By Lily Barnette and Ülvi Gitaliyev
The Berea Torch invited all candidates for City Council to an interview and got a positive response from five out of the 11 candidates running for office this year. We asked them about their plans for the town and motivations for running for public office. Some of the candidates also spoke at a forum hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) at Berea College, which The Berea Torch transcribed parts of and which the Richmond Register covered in more detail.
Steve Caudill has been serving in the Berea City Council for eight years and works as a Chief Auxiliary Services Officer in Eastern Kentucky University.
Caudill’s goal is to make Berea a growing community that people want to stay in: “I want to make sure that Berea grows so that you all, as college students, want to stay here and that my kids want to stay here. I’ve always said that my goal is so that my daughters don’t have to leave Berea if they don’t want to.”
Caudill also spoke about his accomplishments throughout his prior terms. “Our greatest accomplishment every year is that we have one of the best budgets of any town our size in the state. I would say the best one. Our finances are impeccable. The change that we made last term was that we implemented hazard duty retirement for our first responders. That was a huge change. We never had it.”
If elected again, Caudill promised to improving Berea’s mountain bike and outdoor recreation paths. He also wants to open a grocery store in Berea, though he admitted “that’s the number one thing everybody says every two years” but “we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
Lastly, Caudill gave this message to any college students planning on voting this semester. “I think one of the most common things that young people specifically take for granted is that they think you can’t contact a candidate; you can’t reach out and get to know somebody… if you call my phone, which is listed on the city’s website, or if you text me, I’m always happy to talk.”
Steve Caudill will be first on the ballot for Berea City Council.
Teresa Louise Wren
Teresa Wren is running for City Council for the first time and she is a school bus driver for Madison County Schools.
Wren’s main concern is to create a community center for all members of the community and passing a fairness ordinance in Berea. “In 2013 or 14, we tried, and of course it did not pass. So, as an openly gay person, I need to run so we can try to pass this because we need fairness for all.”
They also spoke about the disparity between Berea and Richmond. “In Madison County, we are outsiders, so to speak. Like Richmond gets all the cool stuff and Berea’s little schools are left to fend for themselves.” Wren hopes that with a community center and closer cooperation with the town and college, Berea can became an equal member of the Madison County community.
Wren’s final message for voters was: “Get out and vote. Every vote counts. Women fought and died for our right to vote.”
Teresa Louise Wren will be sixth on the ballot for Berea City Council.
John Payne has been on the Berea City Council since 2016 and works as a Support Services Manager in Madison County Public Library, Berea Branch.
John Payne spoke about how important it is to improve the quality of life for Bereans. “Everything that a city councilman or a public official does should work towards improving the quality of life of our community, whether that’s making sure that we get our roads repaved in time, or whether we are able to add shared-use paths to open up a park, improve police services, encourage new businesses etc.”
One of Payne’s priorities during his last term was to make Berea more walkable and welcoming. “We have made some really nice strides in our public parks. We’ve added additional miles of shared use paths. We’ve added the Boon Trace Trail. We’ve added a dog park. We’ve added a bike park.” Payne further added that he wants to build upon these achievements if elected again and hopes that the projects will increase tourism, which will in turn increase sales for local businesses.
Payne’s final message to Berea College voters was: “Whether you’re here for a semester, whether you’re here for four years, whether you are like so many Berea College students who, over the decades I’ve lived here, have become permanent residents here, as long you’re part of that college, you are a Berea citizen. You’re part of the community and deserve everything as a community member… never feel like you’re an outsider.”
John Payne will be tenth on the ballot for Berea City Council
Ballot Position: 7
Katie Startzman has been part of the Berea City Council since 2020 and is the owner of Native Bagel Co. and Nightjar.
Startzman came to Berea first as a college student from Pennsylvania and spoke about their experience running a business in the town after graduating.
“I love this community deeply and I think business is a great way to make your community the kind of community you want to live in. If you have a business with values, you can affect change on a larger scale than just as a human. I think running for council is just a continuation of that philosophy. I’m not interested in any larger, bigger political offices. I just really love focusing on our community and I think having representation on council of someone who’s raising kids in town, someone who’s a small business owner, someone who’s a transplant, I think all of those things bring some new perspectives that that hadn’t been existing on council in a large way.”
Startzman also commented on the recent Pride Parade in Berea and who could use public parks in the city. “I think that as a city, it’s not our job to censor who can use our parks. The parks are our public place. For example, there have been revivals happening in the park on Chestnut Street, and they were quite loud and I was aware of them as a business owner, but I was not complaining. I was interested. I never had noticed there were these church revivals in our park. It’s just part of the public and the public can use the park space and it’s our job to facilitate that. So, I personally feel like, as far as city services, Pride Events happening in our city parks are just like any other public event, and it’s the city’s job to support and encourage that as long as you’re following the the guidelines that are in place.”
Startzman’s message for college students was: “I deeply remember what it’s like to be a college student. I appreciate — I am so grateful for Berea College. It’s not a perfect institution, but I’m really grateful for my experience.”
Katie Startzman will seventh on the ballot for Berea City Council
Rebecca McClure Isaacs
Rebecca McClure Isaacs is running for the Berea City Council for the first time. She is a retired teacher from the Berea Community Schools.
Isaacs spoke about how involved her parents were with local politics and how their passing motivated her to run. “My father was a Berea College professor and he was very active in politics. He was on the Berea School Board and he was always involved with the Lion’s Club and things like that and my mother was too. I lost my father during COVID-19, and my mother just passed about six months ago, but they had pushed me to do something… I feel that need to make a difference.”
Isaacs also talked about how their years-long experience as a teacher would help them in serve in the council. “One thing I learned to do as a teacher was to talk to all kinds of different people and to listen and to learn the subtle cues that people will give you about their opinions. I have learned how important it is to give everybody a voice.” They also lamented on how many people do not use their voice by not voting in elections.
If elected, Isaacs hopes to increase cooperation between Berea the town and Berea College and bring the two communities together again. “Bridging the town community and college would actually help negate negative stereotypes so we see each other as individual people and not just an ‘us vs them’ mentality.”
Isaacs had this message for college students voting this semester: “I’d like to tell the college students to make sure you get out and vote, because we have seen in past elections what people not voting can do. That is the most important thing because everybody has a voice. You’re not going to have the mixture you need on that city council if you do not vote. You need people from all walks of life. You need people that think divergent. The main thing is to get out and vote. I would like to see the college and the community working together.”
Rebecca McClure Isaacs will be third on the ballot for Berea City Council.