Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The story below appeared in Saturday's Charleston Gazette.

Louisville metro mayor: 'We are better off today'

Small-town leaders tell Kanawha colleagues system works

By Rusty Marks
Staff writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After reaching consensus that metro government is probably a good idea for Kanawha County, representatives from most of the county's towns and cities, county officials and leaders of the local business community started talking about how the sell the idea to voters.

Local mayors, county officials and others met with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson on Thursday to hear about how metro government works in Kentucky before splitting up into groups that demonstrated how the concept works in different government departments.

On Friday, local officials met with mayors of three of Jefferson County's smaller cities to help ease fears that metro government robs small towns of their identities and robs citizens of a voice in government. Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County voted in 2000 to combine their municipal and county governments into a huge, countywide government centered in Louisville.

Mayors of three communities in the combined area said Friday that they maintain their rule and city councils under the arrangement.

"We are better off today," said Byron Chapman, mayor of the 6,000-resident community of Middletown. Although Chapman said he originally voted against consolidating the city and county governments, he said metro government has helped the Louisville metro area as a whole.

"The back-and-forth conversation is there now," he said. "It's not mine, it's not yours, it's ours."

Middletown maintains its own zoning control, garbage pickup and public works department for its citizens, but the town does not maintain its own police department. The neighboring towns of Anchorage and Prospect do have their own police departments.

Prospect Mayor Todd Eberle and Anchorage Mayor W. Thomas Hewitt said officials in the larger Louisville government take them more seriously than under the old system, and said they see local communities banding together more for the common good.

After meeting with the mayors, Kanawha County's delegation started talking about how to convince Kanawha County residents that metro government should be adopted back home.

"The devil's always in the details," said County Commissioner Dave Hardy. "We've been talking about it for months on how we're going to sell this."

Matt Ballard, director of the Charleston Area Alliance, then turned the meeting over to consultant Mike Shea to talk about how to conduct a public relations campaign to sell metro government to local voters. The alliance will probably be tapped to head up fundraising and the election campaign.

Shea, who helped Jefferson County and Louisville officials pass metro government, said the idea failed four times before voters finally approved it in 2000.

"It is the most complex conversation you're ever going to have with the electorate," Shea said. He said Louisville succeeded in passing metro government by constant opinion polling, tracking polls to see if their approach was working with voters and constantly tailoring their message and delivery to meet the different concerns of voters and the attacks of opponents.

He also advised local officials to set aside politics and band together if they want to pass metro government in Kanawha County. "If you are going to do this, you're going to have to set your guns at the door," Shea said. "This is not a partisan issue."

Senator Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said he thought the time was right to start selling the concept and put metro government to a vote.

McCabe said he also would look to reducing the number of votes required for passage of metro government from 55 percent to a simple majority, at least in Kanawha County. Under state law passed in 2005, if a county pursues metro government, 55 percent of voters in each affected locality must vote in favor.


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