more than two decades under the highly publicized notion that a portion of your fee would benefit a cause near and dear to your heart. In this case, if you purchased a nature-themed license plate for your automobile, you we told you were donating $10 to the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. That fund is used to conserve important natural places such as Horse Cave’s Hidden River Cave, Barren County’s Brigadoon Nature Preserve, and Monroe County’s Old Mulkey Meeting House.
Unfortunately, it’s taken a few months since legislators passed the current state budget for another example of the famous Frankfort switcheroo game to be exposed. You see, the money that was supposed to help protect some of Kentucky’s natural wonders has been taken by the state for a different cause. If you follow the good old boy shenanigans you know that such practices are sadly the norm in our state government. In this case, approximately $8 million was transferred into the General Fund that pays for just about anything and everything.
You may recall that the previous state budget closed with a $91 million deficit– a tidy sum of money for an already cash-strapped state government. As will likely be revealed with the current budget comes to a close, the old budget was formulated by over-estimating the state’s income and under-estimating the state’s expenses. A business operating in the same manner as our state wouldn’t likely last very long; businesses don’t have other funds to rob to cover budgetary bobbles. Should our state have the luxury of commandeering monies taken in for one purpose and then have them gobbled up to cover someone else’s mistake?
Last July, Governor Steve Beshear grabbed $21.2 million from the Commonwealth’s “rainy day fund.” Government finance experts suggest that 5-15% of general fund revenues be set aside for use in emergencies. Kentucky’s reserve fund was already low at $77 million, just 1% of the budget.
It’s troubling that our leaders took around $50 million from 45 various funds in order to balance the budget. In many cases, the funds were fees paid by various professionals regulated by the state. To illustrate, Kentucky’s Board of Nursing saw $1 million disappear from its coffers. For example, funds intended for specific purposes were taken away from the Firefighters Foundation Program Fund to train volunteer fire fighters, the Kentucky Pride Fund which has given grants to several of our area counties, the Agent Licensing Fund of the state’s Department of Insurance, the Behavioral Health Development and Intellectual Disabilities fund that aids residential institutions. Now comes the revelation that our state’s leaders can’t even be trusted to use money from the sale of speciality license plates for its intended purpose.
Last summer, Beshear commented, “The use of fund transfers is a valuable tool in how we manage and balance the overall budget of the Commonwealth, and one that keeps us from making deeper cuts to state agencies.” While fund transfers may be commonplace, taking monies collected from Kentucky citizens for a specific purpose and then converting those monies to the state’s General Fund is simply misleading and wrong.
As you have read on these pages many times in the past, it is time Kentucky’s leaders got serious about operating within a budget that can be balanced without such shenanigans. The taxpayers who hand over their hard-earned dollars deserve better.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doing what’s right for Morgantown
Everyone just wants to do what is right!
This is a statement I heard more than once this week as I helped follow up on a long-contested issue in Morgantown. It seems an individual called the newly-elected Morgantown Mayor, Billy Phelps, and conveyed that they believed an ordinance was needed to reduce the compensation of the board members of the Morgantown Utilities Commission.
Because the Mayor wanted to do what was right, he placed a call to City attorney John King and was told that an ordinance would be needed to make the pay reductions that were passed April 10, 2014 go into effect. The new pay rate was supposed to take effect on January 1, 2015.
According to former Mayor Linda Keown, an ordinance making the salary reduction actually happen wasn’t created because she and the now-former City Clerk could find no ordinances relating to pay for non-elected city officials on the books. The former Mayor did her best to do what was right. Keown contends that the intent of the old Council was clear and because it was discussed along with compensation for elected city officials, she feels the community had ample time to make its feelings known.
City Council member Russell Givens doesn’t agree with the verbal opinion of City Attorney King and Mayor Phelps but having been a member of the old Council and knowing their intent was not being honored or fulfilled, he again offered a motion to reduce the pay of the board members in question. Clearly, Givens wanted to do what was right.
The actual Kentucky Required Statute (KRS) addressing this specific issue is 83A.070 which deals with the compensation of elected officers, appointed officials, and employees. In part, that law directs that:
(1) The legislative body of each city shall by ordinance fix the compensation of every elected city officer not later than the first Monday in May in the year the officer is elected. An elected officer's compensation shall not be changed after his election or during his term of office.
(2) The legislative body of each city shall fix the compensation of city employees and nonelected city officers in accordance with a personnel and pay classification plan, which shall be adopted by ordinance.
It seems clear that the Morgantown Utilities Commission members fall under section (2), which states that a personnel and pay classification plan shall be adopted by ordinance. It is doubtful that the intent of the law is to establish an ordinance every time the salary of an employee or board member is adjusted. Past actions in Morgantown and throughout the region don’t show that such ordinances have been created.
If Morgantown’s City Attorney believes an ordinance is required, then we are inclined to agree with Councilman Givens on the issue. Moving in the direction King is suggesting sets a precedent for future salary adjustments for non-elected city officers and employees.
Once again, it is clear that everyone just wants to do what is right. Perhaps the best defense for all concerned would be for Mayor Phelps, Councilman Givens and former Mayor Keown to ask City Attorney King for his opinion in writing. King’s response would put to rest the possibility that something was lost in the conversations of the past. Then, officials will know what they must do to put into effect the salary decrease that was voted on 10 months ago. That would be doing what is right for Morgantown.
Right-to-Work ultimately benefits union members
One may ask, “What did Kentucky do that has made us become literally broke, or how did we fall behind so many others?” Or a question I often contemplate, “How can we restore the American dream to our Kentucky families?”
I believe the American dream has not completely been lost here in Kentucky but it surely has been slowed to a point that fewer and fewer of us are realizing it. The reason is so simple for anyone who wants to take the time and research on his own.
I can equate this to my own life with just a little imagination. You see, as a young man in order to get the next promotion inside the Courier-Journal, Gannett, Thomson Newspapers or other businesses, I happened to work for over the years, I worked to develop relationships with successful decision makers in those companies.
My strategy proved beneficial but at times very frustrating. The frustration came as a by-product of the advice given to me because it made me work harder to prepare myself for the next level. We humans always prefer the easy route to achieving our goals and many of us have learned that the best way to make effective change is to do it correctly and not skip any important steps in the process. One of the traits I noticed in successful company leaders was that they weren’t just leaders in the company, they were leaders in their community.
There were more than a few times that someone got a promotion over me when I knew the results of my job performance were better. Rather than being consumed with frustration, I quickly learned to focus on improving myself and my performance before the next opportunity arose.
This is what is what is happening in Kentucky today. Ask any corporate manager if their work results are just as good or better than other locations within their corporations yet expansions and new developments are going elsewhere. Ask any non-government industrial recruiter why large industries choose locations outside of Kentucky. Take a seat with your computer and do a little research and you will find a trend that very much involves Kentucky and why we are not advancing our economic base. In most cases, the number one factor for financial doom is pressure from unions and the government officials they compel to support them.
Kentucky has unfortunately earned a spot on the ever-shortening list of states that allow unions to control employees by forcing them to pay union dues or lose their jobs. It’s pretty simple, when you don’t allow an employee to decide if he wants to pay dues or not, you end up with very powerful unions controlled by bosses who freely redistribute the employee’s hard-earned money to causes the employee has little say in choosing.
In turn, that employee’s money is used to influence government leaders who willingly lend their support to legislation that benefits the union rather than the bulk of the citizens. We’ve seen this scenario for decades in Kentucky and the result has been an abundance of self-serving leaders who will allow a company to be run out of business or even out of the state for not bowing to union influences. Those influences own the majority at this time in Kentucky and the majority has blocked every single attempt for business-friendly legislation to come to the floor for a vote.
This month, we have state officials poised to make a disastrous business mistake that stands to become a long-term nightmare by borrowing $3 billion to cover obligations to one of the state’s retirement systems. No one wants to harm employees who have been promised a retirement, but there is not a successful business person or ethical leader who would honestly say that borrowing today to pay for tomorrow is the right answer.
Our state government must adopt solid business practices which would include finding ways to grow revenue and/or tighten expenses to stop the continued losses. Failure to do so is a prescription for disaster.
Our region has been subjected to ineffective leadership and we see the results of it more each day. Rather than bowing to union demands, there must be a balance between union membership, the good of the company, and the communities they both serve. This balance comes in the form of a choice and accountability. The choice of passing Right-to-Work laws will force union leaders to be responsive to their members and protect those who choose not to become members from losing their jobs. In their quest to block Right-to-Work legislation, union officials won’t tell you that union membership in Right-to-Work states is increasing because all industry grows in those states. The only differences is the bosses lose power as it is given to their members because they hold them accountable.
It is disturbing to witness our leaders bow to pressure from organized labor to stop even discussion or a vote on legislation that would benefit every community in our state. I write this not because I am not loyal to the union concept. I appreciate what union membership can potentially do for us. Because of leaders who choose blind loyalty to unions, all of Kentucky suffers. It is yet another indicator of why Kentucky has joined the ranks of the most poorly managed states where fewer people pay taxes than persons receiving benefits.
Speaking out when it matters most
Last week I was personally recognized during the Kentucky Press Association’s annual meeting for an editorial I wrote last year. Entitled “School Boards held hostage,” that editorial shed light on a serious issue: unfunded mandates and over-regulation that legislators insist upon while providing little or no funding to carry out the demands. It’s an issue that informed Kentuckians will not ignore until it is addressed.
Like the refusal of SCRTC Directors to disclose their compensation packages a few years ago, the issue is one I felt was worth some attention. It took years of challenges and gallons of ink spread on newsprint, but I’m proud that I spoke out and held firm until the issue was somewhat disclosed. One of the unique benefits allowed independent newspaper publishers is the ability to point out both good and bad things that affect our communities and monitor needed change. It’s not about satisfying an out-of-town board’s bottom line or a political agenda, it’s about doing what’s right for our community.
One of the current issues affecting our communities at this very moment is the need for Kentucky to become more business-friendly while also giving our workers the right to choose whether they belong to a union or not.
As I noted in my column last week, this family-owned company is proud to be aligned with the Gaines family of the Bowling Green Daily News in speaking out in favor of Kentucky becoming a Right-to-Work state even if it means doing it county-by-county. Once again, it’s about doing what is right for the betterment of our communities and our people.
Our neighbors in Warren County and a few other progressive counties have boldly passed local Right-to-Work ordinances while others are in the process and even more are seriously studying their options. Hopefully, as local officials consider adopting a local ordinance, they will bear in mind their oath to do what is best for the citizens they serve. As they do so, I hope they consider a few of these facts:
Fact: Right-to-Work states enjoyed a 12.9% growth rate in non-farm private sector employees as compared to 6.0% in other states.
Fact: The average Poverty Rate – adjusted for Cost of Living is 10% in non-Right-to-Work states. The number drops to 8.5% in Right-to-Work states.
Fact: The percentage of growth in patents annually granted is 33% in Right-to-Work states compared to 11% in non-Right-to-Work states.
Fact: Real personal income grew by 26% in Right-to-Work States while those in non-Right-to-Work states grew 19% during the 1995-2005 time frame.
Fact: The percentage of growth in the number of people covered by employment-based private health insurance was 8.5% in Right-to-Work states compared to 0.7% in non-right-to-Work states.
Further, states with Right-to-Work laws enjoy a 13% growth rate in population versus only 6.5% in others.
Consider that Kentucky has the dreadful notoriety of ranking 7th among states in which people are leaving at a higher rate than people are relocating.
Sadly, those of us who are parents and grandparents know the reason Kentucky’s population is decreasing is because our children are leaving our state for profitable work elsewhere. This means Kentucky families are being devised at a much higher rate than our southern neighbors.
Perhaps adding insult to injury is the recent revelation that Kentucky now ranks 7th among the 11 states where more residents are getting welfare than those paying the taxes to make the assistance possible.
I am amazed by elected officials who place the well-being of their constituents below their allegiance to good ole boy politics, backroom deals and party affiliation. There’s no photo opportunity with a state official or a promise of road fund line item worth placing our own people at a disadvantage.
One day history will judge each of us based on what we did successfully as well as our failings. It is my goal to be judged for standing for what is right. Right-to-Work is what is right for Kentucky.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Right-to-Work is Right for Kentucky
One of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans is the freedom to choose. We are afforded hundreds of choices in our lives and most of us take our freedom for granted. Occasionally, we confront a situation in which a person or group wants to dictate how or why we do something and for most of us, such situations can be difficult to accept. At this very moment in time, Kentuckians are awakening to the fact that many of us don’t have the freedom of choice when it comes to belonging to a power-hungry union in order to hold a job.
It’s difficult to understand the rationale that demands that a person pay dues to a union whose funds are then carefully controlled to push political, social, and economic agendas that sometimes are simply unacceptable.
This is why Kentucky must embrace right-to-work laws that will protect our workers and guarantee them the choice of whether they belong to a union or not. It’s about choice and it’s a choice that should be left up to the employee.
At the dawn of a new year, there are 24 states that have right-to-work laws in place – and that includes most of Kentucky’s neighbors and every southern state except ours. Ironically, the reason Kentucky isn’t a right-to-work state doesn’t have a lot to do with our people – polls have proven time and again that our citizens want right-to-work laws. Instead, it’s got nearly everything to do with elected officials whose campaign bank accounts are flush with money thanks to union contributions.
Kentuckians find themselves with a state Senate embracing right-to-work and doing all they can to follow the desires of the citizens while the state House of Representatives refuses a vote or even have a discussion.
Controlled by one party as it has been for more than 90 years, the House consistently chooses to bow to unions that represent less than 8% of the state’s workforce. What about the desires of the other 92% of Kentuckians?
While this situation may seem grim, that’s not completely accurate. Our neighbors in Warren County did their homework and they examined the situation thoroughly and sought the counsel of some of our brightest and best minds and determined they could chart their own course due to the negligence of our state leaders. Simply put, Warren County leaders are worn-out with a legislature that refuses to even allow a fair hearing, much less a vote.
Our neighbors in Warren County have grown weary of seeing prospective companies – employers of people – turn and walk away from industrial recruiters because Kentucky is not a right-to-work state. So, armed with facts and determination, Warren County Fiscal Court became the first county in the nation to pass its own right-to-work ordinance last month. They’ve been followed by other forward-thinking county officials who are determined to provide our citizens with a choice and build a foundation for the next generations of Kentuckians.
As with nearly anything worth fighting for, county right-to-work laws are now being challenged in court. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the legal challenge is not from ordinary citizens, but rather by unions and those who work for them. One thing is certain, the magistrates and county judge executives who made the bold decision in favor of right-to-work live and work in their communities; the folks suing them don’t live or work in those communities and their interest is not in the people but rather to protect their turf and continue denying citizens a choice.
Ironically, if right-to-work laws are put in place in Kentucky, unions will still be organized and workers can choose to join or not. Rather than hurting the entire state, right-to-work laws would merely level the playing field by giving everyone a choice and a chance.
Here in Barren County, there have been informal conversations about right-to-work legislation. Earlier this week, the Economic Development Committee of Barren County Fiscal Court cancelled a meeting where it was to be explored. Perhaps their agenda was too hastily set before officials were adquately prepared. Perhaps officials were spooked by threats of upsetting a lame-duck Governor or legislative leaders or fear of possibly losing out on a check presentation, ceremonial visit, or board appointment.
