Winchester city commissioner Ramsey Flynn will leave his post on Dec. 31 to relocate his family to another part of the state, leaving a vacancy on the commission. The city commission must appoint a new member to fill the vacant seat within 30 days of the vacancy. If they don’t do that, the governor would make the appointment.
I’ve been told that Flynn has suggested his seat be taken by a person of color from the community, preferably someone of a younger generation than he and other current commission members.
I applaud that sentiment and wholeheartedly add my voice to that call.
The city commission consists of five members, each elected at large, meaning they all represent the entire city, not just a district. Among other things, this means that parts of town that contain higher numbers of minorities don’t get a chance to leverage that into seats on the council.
Of the nearly 19,000 residents of Winchester, about 11% identify as other than white. That’s a significant minority, one that is currently not reflected in the makeup of city hall. I believe it is crucially important for any governing body to include as much diversity as possible to better reflect the makeup of the governed body.
WCN&V’s research turned up some interesting history regarding diversity on the city commission. We seem to be doing fine as far as gender representation, as the current commission includes two women.
Henry E. Baker was the first Black city commissioner; he served from 1980 to 1984.
Carrie P. Hudson was a city commissioner from 1983 to 1993. She also served as mayor pro tem, a position she attained by earning the most votes of all victorious candidates in her last election to the commission.
As far as we have been able to confirm, those are the only Black commissioners Winchester has ever elected. At least two other Black commissioners were appointed but never won an election: Margaret Seals, who served in 1995–96, and William Baker in 2008.
Based on the diversity we are blessed to have in the general population of Winchester, it’s shameful that we haven’t had more diversity in city government.
A friend recently said to me, “you really can’t expect people to be what they can’t see.” I look at local institutions, and I can easily picture myself on any board or governing authority in town. That’s not necessarily true for people in marginalized communities. I think that’s what my friend meant.
Perhaps it’s an issue of a lack of trust in institutions that have been run by whites for generations. If so, that is perfectly understandable to me. Nevertheless, increasing the diversity of lived experiences and points of view in government benefits not only minorities but makes us all better. That’s why I don’t see this as a “Black problem” — it’s our shared problem.
There are glimmers of hope.
William Baker currently serves on the Winchester Municipal Utilities Commission. Margaret Seals is on the Urban Renewal & Community Development Board and was instrumental in getting the Lincoln Street project moving forward. And Clark County Circuit Court Clerk Martha Miller is the first Black person in Kentucky to hold that office.
By appointing a person of color to fill Flynn’s vacant seat, the commission can make a powerful statement that they value diversity and welcome more of it in government. This could jump-start a movement to get more minority people involved at the city and county levels.
And help even more folks to see themselves in those public positions, thereby increasing the potential pool of candidates.
Our community will be stronger for the effort.
Information about the history of Black city commissioners was obtained from newspaper archives and official city records.
Population and demographic data were obtained from https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/winchester-ky-population.