Quick Takes

Frankfort commission voices support for city utility as state senator pushes to sell its telecom

By: - December 20, 2023 4:30 pm
A billboard with the words, "OUR COMMUNITY IS NOT FOR SALE" with the logos of the Frankfort Plant Board and Cable 10 below it.

A billboard that the Frankfort Plant Board put up opposing state Sen. Gex Williams’ efforts. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

The Frankfort city commission unanimously approved a resolution earlier this week offering “unwavering support” to its city utility in light of a Republican state senator’s efforts to force a change in control of its telecommunications business.

Sen. Gex Williams speaking at a legislative committee hearing in November. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

The Lantern previously reported state Sen. Gex Williams, R-Verona, has been advocating for Frankfort’s utility, the Frankfort Plant Board (FPB), to sell its telecommunications offerings including its growing internet service. Williams has argued the funding from the sale could then be invested into developing downtown Frankfort.

Draft legislation released by Williams would, among other things, require a valuation be done of FPB’s telecommunications services and then require the city commission to either sell off or “transfer” the services from FPB, which is independently operated separate from the city, to the city government. 

FPB leaders have strongly pushed back on the draft legislation, questioning the motivations behind it and need for it while also characterizing Williams’ proposed legislation as something that “could force the sale” of the utility’s telecommunications services. The utility has also hired a public relations firm to help with messaging on the proposed legislation.

Kyle Thompson

In unanimously passing a resolution Monday evening, the Frankfort city commission appeared to signal its support for FPB’s “essential” utility services including its internet offerings, even though the resolution didn’t specifically address Williams’ legislation.

Before the resolution was passed, commissioner Kyle Thompson, in responding to a question from another commissioner, said the “unwavering” support for FPB means the commission will work with the utility to oppose Williams’ legislation if it’s brought up.

Katrisha Waldridge

“If people on this commission give lip service to a resolution and then turn around and do something different, that’s on them,” Thompson said. “When we say we’re going to support someone through thick and thin, that’s what we’re going to do.” 

“I do not support Sen. Williams, and I do not support this legislation,” said commissioner Katrisha Waldridge before the commission passed the resolution. 

“The customers need to know that we’re not making a decision tonight to sell the plant board,” said Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson at the commission meeting. “We feel confident that everyone in our community is going to look back a year from now, and they’re going to be happy.”

Layne Wilkerson

In an emailed statement, FPB General Manager Gary Zheng thanked the commission for the resolution and said Williams’ proposed legislation was a “terrible idea” that could hurt Frankfort’s utility customers.

“I encourage municipal utilities and local governments across the state to beware. If we don’t stop this now, you could be next,” Zheng said in his statement, echoing concerns by FPB that Williams’ legislation could set a precedent of targeting public utilities through lawmaking. “Call your legislator immediately and tell them to oppose the Gex Williams plan.”

Williams in a text message said he wasn’t available to speak before publication when reached for comment about the resolution. Williams has previously told the Lantern his proposed legislation only pertains to FPB and that he wants the city commission to decide what to do with FPB’s telecommunications services. 

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.