Jefferson County Chapter discusses local issues

Jefferson County Chapter recently chose to identify local issues as a way to both improve the county and also reach out to a broader section of the urban population that is not yet connected to KFTC’s statewide work. The process for local issue selection is not obvious. Assembled KFTC members have no shortage of issues, quickly identifying years worth of issues worthy of grassroots attention. There is no shortage of cooperative attitude, but there are many potential approaches to this important decision process. 

Chapter members agreed the first step to selecting the chapter issue was to brainstorm issues to be discussed at the April chapter meeting. KFTC principles for issue selection were presented by Jefferson County organizer Alicia Hurle, and discussion led to additional criteria being added. The group determined a local issue should be one that is winnable with opportunities for action in the short term, even if completely winning would ultimately take focus over a longer time horizon. The group also agreed the ideal local issue would be important to people in areas not currently connected to state wide work. We want an issue that will energize the chapter and get members involved in our work. Outreach to chapter members encouraged them to contribute issues they would like to see considered and were invited to participate in discussion of issues and the process for selecting issues at the next chapter meeting.

The May meeting attracted a larger group than the typical monthly meeting. After the standard icebreaker and some discussion of events in the area, pages of white pad were filled with ideas for local action. About a dozen issues were identified. 

Members agreed to take three stickers and vote for their favorite three issues, placing a sticker on the issue’s sheet of paper. As stickers accumulated it became clear some issues were higher on the collective priority list, but it was decided a decisions should not be made based on this vote alone. The group agreed involving as many chapter members as possible in the final decision was important, and Hurle’s suggestion to use a poll to cheaply reach out to more members of the chapter not at the meeting was agreed to be the best approach. 

The poll asked Jefferson County members to rank the issues they wanted to work on from 1 to 7, choosing from coal ash pollution, affordable housing, chemical plant pollution in Rubbertown, money in politics, immigrant’s rights, local resolution in support of the restoration of voting rights of former felons, and brownfield contamination.  To broaden the pool of issues, respondents were able to add issues not listed in the ranking. Other questions asked members what issues would actually mobilize people to participate in strategy teams, and interest in workshop topics. 

The poll attracted responses from 90 members. Survey Monkey default data analysis settings were used to determine the outcomes of the vote. Issues were chosen by averaging the voter’s preference for each issue, with the seven issues receiving an average ranking of between 3.08 and 4.96.  The group agreed to modify the original decision to pick two issues based on the top three results since the leading result, coal ash (3.08 average rating) is a longstanding priority of the chapter, is one that is currently stalled, and is related to the third highest ranking option, chemical plant pollution in Rubbertown (3.51 average rating).  Thus, we decided to combine our efforts around coal ash pollution in southwestern Jefferson County with a project in Rubbertown, forming an Air Quality Work Team. This team started meeting in August and is working with Rubbertown Emergency ACTion to plan a community meeting in Rubbertown in late-October. Affordable housing ranked second (3.39 average rating).  

The three issues identified as top priorities were also the issues with the largest numbers of people ranking the issue one, two, or three. A majority of respondents said they would join a local team focused on economic justice or environmental justice, which was consistent with a majority of respondents ranking coal ash, Rubbertown pollution, and affordable housing in the top three. Respondents also identified healthcare, education, living wage, public transportation, police brutality, gentrification, vacant properties, incarcerations rates, budget cuts to child care, conserving undeveloped land, LGBTQ fairness, fracking waste transport on Ohio River and tree cover in Louisville.

These results were presented to members by email immediately after the poll was completed, and a detailed explanation was given at the June chapter meeting where members were given the outcomes in packets with colorful graphs and all off-the-list alternatives survey takers provided in blanks included on the survey. Work teams for developing strategies have begun work on these issues, with each preparing for their third meetings. 

Mathematically, as Kenneth Arrow proved in 1950, a perfect voting system cannot be designed, and anyone who has ever tried to figure out procedures for a vote with a large group knows there are many ways to approach voting. A system used to coordinate a large group of grassroots participants needs to allow deliberation and full participation. It also needs to be a process that is not overly time consuming to avoid marathon chapter meetings that crush the spirits of busy participants. Outreach was an important consideration, allowing important concerns of people interested in participating to be considered even if they are not at a place in their lives when coming to meetings is possible. The procedure used by Jefferson County chapter likely did not solve the classic voting paradox and create the ideal procedure, but opportunities to discuss results and procedures were available before every decision. Results of the selection process are proving legitimate as members work quickly to turn their preferences into local action. Jefferson County members are invited to join our local efforts and can visit our chapter webpage on for information about upcoming work team and chapter meetings. You can also contact Jefferson County organizer Alicia Hurle for further details at (502) 589-3188 or

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