Billy Wooten

District/Office: 
Political party: 
Nonpartisan
Question 1: 

What are the major issues facing the City of Berea?

We must do a better job of promoting and incentivizing the corporate sector in Berea to grow and diversify. We need to work on developing a stronger corporate network and repairing rifts between anchor corporations like Lowes, Home Depot, Kroger, and others. We should also examine ways to expand development and interest in our Industrial Complex in Berea as well as make sure the factories that are already there maintain their commitment to Berea. No longer, should a lack of compromise and negotiation ruin Berea’s economic development. We must also continue to work to curb Berea’s drug problem. Heroin and meth use in our city continues to run rampant. As an educator, I believe education is a key step to impacting this growing problem. I commend Police Chief Gregory and his staff on the “Too Good for Drugs” initiative in our local schools and believe we should support more programs that spread awareness of the physical and psychological effects of drug abuse. In addition to concentrating on awareness and prevention, I believe we must also work on fostering an environment of treatment. We can better help those suffering from addiction by destigmatizing drug abuse and recognizing it as what it is: a disease that needs treatment. Our campaign is also focused on curbing Berea’s crime rate and making Berea safer for all by expanding walkways and providing safe biking and walking paths. We also need to continue creating a fairer and more equitable Berea. As contentious as the fairness ordinance debate was for Berea, I firmly believe we need to pass an ordinance that protects all of Berea’s citizens and sends a message to those who want to relocate here that their differences are celebrated and protected. This is not only an issue of equal protection and fairness, but it is also an issue of economic viability. A fair community is a prosperous community.

Question 2: 

What is your position on future growth and development issues as they affect Berea; including further development of historical districts, tourism, and sustainable “buy local” initiatives?

For Berea's economy to continue to thrive and adapt, we must continue to diversify businesses and ensure that we have anchor corporations/organizations that attract tourism, visitors, and workers, and shoppers to help stabilize our smaller businesses. We must continue to revitalize Chestnut Street to make Berea's gateway as appealing as possible so that developers and corporations will want to choose our City. I am a firm supporter in "buying local," but I also recognize that many Bereans want and need other options. We should strive for a healthy balance, and I believe that attracting larger businesses will help our economy while also stabilizing local smaller businesses.

Question 3: 

Are you in favor of the development of pedestrian and bicycle pathways as safe and practical options to motorized transportation in Berea? If so, what projects of this kind would be your priority?

As options, yes. We need to make sure we have safe pedestrian pathways and crosswalks. Chestnut Street is dangerous for all citizens who ride bicycles, and we must work on a plan to make our pathways safe and secure.

Question 4: 

State and federal laws do not exist that ban discrimination against people in areas of housing, employment and public accommodation based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Knowing that, would you be in favor of passing a fairness ordinance in Berea that would address this type of discrimination? Please explain.

Absolutely! I have personally faced discrimination in the area of housing and healthcare in Berea but had little recourse at the time, so I kept quiet. No Berean should have to suffer the psychological effects of being treated like a second-class citizen. I am a firm believer that a fairness ordinance would send a positive message to those looking to relocate that our City welcomes all and supports and celebrates all forms of difference. A fair community is a prosperous community.

Question 5: 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the years of 2010-2014, 19.7% of the residents of Madison County lived below the poverty line. What policies will you support to improve the availability of safe affordable housing and increased economic opportunities for all citizens?

We need to examine the City budget in careful detail. Just from a cursory overview of our line items, I can tell we are not spending our funding, especially the restaurant tax income, in the most efficient and effective way possible. Some of that funding should be reappropriated to programs designed to address our underserved citizens. Bolstering the housing authority seems crucial for a community like Berea.

Question 6: 

What actions or initiatives can the city take to provide help and alternatives to families and people in Berea living with addiction?

