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A group called Kentucky Family Values started running radio ads last week criticizing Bill Pickerill, the Republican candidate for state representative.
KFV claims that, as a city councilman, Pickerill approved a "300 percent" pay raise for himself, but denied pay increases for local police officers. As a result, officers left Lebanon for other communities and made the city unsafe.
"It's not even a half-truth," Pickerill said in a phone interview.
Before we go any further, this column is not intended to endorse either candidate. Only to point out some serious misrepresentations in the KFV ad.
Pickerill, for his part, thinks voters will see through it.
"The people of Lebanon know me and they know that I do what's best for the people," he said.
Nevertheless, I reviewed Pickerill's time on the city council, focusing on the budgets that were approved during his 10 years in that office. In that time, he voted in favor of nine of the 10 budgets, and all of the budgets included pay increases for city employees, including police officers.
One year, Pickerill suggested a 4 percent pay increase rather than the proposed 5 percent pay increase. When no one agreed with him, Pickerill still voted in favor of the budget, including the 5 percent pay raise.
The year he voted against the budget, then-Councilman Dennis George also stated he would vote against the budget because he felt the proposal included more spending than revenue.
The proposed budget that year also included a 4.5 percent pay increase, and George suggested a 4.1 percent pay increase for city employees (again, including police officers). Pickerill agreed with George and noted that cuts were needed in other areas of the budget as well.
In other words, even though Pickerill opposed the overall budget (over issues that went beyond salaries), he was still in favor of a pay increase for city employees. He just preferred a slightly smaller pay increase than other city officials. Pickerill and George were outvoted that year 4-2, so the 4.5 percent pay raise was still implemented.
Turning to another claim in the ad, has Lebanon lost police officers because other cities pay higher wage? Yes, but that was an issue before Pickerill took office, while Pickerill was in office and after Pickerill left the city council.
The records show that Pickerill supported pay raises every year, just like the rest of the council members. If other cities still pay more, it's because they raised their salaries, too.
The final claim is the only one that has any basis in reality, but it leaves out some important information. In March of 2006, Mayor Gary Crenshaw informed the city council that the city had not increased pay for its elected officials in 20 years. That means city council members in 2006 were paid the same as city council members in 1986.
Crenshaw proposed increasing the mayor's pay from $750 per month to $850 per month and increasing the city council members' pay from $100 per month to $300 per month. The city council, including Pickerill, unanimously approved that proposal. Also that pay increase did not take effect until January of 2007, which meant the increase would only benefit the council members if they were re-elected in November of 2006. As it turns out, Pickerill was re-elected, as were other council members.
I'd also like to add that Pickerill isn't the only victim of the KFV ads. It's clear that KFV want incumbent State Rep. Terry Mills to win re-election, but by going negative, KFV is making voters think Mills is going negative, too.
Pickerill thinks Mills could stop the ads if he wanted to. I can understand why Pickerill feels that way, but it may not be that simple. Mills said at last week's Marion County Democratic Party dinner that he does not like the ads and that he has contacted higher ranking members of his party about stopping them. He was told there was nothing they could do.
As it turns out, the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance has issued two opinions this year about KFV.
In July, KFV sent a letter to the KREF requesting an opinion on whether the KFV could solicit and accept contributions from caucus committees and from executive committees of political parties.
In that case, the KREF determined that KFV can receive contributions from those committees, but - and this seems like a big but - KFV makes sure any contributions are "truly independent" of candidates who are members of the caucus or executive committee.
The Kentucky Democratic Party, KFV and the House Democratic Caucus jointly made a second request on Sept. 14 to ask if they could share information. To quote the KREF opinion issued Oct. 12, "The short answer is no." (The KREF put the emphasis on the "no".)
Who is the KFV? I don't know for sure, but they do support Kentucky Democrats, and they have received contributions from labor organizations, lawyers and a few other businesses and individuals. The most important thing I've learned is that the KREF considers the KFV to be an "unauthorized campaign committee."
In my mind "unauthorized" is probably the key word there.
Since his first election in February of 2010, Mills has said repeatedly that he would not run a negative campaign. And I haven't seen or heard anything negative from Mills in any of his prior campaigns.
That's also why the KFV ad actually hurts Mills. Even if he wasn't involved, many people will believe he was. That will make them question why, and that's not a good thing for him.
Now, we are fortunate enough in Marion County to know both Pickerill and Mills as officials and as people. We have more than enough information to make an informed decision about who we want to represent us in Frankfort.
We shouldn't let misleading ads influence our decisions.