Lexington Council’s seating chart debate stalls, exposes deeper divisions

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council hit an unexpected snag at their Quarterly Committee of the Whole meeting on Thursday: a prolonged debate over where council members should sit. The Herald-Leader’s Beth Musgrave reports the discussion was inconclusive, revealing a lack of unity and a surprising focus on seemingly minor issues.

Quarterly Committee of the Whole meeting agenda. (LFUCG)

The council, comprising 15 members, deliberated for nearly an hour in the Caucus Room at City Hall, but failed to reach a consensus on formalizing a seating chart. The issue initially arose in January, when six new council members were sworn in and confusion arose over their seating arrangements.

Vice Mayor Dan Wu, who moderated the special meeting, expressed frustration over the impasse. “We may continue to debate the issue at a later date,” he said.

Seating arrangements on the council have traditionally been an informal affair. The mayor sits at the center of the council’s “horse shoe”-shaped dais, flanked by the vice mayor. At-large council members, who serve four-year terms and are elected city-wide, typically sit close to the mayor and vice mayor.

Earlier this year, a proposed overhaul of council rules suggested formalizing the seating arrangement according to council districts. However, this plan was met with resistance. Critics, including District 1 Councilmember Tayna Fogle, pointed out that such an arrangement would result in a chamber divided largely along racial lines, with the majority of minority council members sitting on the left side of the chamber and white members on the right.

Others proposed a seniority-based system or giving the vice mayor the authority to decide. Councilwoman Jennifer Reynolds illuminated the root of January’s confusion, noting that some council members were under the impression that seats were determined on a “first-come, first-served” basis, while others believed selection was based upon seniority.

“I don’t think we need a policy,” said Councilman Preston Worley, dismissing the notion of formalizing the seating arrangements. Worley was appointed to council in 2017 and claimed to have changed seats multiple times without issue.

A straw poll conducted during the meeting yielded mixed results, according to Musgrave: eight members favored seniority-based seating, seven wanted the vice mayor to decide, and six opted for maintaining the status quo. Given the non-binding nature of straw polls, the future of the council’s seating arrangement remains uncertain.

“I don’t care where I sit,” said Councilwoman Denise Gray, echoing the sentiment that the protracted debate reflects poorly on the council as a whole.

Despite the seemingly trivial nature of the topic, the disagreement has wider implications. It exposes the council’s difficulty in reaching consensus even on mundane matters and raises questions about its capacity to govern effectively. As Lexington faces pressing challenges like affordable housing, public transportation, and public safety, the council’s internal divisions could prove a hindrance to substantive progress.

Top photo: Lexington City Hall. (The Lexington Times)