Mayor reflects on first year at the helm

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By The Staff

It's a big chair behind the mayor's desk at city hall and, after nearly a full year in office, Edwinna Baker is comfortable in her seat.

The long-time city servant hasn't experienced many bumps in the road in her stint as Lawrenceburg's first female mayor, although the job is a little more stressful than she predicted.

"I'm responsible for the welfare and protection of 10,000 people and the buck stops here," the mayor said. "Right or wrong, the final decision is mine."

But she is quick to point out that she is surrounded by an excellent support staff and works with a wonderful city council, themes that consistently resonate from her everyday rhetoric.

"I know a mayor is only as good as your staff. They all work with me and are helpful to me. They make my job easy, or easier."

Baker credits assistant Gerri Hawthorne with helping her be an effective city official.

"The general (Hawthorne) drives all of us, we all answer to her and we all have the great respect for the job she does."

Hawthorne, who handles a myriad of duties and was named the city's employee of the year, coordinates the mayor's schedule and keeps her on task, frequently calling her boss on the cell phone to remind her of the next appointment.

City clerk and administrator Robbie Hume is another valuable asset to the mayor's office, a position that Baker knows well from her 18 years of experience serving in that capacity.

Hume said working for a person who previously held his post makes his job interesting.

"I tell people that sometimes she thinks she knows how to do my job better than I do, and the problem is she probably does."

But the mayor gives Hume credit for keeping clerk records accurate and for many of the city's successful programs and projects.

"Robbie is great, he knows what is going on from his years on the city council."

Baker, who began her civil service in 1973 as a radio dispatcher, said she is thankful for the opportunity the people of Lawrenceburg have given her and recognizes the importance of her responsibility.

"I don't do this alone," she said, adding that she begins each day with a silent spiritual moment on her way to work.

"I know decisions I make, that we make, affect people's lives and that's a big job."

The mayor is most proud of keeping the sole campaign promise she made when running for office. For the first time, the city is providing a resource officer for the county schools, adding a second law enforcement agent for the schools along with the sheriff department's deputy serving in the position.

"Our children's safety was one of the biggest concerns I heard when knocking on all those doors," Baker said.

"Adding a second resource officer for the schools was the only campaign promise I made and we did it."

Other accomplishments the mayor noted were progress being made for citizens to pay taxes easier, separating water and sewer taxes and updating collection systems, including the acceptance of credit and debit cards. Obtaining more funding for the police and fire departments, and making city hall, along with the library, centers for genealogical research were worthy of note during the mayor's first year in office.

"People will come to your city to research genealogical records and that helps our local economy."

Helping with the sale of the old police department site was also important as proceeds were used to upgrade the department, including installation of new state-of-the art 911 technology equipment.

Baker is also proud that she has helped make city hall more user friendly.

"City Hall is our building, it's the citizens' building. Our doors are open to everyone. People don't think they can just stop by, but they can. You pay for it, so come on in."

A learning process

It hasn't all been a bed of roses for the mayor, there are thorns on the vines.

"I couldn't believe how tight the budget really was, how difficult it is to make everything work with the money we have."

Baker also lamented that people don't realize that the city isn't responsible for all concerns of the city's residents.

"Sometimes people don't understand that while some city funds might be used for certain services and projects, a lot of times it's the county that has the ultimate responsibility on how things are handled."

The mayor emphasized that her office and county officials work well together but it's sometime difficult to educate people about who is responsible for what.

Another frustration is how slow government works, but it's something the mayor is beginning to understand. She said a big factor in getting things accomplished is knowing when to say no.

"I didn't use to know the word no, it was yes to everything. But sometimes you just have to say no.

Perhaps one of the most difficult time for the mayor was when a city council member was being investigated in relation to some missing funds from an local civic organization.

"That was a challenge, it kind of took people off guard. But it was handled well and everything is working out smoothly.

High speed rides provides exciting glimpse into police work

One of the most exciting encounters of the mayor's first term was speeding ride with the chief of police.

"I was sitting in the chief's office when a call came in about an investigation of a robbery at 1st Independence Bank. He asked if I wanted to go with him to observe and I did. On our way back an officer called and said he spotted a car matching the description of the suspect.

"Well the chief took off, with me in the car, and rushed to the area where the officer was. We were riding along at a comfortable rate of speed on Bluegrass Parkway, I thought. When I asked how fast we were going, the chief said not to worry because the car cuts out at 115 mph. It turned out to be nothing, it wasn't the suspect's car, but it was exciting."

Baker said she had many more goals to accomplish and will use the remainder of her term in trying to get them done. Improving downtown area has not advanced as quickly as she hoped.

"We really need a nice restaurant or coffee shop downtown. People tell me they would really use a place like that. We need some unique shops and some business involved with our bourbon heritage."

She noted there are tax incentives in place for business to locate in the downtown proper.

Baker said she is looking forward to working with the new administration in Frankfort and that the city's wish list has already been sent to Gov. Steve Beshear.

"I'll be on the governor's office step making sure he helps us get what we need."

The mayor said her experience serving the city is humbling and rewarding. And yes, if given the opportunity, she would like to serve the people of Lawrenceburg again.