Hopefully, Barren County’s Fiscal Court, Chambers of Commerce, IDEA Board and other media will awaken to the vast opportunity before them just as those same entities have done in Warren County. Jobe Publishing is honored to join the Gaines family’s Bowling Green Daily News in being on public record to stand for right-to-work in our counties and we pray that our local officials will join us in leading our family and friends into a brighter day for all of Kentucky.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The shell game continues
Kentucky’s Speaker of the House of Representatives Greg Stumbo has unveiled yet another example of the wrong-headed thinking that seems to have filled the halls of the state Capitol once again. Stumbo filed a bill last Friday that would have our state borrow $3.3 billion to buoy the sinking Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.
The best that can be said of the proposal is that at least someone wants to do something. The sad reality is that it’s not a good idea to fix one problem by borrowing billions of dollars that the citizens of Kentucky must pay off.
There is no question that one of Kentucky’s top financial issues is the underfunding of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the Kentucky Employees Retirement System. There are over 141,000 Kentuckians enrolled in the KTRS and who have placed their future survival in the hands of our state government. Stumbo’s move simply allows the state to make eight years of its obligated payments into the fund.
A former KTRS board member, Chris Tobe, was correct when he called Stumbo’s plan little more than a shell game. Tobe, whose background is in the world of finance, correctly likened the plan to an individual taking out a debt consolidation loan to pay off his maxed-out credit cards. The problem arises when the individual gets the loan but doesn’t change his spending behavior – such as cutting up those credit cards or at least paying off his balance each month.
The state’s track record for paying off its debts is a long one. You see, our own state government stopped making their full contributions to KTRS more than 6 years ago. Pause with me for a moment to consider what your mortgage holder would do if you chose to stop making your full mortgage payment on your house. Needless to say, you would likely be in foreclosure and looking for a new living arrangement pretty quickly. We can’t get by with such behavior in our personal lives and our state government shouldn’t be allowed to get by with similar behavior.
While KTRS has only about 53% of the assets it needs to fulfill it’s obligations, the separate Kentucky employees retirement system has only around 21% of the funds it needs to meet its obligations. As if to reassure Kentuckians, Speaker Stumbo reports that he’s confident that the legislature’s 2013 version of pension reform will work since lawmakers have committed to actually making their payments each year.
The Kentucky Government Retirees group has courageously pointed out, despite glowing reports for the state’s numbers crunchers, that in the current fiscal year reality isn’t painting a rosy picture. For example, the assets of the Kentucky Retirement Fund have dropped around $95 million since July. If our financial markets continue in this direction, the fund could lose another $500 million by June 30.
Sadly, State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach issued a press release praising Stumbo’s plan to incur $3.3 billion in bond debt as “fiscally responsible” and “the best way right now” to fix the mess.
Our teachers deserve better and in the bigger picture, Kentucky taxpayers deserve better.
Ringing in the New Year for a better Kentucky
We are hours away from a new beginning – it will be a new year, a clean slate, a fresh start, and possibly a year in which good things can happen in Kentucky. We all awaken on January 1 with the opportunity to make a difference in our personal lives as well as our local communities and our state. There will undoubtedly be hundreds of lofty ideals promoted as the best possible goals for 2015.
The unfortunate reality is that like our personal resolutions to excel in the coming year, our community leaders express admirable notions and it doesn’t take very long for the objectives to be forgotten or perhaps, swept under the nearest rug. Nearly all of our leaders look forward to taking office this week and making a difference; the reality for many will be a new start on old habits.
That notion may sound a bit pessimistic but it doesn’t have to be a new start on old habits. Just as people can change, so can leaders and governments. President Woodrow Wilson said, “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” There’s a powerful message in that short statement and it’s one that public officials everywhere need to keep in mind.
Throughout our commonwealth, our elected leaders will soon take office and they will make decisions that affect each of us. Now, in the coming year, we the people need to make certain that our collective voices are indeed ringing in the ears of our officials - mayors and judges, council and commission members, magistrates and county officials, legislators, and even our United States Senators – all need to hear from us what we want for our future.
Just a couple of weeks ago a study by Harvard University’s Center for Ethics found that Kentucky government is among the most corrupt in the United States. Our state was noted as being second to none for the ubiquitous term of “legal corruption” – that is campaign contributions in exchange for political favor. If you didn’t fully grasp that, let me repeat – one of the most corrupt in our country.
More specifically, Kentucky’s executive and legislative branches received rankings of 5 on a scale of 1-5 with five being states were “legal corruption” is “extremely common.” Only one other state – Illinois – got a similar score. The judicial branch of Kentucky government got a score of 3, perhaps more middle of the road. When the study looked at “illegal corruption” Kentucky ranked as the third worst state where government officials received private gains for providing certain advantages.
Let’s hope that in 2015 our elected officials will understand very clearly that we are tired of corruption – legal or illegal - in our local and state governments. Let’s hope that candidates for state office in the coming months grasp that it’s time to kick the old habits of corruption that plague our state.
The voices of the people also need to ring in our leaders’ ears about a better future for our state and our families’ future generations. 2015 is the right time for leaders all across the Commonwealth to follow the example of officials in nearby Warren County, Simpson County, and Fulton County and hear that the people want a Right to Work law that will give us solid footing for economic gains that benefit everyone.
The voices of Kentuckians need to ring in our leaders’ ears about the horrifically underfunded Kentucky Retirement System and the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System that stand to devastate our state’s finances.
By not effectively addressing this singular issue, Kentucky will continue being a star in the game of catch-up – but in this game, we don’t ever truly catch up – we tap money from one pool to shore up another pool and we never get ahead.
Our leaders also need to hear the people’s voices wanting comprehensive tax reform that puts Kentucky on a level playing field with other states that are currently attracting industrial growth and jobs. Our voices need to remind leaders that we want government spending to be scrutinized and reduced rather that taxpayer dollars spent on ineffective programs that fail to better the lives and futures of our people.
The ears of our leaders need to be ringing with demands for better educational opportunities to prepare our children for college and meaningful careers through access to the best-possible schools. Leaders need to be constantly reminded that education of our children is about our future – there is no greater investment.
The people need to remind our leaders that we can only benefit from public-private partnerships, commonly known as P3. It’s not a complex concept that if we partner our resources we can be more effective.
If our leaders truly listen to the voices of the people and act on these and other important issues facing Kentucky, we can begin to see progress. However, there is a huge factor that comes into play and that is the people – you, me, and every other citizen. If we don’t speak up and insist that our leaders hear our desires, we will be allowing the coming new year to be nothing more than a new start on old habits. Our old habits have proven they no longer work, friends. Kentuckians must be willing to raise their voices and keep the ears of our leader ringing with demands for accountability, creative thought, and ethical actions.
The new year can be different. I’m ready to do my part. Now will you do your part? Think about it.
Good policy over dirty politics needed now in Kentucky
Among the many events that have occurred in the seven weeks since the end of the 2014 election cycle, Kentuckians have witnessed more of the smoke-and-mirrors routine that many of our elected officials seem to think will forever fool their constituents. Sadly, we’ve seen multiple examples of officials who put politics above policy to the detriment of us all.
The huge underfunding of Kentucky’s public school employee and state employee pension systems threatens to implode with such force that the financial stability of our state is at risk. Further, the survival ability of current and future retirees remains in question as does any number of worthwhile state programs. Ask any non-government industrial recruiter and you will learn that Kentucky’s tax system is outdated and the lack of a good business climate makes Kentucky one of the least attractive places to do business.
Our top state leaders will tell you that Kentucky is boldly leading the way with the Affordable Care Act. Certainly, everyone should have access to health care but the iron-fisted tactics forcing our state into insurmountable debt is reckless and dangerous. Such acts leave our state and every one of us in jeopardy and holding the bag for more than $500 million with no plan in sight to pay for it.
Last week, our public school officials learned that after the grand, pre-election gestures of the Kentucky House of Representatives to restore SEEK funding, that their revenue projections were grossly over-estimated and will result in mid-year funding cuts this spring. It seems that unlike the private business sector, Kentucky government over-estimates revenue and under-estimates costs. Few companies would survive if business owners and managers followed the budgeting practices of our state officials.
As if school administrators didn’t have enough hurdles to clear, they are bombarded with mandates and directives, almost always unfunded. Local administrators alert state officials to their financial needs and sometimes they are given funding but with strings that determine how the funds are spent. When administrators follow the mandates they are frequently blind-sided by mid-year budget cuts.
As if to show the public that they are taking action, we frequently see elected officials making poor policy choices that tremendously impact schools and our children. For example, the adoption of the Common Core standards before the standards had been fully written. Our children and their education is far too important to allow both Kentucky and federal officials to use them as part of a litmus test for a program with many critical issues.
Some readers will immediately write off these opinions as a bashing of Democrats. To the credit of Democratic leadership in our state, they did at least try something. They pushed through Obamacare and Common Core after embracing their supplied talking points but sadly, they ignored words of caution and suggestions from the opposing side. This is Kentucky’s greatest problem. Our leaders and our citizens must be willing to hear different ideas and at least give them consideration. All too often we find ourselves divided along party lines and it’s not necessarily good.
So, let’s look for common ground.
Our local leaders have the ability to make history and do what is right. It’s time for elected officials, both locally and on the state level, to take the reins and guide our state to a brighter future all the while acting in the best interest of the citizens.
I challenge you as citizens to take the time to research what having a higher minimum wage in your community will do if your community is competing for jobs. Take the time to ask local business managers or visit officials in other states that have enacted Right to Work laws and see for yourself what has happened since doing so.
Take the time to determine if it will be more effective to attract jobs by raising the local payroll tax to pay for services or to enact policy that brings industrial growth.
I know very of us who would refuse to help another person in a time of need. I can’t think of anyone who does not believe we are duty-bound to honor commitments such as those to our retirees who have dedicated their working lives to a job. I’m not aware of anyone who is happy that their children’s educational opportunities are held by purse-strings controlled by elected officials who are controlled by a political party. This week many of our homes are filled with our children and grandchildren to celebrate the holiday and I can think of no parent who wouldn’t sincerely pray for leadership that would move our state forward in creating opportunities for our offspring to remain in Kentucky.
Next week we’ll be ringing in a new year. One of the things our state needs most is leaders who will lead on behalf of the people rather than the political party on whose ticket they ran for office. It’s time we cast aside blind party loyalties and embraced the idea of doing what is right.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Warren Co.’s Bold Leadership
Joining them would show we appreciate all that they do for us
Like a beacon shining light on a brighter future, Warren County Fiscal Court is blazing a trail that can open the Bowling Green area and potentially all of Kentucky for business. Warren County Judge Executive Mike Buchanon and members of that county’s Fiscal Court have chosen to be boldly proactive in serving the interests of their citizens when they introduced and passed the first reading of a Right to Work ordinance last week. The move is one that should be copied by every Fiscal Court in south central Kentucky.
Why would a county Fiscal Court make such a move? Sadly, Kentucky is saddled with a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, led by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, who is beholden to unions and their money. Time and again Stumbo and legislative leaders have had opportunities to bring Right to Work legislation to the floor for a vote, and they refuse to allow it. Because our state leaders refuse to act, our neighbors in Warren County have chosen to take the matter into their own hands.
Warren County is the first Kentucky county to boldly chart its own course and they may very well make history in the Commonwealth, if not the nation. For years our neighbors in Bowling Green have been blessed with some of the state’s most aggressive and clearly progressive local officials. Their proactive steps have paid off despite the inaction of our legislature. When Fiscal Court approved their ordinance last week, Democratic Magistrate Tommy Hunt, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Now, before you think passing Right to Work legislation is always a Democrat vs. Republican issue, take a look at Democratic Magistrate Dan Rudloff. He possesses a long history of loyalty to Democratic causes but he certainly wasn’t following the DNC playbook when he said in an interview with WBKO-TV, “I would like to see south-central Kentucky be competitive locally, regionally and nationally to keep the best and brightest minds in south central Kentucky.” When it came to a vote, Rudloff cast his vote for Warren County’s Right to Work ordinance because it’s the right thing to do to help us move forward by attracting businesses.
Rudloff was correct when he said, “It’s basically putting the worker in charge of his or her employment situation.” Rudloff and Buchanon both correctly reminded Fiscal Court members that a Right to Work ordinance is about giving workers a choice about joining a union or not.
“Statistics will tell you it doesn’t decrease union membership. It just gives the workers the right to decide whether they want to put part of their check each payroll in the union,” Buchanon added. Further, Buchanon understands that to remain competitive, you must be aligned with others who are getting the good-paying jobs.
Buchanon recounted that while manufacturers look to expand their businesses in new locations, “50% take us off [their list] because we are not a Right to Work state. So, we could get twice as many prospects as we do now simply by having the designation.”
As if on cue, Democratic legislators, Speaker Stumbo, and even Gov. Steve Beshear will rush to warn our citizens that income in Right to Work states is lower than in Kentucky. They will warn that Right to Work is not about giving workers a choice. They will roll out industry recruitment numbers that on the surface seem impressive until the smokescreen clears and we see reality. That reality is that these leaders are so tied to union control and union campaign contributions, they will deny Kentucky the ability to prosper. They will deny that the majority of Kentucky’s citizens favor a Right to Work law.
There’s no doubt that Warren County’s decision will be debated all over the state and you can be sure that it will be discussed throughout the halls of the state Capitol as union-controlled legislators do all they can to prevent Warren County officials from deciding their own fate.
Thankfully, Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken appears to have done her homework in preparing for legal challenges. For the doubters and the obstructionists, Kentucky law permits counties to pass local ordinances, one of which Kentucky Revised Statues terms the “regulation of commerce for the protection and convenience of the public.” Another allows for the “promotion of economic development of the county.”
We are now two weeks away from the dawn of a new year filled with opportunities for proactive local leaders to perhaps make history, but more importantly, make a life-giving impact on the future of our state. Hopefully, local officials in every Kentucky county will rise to the occasion and do the right thing.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Kentucky economy poised for some back door growth
The Democratic Party has controlled the Legislature in West Virginia since the Great Depression – eighty years to be exact. Like Kentucky, West Virginians have occasionally elected a Republican Governor and experienced similar results because a Democratic majority in the legislature has consistently rebelled against conservative policies. Just like Kentucky, West Virginia has been held back from becoming open to proven business practices. The only thing that helped Kentucky in this scenario was the fact we could rely on our neighbors to consistently be below us and even less financially stable. As 2014 draws to an end, I am predicting some big changes for our neighbors, and much like the ones I continue to desire for our own state.
The legendary Winston Churchill wrote, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” And so it remains with the absolute fact that economic growth comes to states that remove the political influences of unions and the lawmakers whose favor is up for sale. In Kentucky, such reckless, head-in-the-sand allegiances will continue their tradition rather than embracing business-friendly policy changes.
But, there’s good news for Kentuckians! West Virginia voters decided enough was enough and chose to try a different approach.
West Virginia voters ousted eighty years of Democratic rule to join every other southern state in bringing about change. In some states, the Democratic majority reached back into the days of Reconstruction. In modern times, Tennessee made an original flip in 1968, followed by North Carolina in 1994, South Carolina and Florida in 1996, Virginia in 2000, Texas in 2003, Georgia in 2005, Louisiana in 2008, Alabama in 2010, and Arkansas and Mississippi in 2012.
