Judge breaks tie on new districts for magistrates

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By Jesse Osbourne

A tiebreaker vote by Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles kept the county out of potential legal trouble on Friday during a special-called meeting.

During a discussion of the reapportionment process, which involves redrawing magisterial lines in order to evenly distribute the population in each district, magistrate Morris Sweazy made a motion to end the reapportionment process with no action taken. Magistrate Terry Tingle seconded the motion.
Prior to reapportionment discussion, Settles read a letter from Rich Ornstein, an attorney with the Kentucky Association of Counties, to the members of the fiscal court.
“Assuming that Washington County chooses not to reapportion, Washington County could face potential ramifications,” Ornstein wrote. “The first concern would be a Voters’ Rights Action in Federal Court. The court could mandate that you reapportion and require the county to pay significant court costs and attorney’s fees.”
Ornstein proceeded to outline other ramifications.
“Second, it is foreseeable that a citizen or a losing candidate could choose to file suit after the next magisterial election resulting in the magisterial election being thrown out. That could also result in significant costs,” Ornstein wrote.
If the court were to vote to take no action, it could also leave them legally vulnerable.
“Finally, should Washington County choose to do nothing, the county fiscal court members could face a charge of ‘willful neglect in the discharge of official duties (KRS 61.170). The result could include a fine and removal from office,” Ornstein wrote.
Despite having heard this information, the motion to make no changes to the magisterial lines was made and seconded.
Settles requested a roll call vote from the magistrates.
Three magistrates and Settles were against no action, while three magistrates were for taking no action.
Settles was the final and deciding vote.
Sweazy, Greg Simms and Terry Tingle voted to proceed without redrawing the magisterial lines.
Hal Goode, Billy Riney, Benjamin Settles and John Settles voted against taking no action.
Ornstein’s letter further explained why it was legally necessary to redraw the magisterial lines.
“As you know from prior discussions, the general rule of thumb is that magisterial districts may not deviate in population in excess of 10 percent from largest to smallest district,” he wrote. “Failure to stay within that 10 percent deviation could be held to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.”
The Springfield Sun reported on Aug. 9 that the difference between the largest and smallest district in the county was over 24 percent.
The Sun also reported that the Lincoln Trail Area Development District (LTADD) presented a redrawn map to the court that would cause Goode and Sweazy to both be residents of district four.
Sweazy voted not to accept that report at the Aug. 8 meeting, and voiced his opposition of the possibility of having to run against Goode in a future election.
No changes were made to magisterial lines in 2001, when the last census was taken.
The court has 60 days to approve, disapprove or recommend changes to the report. That 60 days began on Aug. 8. That timeline also has to allow for a first and second reading.
Roads were also of interest in the discussion.
Goode asked the court if there was interest in forming a county road plan, and later asked Settles to see templates on how other counties set up such committees.
Riney asked to see the percentage of roads each magistrate would have under the current and new proposals.
The court dismissed without further discussion of reapportionment and without setting a date to hold future discussions in a workshop atmosphere.

County road employees

Three new employees were hired to work for the county road department during Friday’s special called meeting.
Troy Adam Williams and Jarrod Christopher Russell were hired as seasonal workers to help the county with roadside mowing.
James David Skimmerhorn was hired as a full-time employee to replace the outgoing Mike Chesser.
Candidates were required to possess a CDL license in order to qualify for the position.

Asphalt bills

Payment for asphalt bills was put on hold at the previous fiscal court meeting, due to accounting discrepancies.
Some asphalt bills were duplicated in the billing process.
The original amount was over $540,000. The corrected amount was $383,826.
On Friday, the correct amount was paid to Nally and Haydon Surfacing.
The next regular scheduled meeting is set for Sept. 12.