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Bellevue Mayor's Race: Where the Candidates Stand

Candidates for Bellevue Mayor, City Council, and School Board convened Tuesday night for a public forum to address questions posed by community members and discuss Bellevue's continuing development, traffic and transit, and the candidates' overall visions for the city's future.
 
See the recap of the city council candidates' responses by clicking here.
 
When it comes to Bellevue's mayoral candidates, there is no lack of governing experience. The incumbent, Ed Riehl, has served as mayor for the past four years, after serving on city council for seventeen years before that. Riehl's challenger, Carol Rich, is also a current city councilwoman, holding the seat for the past four years. Both candidates have lived in Bellevue for decades (Riehl for his whole life), and both graduated from Bellevue High School. 
 
The similarities begin to diminish, though, when each candidate speaks about their priorities, and what they view as the primary role of the mayor's office. 
 
Of the dozen or so questions posed to candidates Tuesday night, only three were directed at the mayoral candidates. Those questions are included here first. RCN then acquired comments from both candidates on some of the other issues posed to the city council candidates, as well:
 
How will you prioritize community needs, like infrastructure updates, police, fire, and administration, while investing in financially sustainable future?
 
Ed Riehl: It's always a challenge at budget time to address all those issues. The basic services that we have to put out there every day -- police, fire, public works -- there's always a challenge to meet those needs. But those are the basic services, so once you get through them, and see what's left after you provide those basic services, you always try to address the next pressing needs.
 
Aging infrastructure is always a challenge, and we try to work closely with SD1 every time we have a storm issue or a sanitary issue. We'll work with the Water District also. Covert Run is a great product of that partnership. We worked very closely with public services and SD1 and the Water District to make that project come to fruition, and it's working.
 
But it's always a challenge to meet the needs of aging infrastructure.
 
Carol Rich: Service is about the budget. It's always about money. So you have to relate what services can be provided with this pot of money. And we work a lot on the budget. I do hold people accountable. If you say you're going to do something, do it, and, if you can't do it, say why we can't do it. And I do ask a lot of questions about budgets and how we can do more with less. 
 
Did you know that people in Bellevue who are over 60 years old pay more income tax than anybody else? That's because they're at the highest level of their income, so when we have older adults in this community, they're bringing in more money to the community. And that helps us provide more services.
 
As mayor, what do you think the most important priority is and how do you see accomplishing it?
 
ER: I think it's providing a safe environment, a safe community, by being able to put the quality police force out there every day, quality fire service, making sure that life squad is showing up every day, making sure that you feel safe walking down the streets, and we need to do that in the best way that we can given the budget that we have to work with. Those are very important things. But I think that public safety is a priority. Those are always things at budget time that we're looking at, making sure that we're spending it wisely and making sure that the men and women that are out there protecting us every day -- our police and fire -- are getting the tools that they need to do the job, and make us feel safe every day. I think we do a pretty good job at that, but it's always a challenge. And there's always room for improvement. 
 
CR: I think communication with the citizens is so important. I pledge to provide our citizens, our city, our website, our calendar needs to be continually updated. It's not happening. So communication is really important to me, and I respect all the citizens. If they ask me a question, I'll answer it. I keep a log book at home, and when people call me, I write in my log book. I call them. I say what I'm going to do, and then I get back with people. To me, that's important. 
 
People, when they start to understand how government works, they are less rigid about how they think it should be. This is really how it works.
 
What is your position on the Ackerman Development, both from a community vision standpoint, as well as financial, and why?
 
ER: It's an ongoing process, still in discussion with the developer. He put forth a change to the development agreement that did not go well for him. It was not very well accepted by the community. So we're having that ongoing dialogue to try to come up with a suitable development for the rest of the Harbor Greene development.
 
It's a bit of a financial problem because the developer has refused to meet his financial obligations, and the city is having to do that right now. He has been put on final notice to square up, and unfortunately it could be headed to litigation, which is going to be expensive, also. But hopefully we can avoid that.
 
CR: The Ackerman Building actually brings in well over $200,000 in tax revenue to the city. We have to keep it here. We want to keep the condos here. People want to own homes. And I think that's really important. It's going to help our budget, and a lot of those people are retiring now. So they can be a part of volunteering in this community, and I encourage them to do that, to be volunteers now and to get more integrated in our community, so we can know who they are. I think it's a good thing, and we need to keep it here. 
 
