When local attorney Akisha Townsend Eaton reviewed Warren County Public Schools’ most recent Equity Scorecard, an annual report that revealed serious academic achievement gaps between black and white students, she wanted to speak up.
Eaton, who is African American, shared her concerns with the district’s school board during its meeting in June, but her comments were cut short after she exceeded the three-minute time limit for individual comments to the board.
“I think there’s definitely room for improvement with our district policy,” said Eaton, who was the only member of the public to sign up for the public comment period that evening.
That prompted Eaton to formally ask the board at its July meeting to consider a policy amendment that would allow “a grace period beyond three minutes up to five minutes, to be equitably divided among speakers when fewer than five speakers have registered.”
But that amendment was defeated with a 4-1 vote. Garry Chaffin, the board’s vice chairman, cast the only vote in favor of the change.
Several board members at the time argued they felt the existing policy was permissive enough and claimed some school districts don’t allow public comments during board meetings at all.
“I was definitely disappointed in their rationale,” Eaton said, adding she hasn’t found any school districts with such a policy. “I’m not sure what publicly funded district would take pride in disallowing comments from the public.”
Under the board’s public comment policy, and unless otherwise allowed by the chairman, speakers are allowed up to three minutes and the board allows no more than 15 total minutes for comments.
Eaton also submitted additional written comments via email, but she said she’s yet to receive a response.
“They haven’t acknowledged them or responded to them,” Eaton said. “More clarity about what happens to those comments would definitely be appreciated.”
Public comment policies vary widely across Kentucky’s public school districts.
In Fayette County, the public has two opportunities to comment at each regular school board meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, the public is invited to speak about items on the agenda and 30 minutes is divided among the number of speakers, with a maximum of five minutes per person, according to the district’s policy. People who’ve registered can also speak after the meeting and address topics not on the agenda, with the chairman deciding the amount of time for each speaker.
Jefferson County Public Schools uses a similar three-minute time limit per speaker, but only if fewer than 20 people have signed up to speak, according to the district’s policy. The board further limits an individual speaker’s time if more speakers sign up, and it sets aside up to one hour for public comment in the first half of the meeting for that evening’s business items.
Asked about the policy Thursday, WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton said the district’s school board members consider it flexible enough as is and that board meetings must prioritize efficiency when it comes to conducting business. Clayton didn’t attend the board’s July meeting.
He said board members don’t view meetings as the only avenue for receiving public input and make themselves available to the community by phone, email or in-person meetings.
“There’s no requirement for any board to have a public comment” period, Clayton said.
Asked about Eaton’s written comments, Clayton said the district makes responding to any feedback it receives a priority.
While she understands the need for time constraints, Eaton couldn’t help feeling she was missing out on addressing a complicated but important topic. Minority groups are underrepresented in such spaces, she said, adding there’s a harmful and inaccurate perception that African Americans and other minority groups aren’t invested in education.
Still, Eaton plans to stay involved. “I plan to go to as many meetings as possible,” she said.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdaily news.com.
FRANKFORT – Gov. Matt Bevin unleashed an abortion-related attack Thursday that took aim not only at his Democratic challenger but also at a federal judge who struck down a state abortion law.
The Republican incumbent pushed abortion to the forefront of his reelection campaign during a news conference outside the Governor’s Mansion. The focus on the key social issue came two days before Bevin squares off against his Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, on Saturday at the Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky. The political event looms as a crucial campaign test for both.
Bevin accused the federal judge of having an attitude of “I know better” in striking down the law, which deals with transfer agreements between an abortion clinic and a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies.
The state is appealing.
Bevin lambasted Beshear for taking donations from the owner of Kentucky’s only abortion clinic, who hosted a Wednesday night campaign fundraiser in Louisville. Bevin said another clinic doctor also attended.
The governor also criticized Beshear, the state’s attorney general, for not defending the state in lawsuits challenging several abortion laws that abortion foes passed in the legislature.
“This is blood money, straight up,” the governor said. “There’s no other term for it. ... They (the clinic officials) are using monies that they have earned from killing Kentuckians to fund a guy who’s job it is to defend the laws of this state but refuses to do so. That is unacceptable.”
To reinforce his point, Bevin stood next to an invitation to the Beshear fundraiser, blown up on a poster board.
Beshear’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, responded that the Beshear fundraiser was attended by a number of Republicans and co-hosted by a group called “Republicans for Beshear.”
“I find it telling how Matt Bevin would blur out every other name, including ‘Republicans for Beshear,’ and highlight one individual,” he said.
Hyers described the governor’s performance as “erratic,” adding: “Reasonable and good people can disagree on choice – his outlandish language is dangerous and unacceptable.”
While Bevin adamantly opposes abortion, Beshear supports the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. That ruling allowed restrictions on the procedure and Beshear supports those restrictions, especially related to late-term abortion procedures, his campaign said.
