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Curious Louisville Voter Guide: Ryan Fenwick Answers Your Questions

Ryan Fenwick
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
Ryan Fenwick

Earlier this month, Curious Louisville, in collaboration with Al Día en América, asked listeners: “If you were moderating a debate with all the candidates for the mayoral primary, what would you ask them?”

From your responses, we chose a list of 15 questions that covered a variety of topics — ranging from the future of mass transit in Louisville, to gun violence, to solutions for racial and economic segregation — and posed them to the candidates.

Here are Democrat Ryan Fenwick's responses:

A listener wants to know: “What is your management style and philosophy when it comes to working with various agencies, departments and the public?”

I’m an attorney; I have a master’s degree in urban planning, and I think most relevantly, I have years of experience working in the grassroots out in the community on some of the biggest issues Louisville has faced over the past few years. My management style honors the collective experience of the community. I really want to get out there and listen to the best ideas out in neighborhoods and make sure we are elevating the voices of people out in the community.

I think a lot of our best ideas in this city are going unheeded, largely because we are taking a very top-down approach with management right now. I just think it’s a shame that we are missing out on so many ideas in this city.

So, I think I have a very bottom-up management style and I’m really ready to get out there and listen to Louisville.

Brennan wants to know: “What should be the future of mass transit in Louisville?”

I think Louisville could stand some significant improvements in our mass transit system. We’ve been under-investing in TARC for years and years, and I understand that we haven’t really redesigned our routes for TARC since the 1970s.

I think that it’s very difficult for a working person to use TARC to get from where they live to where they work. It’s time for us to do a comprehensive evaluation of our TARC routes and how well they are serving the community, and it’s really important that we start investing in TARC at appropriate levels so people can get to work and home — even if they get out of work past 10 p.m.

So they can get to work conveniently, so they aren’t waiting an hour on a bus that might be delayed, or where the driver might not even come.

And I think it’s really important that we start having a public transit system in Louisville where people could conceivably choose using public transit instead of driving their personal automobile on a daily basis.

A listener wants to know: “What will you do to keep Louisville from being unduly controlled/regulated by Frankfort rather than the local elected officials?”

I think it’s important to be bold in how we are discussing our policies. A lot of what I’m espousing to change in Louisville are policies that have been tried and tested in other cities and are things that I know will work. These are evidenced-based solutions.

I think when we are honest with people across the state, it’s going to be very hard for legislators and for the government to score political points by attacking Louisville. I also have very deep connections across the state; a lot of my volunteer, grassroots experience comes from working with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which means I’ve worked directly with people all across the entire state. Also, I grew up in Western Kentucky and moved here when I was 18 to go to college, and I have a lot of deep connections across the state because of that.

I was also a participant in the Rural-Urban Exchange, that put me face-to-face with a lot of the movers and shakers across the entire state. So, I think that those connections are one of the things that will make it different having me as a mayor of Louisville.

Also, the bottom line is it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face for the state to attack Louisville. We’re the economic driver of the entire state and anything that hurts Louisville hurts Kentucky.

A listener wants to know: “What are the essential elements for a successful JCPS?”

I think it’s essential for JCPS to close the achievement gap between African-American students and white students. It’s been a lingering problem with the school system for a very long time. And it’s something that the current superintendent really wants to solve in his tenure as superintendent of our school system.

It’s really important that we start building the kind of school system that’s going to make everyone across our entire county feel like they are receiving an excellent education for their children. People are right to be worried about it, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to make people happy with our local school system.

Gary Mudd says:The streets of downtown Louisville are so torn up, I avoid driving there. What is your plan for making downtown an inviting place to visit?”

It really is a matter of investment and priority. I think Louisville for too long has been forgetting about the fundamentals of a city government. City governments have to keep the roads in great repair and they should really focus on keeping the sidewalks in repair.

We need to make sure that along with our economic development, we are also focused on our basic infrastructure. It’s important to remember that there’s an economic return on keeping the roads paved and on keeping the sidewalks in good condition. It’s a way you signal to investors that you want them to invest in this community; it means the city is serious about keeping Louisville in good repair.

So, under my administration, we’ll prioritize investing at appropriate levels in our public infrastructure to make sure the streets are well-paved and the sidewalks are in good shape.

A listener asks: "What will you do to put the citizens and residents that live here year round first and foremost before tourist, conventioneers, etc. We pay the bills through taxes, but we have to deal with the bad roads."

I think we need to start looking back out into the neighborhoods and finding ways to really invest in rebuilding the parts of our city that have been under-invested in for decades. I’m thinking really specifically about the West and South End. Especially in the West End, we have a duty to undo the policy effects of years of redlining.

