Jessica Mohler | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Jessica Mohler

Political party: 
Nonpartisan
Incumbent: 
No
Question 1: 

What do you think are some of the most pressing issues facing Lexington in 2020? What is your vision for Lexington, and how will the lives of Lexingtonians be improved as a result of your time in office?

I think the most pressing issue in Lexington is sustainable growth. The city’s growing economic inequality—the gap between the rich and the poor, and the Black-White racial wealth gap––is widening, and as our city grows, so does this disparity. From affordable housing and spatial inequality to the economic segregation of our neighborhoods, schools, and school districts, our city is headed toward more concentrated areas of poverty and affluence than we already have.

“Urban revival” shouldn’t come at the expense of pushing our current neighbors out. My vision for Lexington is a unified city committed to creating vibrant, amenity-rich communities for residents of every income level, regardless of zip code––not one that’s solely focused on creating profits and increasing the quality of life for a select few. Growth is only sustainable when it’s done with an equitable framework in mind. I vow to dedicate my role and responsibility to making decisions and advocating for initiatives that work to decrease economic disparity, and to work to make sure all of the city’s population is served.

Question 2: 

In 2015, nearly eight hundred students in Fayette County Public Schools were homeless. There is also a severe shortage of affordable housing for people in our community that make minimum wage, even when they are working full time. What will you do to address the problems of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our community?

Homelessness is increasing because of stagnant and declining wages. People do not make enough money to afford Lexington’s cost of living. While I am for increasing the minimum wage, and turning low-wage jobs into family-supporting work, Frankfort, not Lexington, sets our minimum wage. I would like to change that.

The opioid crisis and chronic mental health issues are compounded by rising rents and home prices, leaving many people without permanent housing. As your councilmember, I would continue to work with local existing structures while advocating for harm reduction approaches and permanent supportive housing models for people who experience chronic homelessness due to disability, substance dependences and mental health issues.

Affordable housing is in a state of crisis. People aren’t just being priced out of home ownership, our renters are being pushed out, too. As your councilmember, I would fully finance the affordable housing fund. I would explore new ways to incentivize developers to create more affordable housing, provide more rental subsidy, and work proactively to catch up and close the affordable housing gap. As our city grows and we focus on increasing density we must make decisions with a framework of equity in mind.

Question 3: 

What is the role of the Lexington Urban County Council in opposing white supremacy, addressing racial inequality and supporting racial justice for Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx people, immigrants, those who are undocumented, and all people of color in our city? Please identify at least two policy initiatives you would propose while in office to address racial and systemic inequalities.

Racial injustice has been the seminal issue of our country since its inception. I will always listen to and follow the lead of those most directly impacted by racial inequality.

The FBI just ranked Kentucky ninth among states with the most hate crimes. It’s important our city is fully aware of what hate crimes look like and how to identify white supremacy groups that are increasingly preying on college towns for recruitment.

LFUCG sets the tone for how welcoming and inclusive we are. It has always been about the system, and I am committed to fully understanding––and rebutting––our government’s continuing role in facilitating race-based inequality.

I would introduce policy initiatives to: 1. Following other cities, draft an ordinance declaring racism a “public health crisis.” This measure will acknowledge the threat – financially and mentally - racism causes people of color and solidify our commitment to understanding how racism affects communities. Further, the measure would provide tools and programs to address this real crisis.

2. Establish a grants program to support the production and marketing costs of arts events created by and with a focus on communities of color, LGBTQ, and disabled communities.

Question 4: 

In recent years, elected leaders in the Kentucky legislature have been pushing for more proactive cooperation with federal immigration agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What is the role of local city councilors in this conversation about protecting undocumented immigrants in Kentucky?

The role of the local city Council is to ensure a safe environment. To that end, LFUCG should prohibit police officers from arresting anyone solely because of their civil immigration status. Likewise, we need to ensure that victims of or witnesses to a crime can feel safe coming forward.

I would continue our membership in the Welcoming America Network. This network provides access to government leaders across the nation who are creating immigrant-friendly, welcoming communities wherein leaders share ideas, goals, and successes.

I would choose public service announcements that have a message of inclusion and welcome to help build economic and social collaboration between newcomers and longtime residents.

Question 5: 

The science on climate change is more robust than ever, and many agree that we are in a critical moment for the future of our planet. What has you concerned about climate change? What will you do as a city councilor to minimize Lexington's carbon footprint?

Having two young children, I am most concerned with the world we will leave them. Humans as a whole need to move away from energy sources that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as soon as possible.

Lexington is currently powered by LG&E KU’s Brown Station in Harrodsburg, which, unfortunately, is a coal-fired power plant. Until we can turn our city into a 100% renewable energy city (which should absolutely be our goal), I will support policies that require increased efficiencies in new and existing construction and provide incentives for solar and wind power. LFUCG should also be doing more to install renewable energy technologies in existing city buildings, and to incentivize other businesses to do the same.

