The following is the last of eight exit interviews with members of Louisville Metro Council who will be leaving their seat in early January. In this interview, we talk with Councilman Glen Stuckel, R-17, about the highs and lows of his 16 years on Metro Council and what he plans to do now. Stuckel, a Republican, was elected in 2002 to the inaugural Metro Council after the merger. He lost his race for a fifth term in November.
Insider Louisville: Throughout your 16 years on Metro Council, what are you most proud of accomplishing for Louisville?
aStuckel: We’ve had so many plusses. We built two playgrounds. Rebuilt a whole park. Splash pads. Got the first dog park going in Sawyer Park… there are seven in the city and it’s the largest one. Of course, the paving and sidewalks were rated the top in the whole Metro Government. So I think we just kept up with whatever the concerns were of the public.
And through Kip (Eatherly, his legislative assistant), we’ve just got a great relationship with all of the various agencies. I know who the director is, but they don’t do the work. So Kip knows who to go to in the agency to get things done. You know, this is still a people business.
I championed for the new (Northeast Regional Library), and now finally it’s getting done. I won’t be in office when they cut the ribbon. In 2003, when Craig Buthod was the library director, I called him up and I said I’ve got a site for it, but he came out and said it wasn’t big enough. So we went along like that and finally they found a piece of ground that was government owned that really worked out real well.
Another thing, I really feel like the people in my district — the small city mayors and the subdivision presidents and their committees and everything — were always fantastic to work with. We just got great cooperation from them. And I can’t ever think of a bad time we had with anybody. People were angry about traffic, but the cars aren’t going to go away.
Early on when I was running the first time. I met with Julie Raque Adams, Kelly Downard, Ernie Harris, Ken Fleming, some of the state people and people that were running, and we agreed that if we got elected, the first thing we’d try to do is get Westport Road widened. There were three lanes. And we did get elected, so we went Gov. Paul Patton’s secretary of transportation, and we told him this thing had been languishing for 20 years. He said we don’t have any money, they’re spending all the money down in eastern Kentucky for roads for coal trucks. Then Ernie Fletcher ran, and I just happened to be at a couple of small fundraisers where there weren’t a whole lot of people, and I got to know Governor Fletcher there. And we didn’t become bosom buddies, but every time he’d see me he’d acknowledge me and that kind of thing. So when he became governor we got our a little consortium together, and he put in a guy named Clay Bailey, who was a retired three star Air Force general from Winchester, Ky., an old country boy. And we went to see him and told him the same history about Westport Road, and he said “Well guys, I don’t know what the budget’s going to be, but when I do I’ll call you.” And about six weeks later he called and he asked, “If I could just do one project in Jefferson County, what would it be?” I said we’re driving on it, and with that came the interchange.
Now, when the interchange came, also came the cars. All of the major arteries, as you probably know — Shelbyville Road, Taylorsville Road, Bardstown Road — during rush hour are clogged up. And it’s only for about an hour and a half. After that… if I went out there right now and got off at Westport Road from the Watterson and started driving out to Springhurst or whatever, there’s times I can drive all the way to Hurstborne Lane or Freys Hill and never stop. You know, it’s just fantastic. And in the morning at 8 or 7:30, it backs up to Westport Middle School, but it moves. And it may take an extra five minutes or something, but it’s still been such a wonderful thing for us. So if I had to look at the biggest achievement, that was it.
IL: On the flip side, what would you say you’re most disappointed by, in terms of what Metro Council or city government was not able to accomplish over that time?
Stuckel: All in all, the cooperation between the two parties has been good. Our caucus, the Republicans, are far more conservative, so there are some things from a monetary standpoint that we don’t like. But we debate those things and sometimes I’ve been here till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Luckily that doesn’t happen very often.
Disappointments? I’m a building contractor and one of my disappointments is that a lot of people on the council really don’t understand the building and development process. There’s a lot of NIMBYs around, you know, not in my backyard. But we have to have development. We have to have home building, because the population expands and they have to have a place to live. A lot of people don’t like apartments, but the people that live in apartments deserve a nice place to live.
As I will tell somebody when they start going off about apartments, I say “wait a minute, did you ever live in an apartment?” I lived in four of them before I had enough money to put a down payment on a house, and then it was only because I was because I was a veteran and could use my VA benefits. I got into it a lot sooner than I normally would have. But most of us lived in apartments. And I always look at it like we deserve, those people deserve a nice one. The ones in my district, by the way, are not Section 8. I’ve got Section 8, but the new ones that have been built are all high end and they fill.
IL: So beyond specific policy and legislation, are there any aspects to how Metro Council functions that you think need to change — whether that be how council members interact with each other or the council interacts with the mayor’s office?
Stuckel: Again, for the most part we get along pretty good with the mayor. But he’s got an agenda, and then we certainly have an agenda, and sometimes we lock heads. But I don’t think it ever gets down to knock down, drag out (fights). We know what we’re going to support and what we’re not going to support. Hopefully whatever comes out at the end is going to be good for the community.
