Landscapers saw jump in government revenues following Lexington mayoral contributions

Update: In addition to the purchase orders originally provided, the City also spent $24,878.99 via ProCard transactions at Landscaper’s Corner since 2014.

Original story:

Lexington, KY–A local landscaping company’s increase in no-bid government revenues corresponded with the owners’ donations to successful Lexington Mayoral candidates. The couple donated $250 to Jim Gray in 2014, then gave a total of $9,250 to Linda Gorton in 2018, 2021, and 2022. Beginning around the time of the first donation to Jim Gray was made, Landscaper’s Corner went from a rarely used vendor to raking in over $10,000 in taxpayer money per year on average.

No bidding process employed for “occasional” purchases

According to a City official, “Landscaper’s Corner does not hold any price contracts with the city that would have resulted from a bidding process,” but the City does occasionally buy product from them via no-bid purchase order. “Price is the primary driver in these situations,” the official said, “but Purchasing has some latitude on small dollar purchases to allow consideration for delivery and/or proximity of the goods.”

Pre-2014, Landscaper’s Corner was a rarely used vendor

Prior to Fall 2014, Landscaper’s Corner, a Lexington landscaping supply business owned by a Versailles couple, rarely saw any revenue coming in from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG); according to purchase orders obtained by the Lexington Times, between 2007 and 2013, the city made only 6 purchases from Landscaper’s Corner, for a total amount of $848.00.

Business picks up following August 2014 donation to Jim Gray

On August 14, 2014, one of the owners of Landscaper’s Corner made a $250 donation to the campaign of Jim Gray for Lexington Mayor. A little over a month earlier, the City had made a purchase from Landscaper’s Corner, its first in almost a year, for “Grass seed, straw, and hay, as needed.” The $1,000 purchase was the largest recorded by LFUCG at Landscaper’s Corner. In previous years, this would have likely been the City’s only transaction there for the year– there were previously 1 in 2007, 1 in 2008, 2 in 2009, 1 in 2011, and 1 in 2013, an average of one per year.

But it was not the City’s only purchase from Landscaper’s Corner that year. The City made 4 total no-bid purchases there in 2014, for a total of $3500.00. This represented an astronomical increase over the $86.00 the city spent there in 2013.

Business continues to grow under Gray

Local Government business continued to boom at Landscaper’s Corner for the rest of Gray’s term. Between 2015 and 2018, the City spent $29,910.77 total there, spread over 40 no-bid purchase orders.

2018 donations to both Mayoral candidates

For the 2018 Mayor’s race, the owners of Landscaper’s Corner played it safe and donated $1,250 to BOTH candidates. During Mayor Linda Gorton’s term as Mayor, the city has spent $53,555.87 with them via no-bid purchase orders, a 60% increase over what the Gray Administration spent with them between 2014 and 2018.

Owners max out to Gorton for 2022 cycle

For the 2022 cycle, the owners of Landscaper’s Corner are all-in for Gorton. They each gave her the maximum annual amount of $2,000 in both 2021 and 2022.

No clear evidence of quid-pro-quo, but suspicious timing

While these donations certainly don’t look good, and one could say the timing of them seems suspicious, there’s still not any clear evidence of a quid-pro-quo. It’s entirely possible that the owners of Landscaper’s Corner simply met Gray for the first time on the day they made their first donation. Perhaps they came to some arrangement where they give LFUCG a special discount on bulk items like mulch, which is commonly purchased there.

As long as the City is getting the best price possible, there’s no issue, but voters should be asking the question, “could the city be saving money by looking outside the Mayor’s sphere of donors when making no-bid purchases?”

2019 Town Branch Trail alterations past Landscaper’s Corner

North of Center pointed out that the Landscaper’s Corner donations also corresponded with an altered Town Branch Trail path past its front in 2019.

Landscaper’s Corner will continue to operate its business at the corner of Old Frankfort Pike and Forbes Road and the city of Lexington will get the land it needs for a portion of the long-delayed Town Branch Trail under a deal inked between the city and landowners in the area. The city had proposing condemning Landscaper’s Corner and land at 1281, 1287, 1295 Manchester Street for the proposed Town Branch Trail. Old Frankfort Pike becomes Manchester Street at the Forbes Road intersection. According to agreements with the property owners, Landscaper’s Corner will remain at its current location but will deed over 4,000 square feet on the front of the property for the trail. In exchange, the city will give Landscaper’s Corner more than 12,000 square feet it owns next to Landscaper’s Corner. The agreement, signed July 12, also says the city will give the owners of Landscaper’s Corner $49,000 for relocation expenses in addition to $6,000 for the 4,266 square feet for the trail.

Herald-Leader: Landowners ink deal to avoid closing business as Town Branch Trail extended

View LFUCG Purchase Orders with Landscaper’s Corner

View LFUCG Pro Card Transactions with Landscaper’s Corner

Landscaper’s Corner Donations (KREF): Owner 1 | Owner 2

Mayor Linda Gorton speaks during a Breeders Cup Festival press conference Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Amy Wallot