Without fail, when a southern state flips to more conservative policies, there will be persons who insist that the underlying cause is something sinister. My morning coffee drinking crowd is occasionally visited by such a person who will attempt to persuade others that the south embracing the Republican Party is a latent protest of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such unwarranted notions are right in line with those who insist that opposition to the Affordable Care Act is racially motivated because our current President is black. While I won’t engage our visitor in a debate, such concepts are simply wrong and the product of writers who wish to add a dramatic plot to anything that doesn’t fit in their agenda. The reality is that more than twenty years ago voters began to realize that change was necessary if our respective states achieved economic stability.
Like West Virginia, Kentuckians took advantage of the anti-Obama policy sentiments that prevail in our state. We can be proud that we overwhelmingly returned Mitch McConnell to the U.S. Senate and West Virginia voters sent the first Republican to Washington in fifty-five years. Without a doubt, the history books will show Kentucky and West Virginia did our part to help regain national confidence. Nearly any business-minded leader or corporate chief understands the potentially-disastrous results of spending capital or employing any significant numbers of workers when our President and his followers seem determined to punish businesses by making it difficult to survive.
Unlike Kentucky, our neighbors to the east got it right when they elected pro-business leaders to their legislature. Kentuckians won’t lose out completely; in fact, Kentucky is poised to see some economic growth because of West Virginia’s choice. While we won’t see massive growth, we will enjoy some reciprocal or back-door growth because we join states that have adopted policies such as Right to Work and have eliminated Prevailing Wage laws for publicly funded projects. We are now surrounded by progressive, business-friendly states and areas fortunate enough to be situated near our borders will see growth.
Proof of the spillover effect is evident right in our backdoor. One has only to see the growth in Bowling Green and Franklin to realize that business-friendly Tennessee is a great neighbor and a major factor in their growth.
Jefferson County is poised to enjoy Indiana’s business-friendly climate where just across the Ohio River, 6,000 acres is being developed for industry.
With such knowledge in mind, I’m predicting the Ashland area will begin to see significant growth because of neighboring Huntington, West Virginia. As a native of that area, I’ve seen first-hand how unions destroyed the steel industry’s seat at the nation’s industrial table.
While Kentucky is likely to continue languishing, we can find hope by looking to our neighbors whose efforts and good policy decisions will allow us some of the residual benefits of their changes.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Putting thanks in perspective
As we gather around full tables in warm houses in our peaceful land this Thanksgiving Day, how do we begin to count our blessings? Americans have so much for which to be thankful and far too often we take our lives and all that is associated with them for granted. Our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude that we live in a country that is relatively safe and secure, that the basic necessities for our survival are attainable, and that we can carry out our lives in freedom. All of us should be humbled by these blessings and we should not overlook every opportunity to give thanks to God who provides them.
Often we forget the struggles that our founding fathers faced in establishing a country based on a combination of faith and freedom that demanded bravery and fortitude. There is no doubt that their vision for our country could become a reality because of God-given wisdom. George Washington’s integrity and desire to do good for all Americans made him a natural leader who set a standard for service above self. Being a newspaper man, I’ve found Ben Franklin’s wit and wisdom inspiring. Patrick Henry’s brilliant writings helped to set in motion a revolution that changed the world. Time and time again, our country has been provided strong leaders who led us, challenged us, and inspired us.
I often wonder how these exceptional leaders rose to meet the challenges facing our country and I find even more reason to be thankful for their example. As a nation, we should always be grateful for their leadership and yet, while uttering those prayers of thanksgiving, we should petition God to raise up men and women who will lead us through the challenges of our modern world with truth and integrity.
While it is easy to give thanks on a grand scale, perhaps it is more thought-provoking to give thanks on a smaller scale. In our local communities, we should give thanks for ethical law enforcement officers who manage to do their jobs in an environment influenced by political motives. We should give thanks for young adults who are inspired to become community leaders and take the initiative to bring fresh ideas to the table. We should give thanks for first responders who literally await our beckoning call in times of crisis and who put their own lives on the line to help us. We should give thanks for the men and women who answered the call to protect our country even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.
On a personal level, we should thank God for mothers who cared for us, inspired us, and helped us prepare for life. Likewise, we should express thanks for the fathers who became positive role models and guides for their children. Now, as the parent of a young adult and teenagers, I am perhaps more aware of just how thankful I am for my mother who believed in me and supported me when others did not. Along similar lines, I am thankful for those who inspired me to model strength and perseverance to my own children.
Our gratitude should also include those who came into our lives and positively influenced us, or gave us a leg up, or uttered an encouraging word when we needed it. This Thanksgiving there will be some empty chairs around dining tables and they remind us to be grateful for those who left this life this year.
Friends, as we gather with family and friends to celebrate the great American tradition of Thanksgiving, let’s pause to consider all of the blessings in our lives. Each of those blessings has one thing in common and that is God, our Creator, who never fails to provide and who deserves the praise.
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAV members continue to carry to torch of freedom
If you are involved in our schools, local government, the military, or simply a caring community member, you are likely to be aware of the good works performed each and every week by the local unit of the Disabled American Veterans. Made up of veterans and active military personnel, these men and women are one of the most significant groups in Kentucky because of the important work they volunteer to do.
The scope of their work is so broad that it encompasses every person in our community from the youngest school children to our elders. The DAV instills a love of America and a passion for patriotism that few others could possibly accomplish. When the DAV demonstrates the proper folding of our flag and shares the meaning of each fold, you can hear a pin drop in a gymnasium filled with children.
When a community event calls for the presentation of the flags of our state and nation, you will find the DAV Color Guard rising to the occasion with dignity and honor. Without as much as a word, their reverence for our country’s past is unmistakable.
The work of DAV volunteers to transport veterans to distant Veterans Administration hospitals is but one of their worthy humanitarian projects. Without DAV members willing to give their time, many of those veterans would not receive proper medical treatment and/or their families would be placed in a great hardship. The group’s visits to veterans in the VA hospitals and nursing homes do much to brighten the days of lonely and ill veterans.
Upon the passing of one of their comrades, without distinction between the well-known and the unknown, the DAV provides a fitting final farewell at the gravesides of our veterans. Their careful folding of the flag and the presentation of it to the next of kin, a 21-gun salute, and finally, Taps for one last time, is an extraordinary gift honoring one who served to keep our country free. This year alone, these dedicated individuals have performed this rite nearly 100 times in Barren and surrounding counties.
Observing the very things I have just described, I have come to know, appreciate, and love this honorable group of men and women who dedicate hours upon hours of their time to serving their country in this manner. It is touching to see their dedication to our nation and to one another without regard to many of the things that divide people – race, religion, political affiliation, social status, and the like. More than a few times I have witnessed this group serving others and none of them knew the person they were honoring. That in itself, is a testimony to the hearts and minds of these individuals.
I have also witnessed how this group operates like a large family: when there is a need within the group, all come together to contribute their part to alleviate pain or sadness or to share in joys that come along life’s road.
Over the weekend, a group of DAV and DAV-Auxiliary members made a poignant trip to a Louisville hospital to lend support to both the living and the dying. Fran Hodge, who passed away Sunday, was a friend and she had been a remarkably faithful part of the group, even serving as Commander of the District DAVA, while her husband, Ray, continues to be an integral part of the DAV.
All of this brings to mind my concern that with each passing year, this group becomes slightly smaller as some members become unable to physically continue their activities, and sadly, some of the members pass away.
Far too often, I notice a DAV friend no longer among the group as they carry out their activities. I remind myself that our youngest World War II veterans are well into their 80s and their Korean War comrades are only a few years behind while our Vietnam veterans are getting a bit older themselves.
As I ponder this situation, I have come to the conclusion that our DAV friends are in need of some help. They need younger veterans to become active members and to gradually take on the honorable tasks they perform. Their work is not always easy - physically or emotionally - but they accomplish their task with dignity and pride. As I look over what sometimes appears to be an ever-dwindling group, I wonder who will step up to offer them the same tributes they so generously give to others.
Now is the time for younger generations of veterans to take up the torch and carry on these important traditions. Like the old quip reminds us, “everybody” thought “somebody” else would do it, but in reality, “nobody” did and then it was too late. The DAV is an admirable organization and I encourage every proud American to applaud their work but also to join and continue it. Won’t you consider what you can do to help?
Jeff Jobe is the founder and CEO of Jobe Publishing Inc. His column is printed weekly in all Jobe newspapers and offered to others. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Veterans embody the spirit of service
Veterans Day is the time we collectively pause as a nation to celebrate the service and sacrifice of our country’s military veterans and their families. It is right that we mark this occasion with parades and ceremonies remembering those no longer with us and honoring those among us. Originally known as Armistice Day, November 11th is a day that should fill every person across our region and in our wonderful state with heartfelt feelings of pride and gratitude.
Fortunately, our communities have not suffered the loss of local men and women serving our country this year. As a community publisher, we dread the times we must share tragic news of loss with our communities; far too often we fail to give thanks for the safety of our military personnel. As the parent of a son serving in our military, I know that my prayer for my child’s well-being is not unlike thousands of other parents and family members in similar situations.
Our communities and those who reside in them are blessed to live in a land where we can feel safe and secure because of our nation’s military volunteers. What a powerful testimony to being an American that we have men and women who are called to protect us and our country from harm. There are few acts more patriotic than stepping forward to serve one’s country.
Unfortunately, it is easy for most of us to carry on our lives without consideration of those who serve that we might live in a land that is free and enjoy more opportunities than we can imagine. We should all strive to be more mindful of the individuals who allow us to go about our lives without fear. Daily I pause to note the words included in the emblem of the USAF Pararescue in which my son serves: “These things I do, that others may live.” Few of us have career opportunities of that magnitude; those of us without such gifts owe much to those who do.
As the years pass by at a brisk pace, I find that my philosophies have evolved over the years and that priorities change. Among the top items on my short list is a goal of honoring individuals while they are here among us instead of waiting until they are gone. As a young man, I found myself timid about sharing such feelings. When a friend died, it caused me to question whether they knew I loved them. Some suggest that actions speak louder than words and that expressing such sentiments in unnecessary.
I am here to tell you that you will experience something unlike other feelings you’ve known when you can bring yourself to look a soldier or a veteran in the eyes and say, “I appreciate your service to our country, and as a fellow American, I love you with all my heart.”
I admit being timid about such a bold action but when one considers that our veterans had the courage to stand up and fight for us, to leave their homes and families behind in order to serve us, to risk their lives for us, it becomes easy. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.
If you happen to observe me at an event where our veterans are in attendance, you will find that most of the time I’m laughing and smiling with my DAV friends. These men are wonderful patriots and mentors for all. Sadly, just as time is marching on for us, it is for them, too. These veterans didn’t stop giving and serving our country when they returned home, they continue to do so every day. These soldiers learned years ago what it meant to love their country and one another by serving. It’s a lesson they’ve not forgotten and one that we all need to take more seriously.
Let’s join together in honoring our veterans this week and every week. Tell them how much you appreciate their service and their patriotism. Then, vow to yourself to take up the torch of patriotism and commit to serving them as boldly as they have served us.
How Common Core hurts our future
In visiting communities throughout south central Kentucky we frequently visit our public schools and with that, we routinely communicate with educators. On most of those occasions, our editors and I are treated to the successes of students. In some instances, we encounter educators who wish to share concerns and we are just as eager to cover problems as we are to promote the success stories.
One of themes we hear frequently is serious concern over the Common Core State Standards initiative which came from the federal level and have trickled down to most states, including Kentucky. The initiative seeks to standardize what our children are taught and how they are taught.
Multiple times we’ve heard teachers and administrators share their feelings about Common Core State Standards based on their experiences. Most of those experiences have been negative. I tend to pay attention when an educator shares a view he or she feels needs attention; after all, our teachers spend years honing their skills to be effective and they know what works and what doesn’t. Too often, we hear teachers complain that they must teach specifically to insure their students pass a standardized test rather than actually enabling the student to learn, grow, and thoroughly embrace a subject or skill.
We also hear from parents and grandparents sharing their frustration when they realize what their young ones are being taught and what they’re not being taught thanks to Common Core. Like so many other areas of our lives, many of our government leaders have adopted a “one size fits all” attitude as they blindly adopt the latest “solution” put out by the latest think tank.
I happen to be one of those parents who has been awakened to the disturbing issues created by the Common Core standards. Let me share one revelation I had about a year ago.
My son chose to continue his education by enlisting in the United States Air Force. I’m proud to say he’s done well and has achieved his goal of being one of a select few to train for Special Forces. Prior to enlisting, this young man completed his high school education and like other graduates, received his diploma.
Like many other parents, we sent our boy off to serve his country and anxiously awaited to hear from him. During his early training, he wasn’t allowed a telephone, so our family returned to the time-honored tradition of letter writing. Like most 18-year olds whose lives depend entirely too much on modern technology, my son wasn’t keen on the idea of writing letters by hand but I convinced him that he would make me rest better if he sent only a note letting me know that he was safe and sound.
I wrote my son six letters before he got around to writing his first to me. I was amused by the post-script at the bottom of the page: “I can’t read your writing. Please print.” Thinking that my penmanship was bad, I took plans to write slowly and neatly. Every response I received asked me to print because he couldn’t read my writing. Finally, his request became more aggressive when he wrote: “Dad, I can’t read or write cursive. We didn’t learn that in school. Please print!”
Stunned, I began asking my son’s friends about writing and found that he was correct – schools don’t teach students how to write in cursive and as a result, most can’t read cursive writing. Why? Because Common Core standards don’t consider it important for a student to learn.
I am still stunned to think that my young adult son wasn’t taught something so simple and very much a part of everyday life as cursive writing. I’m bothered that when we toured a museum, that he could not easily read the hand-written letters of our country’s past military leaders or presidents. I am appalled that my son could not step into the National Archives in our nation’s capital and read our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution because our public schools failed to teach him cursive penmanship. I am struck by the notion that millions of young people have been left poorly prepared as they embark on their careers while we have no guarantee that technology will allow us to communicate quickly and easily in case of a disaster. All of this leads back to the removal of basic skills by Common Core standardization.
Common Core Standards are designed to have students learn specific information in order to pass a standardized test. Let’s remember that exams don’t evaluate complex thought, they don’t take into consideration cultural differences, they don’t take into account other ways of learning, nor can they properly calculate how well a student may do in college.
One of the very important factors in considering Common Core Standards is what the very word “standards” means. To most of us, it means performing at a certain level. To others, the word means average, accepted, and ordinary. Common Core is promoted as performance to the best of one’s ability but in reality it means bringing everyone down to being mediocre. This rationale kills advancement, originality, and improvement. We should want our children to reach their full potential by having their minds enlarged rather than stifled into a common denominator. Any program that seeks to standardize our children is contrary to our values as Americans.
Common Core may well be one of the greatest dangers our country – and yes, Kentucky has faced. Our children are our future and educating them to their highest potential should be our goal in preparing them for life. Common Core does not do that. We need a change.
