CivicLex encourages students to get involved in city government


Kendall Staton

CivicLex, a Lexington-based civic involvement organization, is trying to get more citizens involved in city government.  CivicLex believes that government issues start within communities and travel their way up the larger nation. To make big changes, they encourage citizens to start small.

CivicLex’s main goal is to “make it easier to get involved in Lexington’s civic issues.” Founded in 2017, CivicLex has grown from being mainly an information hub to organizing events for citizens to learn about and be involved in city government. 

Megan Gulla, CivicLex’s director of programs, explained that the organization’s progression was like that of any other – growing as they get older.  

“It started out more as just a civic education organization … Over the years we kind of realized that it’s one thing to get information to people,” Gulla said. “It’s another thing for people to use that information.”

Gulla attributes most of CivicLex’s success to its three-pronged approach — civic education, relational development and civic transformation. Through these avenues, CivicLex has hosted different events throughout Lexington, some aimed directly at student involvement on UK’s campus. 

Since the COVID pandemic began, Lexington city council committee meetings have moved online. The UK Student Activities Board has partnered with CivicLex to host a weekly city council watch party on Tuesday evenings, run by Gulla. 

At these watch parties, Gulla usually starts by encouraging students to get involved in city government. She believes that student voices are not always considered by Lexington city council members. 

“I think a lot of residents in Lexington just think of students as, you know, they’re just temporary here, and that’s not always the case,” she said. “The city also recognizes the value of students and is thinking about how to retain students.” 

Council member At-Large Richard Maloney is interested in keeping students around for the long haul. At the start of his career, Maloney was the youngest council member to ever come through Lexington. He is now one of the oldest. 

To give youth a reason to stick around Lexington, Maloney wants to create more local jobs. A large advocate of trade schools, he highlighted his lack of satisfaction with the current state Fayette County school systems. 

U.S. News and World Report ranks Kentucky as 33rd in the nation for education quality of K-12 schooling. Maloney talks in a raised angry tone when discussing how Fayette County doesn’t even rank as one of the top 10 counties for education in Kentucky. 

“When I was in high school, everybody wanted to go to college. Now there’s too many damn accountants, there’s no mechanics, and the school needs to get back into trades,” he said.

After voicing his distaste for the current state of Fayette County school systems, Maloney highlighted his involvement with UK to show he cares about youth opinions. From work with the agriculture department to individual professors, he said he wants to be involved with everyone. He wants to rebuild the bridge between the city council and university students. 

“We need kids, we need the future. I was the youngest council [member] ever; I’d butt heads with a lot of these older people back then,” he said. “Now that I’m older, I still rely on what I’ve learned from the younger generation because they’re the future. Without their help, we ain’t going to accomplish anything.” 

CivicLex aims to bring the issues of the people of Lexington to the minds of their representatives. Gulla feels as though the support CivicLex garners for the council is reciprocated through the council’s involvement with citizens. She suggests that all young people get involved, whether through CivicLex or directly through local government. 

Due to Lexington’s size, it is easy to create change within the system. All it takes is some time and some talking. Gulla and Maloney both advocate for more student involvement in government, with Gulla urging students to reach out to city council members.

“You need to understand that they’re just there,” Gulla said. “They are people. You can schedule a meeting with them and talk in their office. They’re just people doing their job. It’s easier than you think to get involved.”