County clerk, magistrate candidates speak at forum
The nearly two-hour and 45-minute event took place in the third-floor courtroom of the Woodford County Courthouse. The Chamber’s questions, some of which were sent in by the public, were asked by students from Woodford County High School’s Community Activism Class.
Candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves, two minutes to answer the questions, and three minutes to make closing statements. They were told to restrain from personal attacks, and none were made. Space limitations prohibit us from featuring all of the questions and answers.
Republican Kent Miller described himself as a lifelong Woodford County resident, a leader and problem solver who believes the right kind of experience can make a difference. “My years of leadership and management experience have prepared me for this and I feel a sense of duty, and I want to serve this community in the hope of returning a small portion of what this community has given to me and my family,” Miller said. “This campaign is about changing an ingrained culture…”
Democrat incumbent Sandy Jones said she valued the confidence voters showed in her when she was elected in 2014 and in the May primary. She said her 25 years as a legal assistant and paralegal prepared her for her present job, and the previous seven years as clerk for Woodford Fiscal Court. “I sincerely believe this office not only requires a person who is experienced and knowledgeable in all the laws that govern a position such as county clerk, but… someone who loves serving the public…”
What is the key to success when communicating with the public?
Miller said his vast customer service experience began long ago when he worked for McDonald’s, which was followed by training and experience in finance and banking. “My 10 years at Woodford Bank gave me an understanding in dealing with customers on a professional level. I learned you must meet people where they are and take them as you find them,” Miller said.
Jones said, “I think the key to success is always being able to listen to that customer, knowing exactly what their needs are. When you’re an elected official… this is a day-in, day-out… thing that you do.” She said customer service is probably the biggest key to being a public servant, and if you’re not a customer service-oriented person, you shouldn’t try to be a county official.
What does integrity mean to you?
Miller said, “Integrity is about doing the right thing, even when it’s not acknowledged by others, or convenient, or easy for you. For example, when a manager highlights their staff’s accomplishments and downplays their own, that’s a sure sign of integrity.”
Jones said, “Integrity means everything to me. Integrity is my reputation, it’s how I am viewed by my family, all my loved ones, my friends, my co-workers and anyone who knows me in the community.”
What is your greatest strength and greatest weakness?
Miller said, “I believe that my greatest strength is my integrity. It is also my ability to read folks and to meet people where they are… “I believe that maybe my greatest weakness is my impatience with processes and procedures with state and local governments. Sometimes they don’t work as fast or resolve issues as quickly as maybe you would like for them to.”
Jones said, “I believe my greatest strength is being able to look at a complex problem and evaluate it and know exactly how to be that problem solver… What I would need to improve upon is probably being less harsh on myself. I feel like if I don’t meet the expectations of what I wanted to accomplish at the end of the day, that’s when I am probably the hardest on myself.”
1st District Democrat Liles Taylor called himself a product of Woodford County schools who worked in the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, including a stint as chief of staff to the lieutenant governor. He was also chief of staff to the former state House Majority Whip and is presently political coordinator of the state AFL-CIO, where he’s worked with the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition. Republican Joseph Greathouse described himself as a fourth-generation farmer who’s lived in Midway all his life. The 1993 graduate of Woodford County High School has served for 16 years with the Woodford Agriculture Extension District Board, the Woodford County Farm Bureau, and as first vice president of the Woodford County Fair Association.
(Democrat incumbent Magistrate Gary Finnell did not attend the forum.) Republican Matthew Merrill has been a Woodford County teacher for 29 years and said he and his wife, who is also a teacher, are preparing to retire. He said public service is ingrained in him, so “I just don’t think I can walk away from service.” He said his grandfather’s tour of duty in Burma during World War II inspires him and that being a magistrate would continue that tradition of public service.
5th District Republican Ann Miller said she’d helped pass 10 balanced budgets during her five terms on the Versailles City Council. As chair of the Police and Fire Committee, she helped plan the new Versailles Police Department headquarters, which will feature a walking trail to Big Springs Park. She also cited her work on the proposed $1.75 million downtown pavilion and farmers market, which could incorporate the current police headquarters. Democrat William Downey, a member of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, said he’s a lifelong resident of Woodford County who does economic development and government relations work for the R.J. Corman Railroad Group. Other jobs included roles in management, sales and business development. “I want my daughter and my generation and those following me to live in the best version of Woodford County…” Downey said.
