Rep. Farmer proposes measure to eliminate judge-executives for merged governments

11/11/2010 02:45 PM

Fayette County voters last week elected a Republican judge-executive a candidate who wants to get rid of the position.

This week, state Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, is pushing a constitutional amendment that would accomplish that: It would eliminate the office of judge-executive in counties with merged city-county governments. That would affect Lexington-Fayette County and Louisville-Jefferson County.

Farmer’s measure, if passed by the legislature, would be on the ballot for voters’ approval in 2012.

For 118 counties in Kentucky, the county judge-executive is the chief administrator in the county responsible for managing the counties finances and road projects, among other duties. But in Jefferson and Fayette counties, the county judge-executive’s role is limited because most of the office’s responsibilities are diverted to the merged mayor.

Jon Larson, a Lexington lawyer and a Republican, defeated long-time Fayette County Judge-Executitve Sandra Varellas, a Democrat, with the campaign message that the position is largely useless and should be abolished.

Farmer said he pre-filed the legislation in advance of the 2011 General Assembly at Larson’s request. And he said he agrees that the position is unnecessary in merged governments. Larson was out of the office and unavailable to comment for this article.

“Why do we need a county structure in a city-county government, if it really is a merged government?” Farmer said in a telephone interview.

The Fayette County judge-executive gets paid more than $8,000 a year.

But the incoming judge-executive-elect in the other merged county, Democrat Bryan Mathews in Jefferson County, objects to the idea of having the job he just won disappear.

He said he still provides county outreach to areas of Jefferson County that feel underrepresented by merged government.

“I’ve got a lot of good things going on my end,” Mathews said. “… I would hate to see (the bill pass) because that would reverse a lot of good.”

Mathews also said that in the past, the mayor of Louisville hasn’t always met with other county judge-executives and hasn’t provided enough representation for the merged government in relations with other Kentucky counties. Having a judge-executive to foster those relationships is essential, Mathews said.

“Do away with (the office)? I don’t think that’s necessary,” Mathews said. “You just have to carve out your own corner of the shop.”

But Larson said on his campaign website that the office is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Farmer said this measure should have been passed years ago when the state amended the constitution to allow merged governments.

“This is largely a clean-up issue that was left out when the law was passed 30 years ago,” Farmer said.

Farmer said the amendment may not make it through the 2011 short session because of his party affiliation, but if it has support and the amendment stalls, Farmer said he’ll look to the state Senate to get the ball rolling. Two potential sponsors in the Senate might be Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown and Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville, Farmer said.

“We may have to run this as a trail balloon and see how excited people get about it,” Farmer said and added that if the bill doesn’t pass in 2011, he may push for it again during the 2012 session.

Even if the amendment does pass the legislature, Mathews said it would have trouble with a statewide vote. He pointed out that most counties still use a judge-executive and that voters may think the amendment will eliminate all judge-executive offices, not just the ones in merged county governments.

“I see this all being all very pointless. What’s the point in wasting the ink for the bill?” Mathews said. “Why would we bother 118 other counties with this?

“…I definitely oppose it. I may need to go to Frankfort and lobby against it. I’ll call all 138 legislators to go against it,” Mathews said.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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