Etoile Fair celebrates rural America
As a community newspaper publisher, I see a virtual parade of local events brought to our attention on a daily basis. Every one of those events, no matter how small or how extravagant, is important to local communities. Occasionally, we are treated to an event that takes us back to simpler times and simpler pleasures that revolve around what’s truly important in life – others. The Etoile Community Fair is one of the unique examples of this concept and I’m proud that it takes place right here in Barren County.
The organizations in the Etoile community have invested 74 years into continuing a tradition that is unmatched in south central Kentucky. Where else can adorable little girls outfitted in party dresses compete in a pageant and only a few minutes later change into play clothes to wade in the nearby creek? When was the last time you observed the passionate cheering found only at a frog jumping contest? When did you last have the 8 year old walking behind you in a cake walk let you know that she was keeping mum about the prized dessert she hoped to win because she wanted to make sure you didn’t grab it first? Finally, when did you last root for your favorite stick horse and spirited rider galloping around the horse show ring?
Every one of those things and more was experienced during last weekend’s Etoile Community Fair. The Fair gives us a chance to pause and reflect on the beauty of rural America and the families that keep simple, wholesome traditions alive. It was an honor for our company to promote this year’s event, participate in it, capture it on film for our readers and for posterity, and cherish it as a vital part of what makes Barren County unique.
As we anticipate next year’s 75th anniversary celebration, we applaud the members of the H.B. Grant Masonic Lodge, the Eastern Star, the Etoile Homemakers Club, the Etoile 4-H Club, and dozens of others for all they do to keep this tradition alive.
School Boards held hostage
The dreaded August dilemma for local school districts is once again underway as board members decide how to raise funds to educate our public school children. By law, school boards may take a 4% tax increase each year. While many Kentucky districts take the increase, others manage their budgets without it, in most cases struggling to keep their figures in the black.
For our elected school board members, the scenario is unpleasant at best. You see, the local boards set the tax rates but our state legislature mandates how they spend their money. On more than a few occasions we have observed well-intentioned locals take the allowed increase in August before facing a school board election in November and then be defeated because they raised school taxes. Every one of our area school districts have lost effective board members because of this action.
This scenario raises the question of who is to blame for this predicament. We elect local people and place our trust in them to do everything in their power to see that our children receive the best possible educational opportunities. Yet, a higher level authority that is also elected by the people, the Kentucky General Assembly, mandates that the local school board fund a variety of programs and practices while giving the schools no money to pay for them.
For example, our public school teachers are getting a 1% raise this year and a 2% raise next year – something they haven’t had for far too long – which was mandated by the General Assembly. The problem is that the General Assembly provided no additional funding to pay for those salary increases. Legislators will eagerly inform you that the vital SEEK funding didn’t take a budget cut, but yet the increase was less than the mandated salary increase.
Every school district is required to use the MUNIS payroll and financial reporting system – that costs a local board about $5,700 annually. Every school district is required to report attendance through the Infinite Campus computer program – at a cost of about $12,000 annually. Schools are required to offer professional development for teachers, keep up-to-date on technology, provide school nurses, and the list could fill the rest of this newspaper page – but it’s without funding to pay for it. Sadly, state officials point to the local school board’s authority to raise school taxes as a possible funding source.
Another financial burden placed on local school boards is the increased cost of construction projects due to Kentucky’s Prevailing Wage law. Taxpayers certainly want our students to have efficient and safe school facilities and local school boards work tirelessly to create funding packages that will bring projects to fruition.
The issue is that Right to Work and Prevailing Wage requirements can add as much as 25% to the cost of a school construction project. For example, Glasgow Independent Schools’ new high school cost nearly $1 million more (much less than 25%, however) because of the Prevailing Wage mandate. As school board member Leigh Lessenberry commented earlier this year, “to think of the waste – it is astounding. I don’t understand why we don’t address that.” Area school superintendents have openly stated that eliminating such requirements would solve a lot of problems for local school boards. Here again, state officials point to local officials to “figure it out” when it comes to managing funds when in reality it is the General Assembly that could fix the problem.
As if unfunded mandates and unnecessary wage laws were not enough, our state has encumbered local school boards with hundreds of questionable regulations. For example, when moving an Internet server from one building to another, as the Glasgow Board of Education did last year, they were prohibited from using a local service provider that could have done the job for around $6,000. Instead, an exclusive state contract with AT&T and subcontractor Windstream required the school district to use their services at a cost of $52,250 in un-itemized charges. Even though the bill was reduced by a few thousand dollars, the reality is outrageous. Once again, our state officials wrestled decision-making authority from locals who could have accomplished the task more efficiently and saved thousands of dollars.
Is it appropriate that the body that levies the tax doesn’t determine how to best use the proceeds? For our local school boards, the scenario is nothing short of having a gun leveled on them.
Kentucky’s budgetary switcheroo
With the arrival of July each year comes the beginning of a new fiscal year and a troublesome routine that reveals just how fragile our state’s financial well-being really is. Without fail, our state’s top officials will scramble to cover the deficit of the ending budget by grabbing funds from all sorts of places to give Kentuckians a false sense of security and those officials a false sense of accomplishment.
Kentucky’s recently-concluded budget of $9.5 billion ended with a $91 million deficit – a tidy sum of money for an already cash-strapped state government. How is it that every year our state’s budget advisors miss the mark and over-estimate the state’s income and under-estimate the state’s expenses? A business operating in the same manner as our state wouldn’t likely last very long; businesses don’t have other funds to rob to cover budgetary bobbles. Should our state have the luxury of commandeering monies taken in for one purpose and then have them gobbled up to cover someone else’s mistake?
For example, Governor Beshear grabbed $21.2 million from the Commonwealth’s “rainy day fund.” Government finance experts suggest that 5-15% of general fund revenues be set aside for use in emergencies. Kentucky’s reserve fund was already low at $77 million, just 1% of the budget.
It’s troubling that our leaders took around $50 million from 45 various funds in order to balance the budget. In many cases, the funds were fees paid by various professionals regulated by the state. To illustrate, Kentucky’s Board of Nursing saw $1 million disappear from its coffers. The Firefighters Foundation Program Fund lost $2 million that was intended to train volunteer firefighters.
Environmental programs saw around $3 million disappear from their coffers while a fund intended to clean up leaking underground fuel tanks lost more than $2 million. The Kentucky Pride Fund which has given grants to several of our area counties for worthwhile projects lost $1 million that was projected to help properly shut down aging landfills. The Agent Licensing Fund of the state’s Department of Insurance lost $2.5 million. Around $15 million was taken from the Behavioral Health Development and Intellectual Disabilities fund intended to aid residential institutions.
Beshear commented, “The use of fund transfers is a valuable tool in how we manage and balance the overall budget of the Commonwealth, and one that keeps us from making deeper cuts to state agencies.”
While fund transfers may be commonplace, taking monies collected from Kentucky citizens for a specific purpose and then converting those monies to the state’s general fund is simply misleading and wrong. Does taking such funds not diminish the future success of so many programs intended to benefit from those monies?
By the same token, if the programs for which the funds are collected don’t need the funding, then why does the fee exist? The excessive fees are themselves an example of why Kentucky has lost its competitive business edge.
It’s time Kentucky’s leaders got serious about operating within a budget that can be balanced without such shenanigans. The taxpayers who hand over their hard-earned dollars deserve better.
Billa set example for embracing life
Small towns aren't all church potlucks and parades. They're about a lot of hard work, and at times, a lot of heartbreak. Some days that heartbreak comes in tragedies like vehicle or farm accidents, floods, or house fires. Other days, heartbreak comes by causes or reasons we simply can’t understand. Sometimes the most painful moments as a community publisher are when we see those in our communities hurt or grieve over the loss of someone special. Last Friday was one of those days as I sat in the gymnasium of Park City School and witnessed family members, co-workers, community leaders, and friends celebrate the life of Chris Billa.
I am saddened by the fact that I never got to truly know Chris because knowing his story and hearing the heartfelt words spoken about him since his passing are infectious. It was inspiring to listen to his friends share the stories of Chris’ dedication to the Park City community as a fire fighter and city council member. I feel confident in saying that people like Chris are the lifeblood of small towns in rural America. Every community needs people with contagious enthusiasm for their chosen hometown and Park City was fortunate that Chris placed his passion here in Barren County.
I have no doubt that the life and legacy of Chris will remain an active part of our community for many years to come. We should all take notes about how Chris embraced life to live every moment of it, whether good or bad, and always keep smiling.
May he rest in peace.
Patriotism is also sacrifice
Patriotism is defined as love of country but I also believe it means more, perhaps the willingness to sacrifice for it.
Many Americans show their patriotism by flying our nation’s flag from their porch or in their yard. Others show patriotism by decorating their homes and some even dressing themselves in red, white and blue for the 4th of July. Others may not put their patriotism on display but when their rights are tread upon or our country is threatened, you will see the passion for America become their focus. Few of us will ever forget how we came together as a country when terrorists struck on September 11, 2001, a day filled with emotions we all hope to never feel again. A generation older than mine remembers similar things about November 22, 1963 – the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and an earlier generation recalls the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
To me, patriotism is more than a once-a-year activity. As a community publisher, I feel passionate about my role in helping our communities and our people remember to pause for patriotism as a matter of routine. Patriotic holidays like Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day help us to refocus on who we are today while never forgetting where we were as a country yesterday, last year, or even the last century.
Today, I still have vivid memories of my grandfather daily struggling with injuries he sustained during the Battle of Argonne Forest. I never knew him without a limp and for much of my life it never sunk into me how he came to have it. I never thought much about my grandfather’s patriotism and its connection to his unique gait for most of his life. Being a child, I didn’t view him as a veteran injured in a war, but simply my grandfather.
My generation was too young to understand much of the Vietnam War era and by the time we came of age, the draft was something of the past. While we were sheltered from the realities of war, our generation became “late-bloomers” when it came to heart-tugging, gut-wrenching, pure American patriotism until September 11, 2001. As a newspaper publisher in a small community, I felt like most Americans - that the horrors of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were things I would only watch on television, that they weren’t events bringing a story directly affecting small-town America.
My thoughts changed the following Sunday when I realized that when the United States is at war, then south central Kentucky is at war, and that means us. The reality was brought to me when my pastor introduced a young man in our congregation who had been called up to serve. The young soldier’s father worked from an office next door to mine and I’d known his family for years. I quickly recalled all the days I’d seen this young man in his father’s office after school and during summer breaks. The reality of how 9-11 affected small-town America became all too real and I recall Terrell House joining me outside the church to give this young man our heartfelt good wishes and walking off to my car with tears flooding my eyes.
On that day, the war on television had made its way to our hometown and that changed my perspective. As a community publisher, I now could put a hometown face with all the coverage dealing with the military. For the longest time, that young man was my inspiration to not only recognize those who were serving, but to honor their worried families as they anxiously awaited their safe return. Since that time, our family of newspapers have established themselves as patriotic pulse-takers and the first to honor those serving our country as well as those who served in the past. It’s one of Jobe Publishing’s traditions and it will always be one of our company’s passions.
Such things tend to prepare us for future roles in life that we have no way of predicting. I’m a proud and patriotic American. I’ve always been proud of my grandfather for taking a bullet that left him with a limp for 70 years. I’ve summoned up courage when listening to grieving parents talk about their children who didn’t come home alive when serving our country. Then, one day my own son informed me he wanted to join the United States Air Force. When your 18-year old son reminds you of his age and that he doesn’t need your signature to join Uncle Sam’s forces, it makes you take an immediate pause. Those words delivered a hard reality check making me realize my son had changed from a little boy to a young man. Needless to say, it made me proud beyond description, but it also changed my patriotism once again.
There’s a different feeling of patriotism when holidays such as Independence Day roll around and your child is serving our country, potentially putting himself or herself in harm’s way for our country and our freedom. It’s a distinctive feeling of sacrificial patriotism to watch your boy turn and walk away from you to become a freedom fighter to keep our country the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am sure every parent, sibling, and grandparent knows the feeling I am writing about.
On this Independence Day, the first one in which my son has been a member of the United States Air Force, I will be blessed with his presence under my roof for a few days. You can be sure that our family will display its patriotism like never before. I ask you to join us in celebrating freedom in whatever way you wish, but always remember how patriotism made America the greatest country in the world.
Rethinking coal, renewable energy and our future
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”
While Churchill’s words have been around for decades, they ring true in modern times as our country finds itself in the midst of the “War on Coal” that seems to command our attention daily. Recently the federal government’s EPA unveiled a series of new restrictions regarding greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that unleashed a storm of conflicting bits of information about the future of our country.
Certainly, there is a certain amount of propaganda mixed with reality on these issues, but the bottom line is we must not accept decisions that ultimately hurt America’s citizens. Kentuckians should be keenly interested in these regulations because of their power to destroy Kentucky’s coal industry, one of the Commonwealth’s mainstays for decades. At the same time, Kentuckians must also pay attention to what these regulations can do to our manufacturing industry.
Manufacturers use one-third of the energy produced in the United States and they rely on that energy source to be there while remaining affordable. Our manufacturers and our communities have enjoyed their success in part due to the availability of reasonably priced energy. The proposed regulations have the ability to eliminate the plentiful and consistent sources of energy that have helped create success.
The Obama administration has made it clear that it is committed to a regulatory path that threatens the future of manufacturing in America. The administration readily admits that our country has reduced its total greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country since 2005. Our industries have used technology and innovation to make those reductions possible, yet the new regulations will limit the future development of those technologies because they will ultimately discourage future investment in our country.
Simply put, the administration’s demand for such regulations command that we give up the American spirit to be creative in finding solutions that make our business climate – our country – even stronger. Instead of stifling innovation, we need to find solutions that fuel our economy, drive growth, and create jobs.
Regarding the Obama administration’s insistence on virtually destroying the coal industry, the new regulations fall right into line with Churchill’s statement about America doing the right thing after everything else has failed. Destroying the Kentucky coal industry in an effort to force our country into a faulty plan for renewable energy is wrong.
The 28 countries in the European Union have been down this path and found that it was not all that our federal government might want you to think about their plan. Nearly 20 years ago European leaders were convinced that the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas were changing the world’s climate and they thought energy produced from wind and sunlight would be better for the environment.
One of the European countries, Germany, thrust itself into the concept of renewable energy with a plan termed “Energiewende.” The program sought to transform the country’s reliance on coal and natural gas into the new model focused on wind and sun energy. In order to make their new program shift into high gear, the German government set up a system of subsidies to encourage the use of the sun and wind. The only catch was a surcharge added to every electric bill. When the surcharges proved insufficient, they were increased. At this point in time, Germans pay a $22 surcharge for each $100 of electricity used each month.
A second part of Germany’s renewable energy downfall was the fact that their government guaranteed to pay the operators of wind and sun energy operations a greatly inflated price for their power. The reality was that the price the government paid was higher than they were paying for electricity generated by coal and natural gas.
As a result of two poorly-planned systems, Germans now pay the highest electricity rates in the 28 countries making up the European Union. German families are now having a hard time affording electricity and many are finding themselves relying on public assistance. Friends, the same type things can and likely will happen in this country with the newly-proposed regulations.
Not unlike America, Germany’s economy is reliant on manufacturing. As you might have already assumed, German industries have found that they can’t afford to pay their electricity bills. Some, about one in six, companies have switched to generating their own electricity and simply disconnect from the power sources. Not surprising, the government’s loss of income has caused the surcharges to increase on businesses and individuals in order to cover the shortfall.