Kentucky is one of several states to pass laws intended to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
In response to Bevin’s attacks on the attorney general’s office, Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown said: “The attorney general’s duty is to the Constitution. Every bill that has been challenged, that we have opined was unconstitutional has been found so by a federal court.”
Meanwhile, Bevin criticized the federal judge who last year struck down the law requiring abortion clinics to have written agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies.
“We had a federal judge decide that you know what, that may be the law, but I think I know better so I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t apply,” the governor said. “Unbelievable.”
U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers ruled the law violates constitutionally protected due process rights.
Bevin’s criticism of the federal judge was reminiscent of his attacks of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd for some of his rulings that went against the governor and the GOP-led legislature in recent years. Bevin went on talk radio and called Shepherd an “incompetent hack.”
The transfer agreement law had put the state’s last abortion clinic at risk of closing when Bevin’s administration cited it in a licensing fight with the Louisville facility – EMW Women’s Surgical Center. The case revolved around a licensing fight that began when Bevin’s administration claimed the clinic lacked proper transfer agreements and took steps to shut it down.
Bevin predicted the state will win its appeal and then apply the “transfer agreement” standards.
“If that results in no abortion clinics, fantastic,” he said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke accused Bevin of using “incendiary rhetoric to attack abortion providers.” She called it a “move straight from the national anti-abortion playbook for politicians looking to push abortion care totally out of the reach of those that need it.”
ACLU attorneys are representing the EMW clinic in several lawsuits challenging abortion laws in Kentucky.
FiveStar, a Bardstown-based chain of convenience stores, is planning to build its second location in Bowling Green, this one along Nashville Road near the South Industrial Park.
Newcomb Oil Co., the parent company of the FiveStar chain, moved a step closer to making the store a reality Thursday when the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County approved in a 9-0 vote an amendment to the development plan for a 13.2-acre tract at Nashville Road and Bourbon Street.
The amendment, presented by property owners Newcomb Oil, The Southern Partners LLC and Stockyards Real Estate, allows for fueling of semi-trucks on the property, which is zoned as a planned unit development.
That clears the way for development of a 5,000-square-foot FiveStar in one quadrant of the property. The two quadrants farthest from Nashville Road are already home to apartments, and the property owners are looking to sell a fourth quadrant that borders Nashville Road across Bourbon Street from the proposed FiveStar.
Henry Greenwell, an engineer for Newcomb Oil, said work on the FiveStar should begin in the spring. He expects it to employ about 15 people. Featuring gas and diesel fuel pumps, grocery items and fresh food, the store will be “almost identical” to a FiveStar at 7288 Louisville Road in the northern end of Bowling Green, Greenwell said.
The FiveStar stores are new to Warren County but not to Kentucky. The chain has 85 total locations, with nearly all of them in central and western Kentucky. Greenwell said the company has two stores in Indiana and is building one in Portland, Tenn. Plans are in the works for a FiveStar in Franklin, he said.
The Nashville Road location was attractive, Greenwell said, for its proximity to the industrial park and a number of new residential developments.
“We feel like it’s a good location,” he said. “I hope it does well, and I feel like it will.”
In other action Thursday, commissioners voted 9-0 to approve an application by Mike Jordan to rezone 3.44 acres at 161 Petty Road from agriculture to residential estate in order to develop the property with two single-family lots. That rezoning needs final approval from Warren Fiscal Court.
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.
Bowling Green’s Holley Performance Products announced plans Thursday to expand to a new building in the South Industrial Park and create as many as 80 jobs.
Holley is investing $13 million in the expansion that was brought about by “several new acquisitions,” according to a news release from the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce.
Holley, which has been manufacturing high-performance carburetors, manifolds and other auto parts in Bowling Green since 1952, has its headquarters building on Russellville Road and a plant in Franklin. Headquartered in Bowling Green since 1994, Holley has nearly 400 employees in southcentral Kentucky and 1,100 worldwide.
At the July 25 meeting of the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, Holley was approved for $450,000 in tax incentives related to the new building at 442 Century St.
This expansion comes less than two years after Holley opened the plant in Franklin’s Sanders Interstate Industrial Park. The company, which underwent a bankruptcy reorganization in 2008, is leasing a 200,000-square-foot building in Franklin, where it plans to eventually have 30 employees.
Holley Senior Vice President of Operations Terry Rutledge said when the Franklin plant was opened that the new building was needed because the company was out of space in Bowling Green.
Chamber President and CEO Ron Bunch said Holley’s announcement represents the latest automotive-related expansion in the area.
“Kentucky is a leader in the automotive industry, with Holley Performance being a perfect example of how southcentral Kentucky has become a top contributor to the state and industry overall,” Bunch said. “I am excited to see the economic impact to Bowling Green that will come with this expansion.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.