As far as the financial issues, it's in litigation, and I don't want to go into any of that, but it's a good thing. More money for us. More money, more services.
 
Note: When asked as a follow up question whether they supported apartments on Bellevue's riverfront, there was considerable division among candidates for City Council.
 
What can be done to continue the success that Bellevue has seen on Fairfield Avenue?
 
ER: We have to re-imagine and re-envision what we want Fairfield to be. It's a great place, but you don't want it to get old or stagnant. And, now they're talking about doing a re-branding for Fairfield, because it's been a few years since we've done that. We want to make sure it stays fresh 
 
CR: We need to get people in to shop the shops on Fairfield. That's the key. That could involve bringing the Southbank Shuttle farther into Bellevue. But we need to continue to get people down to Fairfield and shop.
 
What would you like to see done with the Marianne Theater, and how would the city make sure that happens?
 
ER: We've had an engineering firm go through (Marianne Theater) and try to see how much money it will take to get it to what we'd call a "white box," something a developer could come through and envision what it could become. I think the whole venue is set up for some sort of entertainment. People that we've talked to so far that own that type of property say the multipurpose type of facilities are having success. We want something that could be open all the time, not just certain days or nights of the week, so that the economic impact is something that's going on all the time. And it would bring that livelihood to Fairfield Avenue all the time.
 
CR: We need to be sure that the city doesn't sit too long on (the Marianne Theater). The city should sell it (to a developer) as soon as possible. Probably a multipurpose-type of venue that could host a variety of types of events would be best. But we don't need to sit on it.
 
Should Fairfield Avenue have parking meters? Why or why not?
 
ER: I don't think the meters are going to come. It's very costly to put them in. A less cost-effective way to get people to park could be to stripe the street, but when you do that sometimes you find that you actually lose parking spaces in the long run, because of how far they have to be set back from intersections. That's more of an option than the meters. And we need better enforcement of the two-hour limit. We don't do that very well, and if there's a way we could get the community involved and help us enforce that better, that would be good.
 
CR: People don't want meters on Fairfield, so I don't think that's going to happen. The two-hour parking limit seems to be working.
 
With the development happening at Dayton's Manhattan Harbor, are you concerned about increased traffic on Route 8. What are your plans to address it?
 
ER: I think that it's going to be a long-term development. I don't think we'll wake up one day with hundreds of homes and hundreds of apartments. It's going to be a phased in development, so it's going to be one of those things that we'll have to play by ear and see how it'll effect things. 
 
If everyone in Manhattan Harbor drives a vehicle, it's going to be an issue. But if the trend is to where what people talked about tonight, walkability, bikeability -- bike share is going to be huge, and it's going to come to Northern Kentucky. If we can create those kinds of non-vehicular traffic, and I think that's the trend, maybe that traffic impact will be lessened. We need to promote that kind of non-vehicular and mass transit.
 
CR: When Daytonians move in (to Manhattan Harbor), they're going to shop here, and that's good for Bellevue. As far as traffic goes, there's no good answer. But you can't stop a city from building on the river. We'll deal with it.
 
What type of development will you pursue for the area around Donnermeyer, and how would you make that happen?
 
ER: That's our target for real development area for the form based code. That's the long-term vision because it is a rougher area as far as walkability is concerned. Short-term there are things we can do to improve the street-scape and make it more safety- and pedestrian-friendly. But the long-term goal is to use the form based code to make it a more walkable type situation. 
 
CR: If I'm dreaming -- and I mean dreaming big -- I'd want to make everything wider. Wider sidewalks with trees, plants, flowers. I'd like the businesses to be closer to the sidewalks. The thing about that area is that it was never planned. Maybe there's a way to bring the Southbank Shuttle route over that way, to get people down there. Why is that a dream right now? Because it will take money, and a lot of it. We need to continue lobbying Frankfort for help, like I did when I lobbied for money for road improvements in Bellevue.
 
Tuesday night's forum was hosted by the Bellevue Neighborhood Association.
 
Written by Pat LaFleur, RCN contributor