Lawsuit claims Watts exceeded his authority, alleges official misconduct

Salt River Road resident Don Thrasher has filed a lawsuit challenging Judge Executive Dean Watts’ authority to rename a state-maintained part of the former US31E. The lawsuit also accuses Watts of official misconduct for failing to fill empty elective offices of constable and county surveyor.


Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 — After failing to make headway in Nelson Fiscal Court with his complaints about how his stretch of the former US31E was renamed, High Grove area resident Don Thrasher has taken his argument to another court — Nelson Circuit Court.

Thrasher has filed a lawsuit claiming that Judge Executive Dean Watts exceeded his authority in renaming Thrasher’s section of the former Louisville Road, and that Watts’ failure to make appointments to empty elective offices represents a case of “official misconduct.”

Salt River Road resident Don Thrasher speaks to Nelson Fiscal Court Nov. 7, 2017 about the renaming of his section of the former Louisville Road. Thrasher has filed a legal challenge that alleges Judge Executive Dean Watts exceeded his authority when he gave the northernmost section of the former US31E in Nelson County the name Salt River Road.

STILL A STATE ROAD. Thrasher’s lawsuit claims that Watts lacked the authority to rename the road in front of Thrasher’s home — the old US31E Louisville Road — to its new name, Salt River Road. Watts signed an executive order renaming the old segments of US31E in September.

According to the lawsuit, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet did not transfer the northernmost section of the old US31E to the county like it did the southern sections. County government is responsible for the southern sections, while the state Transportation Cabinet will continue to be responsible for the maintenance of Salt River Road.

Thrasher’s lawsuit says state law doesn’t give Watts the authority to rename a state road. The lawsuit also alleges Watts approved the purchase of new road signs without Nelson Fiscal Court’s approval.

The lawsuit seeks to have the road signs removed and the road name rescinded. or as an alternative, to put the road name and purchase of road signs before Nelson Fiscal Court for its approval.

OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGED. In addition to the road name issue, Thrasher’s lawsuit also claims Watts has operated “above the law” in how he has handled the vacancies of two county elected offices — the office of constable and the office of county surveyor.

Both offices are currently vacant, and the lawsuit cites KRS 63.220, the state statute that empowers the judge executive to fill vacancies in the office of sheriff, coroner, surveyor, county clerk, county attorney, jailer and constable.

Thrasher’s lawsuit states that as judge executive, Watts is required to act to fill the empty offices and cannot ignore his duty to do so.

The surveyor office is vacant because no one ran for the office in the last election. The office has no budget or duties under Nelson Fiscal Court.

The constable’s office has been vacant in all five of the county’s districts since Nelson Fiscal Court raised the required bond for candidates to hold the office from $25,000 to $1 million in 1999. No one has filed as a candidate for constable in at least the last two election cycles.

The lawsuit alleges Watts has committed official misconduct by refraining “from performing a duty imposed upon him by law.” KRS 522.030 notes official misconduct, second-degree, is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $250.

Thrasher’s lawsuit asks the courts to compel Watts to appoint both a constable for District 4 and a county surveyor. The lawsuit also seeks the court award Thrasher the costs of the lawsuit.

RESPONSE. Watts said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit’s specifics, but promised that he and the county would mount a “vigorous defense” against the allegations set for in Thrasher’s lawsuit.

Editor’s note: A lawsuit represents one side of a dispute.


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