District 6 Republican Magistrate Duncan Gardiner said he worked in banking for 28 years and was market president for a local bank before becoming a certified financial planner in 2016. He’s served as president of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, was co-founder of Journey Church’s Woodford Christian School and pre-school and is a board member for Bluegrass Community Hospital. Democrat Larry Blackford described himself as a retired school teacher who enjoys working with people. He’s the chaplain for the
Woodford County Detention Center and has been a volunteer chaplain at the Federal Medical Center prison in Lexington for 17 years. His four decades of community service include many years of work in various local Parks and Recreation programs, including as youth basketball coach.
If elected, what would be your first priority for your district?
Greathouse said, “I think the first priority for our district is to make sure we’re safe,” saying that he would try to make the jobs of police officers and other first responders less hazardous.
Taylor said he would work to make Woodford Fiscal Court more transparent, including streaming its meetings. The county’s budget should also be made available online, he said.
Merrill said he would work on addressing the need to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. “If you are a kid of a bicyclist going down Big Sink Road, there’s no place for you. It’s very dangerous,” he said.
Downey said he’d make work to make Fiscal Court more accessible and transparent, including opening the agendas to the public, engaging better with citizens, and adding county-wide email services.
Miller said she believed a conversation about merged government should be “put on the table,” and that many of the pros and cons of such a move had not been addressed. In the meantime, merged services should be continued, she said.
Blackford said he would let his constituents know about the services he could provide. He said the July 20 storm showed how important good communication was, and agreed with those who said the court should be more transparent.
Gardiner said his district includes the Lexington Road Plaza, which in the last few years lost both Kroger (to the other side of the road) and Kmart. “I want to make sure that doesn’t go downhill and becoming blighted property,” Gardiner said.
What is your solution to curb the drug addiction (problem) in Woodford County?
Taylor said if he had a solution, he might run for president, but stressed the need for more treatment and recovery options. “We certainly can’t criminalize addiction away,” he said. He said he’d taken part in the Woodford County Health Department’s NARCAN training, and would make sure that first responders have the training and other tools they need.
Greathouse said the problem was hard, but fixable. “I believe we first make sure… that we budget correctly… (and) make sure first responders have what they need.” He said a proactive approach in education was key and that he applauded the middle and high school drug testing programs required for athletes and those requesting a parking pass.
Merrill said he’d make sure ambulance crews have the education and equipment they need, including NARCAN, adding, “You want to do something for it before that point.” Merrill addressed the live-streaming camera and told viewers that community partners were a key part of the solution, and asked them to ask themselves how they can help.
Downey said he wouldn’t pretend he had a solution to what is a national problem. “…I think it will take a community-wide effort to address this issue…” He said two elements were needed: prevention and rehabilitation, and he complimented Versailles Police Chief Mike Murray and Sheriff Johnny Wilhoit for their work.
Miller said education on all levels was vital, and praised the work of the community group RAW (Raising Awareness Woodford County). Education about the dangers of drugs should begin earlier than fourth grade, and solutions must address the role of poverty, adding that more summer and part-time jobs for young people would help, she said.
Blackford said he didn’t believe there was a solution, but that educating children and their parents was important. He said we need to change the way we look at addicts – that drug addiction is a sickness, and we should be open about it. “It strikes everybody. It does not discriminate,” Blackford said.
Gardiner called the issue a national problem brought about, in part, by big pharmaceutical companies and rogue doctors. “I think all we can do at our level is to manage the symptoms and treat those who are facing these terrible addictions…” he said. He said his daughter has just obtained a degree in counseling and would be helping people with addictions.
Suppose you are are elected and it is the end of your term. What do you want to… say …you have accomplished that would lead voters to (re-elect) you?
Greathouse said, “I hope that I can say that I gave them 100 percent of me. That I’ve brought issues for District 1 to the forefront and I’ve kept them there until they were resolved. I hope they say that I’m optimistic … I think you have to have optimism…”
Taylor said, “Hopefully, they’ve said that I’ve worked and strived to make it a more accessible government, a more transparent government, a more innovative local government. Hopefully they say that I strived to reach across levels of government…”
“I hope that they would say, ‘Thank you for communicating with me all that I needed to know about my government. Thank you for being there and accessible when I needed you. And thank you for being fiscally responsible…’” Merrill said.
Downey said, “I hope we’re able to look back and see a more open and accessible and transparent government. I hope that we would have made advances in technology, county-wide, both at the government level and from an infrastructure standpoint…”
Miller joked, “I guess not merged government.” (Another question during the forum involved merger, and no other candidates expressed support for that idea). “I’d like to see things like additional internet and cable providers brought into our community… I hope in four years, we’re looking at a $57 million brand-new hospital out on the Edgewood farm…”