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Settles will not seek re-election

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By Nick Schrager

Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles will not seek re-election next year, after two decades of serving his community.

For the man who has spent his entire life trying to serve in one fashion or another, he said it was time for him to step aside and leave the position on a positive note.

“I’ve have four grandchildren now, all under the age of 4,” Settles said. “I love my grandchildren, I love my family, and I’ve got two grandchildren in Charleston, South Carolina, I don’t see near enough. I’ve really enjoyed the agricultural aspect of my life and I’d like to get back on the farm and do more at my church.”

His fifth term of service will end Dec. 31, 2018, and as of 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, no one has filed to run for the position.

While he had not served in county government prior to taking office, Settles had a number of leadership roles beforehand.

“I had other positions in other organizations,” he said. “I was president of the state agriculture association at one point, and had been on some local boards and tried to be involved in leadership at church and in the community.”

Settles was first elected in 1998, and he began his job on Jan. 1, 1999. He said he decided to run to give back to the community he grew up in.

“I had no idea that it would lead to this long of a service,” Settles said.

And when he entered office for the first time, his life changed forever.

“When I was elected in the primary in the spring, I attended all the court meeting from that point to the end of the year,” he said. ‘The judge that was in office at the time (Bobby Brady) was very gracious, even though I defeated him, and gave me information and information that I needed to look for and things that were coming up; so I felt like I was prepared.”

But on his first day, Settles soon found out otherwise.

“When I sat behind my desk for the first time, I found out how unprepared I was,” he said. “There’s no way to convey to someone what this office is like until you have to do it.”

His goal was to be the best steward of taxpayers’ money that he could be, and improve some of the roads and bridges in the county.

“Of course, that focus changed when I learned more of what this office represented,” Settles said.

Since then, he said the court has methodically worked to get structures over creeks so people can get to their homes, and improve bridges for safety and load-bearing capabilities.

And while a lot has been done and changed since 1999, there are a number of projects Settles said he’s proud to be a part of.

“One of the biggest projects that I was involved with was the judicial center,” he said. “By virtue of being the county judge-executive, I was the chairman of the project development board, and that was quite an undertaking.”

He said working with the Administrative Office of the Courts was a challenge, as the state set the size of the building while the county had full input of the design.

“We had a great board that consisted mostly of local people,” he said. “And we’re really proud of the way it turned out and we’re proud of the design and I’m extremely satisfied and gratified by the Lincoln statue that’s in front of it.”

Another project Settles said he’s proud to be a part of is the Mt. Zion Bridge restoration, which is nearly complete.

“It took eight or nine years to finally get that funding to where it can be used to restore the covered bridge,” he said.

One of the biggest parts of the job he’ll miss is the people. Settles said it’s been a pleasure to work with people who are enthusiastic about what they do.

“I’ll just miss the public and all of the staff people,” Settles said, adding that his time would not have been possible without the support of the county. “You realize when you get into politics that you’re not going to get every vote but I hope people understand that I try to serve everybody; whether they voted for me or not … this office exists because of taxpayers.”

In the 390 days remaining of his term, Settles said he would like to see the ball rolling on improving a stretch of U.S. 150 from the bridge over Cartwright Creek to the Nelson County line.

“U.S. 150 has been improved east of here all the way to I-75,” Settles said. “And that stretch of road is heavily traveled. There’s a lot of truck traffic, and I’ve been working, as I could, with the state trying to get appropriations.”

Money has been acquired to study that portion of U.S. 150, but Settles said to see the project take the next step while he’s in office would be amazing.

“I would love to see at least one phase of it,” Settles said. “I know in a year’s time we’re not going to get all of it built, but I would just like to see it get started.”

Another goal he has is to help in any way he can to get someone into St. Catharine College.

“I know it’ll never be resurrected as St. Catharine College,” Settles said. “But I want to get something in there. It’s too valuable of an asset to this community to let it sit empty. I’ve been working with people that I can work with because my role in it is very limited. I’m not the financier, not the advisor, I’m not the bond holder. But, the mayor and I have been working diligently to try and welcome someone into our community.”

For magistrates Billy Riney and Benjamin Settles, who’ve known the judge their whole lives, having him leave will be a blow to the county.

“Of course, I’m still trying to talk him into running for another term,” Riney said before Settles officially announced the news. “I don’t want him to quit; he’s good for the county and good for the state … he’s honest, straight, he tells you like it is. There’s no beating around the bush, he’s just good for Washington County.”

Riney said since Settles grew up in the area, he really knows the area and knows both sides of the fence, from farming to community development and industry.

“I think it would be a great loss to Washington County if he doesn’t run for another term,” he said.

Benjamin Settles added the county has grown since his counterpart took office and said the judge’s biggest accomplishment was helping get the area certified as a clean county.

“That’s one of the best things that’s happened to this county,” Benjamin said. “A lot of people say ‘what’s the big deal?’ It is a big deal, look at the streams and water.”

Benjamin said he’s seen more happen since Settles took office than he ever did beforehand.

“In the last 20 years, I have seen more things happen in this county than they did in the last 80 years before,” he said.