After 40 years of munic­i­pal lead­er­ship in Winchester, Mayor Ed Burtner said last week he is step­ping aside.

The day before the start of the can­di­date fil­ing peri­od for the 2022 elec­tion, Burtner told the city com­mis­sion he would not be seek­ing a fifth term as mayor.

“It real­ly was a fam­i­ly deci­sion,” Burtner said in an inter­view last Friday at his office.

The 70-year-old may­or said he has spent many nights and week­ends away from his fam­i­ly, and he wants more time with them. He would like to take vaca­tions, not just the usu­al three or four-day week­ends, with his wife Carolyn, sons Bradley and Wesley, and Wes’s wife and four children.

Winchester Mayr Ed Burtner
Ed Burtner has served the city of Winchester since 1981, first as city man­ag­er and then four terms as mayor. 

“It was unfair to the fam­i­ly,” he said. “There’s an enor­mous amount of sacrifice … .”

On paper, being Winchester’s may­or is a part-time job that pays about $12,000 a year. In real­i­ty, he’s at City Hall almost every day, often from ear­ly in the morn­ing until late in the evening, and the job often involves week­ends and holidays.

The may­or doesn’t keep strict hours, but his work is “cer­tain­ly more than 40” and “always has been,” he said.

Statutorily, the mayor’s duties are lim­it­ed. He pre­sides over city com­mis­sion meet­ings and has a vote. He makes board appoint­ments with the city commission’s approval. And he has the author­i­ty to declare a state of emer­gency, some­thing he has had to do too often in recent years because of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and severe flooding.

It’s the city man­ag­er, Mike Flynn, who is Winchester’s CEO and runs the day-to-day oper­a­tions of city government.

“I try not to inter­fere with the job of city man­ag­er,” which he described as “dif­fi­cult.”

“I did that job for 25 years, so I know,” Burtner said.

But may­oral lead­er­ship is about more than the job descrip­tion; it’s about influence.

Flynn said in a text mes­sage that while the gen­er­al pub­lic may view the office of may­or as a “fig­ure­head posi­tion,” that is “def­i­nite­ly not true” in Burtner’s case.

He said he has worked with Burtner dur­ing his time as gen­er­al man­ag­er of Winchester Municipal Utilities and city man­ag­er, and “he has served his com­mu­ni­ty tire­less­ly” dur­ing his four terms, “a true tes­ta­ment of going above and beyond!” he said.

Burtner takes the role of may­or seriously.

“I think it’s impor­tant for the may­or to be avail­able and acces­si­ble,” he said.

He goes to sev­er­al events each week besides the city board meet­ings, and almost every day, he’s in his office at City Hall over­look­ing the cour­t­house square or out­side talk­ing to citizens.

Life of service

In the last decade, the term “career politi­cian” has tak­en on a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion, as though gov­ern­ment were the one pro­fes­sion where expe­ri­ence doesn’t matter.

Burtner’s entire career has been one of pub­lic service.

“I left home when I was 17 to join the Marine Corps,” said the Vietnam vet­er­an and for­mer Virginia farm boy who post­poned col­lege until after his mil­i­tary ser­vice. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in polit­i­cal sci­ence and a master’s in pub­lic ser­vice at the University of Tennessee, where he met his future wife.

After a brief stint in city plan­ning in Knoxville, he came to Kentucky to work for the Big Sandy Area Development Center in Prestonsburg, then moved to Harlan.

“I believe I was the first, last and only city admin­is­tra­tor Harlan’s ever had,” he said.

In 1979, he moved to the Appalachian Regional Commission in Pikeville.

Then in 1981, he came to Winchester to become the city manager.

“My first day on the job was the Monday after the rail­road tore down the depot that Saturday morn­ing,” he said.

It was a job he held for a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry until 2006, when he ran for the first of four terms as mayor.

During his time in office, the city grew and attract­ed new indus­try, retail and restau­rants, became a mod­el for Main Street his­toric preser­va­tion, built a new sewage treat­ment plant, improved its infra­struc­ture and streets.

But when asked about the city’s proud­est accom­plish­ments, Burtner doesn’t men­tion projects. Those, he said, are usu­al­ly col­lab­o­ra­tions involv­ing mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ments — the city, coun­ty, state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments, the school dis­trict — and the pri­vate sector.

Rather, it’s the col­lab­o­ra­tion itself that he’s proud of.

“I think we all have to work togeth­er,” he said. “City and coun­ty gov­ern­ments are always clash­ing, but I’ve worked very hard and done my very best to have a sense of coöper­a­tion among all the var­i­ous units of gov­ern­ment and with the pub­lic and the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty and with the nonprofits.”

If local gov­ern­ment had to pay for all the ser­vices non­prof­its — includ­ing church­es and faith-based agen­cies — pro­vide, it couldn’t afford it, he said.

Giving community

“This is a very giv­ing, gen­er­ous com­mu­ni­ty,” he said, and its suc­cess takes “every­body pulling in the right direction.”

The oth­er thing he’s worked hard on is improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, he said, and being “a cheer­leader for the community.”

“This is my coun­ty, this is my city, and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s a won­der­ful com­mu­ni­ty,” he said.
And while it has been a priv­i­lege to serve Winchester, he thought that four terms were enough.

“I’ve been asked the ques­tion, ‘Are you in favor of term lim­its?’ And I’m not. I think the vot­ers should have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote me in and to vote me out. But I do think that at some point, it’s time to say that you need to step aside and encour­age oth­er peo­ple to step up,” he said.

He was asked if there is any­one he has in mind that he would like to see as his successor.

“There’s nobody in par­tic­u­lar,” he said. “We have good peo­ple in city gov­ern­ment, on the com­mis­sion… and there are good peo­ple in the community.”

At the time this inter­view was pub­lished, only one can­di­date, City Commissioner JoEllen Reed, had filed to run for may­or, but Ralph Harrison, a busi­ness­man who ran against Burtner last time, intends to run again.
Asked whether he was retir­ing from pol­i­tics for­ev­er, Burtner wouldn’t say.

“What I’ve said is that I will not be a can­di­date for may­or in 2022,” he said.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.