And I think the Metro Government has been good for the community. It’s moved us forward. I personally would like to see the permitting process streamlined. It still takes a long time and because of that we have run business away from Jefferson County. Oldham County, Bullitt County are quicker to get things done.
IL: In the election we just had, Democrats expanded their majority to 19 to 7 and Mayor Fisher was re-elected by a pretty wide margin. Why do you think Republicans struggled this year and what, if anything, do you think the party needs to change in order to be more competitive citywide?
Stuckel: Well, the city is a Democratic city. Louisville is Democratic.
In this particular election, in my particular case.. the Courier (Journal) hurt me a little bit, because when they printed my bio they said I was 85 years old. Well, I wouldn’t vote for somebody 85 years old for a four-year term (laughs). I mean, I’m serious. (Editor’s note: Stuckel is 83 years old)
But I think besides that, there was a big movement for people to vote a party instead of breaking their votes apart. And I think the Democrats got out and pushed for that. And I was one of the people that took the brunt of that. Some of the other people that normally had larger majorities, like (County Clerk) Bobbie Holsclaw, she did not win by the majority she normally would win by. I mean, we could see it, but it affected me a lot more.
And people along Westport Road, because they know I am a builder, they automatically think that’s a developer. I’m not a developer, but they sort of blame me for some of the apartments that were built. Now, we had three apartment units built in 16 years. I don’t see that as an overabundance of building, you know? And some of those projects, the one between Freys Hill and Hurstbourne had been underway for like 11, 12 years.
IL: So Democrats now have an even larger supermajority on Metro Council and hypothetically could pass legislation without any Republican votes. How do you think Democrats should handle that kind of power?
Stuckel: Well, they always had the majority. They didn’t have a supermajority, but they had the majority. And occasionally I would hear some of them say “well, you know, we’ll just out vote you,” if it was something that was a really knotty issue.
It lessened, of course, the effect that we can have if you’re conservative on what legislation passes through. But what we hope is that good sense prevails, that if we make a strong enough case for our position, that we can get some of them to vote with it. And there are a number of us, some of our people who vote with the Democrats, and some of them will vote with us. So we’re still hoping that we have what we consider a positive effect on the outcome.
IL: What advice do you have for Councilman-elect Markus Winkler, who’ll be taking over in District 17?
Stuckel: Well, I think the first thing has to do is — as I did — he’s going to have to rely on his legislative assistant, because that’s the person who day to day is in contact with the constituents. Kip has done a superb job. And if it’s something that requires my involvement, he’ll tell me you need to call so and so or maybe do that. I rely heavily on him, and then I rely also on the head of our staff, Steve Haag, who has an extremely vast knowledge of the political process and the way things work. In fact, when we were all running the first time, Steve was picked by Rebecca Jackson to educate us on how the government works, that kind of thing. So he’s been a great resource.
I can remember some of the rhetoric that Markus had during the campaign, and I could see that he really was not real knowledgeable about a lot of things that we’d already done. For example, traffic. You know, Angela Leet and I had a meeting of all of the people along Westport Road, we broke it into sections. We got the people to give us their input about what they think should be done to alleviate the traffic. Then we hired a leading engineering firm here who has traffic engineers and they, with our traffic engineering department, sifted through all of those recommendations and then came up with a list of things. But unfortunately, the department that controls that is the state highway department. So we had to take all of that to the state highway department, who immediately nixed most of the ideas because they didn’t fit their guidelines.
So I don’t think he’s really aware of all of that work that was done. And he talked a lot about synchronizing the stoplights, which we’ve been doing for, gosh, forever. But synchronizing the stoplights does not get rid of the cars, and the cars aren’t going to go away. Not unless all of my constituency suddenly starts riding TARC and riding their bikes. It’s not going to happen. We’re a society that’s in love with our cars.
So I think he’ll just have — like anybody — a period where he has to acclimate himself to what the realities are. I’m sure he’ll do a good job, as far as handling the constituents.
IL: So what do you plan to do now?
Stuckel: Well, I’m a building contractor and I’m still active in the building industry. I sit on several boards that I’m very active with, Kosair Charities and a visually-impaired preschool. So I’ve got those activities.
And I’m sort of a believer in divine intervention. I just think of periods in my life when I’ve had negative things happen, something better has always come out of it. And I never had any idea that I’d ever serve as a public servant, as an elected public servant.
I would tell anybody it’s a great satisfactory position, but it takes an unbelievable amount of time. Just running for office and raising the money. I spent seven months of this year doing nothing but campaigning, basically. And that takes a chunk out of your life. I’m not going to be looking for another political job, but I’m sure that there are going to be opportunities to do other things.
I am older and I believe that one of the reasons people live long is they stay active. And I exercise every day and do all that stuff. And I just like to be involved.