As your councilmember, I would support smart investments in solar hot water, solar window tinting, and green roof tech. These steps would go a long way toward reducing the city government's own carbon footprint while providing a blueprint for businesses and residences in the 3rd District to follow suit.

I support investments in public transportation to help reduce vehicle emissions, increasing our bike-friendliness, and working to make LexTran an efficient and convenient alternative, even for Lexingtonians who already own vehicles.

Question 6: 

How would you include constituents in your district and across Lexington in the development of the annual budget? What area(s) of the budget would you prioritize funding? What revenue increases would you propose to meet our city’s future budget needs?

It should be noted that the Lexington city budget is developed by the Mayor and her budget department, and then set by the Council. I believe the more unified we are, the more resilient and vibrant Lexington will be. I support creating a model for citizen participatory budgeting from outside organizations, not just partner agencies.

Our nonprofits and community organizations serve communities that are often left behind in the budget. Having their direct input on the needs and services most requested from their communities will help better identify and fill the holes in government services.

Councilmembers also have discretionary money allotted to them each year for projects specifically in their district. As your councilmember, I will host neighborhood meetings and roundtable discussions at various locations and times to listen to your needs. I will meet my constituents at their table so I have a clear understanding of how I can best advocate for a fair and equitable budget for the people in the 3rd District. Together, we will flourish.

Question 7: 

Important meetings in the local government are often held during hours when many working folks are at work or unavailable. What specific initiatives would you enact to make local government more accessible to those who may not have the time or resources to participate?

I know firsthand how work and family obligations make it difficult for everyday people to have an active role with civic engagement. The government and how it functions should be easy to understand and access, but we all know that’s not the case. I work full-time during the day and have two young children whom my husband and I want to spend our free time with. It is hard to make it to Council sessions and even more difficult to attend committee sessions.

I have found CivicLex to be a great resource. This organization stays current on relevant city issues and provides a host of resources, including free budget workshops. I would make it a priority to identify and fund organizations like this which prioritize transparency over closed-door politics and hold councilmembers accountable.

Along the same lines as accountability, I would commit to creating an indispensable monthly Council report. This e-newsletter will provide constituents a meaningful recap of what the Council has been doing, a collection of archived video links of Council and committee sessions, and a schedule of upcoming meeting times. I would follow with reviews of the report at neighborhood association meetings.

Most importantly, I will always make myself available. As your councilmember, I work for you and I will never forget that.

Question 8: 

Transgender students are more vulnerable to bullying than their cisgender peers (Cisgender is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.) What protections or policies would you propose or support to protect trans youth in Lexington from bullying and discrimination?

Every student deserves a safe environment to learn. As your councilmember, I would continue the LGBTQ police liaison task force, and investigate all reports of bullying and hate crimes against trans youth and follow-up on recommendations. I would report such incidents as hate crimes to the FBI and provide a liaison to the Board of Education Equity Office and Equity Council Committee ensuring all policies pertaining to trans youth are fully implemented.

While councilmembers have no direct authority over school policy, we can provide leadership to engage schools in conversation that brings visibility and understanding to issues transgender students face. Most Fayette County Public Schools have a Climate Committee that addresses bullying and other social issues. I would support an annual forum for Climate Committee members, transgender students, their families, and other allies.

Organizations like GLSEN, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Transgender Equality offer educational materials that can guide our efforts. GLSEN’s Safe Space program is an example of something that, with the support of a single Climate Committee member in each school, could make a meaningful difference for transgender students. I believe increased opportunities for LGBTQ representation within our city’s leadership structure is an important step.

Question 9: 

What is your plan for ensuring that long term residents are not displaced from neighborhoods that are undergoing redevelopment? What is your position on Tenants’ Rights ordinances that seek to protect renters from unjust evictions? Please explain.

Like many of you, I’ve seen my neighborhood go through immense change in the last decade. I have struggled and celebrated with our great city simultaneously.

I’ve attended meetings of the Task Force on Neighborhoods in Transition and believe it's possible to create communities where our current residents feel protected and our new neighbors feel welcome. I want positive development that works with the neighborhood’s vision, not displacement. We should value our long-term residents by exploring options such as freezing property taxes in certain situations and other initiatives.

The use of code enforcement to bully our residents, especially our older neighbors, is unacceptable. Who can file a code enforcement violation and when an enforcer is allowed to enter someone’s home should be regulated. People shouldn’t be cited for not having a fresh coat of paint on their house while a landlord gets away with not providing heat to their tenant. I would prioritize ordinances that put safety over aesthetics. I support strengthening more comprehensive tenants’ rights. Tenants and homeowners, alike, need to have clearly written rights, so both their property and their livelihoods are safeguarded.

Choose me in May and I promise to offer meaningful discussion and thoughtful analysis.