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. 


Sources

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.

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.