We need to work closely with our police administration and others to curb the drug problems in Berea. Heroin and meth use in our city continues to run rampant. As an educator, I believe education is a key step to impacting this growing problem. I commend Berea Police Chief Gregory and his staff on the “Too Good for Drugs” initiative in our local schools and believe we should support more programs that spread awareness of the physical and psychological effects of drug abuse, which can be accomplished by working with the Madison County Safety Coalition and the various community partners under that umbrella to implement workshops and seminars not only in our schools, but we need to reach out to adults as well, perhaps in our factories and local civic groups. I believe we also need to implement a city-wide advertising campaign that addresses the specifics of our community; I envision partnerships with Berea College’s media programs and our local high schools to create materials that the city could then use as part of our Berea-unique campaign. Doing so is a great way to bridge divides and bring our young citizens to the table. In addition to concentrating on awareness and prevention, I believe we must also work on fostering an environment of treatment. Working with local faith leaders and health care professionals in both the private and nonprofit sectors, I believe we can better help those suffering from addiction by destigmatizing drug abuse and recognizing it as what it is: a disease that needs treatment, instead of a series of bad choices that deserve judgement. There are state and federal programs Berea can tap to help with treatment, and I look forward to working with my city council colleagues to discuss these, if I am blessed enough to be elected in November.

Question 7: 

What measures do you support to foster good relations between law enforcement officers and our local community?

Again, Chief Gregory and Berea’s police department should be commended on the good work they do each and every day, but they need our continued support. I for one would like to participate in a ride-along with our police to witness firsthand their day-to-day responsibilities and learn more about who they are as our protectors. I was amazed and a bit disheartened to hear that only one current city council person has ever participated in a police ride-along. 

In terms of policy, to address the perceived increase in crime in some of Berea’s neighborhoods, I think we should look at this problem at the micro level by aiding in the organization and training of neighborhood watch groups, like the one recently formed on East Haiti. Berea is filled with subdivisions and other types of organized neighborhoods that are perfectly suited for the creation of safety zones with watch groups that are trained to identify and report suspicious activity.  I also envision these neighborhood watch groups as trained green dot spaces and safe zones for the reporting of not only drug use, theft and other traditional crimes, but also the reporting of sexual assault and racist and homophobic incidents. I see Berea as a proactive community focused on reporting and prevention. We need our neighborhood associations to be in constant communication and conversation with City Hall. When we are addressing issues of jobs, development, or safety, we need the input of the people impacted most. I would like to see these neighborhood groups connected with each other via various means: social media, a dedicated website where issues and city follow-ups are posted, as well as a dedicated phone line to City Hall and perhaps the police department. Using this community-centric approach of establishing neighborhood watch groups will further build ties between neighborhoods and people, leading to a safer more connected Berea. Following my recent conversation with Chief Gregory, I would wholeheartedly support an increase in the Volunteers in Police Services program (VIP), an initiative that trains eligible individuals (retirees, college students, etc.) interested in becoming non-sworn police support staff. The current partnership with EKU’s criminal justice program interns is effective, so I think the city council should support building more partnerships with Berea College students and local civic organizations with individuals who would like to participate in the VIP program. This support staff could be invaluable in helping the police with traffic control, festival staffing, parade staffing, etc. Lastly, as the College community is one of the largest constituencies in Berea, I believe our local police should be allowed to take part in campus orientation events, especially first year student orientation, a presence Chief Gregory supports as well. Having a booth setup at these types of events to inform students that we have a vibrant, caring, and effective police force at the ready, if they are needed, is vital. The police force in Berea is also part of our campus community and should have a presence and be known to the students.

Question 8: 

Last year there was a great deal of controversy around the selling of confederate flag merchandise at the Spoonbread Festival, and Berea students reported being harassed on the basis of race while in town. Given that, what measures do you support to address racial harassment in Berea?

We need to foster an environment of zero tolerance for all hate speech and harassment. Berea's Human Rights Commission is a great start, but it alone cannot solve the problem.I am amazed at how many people 1.) Do not know Berea has an HRC, 2.) Do not know how to contact its members, 3.) Do not know what constitutes an HRC violation, or 4.) Do not know the process of reporting HRC violations or hate crimes. We must support the HRC and institute an awareness campaign throughout the city that informs citizens on how to be proactive. Again, we can and should work with our talented college and high school students to design a campaign while also promoting awareness in our schools. I also see a direct tie-in with this type of reporting and prevention to the neighborhood watch groups I mentioned earlier.

Question 9: 

Berea is in the midst of making long-term decisions about where and how it gets and manages its wholesale electric power. Beyond safety, reliability and affordability, what considerations should be made with respect to Berea's electric power choices?

It is a shame the contract negotiations and signing have taken as long as they have and that transmission discussions have become so contentious. I hope the City Council and administration can communicate more effectively to ensure Bereans get the best possible price locked in and reach a consensus on which company will be best for transmission purposes.