Keck

Alan Keck, Mayor of the City of Somerset, speaks at Tuesday's May Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The easy thing to do in a mayor's "State of the City" address would be to tout one's record, list off accomplishments and goals, and say generally positive things about the road ahead.

And for most of Alan Keck's speech at the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce May Membership Luncheon, that's what he did. It was only at the end that he decided to lean into the hot-button issue of the day: a leaked report that the U.S. Supreme Court was looking to overturn the "Roe v. Wade" decision, which would effectively give the ultimate decision-making ability about abortion availability back to individual states.

The story has dominated headlines since Monday night, with strong reactions on both sides. And after spending about 10 minutes talking solely about the state of the City of Somerset, Keck said he would be "remiss" not to touch on the subject.

Keck said that he supports the potential decision "with conviction" and acknowledged that what could become a state issue would also end up being a community issue. He said he wants Somerset and Pulaski to lead "with humanity, with love and kindness for every human being, born and unborn." He said that Kentucky "can and should lead the way in pro-life policies, but we also want to lead the way in ... access to resources for mothers and children."

The pro-life position "comes with great responsibility and duty," said Keck. "We need policies to extend far beyond birth, including ... education and programs to support mothers of all kinds." He added, "We now have the biggest opportunity to have the greatest impact on on human life right here in Somerset."

The rest of Keck's "State of the City" address was more what one would expect. Keck is approaching the end of his first term as Somerset's mayor, and will be challenged in this month's Primary election by his predecessor, Eddie Girdler, and a new challenger, Alex Pence. In that time, as Keck noted, he's seen the realization of a number of goals coming in: downtown festivals. The restoration of the Virginia Theater, which will start hosting live events again in June. Opening a farmers market in downtown Somerset, inside the multi-functional Citizens National Bank Pavilion. Putting Kentucky in position to be part of Kentucky's "Bourbon Trail" by bringing Horse Soldier Bourbon's distillery to town.

"Downtown is thriving, there's no doubt about it," said Keck. "Over a dozen new businesses, many of them — as the father of three girls, I'm proud to say — female-owned and operated. We're creating an environment where everybody feels that their investment can thrive and produce fruit. (We've) experienced record tax revenue without raising tax rates, all in the middle of a pandemic. 

"People said, 'Downtown Somerset is dead.' We said, 'Hold our beer,'" quipped Keck, a wink toward the way in which the 2012 "wet"/"dry" vote and the businesses made possible as a result have helped change the downtown landscape.

Keck expressed gratitude toward the Somerset City Council for seeing the town's potential and buying into Keck's vision for the community. He also credited his team in city government, and noted a culture shift once he arrived in office, and said that while national talk was of defunding police departments, Somerset "invested in (Somerset Police) in historic ways and reinforced our commitment to our people and to public safety" — as well as to the people working in city offices.

"(Employees) said, 'Mayor, we need more resources, we need more trust to do our jobs,' and I said plainly, 'Absolutely,'" said Keck. "We changed the culture at city hall on day one from a mindset of repression and fear of retaliation to one of openness and respect."

Part of revitalizing downtown wasn't just about new businesses — and taking care of those businesses that already exist, added Keck — but also the beautification projects, such as five new murals and park improvements, including all-inclusive playground equipment and making Rocky Hollow Park safer and more manageable. 

"People said we need more jobs, we need jobs that can afford career opportunities," said Keck. "So we said, (Judge-Executive Steve Kelley) and I, we're going to take a fresh approach to economic development, one that's focused on not just smokestacks and businesses but quality of life and quality of place. What the city and the county and the county have created together has been historic."

That includes working with economic development organization SPEDA to place this area in national discussions, not just regional ones.

"Hundreds if not thousand of jobs have been created during our administration," said Keck. "... I'm proud to say, people are absolutely not just looking at Pulaski County and Somerset, but they're choosing Pulaski County and Somerset."

Keck said that while he's proud of these accomplishments, there's more work to do, including finding housing solutions for different types of people, building sports tourism opportunities and keeping spent dollars and bright young minds at home, and upgrading infrastructure like water quality and roadways. 

"You all put your faith in me. You put your trust in me to lead as your mayor, and honestly it's been the honor and the privilege of my lifetime to do so," said Keck. "I did come into office with a bold vision, one that I thought could transform this community, and we started working day one to make that vision a reality."

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