EXIT INTERVIEW: Wolfe Would Not Have Done Anything Differently

Updated 5 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
EXIT INTERVIEW: Wolfe Would Not Have Done Anything Differently
As the election results were counted back in November, at large councilman, Steve Williams, took an immediate lead over incumbent Mayor Kim Wolfe. The evening continued and the lead increased. William would eventually defeat Wolfe by about 3,000 votes.

Since the election, Mayor Wolfe has taken a low profile. He and his administration cooperated honorably with the transition team. But Wolfe himself has not spoken to the media about the election loss…. Until now.

Speaking to HNN on his last day in office, Wolfe related a piece of history that came “the day after” from Mike Perry, owner of Heritage Farm:  Despite overcoming the German threat during World War II, Winston Churchill did not win re-election. Perry told the Mayor, “You’re in pretty good company."

Leaving the Mayoral post,  Wolfe has a watchdog concern --- Will the Williams administration keep their election promise not to raise taxes?  Based on an assessment of the city’s financial condition, Wolfe predicts the promise cannot be kept. “They will have to cut services or raise revenue,” Wolfe stressed.

Further, he believes that the new administration will largely capitalize on foundations laid during the last four years. In other words, how quickly the electorate forgot predictions for the city’s status upon Wolfe taking office --- receivership due to the pension dilemmas.

He advised , “the people made their choice, but when it gets down the road” look for consistency of action. “I would not have changed anything, if it had to do with the outcome. In my opinion, the city is much better having not filed bankruptcy (regarding employee pensions), we got many of the (deteriorated / burnt out) houses torn down, we have a paving schedule , Kinetic Park (is expanding), and crime is down almost 40%.”

For Huntington “good things are coming no matter who the Mayor is.” The Northcott project, the wi-fi internet and  Marshall University coming downtown are three examples.

On the other hand, the mandated floodwall inspection, storm water project, and issues with drainage and slips represent challenges

“I don’t know how they are going to do it with the (partial) budget. There’s not enough money to get through the year (referring to the Fire Department).   I think they politically did (a partial budget)   to say they do not need to raise fees… I don’t want (council) to come back and say ‘we did not realize’  They did,” Wolfe said. He still believes   “the controversial occupation tax was the most fair way to go, even though that’s probably one of the reasons I lost. It will be interesting to see where they find revenue ...”

Despite the flair from citizenry ---   many speaking at the occupation tax hearings lived outside Huntington ---  over the unpopular proposal, the former Mayor stands by his decision.

EXIT INTERVIEW: Wolfe Would Not Have Done Anything Differently

“I would not have changed anything, if it had to do with the outcome. In my opinion, the city is much better having not filed bankruptcy (regarding employee pensions), we got many of the (deteriorated / burnt out) houses torn down, we have a paving schedule , Kinetic Park (is expanding), and crime is down almost 40%...I’m handing him a much better plate than I had.”

Wolfe asked that the new administration be held accountable. “There are no surprises, [Mayor Williams] can’t come up with anything and say I did not realize it, ” giving  him “credit where credit is due” for  significant contributions on council during Wolfe’s term.

Speaking of  the proposed storm water fee, Wolfe said, “ they are going to have to do it. The Sanitation will have to be raised too.” He also cautioned that “you have ten policemen on grants and there’s   no money [from grants for next year].”

[Editor’s Note: Grant terms for new hires in law enforcement and/or fire often provide  federal funds for several years, after which, the city is supposed to pay their salaries and benefits.]

“For my tenure , I think history will bear that I did a good job.  If he can do more with less, God Bless, otherwise, they will have to cut services.

Although Wolfe admits his future is uncertain right now, he  intends to stay in Cabell County and does not rule out future political involvement, such as tossing his hat into the county commission race pending incumbent decisions.

Missing the final council meeting as ‘mayor’ had to do with ‘family tradition.’

“It was more important to be home with the kids than at council,” he said.

ON OTHER ISSUES:

HNN: When Dale Anderson ran closer to you in primary than anticipated was not that a signal to the unpopularity of the occupation tax among residents?

WOLFE:  The only tax I raised was the user fee. [Editor’s Note: The occupation tax did not take effect; it has been tied up in court . The 1% city sales tax came as part of a tax reform package credited to city council, not the Wolfe Administration] What I inherited was a pretty big mess. The user fees did not go into infrastructure , paving or pay raises. [On the Fire Department], Council completed the (McGrath ) study, which I think was a good idea. It said you have to revamp and that’s what they are doing. I’ll be interested to see what  [Mayor Williams]  does with these contracts. There’s not enough money the way they were spending to get through the year. ‘

The former mayor particularly referred to Fire Department OT. Although new firefighters have been hired, he predicted that the Unscheduled Over Time will again become a problem. Initially, he tried to eliminate an alleged “pattern” of  abusive uses of sick time/ time off , but “ they were not” determined inappropriate. “If he  does a better job than me, wait and see.  I wish him well.”

HNN: The unions endorsed your opponent for either not negotiating a contract or apparently not a good enough contract.

WOLFE:  The police wanted a pay raise. There’s not enough money… what they don’t get is we saved their pensions. Mayor’s get credit for a lot of things and get blamed for a lot of things. I got blamed for the pension stuff. It’s just a matter of how the wave comes in.

 

HNN: You feel the voters did not pick up on the administration’s accomplishments?  They listened too much to complaints from the police and firefighters?

WOLFE: We made strides… but a lot of people did not pick up on it. The hard part is getting them implemented. We did not have a public information person. As of [December 31], the secretary is gone.  [Council] cut it out of my budget. Council controls the purse strings. I’m not complaining 

HNN: To be honest, I think the decision came down to “can we do more faster.”

WOLFE:  If he  can with less, God Bless him.

HNN: What was the highlight of your term?

WOLFE: Without a question, saving the city from bankruptcy.  We had two choices: receivership or bankruptcy.  The other thing was getting crime down 40%. That’s huge.

HNN: What’s next?

WOLFE:  I’ll be teaching a class and [probably] do some consulting [or security].

HNN: Any political plans?

WOLFE:  “I’m not closing the door.”

One of the options goes back to the courthouse. “Bob Bailey has approached me about running for County Commission,” Wolfe said, suggesting one or more incumbents  may not run for reelection. The commission would appear well suited since he served two terms as Sheriff (treasurer of the country) and one term as Mayor of Huntington.

HNN: Council meetings ran more smoothly.

Wolfe agreed.  After a period of unprofessional name calling, the administration (by Skip Holbrook) offered a cool idea that worked: Take a recess. “It took the edge off,” Wolfe said.

Although acknowledging that the council committee system has worked favorably, Wolfe viewed the mayor/council relationship during his  term as one where council intervened to make “policy” decisions, stressing “the mayor not council” should be in charge.

EXIT INTERVIEW: Wolfe Would Not Have Done Anything Differently

On the other hand, council had often argued that the Wolfe administration submitted a proposal, then, waited for council to make adjustments.

One of those items concerned the occupation tax which council turned into a tax reform package. “Most of the time the right decision might not be a political one. I tried to make the right decision,” Wolfe said, noting, for instance,  that his administration did not receive credit for lowering the B & O fees on manufacturing.  

Williams, according to Wolfe, will embody the “strong mayor” concept, though, since he emerged from a council that has already stood together on his ideas.

 

 


 

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