For German manufacturers, generating their own electricity is not a viable option and their best course of action is to close their German facilities and move to another country with lower electricity costs. Obviously, when manufacturing plants close, jobs are eliminated, and the German economy takes another hit.
Today, Germans are gradually returning to coal as the source of their electricity and they are not alone. In fact, coal consumption in European counties and China has actually increased by 3% in the past year. In counties such as China, India, and other developing countries, coal is in greater demand than ever.
Are we prepared to destroy Kentucky’s coal industry while adopting a plan that other countries have already tried and found did not work?
The Greatest Generation of Smiles
Last Thursday morning it was my honor and privilege to attend the opening ceremony for the Midway Island Reunion in Glasgow. It was the beginning of a four-day event that was filled with meaningful moments organized by a small group of dedicated citizens with a very small amount of money. The event required more than a year of planning and it was gratifying to hear our visitors comment that it was the best military reunion they’d ever attended. It was community in action.
One of the inspirations for the reunion was one of our own local heroes, John Wood, who was in the forefront in each planning meeting. Our community is blessed by the presence of this 93-year old who survived the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the June 1942 attack on Midway Island. While he may move a little slower than he did 73 years ago, the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face never fail to inspire everyone who see him.
I’ve come to know Mr. Wood over the past few years in my role as a community publisher attending community events. Anyone who is involved in this community knows that if it involves veterans, John Wood will be present. My family got to know Mr. Wood quite well when we had the pleasure of presenting him as Jobe Publishing’s special guest in the Glasgow Christmas Parade last December. While we waited in line for the parade to begin, I asked Mr. Wood if he might share with my daughters some of his memories of Pearl Harbor. For next three hours this true American hero gave us a history lesson we’ll never forget. When we finally reached the end of the parade route, Mr. Wood’s family stood in the cold wind while he finished our personal encounter with living history. No sooner than he exited the vehicle, my daughters began discussing their favorite parts of the story and the memories of that night are frequently discussed in our house.
A few years ago the television news anchor Tom Brokaw named his book about the men and women of the World War II era “The Greatest Generation.” I absolutely agree with that description except I might add that they are the friendliest generation of Americans I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Most of our World War II veterans are somewhat closed-mouth when it comes to discussing their wartime service. They tend to down play their accomplishments on behalf of our country though their stories are indeed priceless glimpses into the hearts and minds of men and women who risked their lives to maintain our freedoms. Their stories are amazing and extremely interesting to hear.
At Thursday’s event, the veterans were asked to stand for recognition along with the Battle of Midway survivors. I watched and was not surprised by their retiring reaction as they politely hesitated before rising to give their name, branch and dates of service as though they might not be worthy of all the attention. As I expected, they were sincerely friendly, patriotic gentlemen.
Their generation grew up without televisions, computers, iPads, smart phones, and all of the other so-called conveniences that distract us today. As a result, they are wonderful conversationalists. I believe there are no greater communicators than this generation. They can converse with anyone of any age, they can deliver a joke with a devilish grin, and when they speak they generally say something worth hearing. I’ve never regretted a single moment spent in conversation with any of my DAV friends. I’ve come to realize that they are sincere when they ask about your day or your family and when they call you “friend.”
The folks who made up the Greatest Generation each have distinct personalities that shine through their day-to-day lives. Whether sharing a quiet conversation of a serious nature, or a slightly risqué joke, they are always the same solid people. One of my DAV friends recently dropped into my shirt pocket a spent rifle casing from the 21-gun salute he had just helped fire, adding the comment that I might like to keep the memento to remember the day. I’m proud to call that gentleman my friend and I’m certain he realizes I am his friend.
As last weekend’s reunion unfolded, I found the same traits among our visitors as I’ve come to know in our local veterans. They came walking in wearing friendly smiles and loaded with tales to tell if you asked. Each step they took was deliberate as they made their way to embrace friends, both old and new. Their days of effortlessly walking to the car, climbing flights of stairs, and strenuous activity are passed. Their travel to Kentucky was a testament to their determination and their love for one another and those of us who took the time to share the experience.
I like to think I’m a likable fella but I’ve also discovered that for some reason I have the ability to bring out a little orneriness in some of these guys – and I assure you, it is not intended. Keep in mind that their degree of ornery would probably fall into today’s PG movie ratings. Sometimes, it’s not so much what they say as it is them saying it.
I’ve come to expect my mature friends to tease me, and sometimes they are relentless as they seem to enjoy picking on me just to see my reaction. I’ve reached a point in our relationships that I anticipate most anything and never-ending efforts to catch me off-guard. Thursday evening as I stood in line to pick up tickets for one of the reunion events, one of the Battle of Midway survivors standing in front of me turned and began rubbing my head. I’d never met this fella before but there he stood rubbing my bald head. He said to me and those standing nearby, “You know what this is?” I replied that I was afraid to ask and he said, “It’s a solar panel for a sex drive.” I thought it was clever but everyone around seemed to find it hilarious.
I don’t possess the time-earned wisdom of these gentlemen, but I know for a fact when I see the smiling faces and hear the voices of these folks that God has blessed me and our community by their presence. Without a doubt, I am certain that there were more smiles on faces of the Greatest Generation in Glasgow last weekend than anywhere else in the world.
If Kentuckians can count on anything from politicians, it’s a habit of stepping up to take credit for nearly any good thing that happens. If a company expands its operation, there will be multiple politicians lined up to take credit for it. If there’s a new industry locating in one of our communities or the state, there will be several clamoring to bask in the glory of the accomplishment. If there’s a new road or bridge project, you can bet on who will take the credit. Sometimes, they even take credit for something their predecessor started. Sometimes the officials will resort to a heated argument about who will get the most credit.
While this phenomenon is common, it’s never so obvious than during an election year. Over the past few months this trend has been unusually evident. It’s almost a spectator sport to see how smooth-talking self-promoters have deftly commanded credit for good works. I was amazed to observe one area city council meeting in which three different officials from various levels each claimed credit for re-engineering a tiny bit of Barren County roadway. Ironically when this newspaper reported the simple facts of who said what at the meeting, one of the individuals called to complain that he didn’t get enough press over his claim-taking competitors.
Job creation and industrial recruitment is an area where this spectacle occurs most blatantly. Whether a company chooses to locate here and bring 10, 75 or 750 jobs, there will always be an elected official ready to jump behind the podium to share how they have worked to bring those jobs. Sadly, there are many people – the “work horses” – who are very dedicated to putting together the packages to bring a company to town and far too often there are a few people – the “show-horses” – who arrive for an announcement, a ground-breaking, a ribbon cutting, or a dedication ceremony and without hesitation tell of their work on the project. But we must never forget that the employees, managers and owners of the company are the people most responsible and deserving of appreciation.
Communities are too quick to forget the fact that if a company owner doesn’t want something to happen in our community, it won’t. If officials merely give lip service to their needs rather than genuine roll-up-your sleeves help, loyalty to our community will not play a role. If a company doesn’t feel appreciated, they can easily move to another state or even another country that is all too willing to welcome them. When local governments create less-than-hospitable operating environments, they frequently choose to leave. It seems every few weeks we read about another company leaving our state while public officials shrug their shoulders, comment that it’s a shame, and then do nothing to fix the problem.
You can ask any industrial recruiter or merely Google the Internet to find a short list of factors that attract companies. I ask you to find one such guideline suggesting smiling and hand-shaking politicians are essential for success. Sadly, our country, our state, and even some of our local governments seem to be unwavering in being inhospitable. Instead of creating a business climate that attracts, we have leaders far more interested in establishing more regulations, and piling on even more fees and taxes.
Now, when things are not quite as positive, we see businesses leaving, down-sizing, or closing. Unfortunately when this situation occurs, the claim-taking politicians won’t be found saying much more than “I wish we’d have known there was a problem.” All the folks who were adamant to take credit in the good times rarely want to be in the newspaper photo in the bad times.
Kentucky’s method of job recruitment frequently centers of offering lavish incentive packages rather than offering the positive, business-friendly climate in which a company can be successful. Far too often we observe local officials dole out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars as a form of government subsidy and once the deal is inked, they gleefully speak of all they did to help in the effort. Those officials should be just as concerned about getting our tax dollars back when the company leaves as they were to dole it out to attract them.
Such is the case of Aphena Pharma, a company recruited to Barren County with $1.35 million in incentives. When the company accepted incentives, they stated that they planned to employee more than 100 people within two years. When they abruptly announced their closing last week, they apparently had about 65 employees, just a few more than the 55 required to have use of our money. Our industrial recruitment group used $1.1 million in grant money to purchase equipment essential for the company to operate and then leased it back to them. When Aphena closes its doors later this summer, we will have once-valuable equipment, paid for by the people’s money, now of little value to anyone.
One of the problems with government and quasi-government groups today is doing business with little thought and few plans in place. We have elected officials and a lot of candidates for office who talk the talk of job recruitment but they rarely walk the walk of business management in offering incentive packages. A key issue here is that few of these officials have had to worry about making a payroll on time every two weeks, or worrying about being able to make the loan payment, or figuring out how to adjust the budget when a government entity adds a new tax or fee. What they offer is a big campaign smile with words of encouragement while shaking hands rather than good business practices.
Now, before I am bombarded with emails and phone calls accusing me of being a know-it-all, let me be clear in stating that I am not an expert in business. I don’t have all the answers but I know that our community has some good business managers who have expertise and who should be consulted before approaching job recruitment using only the shake-your-hand and pat-your-back good old boy routine. I do know that anytime you don’t surround yourself with knowledgeable people who can share sound business practices, you risk failure. I know that it is questionable to bribe out-of-town companies to come to Kentucky with lavish incentives that only temporarily balance the playing field. Instead, we should be looking to the most successful business-friendly states, Texas and Tennessee, and patterning our efforts on proven practices.
Having the courage to keep integrity intact
This past Sunday I left my home on the way to church thinking about the fact that I still didn’t have a clear idea what subject I might write about this week. As day-to-day activities evolve, I usually have several ideas about an editorial but find that the time is just not right for that subject or that it’s one that I must mull over to find the thoughts I wish to share.
As is sometimes typical, my minister presented one of those sermons that screamed “Jeff, you need to write about this!” As Sunday morning moved into afternoon and later evening, I considered how integrity impacts our personal lives and our communities. This is exactly how this week’s commentary found its way to our pages.
While the word “integrity” is frequently heard, it is a concept that is rarely discussed. While sitting in the audience at my son’s Air Force Pararescue graduation a few months ago, the word was used frequently and in the world of the United States Air Force, integrity revolves around the concept of “service before self.” This concept is essential for the Pararescue forces, a group of highly-trained personnel called into action to rescue downed pilots who are sometimes in very hostile places.
Integrity in my own career is something of tremendous value. I probably pay attention to words more than most people as I have made a career out of listening to others speak in meetings, at events, and even one-on-one, and it has been necessary for me to know exactly what the speaker said and the words used. It is my deep-seeded opinion that if our newspapers simply report the news accurately to show what happened, who did it, and the ultimate outcome, we have served our readers with integrity.
I have also observed that if you don’t have integrity, you have nothing. It can’t be bought - in fact, you can have all the money and power in the world, but if you are not keeping your ethical compass intact, you really have nothing. Almost daily, we have people calling us, hoping to influence how we might write a story. Foremost in my mind is the fact that others can’t take my integrity away from me but if I lose my integrity, it’s because I gave it away.
Over the past few months I’ve listened to dozens of political candidates at all levels of government speaking about why they should be elected. There have been times I’ve struggled to watch someone begin losing their integrity by focusing on what might sound good versus facts. I am continually amazed that would-be leaders fail to remember that in today’s world, facts are easily checked.
In every one of the counties served by Jobe Publishing, there are serious issues calling for leaders to guide local communities through difficult times toward a brighter future. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.”
Kentucky and our local communities stand at a crossroads and I believe one of the most important issues is electing leaders who will govern with integrity. In order to accomplish that task, we realize that actions speak louder than words. After all, knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right as we serve others before ourselves.
Savoring Our Kentucky Traditions
As the parent of rapidly-maturing children whose ever-increasing social lives leave me juggling calendars, I think one of the most important roles of a parent is building meaningful memories. Those memories might be of something very simple that becomes meaningful because of something that was said or heard, or a feeling we experienced together. Sometimes, our special memories can be something grand.
Sometimes my children will be the initiator of a memory-making experience – and occasionally they will use my feelings to support their idea - after all, they know the importance I place on such moments. If you’re a parent, you understand the funny feeling when your children use your own words to encourage you to fulfill their own ideas.
The most recent example of was my daughters, Reagan and McKenna, suggesting how great it would be to visit Churchill Downs during Kentucky’s shining moment, Derby weekend. To reinforce her case, McKenna added, “You know Dad, it would be a great memory for us to go to the Kentucky Derby this year.” Like any good Kentucky farmer, McKenna had planted a seed and waited for it to sprout.
Taking a few moments to mentally review our more recent memory-making experiences before adopting the idea, I added my usual, “You know that may be fun, but let me think about it.”
Having earned some mileage as a dad, I recalled that we sometimes strive so hard to please our children that it can create problems. Granted, what parent doesn’t want to provide their child with an experience they didn’t have when they were growing up? An example of the need for a litmus test before such decisions are made takes me back to my daughters’ desire to attend a concert and my giving an affirmative answer without weighing the options. The end result included Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and what seemed like 50,000 screaming mothers and daughters; and then there were the 9 other dads in the crowd. It was, indeed, a memory.
Our third concert trip was planned to celebrate Reagan’s 14th birthday. She said, “Dad, how about you and I go to a concert, just us?” The notion of my daughter wanting me all to herself for a special outing seemed like a great idea and within minutes the tickets were on the way to my home. It seemed like a perfect idea until Reagan shared with her older brother what we had planned.
That led to Wyatt quizzing me by asking, “Dad, are you taking Reagan to see Lady Gaga in concert?" After I confirmed that was the plan, he said something along the lines of, “You know Dad, I believe you to be a good father and I wouldn’t want to step on your toes, but do you even know who Lady Gaga is?” Thinking I was being funny, I responded “No” with little thought, after all I didn’t know what “Bieber Fever” was until I had it either.
Wyatt then pulled up one of Lady Gaga’s recent videos on his phone and played the sound track for me. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but the rest of the story includes the return of the tickets and that concert was one we never experienced. Since that scenario, we’ve not been to any more concerts and I’ve become much more cautious about quickly saying “yes” to just about anything. I am convinced to this day that I prevented myself from suffering a heart attack by abandoning that memory-making experience.
Considering the father-daughter concert history in the Jobe household, you’ll understand my deliberate caution before responding to suggestions for memory-making experiences. The girls’ mother and I came to the conclusion that the Kentucky Oaks Day Races would be a good experience, and while I arranged for the tickets, my daughters got to shop with their mother for the perfect hats to match their new dresses. Last weekend I was blessed to introduce Reagan and McKenna to one of Kentucky’s time-honored traditions.
