Does Lexington deserve elected officials who represent their constituents and who can be counted on to show up in times of crisis? One would hope so.
What is the most important issue facing Lexington’s leadership? There is no single answer, and opinions on which issue is the most important can vary from person to person.
Many single out the police and firefighters disability and pension funding crisis as Lexington’s most important issue. In fact, on her campaign page, 3rd District Urban County Council Representative Diane Lawless identified the pension crisis. Also this year, when asked in a questionnaire for this election: “(Question 11): What is the biggest challenge and opportunity facing Lexington-Fayette County? Lawless answered by identifying the pension fund.
Lawless is not alone in recognizing how important and how urgent the pension fund crisis is for Lexington.
At the June 25, 2012 Police & Fire Pension Task Force Subcommitttee Meeting, no one disagreed with Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (starting at the 37:30 mark in the video-may need Explorer browser to view) in his comments when he addressed the meeting.
Gray first thanked Lexington’s retirees, police and fire representatives and elected officials for taking the critical first step and showing up. Gray noted “everyone is at the table trying to gather information and advance the conversation. We’re all here today, which demonstrates commitment that we should all appreciate,but the time is running out.” Gray noted that “service level insolvency or an enormous tax increase are the likely outcomes in the path and the road we are now on. … The urgency in the crisis is undeniable.”
The police and firefighters have fought strongly to maintain the present system intact, and rightfully so. Their interest is in preserving the generous disability benefit system presently in place, and any group should fight to maintain its benefits. How cuts in services or increases in taxes can be minimized as a counter-balance to those employee interests is at the heart of the crisis. Some sort of balance must be struck in a way that is fair to all.
As a leader, Gray was right to take the time to thank those affected parties for showing up on June 25, 2012. After all, the first step to addressing any crisis is showing up.
Just showing up is a problem for Diane Lawless. Diane Lawless is the leader and Chair of Lexington’s Council Public Safety Committee. A position as chair of Public Safety places a leader in the perfect position to learn about, understand, identify and propose solutions for what Mayor Gray rightfully described as an “urgent crisis”. Remember, this issue is the one Lawless herself identifies as Lexington’s biggest challenge. So on Tuesday, June 26, 2012, the very next day after the urgent crisis relating to the pension fund was discussed by Mayor Gray on June 25, 2012, when the disability process for that pension fund was on the agenda of the Public Safety Committee that Lawless chairs, what did Lawless do?
As the video of the meeting shows, Diane Lawless did not show up on time to even conduct proceedings for the committee she chaired when it was to address this urgent crisis. After an awkward delay, the vice chair had no choice but to begin the meeting without Lawless. This portion of the meeting addressed the nuts and bolts of how disability eligibility occurs, what percentages are paid out, how the application process works, exam requirements, and the numbers involved in the calculations.
The June 26, 2012 Public Safety Committee Minutes note that Lawless arrived at 11:25. Even if that is correct, there is no participation by Lawless until at the 45:00 mark, when the vice chair of the committee notes that Lawless has arrived and will at that time take over the proceedings. Assuming Lawless arrived at 11:25, she still missed the presentation by Ed Gardner of the Lexington Department of Law considering and discussing the two ways that Lexington may be able to address the pension crisis without legislative action by Frankfort. When a leader fails to lead at a time of urgent crisis, progress is impossible.
So what caused Lawless to fail to show up and lead on Lexington’s most urgent crisis? That’s not known. It could be the same thing that made her miss more council meetings over her entire four years on the council than any council member seeking re-election. What the cause is really doesn’t matter. The result is Lexington suffers from Lawless’ failures of leadership, and from not having elected leadership to address all its problems, including its most urgent crisis.