Another important thing to consider is that we have a lot of infrastructure in the West and South End that is already built — our roads and sidewalks. When we’re focusing entirely on downtown, working hard to bring in these conventions, it’s good to get the tourist dollars, but to really take advantage of it, you need to be making sure you’re building all the neighborhoods to be places anyone in the city would be happy to live in.

So, what I think that’s going to mean on the ground is first making sure the roads and sidewalks are in great shape, and I also think it’s going to be important to start investing in local businesses at a greater level. I support establishment of a cooperative development fund so people can start locally-owned, democratic businesses to address economic concerns they have in their community.

I also think we need  a robust microloan fund in the community that is reaching out, especially into parts of the community that aren’t seeing high levels of investment, to make sure people are able to make the kind of businesses, the kind of local establishments, that they really want to see to make their neighborhoods thrive.

So that’s going to be the focus of my administration. I think we’ve done a lot to bring in tourists; I think it’s time to shore it up by making sure we’re investing in our current residents.

Dakota Neff asks: “Louisville is one of the country's most segregated urban areas, racially and economically. How would you bring our communities together and increase economic development, specifically in West Louisville?”

It is really important when we think about how to do desegregate Louisville and to create more racial integration that we’re not asking people of color who’ve kind of suffered the ill-effects of under-investment in parts of the city to be dispersed to make way for white residents to move in as a way to diversify.

What we need to do is make sure we are building local ownership at every opportunity we have. In West Louisville, it’s really clear that there’s a very disparate home ownership rate — more white residents in Louisville own homes than black residents in Louisville.

We need to make sure when we are investing in affordable housing, we are creating opportunities for people to own homes. We also need to make sure people are earning decent wages. I believe a big part of this is making sure we have economic development that is building local business. It’s also really important when we look out into our neighborhoods that we’re just making sure that every neighborhood is going to be the kind of place where anybody would be happy to live.

When you look at Portland, when you look at Shawnee, when you look at Russell — you can see the city just isn’t doing the same to make sure the trash is picked, to make sure the sidewalks are in good shape, to make sure you have public trash cans. These are small things, but these are things that really add up to make a difference in whether a community is an inviting place for everyone to live in, to build a house and future in -- or whether it’s the kind of place we are going to stigmatize and shun.

Susan Means wants to know: “What are your plans to stop the gun violence in our city?”

I think it’s time we replace our police chief with someone who knows how to enact a community policing style of law enforcement in the city. I think we’ve seen from Chief Conrad that he’s simply not the man for the job. Once we start doing community policing, I think it’s very important that we start making sure that we’re focusing on diversion.

We’re locking up too many people with mental health and drug addiction problems. I also believe that we’re not approaching our gang violence in a way that is based on evidence in other cities; what other cities are doing is that they are using a violence intervention program.

That allows people who, however they have done it, have somehow escaped from the cycle of gang violence and turned their lives around. It allows them to mentor kids who are statistically likely to be involved in drug and gang activity. It’s a much more cost-effective program because you are stopping the violence before it happens, but it’s also a more humane program because you are giving kids a chance to turn around their lives instead of going down the path of activity.

So, I believe that if we start taking a more community-focused, more rehabilitative approach to policing, that we are really going to see our gun violence go down. We have to address root causes. Everybody says it, the problem is we’re just not making policy changes to make it happen.

Griffin Paulin says: “To your understanding, what is the root cause of homelessness, and as a follow up, how do you intend to curtail it?”

Louisville, like a lot of other cities around the nation, is experiencing an economic boom. We have more development downtown than we’d had for years, and it means that rents are rising across the city. Now, I argue that, to a degree, we’ve artificially inflated the amount the rates are rising with the way we incentivize businesses across the city — but the solution is really simple.

We need to invest in affordable housing. We’ve known since 2008 that our affordable housing trust fund needs $10 million a year to keep up with the affordable housing problem that we are having in the city. We haven’t been investing in it; last year it took grassroots activists hundreds of volunteer hours to make Metro Council to put $9.8 million in the affordable housing trust fund. That is the first time it was ever funded at an appropriate level.

There’s years of backlog in investment  that needs to go into the affordable housing trust fund, and we need to make sure that we’re putting the money into affordable housing to make sure people aren’t being forced out of their homes. So, I think rising rents is a big root cause of homelessness in the city; I also think we need to make sure that we’re treating drug problems as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue, and I just think it’s important that we reach out into the homeless population to make sure we are providing appropriate services.

I support us having a permanent homeless camp in the city until we can do more to house people who are homeless in our community. Other cities have had success with that, and I think with clearly rising rates of homelessness in the city, it’s time we start considering solutions.

Rebecca Pattillo asks: “What is your stance on racist or Confederate statues in public spaces throughout Louisville?”