It was a proud moment for me to escort my lovely daughters in their Kentucky Oaks attire and I’m even more proud to say they loved it. It has always been my desire to provide nice things for my family but a parallel goal has been to never allow them to take it for granted. As the races were getting started I commented to them that we should always be proud to be Kentuckians. Noticing they were listening and waiting for another comment, I reminded them that this was a special day and that not everyone could enjoy the beautiful new clothes or box seats where we watched fine horses gallop into history, and that the nearest some people would come to this scene was reading a news story.
I shared with Reagan and McKenna that far too often people fail to appreciate who we are and where we’ve come from. I noted that I am proud to be a Kentuckian because I chose to return here after leaving to find a job. It took me several years to get back to my native land and I’m proud of the journey. As I gazed across the crowd of more than 113,000 people, I thought about the strength found in Kentucky families who work hard, endure hardships, and make a better life for the next generation. I pondered how many of the people standing around me had roots in Kentucky tobacco fields, coal mines, and farms and because of hard work and pride in being a Kentuckian, they had come to partake in another of Kentucky’s fine moments.
While my daughters proclaimed our Kentucky Oaks experience among the best, I hope that they, and everyone who had the honor of being at Churchill Downs, will always pause to consider things like family farms and coal mines that helped advance our state and our people. While it’s fun to realize that the fellow in the neighboring box asking you to make a photo with his cellphone is the Mayor of Louisville, it also reminds us that no matter what we’ve achieved personally, most of us have roots that take us back to hard work and the signature industries that helped make Kentucky great.
I’m glad to report that my daughters and I enjoyed a wonderful day, and more importantly shared some memory-making moments that we will carry with us the rest of our lives. God has blessed our state and our Kentucky families with wonderful traditions. May we never forget to honor our past and proudly stand on the foundations laid for us while we prepare for our future.
Republicans hold off another Democrat proposed gasoline tax
Like many of you, I have found myself traveling more in recent weeks as my children and I have enjoyed Spring Break and an increase in activities that fill our calendars this time each year. Just like you, I have felt the assault on my wallet each time I fill up my vehicle with gasoline. It’s a topic that one hears discussed daily because it affects nearly everyone. Just like you, I am puzzled by the fact that it costs me more to buy a tank of gas right here at home than any of the dozens of places I’ve been recently. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but it does make me want to dig for some answers.
Let me share some insights on the topic. Outside the routine business decisions made by owners of gasoline retailers, there are only a few state-to-state factors that affect the cost of gasoline at the pump. The two most prominent are the amount of taxes placed on a gallon of gasoline and the costs associated with dealing with state regulatory or environmental demands. Both are issues out of our hands but they are held firmly by the legislators serving us in Frankfort.
Considering the facts, I recently travelled from Kentucky, through Tennessee and Georgia, to Florida. In my trek, the taxes per gallon varied greatly. A full tank of fuel purchased here in Kentucky had a tax of $.3010 cents per gallon. As we drove through Tennessee my daughters were tuned into videos but I was more interested in the signs indicating that gasoline there was $.16 to $.20 per gallon less than in our home state. Out of curiosity, I discovered that Tennessee’s gas tax, set by their legislature, is $.2140 cents per gallon, nearly $.09 cents per gallon lower than Kentucky’s.
By the time we crossed into Georgia and the girls had introduced me to what must be every hit ever recorded by Justin Bieber, I was still thinking about the cost of gasoline. I found that the Peach State also has a lower gas tax than Kentucky. As of this month, Georgia’s fuel tax is $.2845 per gallon.
Now, the gasoline tax is not the only indicator that affects the cost of a gallon of gasoline at the pump no matter where you buy it. Like so many things affecting our everyday lives, the government’s environmental regulations come into play in our fuel costs. Please understand that we all want clean water and fresh air, yet the level of regulation is mind-boggling. The amount of money we are taxed or charged in fees becomes a very large amount of money, yet we see little to show a better quality of life in exchange for our hard-earned money.
Looking at Kentucky’s current status, our state is one of the most costly in which to do business. Whether a small company or a large-scale production facility, Kentucky’s legislature has followed right along with the national trend of increasing environmental demands on businesses. Like Kentucky, liberal policy-makers in many states have dominated to constantly increase regulations that affect traditional Kentucky industries such as tobacco and coal.
With all of the regulations and all of the taxes placed on Kentuckians, we still rank around #43 when it comes to studies tracking the “green” movement. I find it amazing that Kentucky is at the bottom of the lists in which we should be at the top and we find ourselves ranked at the top of lists where you’d think we should rate poorly.
So, there you have it: two of the controllable factors that affect fuel prices for you and me. Yet, while my family and I travelled back to Kentucky our Governor and the Democrats in control were working overtime to increase our fuel tax.
Representative C.B. Embry said it best in explaining the proposed fuel tax increase. “On Wednesday we took up House Bill 445, which is the revenue portion of the budget or, more commonly, the proposal on how we plan to pay for the list of items in the budget. Those who crafted the bill placed a requirement to raise Kentucky’s gas tax 1.5 cents per gallon as soon as April 1 and also to increase the ‘floor,’ or the minimum wholesale price so the gas tax will keep going up in the future. I voted against this measure, as I do not believe increasing the gas tax is fiscally sound policy and will hurt Kentuckians during tough economic times.”
It is sad to see these facts and then watch as officials elected to serve us return home to spin their views in an attempt to explain why they voted as they did. The vote on the fuel tax, like so many others, was an example of how Democrats have dominated one chamber of our legislature when the vote count revealed a 53 to 46 majority.
Sadly, this is a bold statement about issues that affect every one of us. The fuel tax increase would hit the pockets of hard-working Kentuckians. The fuel tax increase would affect our state even because it would be another in the long list of issues making Kentucky less business friendly than our neighbors to the south and north. Thankfully, when all was said and done, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped this unnecessary policy that would intrude on our lives and our livelihood.
Balanced compensation for officials is a good idea; but overnight fix could be too costly
As a publishing company focused on local news, we sometimes cover matters in local government that on the surface appear to be very simple, sometimes routine, matters. In reality, we sometimes stumble into an area that is actually one of serious contention. Some 16 years ago I was covering the Morgantown City Council and noticed something that appeared on agendas each year not unlike a holiday on the calendar.
In that small community, the city council at the time was increasing their own compensation annually by leaps and bounds. On more than one occasion, the motion would be made and the vote would be tied with three council members voting “yes” and three voting “no” which required the mayor to break the tie. For a long time, the mayor voted “yes” and all of the council, including the mayor, would enjoy yet another increase paid with taxpayer dollars.
After a few years, the increases were of epic proportions and the Morgantown City Council became the highest paid council and mayor in Kentucky cities of similar size. Today, those persons are paid $7,740 per year to serve on the council while the mayor is paid $41,813 per year. Added to that compensation are full-time benefits and health care. This caused me to keep watch on what other cities in our area are paying their elected officials.
Long before I was led to Glasgow by the opportunity to own and publish the Barren County Progress and the Hart County News Herald, I was aware of how little the elected officials in Cave City and Horse Cave were being paid. They were nearly donating their time to serve their communities. Having knowledge of these situations gave me perspective on how excessively Morgantown officials were being paid.
I have no issue with public officials being provided compensation as long as it is fair to the taxpayers, the local government, and the office holders. Public officials sacrifice much to serve their communities but their compensation should be considered in an open and honest manner while being fair and balanced.
Armed with data from nearly 30 Kentucky cities of the same class and similar size, I have not been shy about pointing out the discrepancies. Sadly, when given the evidence, many officials have chosen to ignore the issue and do nothing. For Morgantown’s situation to be addressed, it took several election cycles in which the voters spoke and our newspaper invested gallons of ink to correct the situation.
It’s taken years, but I am proud to say that the Morgantown City Council has just voted to lower their council members’ compensation to $5,000 annually and reducing the mayor’s salary to $36,000. This long-overdue change will save taxpayers $16,700 annually. I am confident Morgantown officials can find a legitimate and worthwhile use for that money by making this change. After all these years, the taxpayers can feel like they have been heard and they have caused positive change.
While Morgantown is moving in the right direction, the two other cities are also doing the right thing by increasing their compensation.
In the case of Horse Cave, when 2015 arrives, their council members will begin receiving $7,800 per year and their mayor will receive $24,000 per year. While that seems good, the reality is that it appears such an increase is more than the city’s budget can handle. Increasing the mayor’s pay from $3,000 to $24,000 is a considerable jump. It’s an even greater concern when only months later the council raised the payroll tax on every person employed within that city, claiming they need more money.
On Monday evening the Cave City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance to increase their officials’ compensation. If passed on the second reading, beginning in 2015 their council members’ pay will increase to $50 per meeting (regular or special called) and the mayor’s salary will increase to $500 per month or $6,000 per year. The leaders of that community have obviously observed the broad range of salaries and have chosen to take a more modest approach by increasing compensation at a level that their budget can withstand.
I applaud Cave City leaders for considering a more fair compensation for their elected officials; it is a move in the right direction and it is fair to both taxpayers and office holders. More so, I applaud those officials for obviously giving careful consideration to how their city’s resources will allow them to pay their officials. Fiscal responsibility and good stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars is of utmost importance in today’s world. It’s refreshing to see positive change that has earned merit before it comes time for a vote.
Celebrating a new generation
At the end of this week our community will have another opportunity to witness the phenomenal abilities of some impressive young people. The students in the limelight of the Plaza Theatre on Saturday evening are not star athletes, or champion horn players, but they possess a unique talent that has been developed thanks to the ever-evolving technological age. The students who will be lauded for achievement will be high school film makers in the Reel Generation Film Festival.
More than four years ago, I was one of the local folks recruited to be part of a brand new effort to do two things: bring statewide attention to our own beautiful historic movie theatre and recognize high school students who are outstanding film makers. Today, I’m honored to have been among the ranks of Rita Riherd, Dr. Jerry Ralston, Phillip Napier, and Jennifer Moonsong as we explored ways to achieve our goals. Along the way we’ve encountered people who didn’t share a passion for our idea and who had to be convinced that the two-pronged goal was do-able.
As a demonstration of the commitment I have to this project, our company signed on as one of the major prize sponsors to help get the ball rolling. This past year, our committee’s persistence was recognized by Watkins College of Art, Design & Film when they partnered with us to offer more than $18,000 in scholarships to the makers of outstanding films. On Saturday evening three Kentucky students will not only be rewarded with those scholarships, but prize money as well.
As further proof of our persistence, this year we have entries from various parts of our state – a testimony that student film makers are all around us and like the star athlete, the champion horn player or the academic all-star, they have outstanding talents that should be celebrated.
I cannot pass up the opportunity to mention one of our past award winners, Sam Stucky, a native of Lexington. When Sam was a student at Bryan Station High School he honed his skills as a film maker and entered multiple award-winning entries in our festival for multiple years. Sam’s work got the attention of the University of Kentucky where the high school student was employed, yes employed, to make films. He also earned a spot in the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts where he wowed organizers with his amazing talent. Today, Sam Stucky is a full scholarship student at Columbia College Chicago, one of the nation’s outstanding schools for film makers.
I also cannot forget another talented student who won a major prize at the Reel Generation Film Festival two years ago. That young man went home that night and made a film of himself, sitting on his bed in the wee hours of the following morning, telling how the recognition he earned inside Glasgow’s Plaze Theatre had been one of the most important things to ever happen in his young life. He shared that the Reel Generation Film Festival had changed his life and had given him the confidence to pursue his passion for creating movies – something that few other people had ever encouraged him to do.
I must admit that my early involvement in this project was a nice way to promote a local landmark, my company and I even liked the idea of my daughters being on stage to present the award from our family business. I soon came to realize that this unique project wasn’t about me, my company, or any of the other notions that entered my mind. Instead, I quickly realized it was about encouraging a few young people and assuring them that their talents were incredible, reminding them that they were valuable assets to our state, and our future. I’m proud to say that Glasgow is home to Kentucky’s only event of this type and that we are indeed achieving our goals.
As you will read on the front page of our newspaper this week, this year’s Reel Generation Film Festival will feature some unique additions that tie our local history to this event. I invite you to join us this Saturday evening at the Plaza for an evening you won’t soon forget.
How backroom deals once again hurt Kentuckians
As our State Senate does all it can to hold off another gasoline tax, more unfunded mandates, and long-term liabilities for one of the nation’s most underfunded retirement systems, we now have the threat of a debt-load reaching billions of dollars.
Without a doubt, the key to Kentucky's future is to have leadership with the desire to check politics at the door and embrace a plan to make our state more business-friendly like our neighbors in Tennessee and Indiana.
These states have been fortunate to have strong, forward-thinking leaders to bring economic success to their people. Kentucky has excellent business managers and recruiters but they have been hampered by politicians’ refusal to implement change at the cost of special interest groups. While I hear these same sentiments repeated locally, we are merely one of dozens of Kentucky communities begging our leaders to step up and do the right thing.
It is my opinion that the chief goal of any legislative body is to bring the wishes of the people to the table and create legislation that helps our communities. The deals made behind closed doors may bring some tax dollars to the pockets of a few in our community, but for the average citizen in south central Kentucky, they do not. Tax dollars are needed to provide a good quality of life for our people, yet the policies put in place have the potential to destroy the ability of those taxpayers to contribute tax dollars or have a decent living.
As a community publisher involved in local commerce, I find myself frequently engaged in discussions about our state and national policies that affect Kentucky’s ability to be more business-friendly in its dealings and attract much-needed jobs. If your paths don’t cause you to be aware of such issues, simply take a few minutes and ask any small business owner, industrial manager or business leader in our community and you will become informed. Ask them how higher payroll taxes affect them, what the effect of a higher gasoline tax will do to their business, and how a higher minimum wage threatens to cost jobs in the long run.
One thing any community publisher must be devoted to is listening, after all, we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening to the community is how any editorial writer effectively gauges the pulse of the people. This topic is one that I hear about every day whether it’s at the local coffee shop, the corporate boardroom, or in line at one of the local big box stores. Simply put, Kentucky is losing and it’s not because the people are misinformed. We are losing because we are plagued by self-serving leaders who are more committed to protecting the turf of special interest groups and doling out political favors than addressing the concerns of our people. Far too many good, worthwhile, change-causing bills are left on committee room floors instead of being given proper consideration.
Tennessee leaders have shown that lower taxes and fiscal stability are key reasons why many companies choose a city or state for expansion or relocation. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has cut an estimated 10% of the budget in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture while others are screaming at the thought of doing more with less than last year’s budget. Comer has not gone to Frankfort to represent the special interests in Frankfort, he is there to represent those of us out here. We need more like him.
According to Fitch Ratings, one of the country’s top bond-rating agencies, Tennessee has the lowest debt ratio of any state in the country. In 2012, Barron’s magazine ranked Tennessee as the third-best-run state. In 2013, Tennessee was named “State of the Year” by Business Facilities magazine. Tennessee is a right-to-work state, has no personal income tax, and enjoys the second-lowest cost of living in the United States.
Tennessee is also known for its manufacturing — the number of workers employed in manufacturing in Tennessee is almost a third greater than the national average and way higher than Kentucky. In the meantime, more and more Kentucky small business owners throw in the towel out of frustration with an ever-growing government overwhelming them with multiple stumbling blocks provided by our leaders.