I think it’s time for them to remove it. It’s leftovers of a violent and racist past. And talking to people, it’s very obvious that large portions of our community feel very disrespected by their presence in the city. I think we’ve done a lot of hand-wringing about the statues around the city, but the reality is, we have a very talented local arts community. I would be very happy to see us replace those statues with something we can all be very proud of.

A listener wants to know: “What local news sources do you consume on a regular basis?”

Of course, this radio station, WFPL — I listen to it on a daily basis. I also love Forward Radio. I listen to it as often as I can. I love never-nervous.com; I think it has very interesting coverage of local issues. And, of course, the Courier-Journal provides some of the most sophisticated and up-to-date coverage of Louisville issues.

Daniel Sherrill asks: “What do you plan on doing about neglected property and graffiti vandals? Those are the two things that seem to drag down our city aesthetically.”

We currently have a mechanism to keep vacant and abandoned properties in the city — it requires a pretty lengthy foreclosure process. I think it’s key that we foreclose actively on absentee landlords or absentee property owners to make sure we are able to put the property to productive use across the community.

I also think once we have a property in vacant and abandoned properties, it’s important we consider really creative ways to deal with it. I think one way that these properties could be dealt with is helping the community start community land trusts. Community land trusts allow communities to collectively own properties across the city, and allow them to give input on how that property will be developed. One of the key benefits of it, especially in parts of the city that have suffered from historic under-investment, is that current residents of the neighborhood are going to be able to steer the economic development direction of the properties in a community land trust.

So, I think that combined with using a cooperative development fund to allow local people to start businesses they want to see thrive in their communities is going to be a way to get ahead of it. In the short-term though, we’re going to have to make sure we are aggressively foreclosing on people who aren’t taking care of their properties to make sure we are moving it into productive use.

Thorne and Sally Vale want to know: “It has become very obvious that the Louisville tree ordinance is ineffective. Our tree canopy must be protected. It is past time to establish an ordinance to stop developers and builders from taking down any tree that is in their way. What are you going to do about protecting Louisville's tree canopy?”

I think that is absolutely right. We’ve seen reports previously that we have the worst urban heat island effect in the entire nation, and that’s largely the result of just losing to many trees and not being aggressive enough at protecting our current trees and replacing trees that are removed across the city.

I think your listener is entirely right that we do need to make sure we are being very aggressive with the development community to make sure that we are protecting as many trees as possible. I know that even people on the Planning Commission have pointed out before that they really don’t feel like they have any authority to stop a developer from simply clear-cutting an entire property to set up whatever development they are trying to establish. I think that definitely needs to change.

We really need to look back to the original — I think it was almost four years ago the Advisory Committee released a model tree ordinance they intended for Metro Council to enact. I think we need to look back to that original tree ordinance, that original study, and make sure we’ve enacted all parts of it. I know for a fact we haven’t.

If we aren’t being aggressive about protecting trees in our city, we just aren’t going to create the kind of city we want to live in. Louisville is getting hotter and hotter and it’s because we’re losing so many trees, so we have to be very aggressive with it.

A listener wants to know: “What role do you believe local law enforcement should play in enforcing immigration laws? And do you support the ordinance in place that prevents police officers from assisting ICE in most situations?”

I think that we shouldn’t be using our precious local dollars to enforce federal immigration laws. As for the current ordinance, I was a strong supporter of Mijente's ordinance that they were advancing in Metro Council; I believe that it was a very sophisticated piece of legislation. They wrote it with federal and state concerns in mind to make sure neither Trump nor Bevin cut Louisville funds. I think that the benefit of supporting the Mijente ordinance is that it was drafted by directly-impacted people, it was a grassroots effort. And I think there’s good reasons to be very confident in the ordinance enacted by Metro Council.

So, I’m very opposed to us using local funds for LMPD to coordinate with ICE and I’m very happy that we have an ordinance that appropriately strikes the balance between the needs of our immigrant population that deserves to feel safe in our city, and the pressures from the state and federal government.

A listener wants to know: “What is your vision for Louisville during and after your term in office if you are elected Mayor?”

My vision for Louisville is that it starts having the confidence in itself to start building the city for the people who already live here. I think it’s so important that we stop looking to cities like Nashville and Indianapolis, which are great cities, but that we start looking locally to start finding what Louisville really loves about Louisville.

I just think it’s important that we start appreciating Louisville as a very authentic place and that if we’re going to keep this city the way we love it, we’re going to have to start trusting locals to build our future.

You can read the other candidates’ responses here.

89.3 WFPL is partnering with Al Día en América to provide Spanish-language versions of stories. To read this story in Spanish, click here.

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