Education and work force partnerships that advance manufacturing in Tennessee include the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Kingsport, a state-of-the-art training facility that helps create a pipeline of well-prepared applicants for manufacturing positions. In Chattanooga, Volkswagen and Chattanooga State Community College have partnered to create the Volkswagen Academy, which prepares new employees to work at the Volkswagen plant. Nissan, Volkswagen, and General Motors all have major production hubs in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s proactive approach to business is reflected in the fact that in a 12-month period in 2012-2013, five economic development projects created 6,900 jobs and $3.2 billion in capital investments. None of these advancements were created by raising a single tax, all were made possible by creating a business-friendly environment. Tennessee’s job growth has affected every facet of that state with an influx of revenue and employed citizens.
It was recently brought to my attention that 50 years ago this year, local leaders in Glasgow and Cave City passed legislation to promote a Right to Work environment. While the economic environment of 1964 was much different than ours, those leaders were progressive in trying to move our region forward. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s leaders in 2014 have chosen to take the easy route by ignoring the wishes of the people and simply do nothing to create a more business-friendly environment. Our state and our citizens deserve better.
Yet another Mayor and City Council ignoring the voters
The time has come for me to once again share my sincere opinion on an issue that I have followed for nearly two decades. For years I have promised our readers that I would constantly watch issues that are important to them, a promise I take seriously with no personal animosity toward any person. I have probably devoted more ink on the pages of this newspaper to the issue of the compensation of public officials than any other. My concerns are not about any person, but my frustration with a system that just can’t seem to get it right.
For residents of Morgantown, the salary of their elected mayor has been an issued filled with deception after deception. This is not a new problem; it’s gone on for nearly 20 years. The voters of Morgantown do not believe they should have the highest paid mayor and city council among Kentucky’s 4th and 5th Class cities. Voters have expressed their opinion very clearly in the past and it seems some people have very short memory and consider promises broken to be of no consequence.
For those whose memory might not be too clear, let me remind you that this is not a new issue in Morgantown nor is it a subject that I created. I purchased the Banner and Republican newspaper in February of 1998 and the subject of compensation for the 5th class city had been discussed many times over the years by the former editor and publisher, Deborah and Roger Givens.
It was never my desire to become involved in local elections, yet the political deception by self-serving leaders was so rampant and hurt the community to the point that I felt dirty not doing the job I was blessed to hold. Morgantown needed a newspaper publisher who was not timid about telling the truth, which I did.
Initially, we exposed the "Yes-Men" of the late 1990’s and early 2000's. These three men would vote for pay increases for themselves and the mayor every single year while three other council members would vote against the pay increase. Because Morgantown had six council members, the mayor had the privilege of breaking the tie vote and without so much as a thought to the contrary, that mayor would give himself and the council a raise every time. This scenario played out year after year until Morgantown had the highest paid part-time leadership in Kentucky.
As publisher, I secured a ruling from the Attorney General stating that a mayor would have to remove himself from any vote in which his own compensation was the subject. The mayor at the time knew I didn't want to hurt him personally but if he chose to ignore the ruling, it was out of my hands. He did what was right and the vote failed because he abstained from the vote.
In small communities like those scattered all across south central Kentucky, it is important to never allow our differences of opinion affect other things. One of the blessings of small towns is that we are all neighbors and while I may write something denouncing an issue on Monday and a couple of days later have dinner with the person at the center of my editorial.
As time moved along, one of the council members who voted “no” on the compensation increases in Morgantown chose to challenge the sitting mayor and she won the election. One of the primary tenants of her campaign was that she would do all that she could the reduce the pay of the mayor and council if elected.
This issue provided me with proof that our news coverage made a difference in the community. I honestly felt that because of the emphasis placed on this issue, the long overdue error would be addressed and corrected once and for all. Yet, when the time came for the new mayor fix the compensation problem, she had surrounded herself with a few blindly-loyal council members who felt if they campaigned together they could hold onto their offices and the higher pay. Instead of addressing the amount of the salary, they chose to fight my commentary by making the mayor position full-time to justify the full-time benefits being given to a part-time position while other part-time city workers were not offered similar benefits.
Their plan backfired and that mayor was replaced after one term and several of the council members were traded for new officials who again promised to address the issue. Among the boisterous candidates seeking office were Linda Keown campaigning to be mayor and Terrell House seeking a second term as a council member. They openly agreed that the salary must change and committed themselves to make it happen.
The candidates promised voters that they would reduce the nearly $42,000 per year mayor’s salary and the $7,740 annual for council members. They pledged to bring Morgantown’s compensation for its elected officials in line with other cities of the same classification. To illustrate my concern about just how different Morgantown’s salary compared to similar towns, understand that the mayor of Cave City, Kentucky is being paid $1,800 per year while council members are paid $600 per year.
Both House and Keown won the election and within a few weeks of taking office, House began discussing his campaign promise. He said at the time, “We all know this is a priority for our community and I am simply honoring my word and addressing something I know to be important to those who asked me to serve." At the same time, Mayor Keown had no comments on the subject.
As time passed and voters became irritated about the lack of action, House introduced the subject and found himself abandoned by Keown. The mayor had now come to the conclusion that her pay was not too much and might even be enough considered the work she performed. It was disappointing to observe this about-face after witnessing her discussion of how the money could be put to better use in the community if the salary was reduced.
In politics there are always differences of opinion but in this particular situation, I am convinced that the voters will frown on Councilman Russell Givens’ statement, "If salaries are reduced then we might not be able to attract professionals for the job." He indicated the city shouldn't offer a laborer’s salary for a management position. I also the feel the community disagrees with Councilman Gary Southerland’s comment, "I just don't believe it matters to people, I don't even know why we are discussing it."
It is refreshing to see House honor his word but at the same time it is terribly disappointing that the issue was never pushed until the very last moment for so much as a discussion.
I have no doubt that in just a very short time many Morgantown citizens will join me and Council member Allen Meredith who said, "I believe this is a very important issue to the community and it should be addressed."
The majority has no vote in Kentucky
Without a doubt, most people would agree that if the majority of the members of the Kentucky General Assembly agreed on an issue it would be placed on the floor of the respective chambers for consideration. I would agree with this simple concept and I think you do, too. To the contrary, in the very body that governs our great Commonwealth, this concept has no meaning.
As a young newspaper professional, I used to ask our local legislators why they never introduced issues they knew voters in our region are passionate about. Almost a routine response, I was told, "Why bring it up when you know it has no chance at all of getting a vote in the House?" At the time, I was a young and aggressive reporter looking for a front-page story but as the years have passed, I’ve become more interested in what is good for our communities and the opinions of the people.
For those who’ve read what I’ve shared over the past sixteen years, you may recall that I became a Republican for the same reason Ronald Reagan did. He famously said the he didn’t leave his old party, but that the party left him. Like many residents of our area, I agreed with Reagan and left the party that my grandfather loved and promoted to the point of naming his first son Happy Chandler Miller.
When you look at voting trends for our state, I am not unique at all. As a matter of fact, some of the issues I wrote against back then are the very same issues that caused many Kentuckians to have a change of heart politically. Only in recent years have we seen the national policies of the Democratic Party being promoted by Kentucky party officials. Those very issues were the ones that stole the party from the people and now there is ample evidence that some Democratic members of the Kentucky legislature are willing to sacrifice the opinions of the people for the platform of the national party.
I don’t intend for this column to be about politics, it is about doing what is right. I am not asking for opinions on House Bill 575, a bill relating to full disclosure in public safety. Simply put, this bill empowers women facing an unplanned pregnancy to make informed choices. The bill requires information from an ultrasound, already a routine practice, be made available to a woman 24 hours before undergoing an abortion. Can we honestly say that Kentuckians would prefer women not have every reasonable bit of information available to them before making a decision that is difficult and personal, but also irreversible and involves another life?
No doubt, you already have an opinion on the subject. As a newspaper publisher engaged in our community, I have no doubt what the local majority believes. If you want to get yourself in hot water, stop by any of the local breakfast hangouts and tell any Democrat over age 60 that he supports abortion if he votes for Democrat leadership. There are passionate opinions on all sides of the abortion issue and I am not at all offering up an opinion on the subject myself at this time.
I ask you to look closely at HB 575 which is found at the bottom of this page. What you will notice, besides the simple wording and its intent, is that 61 of 100 members of the Kentucky House of Representatives signed on as co-sponsors. Note that there are 45 Republicans in that body and in order for a total of 61 to co-sponsor this bill, there were Democrats who agreed with it. It’s pretty simple to see that these men and women have made this an issue that crosses party lines. I commend those 16 Democrats who have stood against leadership on the issue no doubt because they believe it is what the communities they serve would want.
It’s very clear that the majority feels this legislation is good. Some of you may feel likewise. In the Jobe Publishing service area, we have five members of the lower chamber of the legislature. Reps. Jim DeCesare, C.B. Embry, Michael Meredith, and Bart Rowland all lent their support to this bill; Rep. Johnny Bell is not a co-sponsor. These gentlemen all serve in a body led by Speaker Greg Stumbo who wields an iron hand when it comes to what bills make it to the floor where they can be debated and voted on. Instead, the leadership has assigned HB 575 to the Health and Welfare Committee, termed by some as “the graveyard,” where co-chair Tom Burch has declared that all pro-life legislation will be killed whether it is the will of the majority or not.
Sadly, this is how the opinions of our citizens are dealt with in Frankfort. There are dozens of pieces of legislation that Kentuckians support yet they are killed off simply because party leaders wish to serve up a victory for a national party platform.
Something just doesn't seem right.
Right to work legislation essential for a competitive Kentucky future
I can’t imagine the amount of unrest that would be unleashed at Jobe Publishing if I announced that I would be deducting several hundred dollars from each paycheck throughout the year to support political causes without regard to what the individual might think. I can assure that such a move wouldn’t go too far because I am aware that each employee has his or her own opinion and they each have issues that are important to them.
While I have made it a policy to never ask the political affiliation or even political leanings of our six editors, I have read their opinions over the years and I am comfortable in reporting that we have a very broad range of political opinions within in our company. We tend to be about as varied as those casting votes across America each Election Day. We have an individual who embraces the extreme left and another who embraces issues promoted by the extreme right. We have others who proudly stand right in the middle and prefer to weigh each issue. As a whole, we mirror our region.
Last week several political leaders gathered in Frankfort for the Kentucky Right to Work legislation kick-off. Joining them were industrial association presidents, chamber presidents and industrial recruiters from all over our state. As with any event connected to a topic that attracts people with passionate feelings, there will be some who feel exactly the opposite of the group. That was the case last week when a few in opposition made their presence known with outspoken objection using comments filled with anger and delivered in a nasty manner. It took only a moment for everyone to understand that they were paid to be there to grab the attention of the media, spew anger at the people on the program, and share distorted facts to make their case.
My thoughts in this column are simple. I believe the concept of forced union dues presents two big problems in my idea of balance.
First, I do not believe any American should be forced by law to join or affiliate themselves as a member of any group with which they do not choose to associate. This is a simple First Amendment issue. It’s very simple. You and I are guaranteed the right to choose what we join and pay dues to be a part of. No one should make us do otherwise.
Second, it is a matter of ethics. I strive to do what is ethically correct. This is an issue our editorial team grapples with weekly as we sit down to hammer out what we write. We strive to consider what our subscribing readers want to know and read about vs. what we feel is important for those same readers to be informed of. We strive to be fair and balanced. We listen carefully to what our communities are saying as well as what individual readers are saying. It takes a confident editor to listen to all sides and then take a stance that may not be popular with powerful people. Sometimes that stance is with the majority and sometimes it must be with what is right. Newspapers are businesses but they must also be ethical when taking a stand.
Our editors strive to stay in tune with our readers and our communities but unlike our editors, union officials are not always receptive to their members. I am not writing this to stir a fight; I have no access to union minutes, memorandums or questionnaires and I base this thought on a general conclusion. I am comfortable most of our readers will agree.
Anyone who was paying attention during the 2012 presidential election will recall that Kentucky overwhelmingly voted against Barack Obama. I mention this not to share my opinion on that election or our presidents’ job performance - it takes no real courage to write about national figures because they are easy targets for criticism. In all honesty, no one truly cares what our editorial writers feel about President Obama. My point is that upwards of 73% of our region voted against Obama’s re-election. His campaign was heavily financed by unions and promoted issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, healthcare, and how our ever-enlarging government operates. Those campaign contributions came from union dues taken from American workers who may or may not support those issues. Yet, their money that they earned was deducted from their paycheck and used to promote some of those very issues.
Unions have forced millions of Americans to pay dues as a condition of employment. The powerful unions use those dues to influence politicians by making contributions to their campaign funds and in gratitude the politicians use their influence to keep things centered on pro-union issues. If you question my statements, put down this paper in a few minutes and call any local school superintendent, school board member, industrial recruiter, private contractor, or public official and ask what they feel about things such as prevailing wage laws.
If you’re not familiar with prevailing wage, it’s a means of forcing each of these public entities to pay higher union wages whether a worker is a union member or not. It translates into sky-rocketing costs to build every school, public building, highway, and more. Our union-controlled politicians are all too happy to support prevailing wage laws and other measures that ultimately hurt America.
If there is one important thing the Kentucky House of Representatives can accomplish in the current session, it would be to enact the Right to Work legislation proposed in HB 496. It is time for the playing field to be leveled for our industrial recruiters. It is time for our local school leaders to be empowered to balance budgets by eliminating forced waste and allow them to make good decisions. It is time our elected officials stand and represent the majority of our district and not the minority.
Giving respect to local professionals
As all good managers understand, the best motivator for any team is equipping them with the tools they need to succeed. Leaders who can objectively evaluate such needs tend to find themselves feeling blessed when they realize those serving on their team are true professionals who care and who will not ask for the absurd. Team players understand that times are tough and they realize the financial strains our companies are under; the same can be said of many who work inside our government.
Here at Jobe Publishing, I find that I rarely face such decisions because our team understands we don’t have a pot full of money hidden away to cover grandiose expenditures. While every facet of our company could quickly produce a wish list, our team members understand that we operate frugally. We constantly look for ways to be more efficient while working to make our company stronger.
A similar management philosophy is badly needed in our government. As a newspaper publisher observing our community and the various levels of government, it is sad to see intelligent, caring, and fully-dedicated local leaders asking, sometimes pleading, for the opportunities to do things a better way and still being ignored.
Sadly, it is not uncommon to observe local educators and education decision-makers being ignored by those wielding power at higher levels. In 2010 and again this past January 11, local school board members and superintendents met with our legislators, Sen. David Givens and Rep. Johnny Bell, to ask for help on matters they felt were vital to our local schools.
In the 2010 dialogue, the group discussed the issue of passing legislation that directly affects local schools while not being given the revenue to pay for the new requirements. Little has changed since that time and to this day, unfunded mandates continue to plague our local leaders.
During last month’s meeting our local school officials shared their need for improved funding and fewer strings dictating how that funding is used. We sit in a county with numerous new school facilities and every one of them cost local school boards more money than was necessary due to the requirement to pay prevailing wages. Our local school board members and administrators continue to be in agreement that our state’s requirement to pay prevailing wages hurts our local school districts and their bottom line. Dozens of other unfunded mandates forced upon our schools make the situation even more serious.
Allow me to share a couple of examples that have been discussed in meetings recently. Glasgow Independent Schools has a handsome new high school that cost nearly $1 million more because of the requirement to pay prevailing wages as mandated by our legislature. When that same school district moved its central offices in a cost-cutting move, they had an estimate from a local service provider to move the Internet server at a cost of $6,000. Yet, as the process moved along, our local officials learned that they must abide by a state contract with a major corporation and use their services for this work with a price tag of $52,000. Friends, I have faith in our school boards and the administrators they hire to handle our money better than these examples reflect.
Back in the January 11 meeting, both legislators acknowledged that unfunded mandates were not good for schools. As part of that discussion, our legislators disagreed on the issue of prevailing wages. Sen. Givens stated that if a bill doing away with the regulation were offered, it would pass the State Senate today; Rep. Bell indicated that he would not support such legislation.
Thinking about such issues, I recall a supervisor at a large newspaper sharing her philosophy about such decisions with me. She said, “If your employees do exactly what you want, when you want it, and how you want it, then whose fault is it if you lose readers, money, or market share to your competitor?”
I understood the philosophy then and I continue to understand it today as a business owner. If my team asks for the tools they need to do their job more efficiently and successfully, and I don’t make an effort to provide it, I cannot hold them accountable to achieve my goals. This is exactly what our local school officials and educators face daily. The government that oversees them controls the purse-strings, yet they fail to properly equip the local officials with the tools they need to be successful and then add more regulations and additional unfunded mandates in an effort to make them achieve certain goals. It simply does not work.
It is time for our government to adopt a more sensible philosophy and allow our local officials to truly make the decisions and as a result, we will hold them accountable to producing the appropriate results.
Define your candidacy
As a local newspaper publisher, I have been accused of covering news in a manner to merely sell newspapers. This accusation usually comes from individuals who find themselves on the front page doing or saying something they later wish they hadn’t done or said.
Now that the political campaign season is underway, I am encouraging candidates in the communities Jobe Publishing serves – Barren, Butler, Hart, Metcalfe, and Monroe Counties - to remember that people are always watching you. No, it’s not necessarily the media watching all the time, but it is your community that is watching you. It’s important for you to handle yourself in the same respectful manner before and after you speak as well as while others are speaking. It would be wise to remember that the very people you might be battling on the campaign trail are still going to be your neighbors after the election and who knows, you might even find yourselves being friends at some point.
Granted, I am a candidate myself this year and I’ve got Jobe Publishing’s five newspapers in good hands while I concentrate my efforts to convey to voters why I am the best candidate. It is a long-standing tradition for our newspapers to attend all kinds of community events where we’ve snapped a few pictures and published a few stories about those events along the way. Our coverage of these events documents the very life of our small communities. While accomplishing that task, these events help us keep a finger on the pulse of our communities and the issues that affect them. While we don’t generally endorse or promote candidates we do endorse good government that is of, by, and for the people.
To those who are candidates for office, it is just as much your responsibility to reign in the emotions of your supporters as it is to contain your own. Our country has over 230 years of elections under its belt and one of the ways we learn about those seeking office to hear comparisons of the candidates as well as their ideas for better government. As we have all seen in the past, this can be effectively accomplished without smear tactics, personal attacks, and outright bullying. Every candidate has a right to express his or her legitimate ideas that define them as a candidate.
Candidates, when you consider the message you wish to convey, formulate a few talking points that establish the differences between you and your competitors. It’s difficult for the media to fairly write about the candidates for an office if you don’t share the essential reasons you are seeking office. Give voters and the press something of substance. Few people today base their vote on how long a person has been married, how their children turned out, or what school or church you attend. As a matter of fact it is frustrating for a news reporter to sit through long periods of what one might write on their first resume. There’s a difference between every candidate and it’s up to you to tell us what that difference might be.
Tell the people why your ideas are better. Tell the people how you will make our government, no matter what level, better for everyone. Give some specifics about what you support and what you don’t support. Tell the people how you will spend their hard-earned tax dollars. If candidates convey this essential information, it won’t take long before we begin to see individuals pull out front in each election. A community who has an engaged media and candidates not timid about sharing their views most definitely equals a better informed voter.
Last weekend a very good friend of mine dropped off some reading material at my back door and among the pages was a quote from Winston Churchill. It was his philosophy that when speaking one should hit the point once, come back and hit it again, and in concluding, give it a tremendous whack. I couldn’t help but think of the candidates I’ve observed in over 25 years of newspaper management and how this was exactly what made them memorable to this day.
Over the years I have referenced my grandfather who often commented, “You can say almost anything as long as you have a smile on your face.” This quaint idea from the past doesn’t always hold true when mixed with the combination of politics and power. When I was actively covering the news as a young man, I received death threats, was personally attacked, and even offered bribes, because some people don’t want news covered objectively and fairly. Likewise, candidates for office should never find themselves bullying another candidate because the laws of our land guarantee us the right to express our thoughts in a dignified and truthful manner.
People become passionate about politics. Nearly every adult can share an example of a bad policy or an unethical leader that does not benefit the people or provide good government. Elections provide our citizens with the opportunity to change the elected officials who make decisions when they feel the official is no longer effective. The decision of who serves us is up to the voting public. In order for voters to make that determination, candidates must present themselves and their views clearly and with dignity.
We at Jobe Publishing look forward to covering hometown news in each of our communities. We pledge ourselves to covering community political events fairly and with integrity for the very thing we most desire: good government by our elected officials.
Remembering the Golden Rule
One of the by-products of maturing and settling into our personal comfort zones is the ability to reflect on who we are and what we believe. If you’re anything like me, there are moments in life that remain vivid memories because of the impressions made on us. Some of my most valued memories center on my grandparents and those experiences continue to impact what I do today in my business and in rearing my children.
My grandmother, Rosie Mae Miller, spoke frequently about how we should treat one another. Her words to me were powerful, even as a very young boy, when she reminded me to treat others as I want to be treated. Later, I came to recognize those thoughts as the Golden Rule and while they are biblical in origin, I still associate them with my grandmother.
I think of the Golden Rule frequently as I see politicians slam one another in open meetings or even help others file lawsuits against their fellow elected officials without so much as an attempt to resolve the issue properly. In the news business we receive hundreds of press releases each week and not all of them contain factual information from reliable sources. If our newspapers printed some of the information presented to us, many people could potentially be hurt, lose their reputation, and even their dignity. One of the most difficult aspects of covering local news in a small community is doing our job and doing it fairly. One of the questions I have posed to myself while approaching local news is “if this story involved my family, how would I want it reported?”
Last week Jobe Publishing’s Managing Editor Sam Terry and I attended the annual Kentucky Press Association conference in Lexington. During the event we had the pleasure of being accompanied by my daughters, Reagan and McKenna, for the awards banquet. As in the past, Jobe Publishing brought home honors for advertising, marketing and design. However, this year was different in that we were recognized by our peers for excellence in news coverage and writing. Naturally, having the combination of writing ability, research, and editing skills within our company means outstanding stories that rightfully carry the byline of those doing the work. Additionally, I feel blessed that the very stories that won prestigious awards were some of the most difficult we’ve had to write and we did it with integrity.
Jobe Publishing’s first award for the Best General News Story was written by Sam Terry and I recall all too well the multiple days he spent doing research and the numerous people interviewed to make certain the true story was placed in our readers’ hands. I specifically recall the interviews with individuals who had been all but found guilty based on public opinion created by a court motion that did not tell all of the facts. That story revealed a multi-faceted saga in which individuals’ reputations were tainted by accusations of mishandling evidence and involved a cast of characters including personnel from the Glasgow Police Department, various Glasgow officials including the City Attorney, the Barren County Detention Center, the Barren County Sheriff’s office, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, and no less than three judges. Sadly, all of that was a power play to grab headlines, possibly for political gain, as well as potentially gutting criminal charges against a long-term criminal defendant with decades of similar charges.
News of one politician slamming another doesn’t excite me too much because we see it so often when observing local government meetings. Even those who don’t follow those meetings catch on to the routine in which individuals are demeaned. As the late Margaret Thatcher said, “If they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” When I see outright attacks and the innuendo I cannot help but think of the Golden Rule.
When we delved inside this story we found there was a single individual by the name of Amanda Miller, a young professional with a resume filled with some of the most outstanding training certifications to be found in this area. Yet, unfounded allegations suggested that Ms. Miller wasn’t doing her job correctly and would take the brunt of accusations that threatened to destroy her career. As the story unfolded to reveal facts and a clear trail of documentation involving multiple persons, it became more important that the story be told.
The judges who critiqued Sam Terry’s story made a point of leaving written comments about the fact that there are always two sides to a story and they commended him for his excellent job of telling both sides with fairness and integrity. Attorney Johnny Bell and his client, two of the subjects of the story, had the ability to put their words in a court document but the other individuals did not have that privilege.
Instead, others found their lips silenced and the only means of getting to the heart of the matter was a fair and balanced news story uncovered by our newspaper. Over the years I have found that when both sides are allowed to present their sides fairly, then most of us unassociated with the case will come to a similar agreement. In the case in question, there is no substantiation that anyone did anything wrong in handing evidence. In the meantime, a dedicated and highly-trained professional, numerous law enforcement officials, and our court system still have not seen the motion dismissed as court dates have been repeatedly postponed for months. The scenario is a pure example of what happens when people merely doing their jobs are shoved into the manure of a legal maneuver designed to get charges against a client dropped. There is a very real possibility that had it not been for what has now become an award-winning story, the “rest of the story” would never have been told.
As a community publisher, I stand proud that we once again enacted the time-honored Golden Rule and we told all of the story.
Leaders of the Future following the lead of the past
On Monday January 20, Jobe Publishing hosted to two separate groups of Leaders of the Future. I usually rework my schedule so that I can be on hand when such groups visit because I take pride in showcasing the company that carries my name and the career I have enjoyed all of my adult life.
On many of these occasions I have the pleasure of sharing the story of Jobe Publishing with the children of my friends and neighbors and I want to instill in them the opportunities available to them as they consider their future. I use myself as an example of a person following a dream and seeing it come true due to hard work and perseverance.
For many young people today, the traditional role of the print media is unfamiliar territory. They haven’t grown up with the news being delivered to their door but rather their computer devices. While the way the media accomplishes its mission has changed, I believe our industry is poised for a strong future if there are future leaders who creatively embrace change instead of fearing it.
It’s a pleasure to lead students in examples of ways that our company has embraced an ever-evolving industry by thinking creatively and seeking to explore uncharted territory. Jobe Publishing was the first community newspaper to offer a full-color front page. We were the first to provide an opinion page presided over by a published who is still not timid about speaking out when the need exists. Jobe Publishing was the first to sell an advertisement on page one which brought snooty ridicule by a leading statewide newspaper declaring that we were prostituting our front page (and today you will find the front page of that newspaper doing exactly what Jobe Publishing was the first in Kentucky to do). I’m proud to say we were among the first to fully paginate our pages for printing and we were the first to charge for full access to our online content.
Our afternoon was an opportunity for our team to show the students the entire process of gathering the news of our communities, preparing it for print and finally dissemination to the public. We were honored to share a small portion of the process with a group of young people who are clearly the future leaders of our communities.
I found it ironic that the Leaders of the Future visit occurred on a day set aside to remember the struggles of our country in assuring equality for all citizens of our great country. On this day we recall how some of our leaders and citizens can be terribly wrong in their ideas and behavior. It is a good day to recall our misdeeds as we strive to be certain that we don’t make some of the same mistakes in the present as we look to the future. It is a good time to remember what terrible outcomes corruption and abuse of power can produce. We have all seen first-hand how wrong ideas have hurt not just those living at the time, but their succeeding generations who have to struggle to overcome those ideas. At the same time, the descendants of those who wielded such power must overcome the wrong ideas of their ancestors.
Sometimes the people who stand up and alert others about wrong ideas, legislation, and regulations earn the label of “rebel.” Many people today continue to view the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a rebel because he pointed to inequalities in our country and he spoke about the need to fix them. Dr. King was a visible leader in a movement that needed to gain ground in our country to bring all Americans to table to freely enjoy the fruits of freedom in our country. That’s a concept that I can embrace.
As I reflected on the notions of speaking up, being a rebel, using innovative ideas, and standing for something, I suddenly recalled the students touring our plant on Monday. What wonderful opportunities await them if they are willing to accept the challenges of the future. Just as Jobe Publishing has a tradition of moving forward into uncharted territory, it is my hope that our young people embrace their future and never forget to dream.
Enriching our community through serving others
In the news business it is not unusual to learn of stories that inspire us. We frequently learn about students who have charted new territories, business people who have overcome odds and achieved success, athletes who have set a record, and more. Less frequently we learn about public employees who go above and beyond the call of duty.
There are dozens of very good public employees in each of our communities who perform their jobs well but sometimes those employees choose to “go the extra mile.” For example, in Barren County, employees of the Glasgow Fire Department and 911 Call Center chose to use their talents to renovate the former Glasgow City Hall and Glasgow Police Department offices into attractive and efficient work spaces that anyone would be proud of.
Fire Chief Tony Atwood and his fellow fire fighters were beaming with pride as they told the public about the renovation during an open house Monday evening. Just as they have every right to be proud of their accomplishments, we the taxpayers should be proud of their efforts and express gratitude to each helping hand.
According to Atwood, about one-third of the department’s personnel chose to take on the task of renovating the building – no one told them to do it nor were they asked to do it – they volunteered to use their skills to better their work environment and the city for our benefit. Amazingly, walls were removed, windows replaced, thousands of feet of old wiring was removed, the walls were painted – virtually everything was given a new lease on life.
The employees generally did the work in the evening hours, on weekends, and they were even there working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because of their desire to finish the project by the end of 2013. The group spent about eight months on the project.
As Atwood pulled a very long adding machine tape from his pocket, he shared that a total of $8,316.34 was spent on the renovations and of that amount, more than $3,000 was for replacement windows and their installation. Judging from building costs these days, the employees likely saved taxpayers more than $100,000.
There are numerous examples of how many of our public employees share their talent for the common good and as such, they become public servants. Over the holidays, Editor Sam Terry and I visited with one of our mature friends and she shared how relieved she was that the sanitation workers on her route watched out for her garbage on pick-up. No, they don’t have to worry about it, but realizing her plight, the workers rolled her garbage can to street, emptied it into the truck, returned it to its storage spot behind her house. And, they knocked on her door to let her know they thought about her and wished her well during the holidays.
I’m also reminded of how a group in Morgantown chose to escape the normal process for renovating sidewalks – a project that had been discussed for decades – and found a way to do them on their own. They found a way to make it a community project by gathering ideas and bids and they completed the badly-needed work for pennies on the dollar.
Similarly, Horse Cave business and property owners joined forces with interested members of the community to spruce up their downtown by making things more attractive and inviting. Their work is visible everywhere you look because for more than a year they planned and found a way to make their dreams a reality.
From one end of the Jobe Publishing service area to the other, we find these inspiring stories and we are happy to share them with our readers. While we’re bombarded with news of people taking advantage of taxpayers, it is motivating to know that there are good people with good ideas who are armed with talent and a desire to help make something better in each of our communities.
I’m reminded of what President Woodrow Wilson told Americans decades ago, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”