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Man suing judge executive sought appointments as settlement options

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 — The man who filed suit last month against Judge Executive Dean Watts regarding the re-naming of the northern section of the former  Louisville Road days later offered four options to settle his suit — three of which involve Watts appointing the man to an open elective office, or to one of two jobs in county government Watts would need to create.

DON THRASHER

The information came to light as part of an Open Records request filed by the Nelson County Gazette with the office of Judge Executive Dean Watts. The request sought the correspondence between Watts and the man who filed the lawsuit, Salt River Road resident Don Thrasher.

On Nov. 29th, Thrasher filed a writ of mandamus lawsuit in Nelson Circuit Court that complained that Watts improperly renamed Thrasher’s section of the former Louisville Road. The most northern section of the old road is still maintained by the state, and Thrasher’s lawsuit claims that Watts doesn’t have the authority to rename a state road.

The lawsuit also alleges that Watts’ failure to appoint individuals to fill the open constable and open county surveyor positions amount to official misconduct in the second-degree.

PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OPTIONS. Documents produced in response to the Gazette’s Open Records request revealed that on Saturday, Dec. 2, Thrasher sent Watts and County Attorney Matthew Hite an offer to settle his lawsuit via one of four options.

OPTION 1: NAME CHANGE. The first option was for Nelson Fiscal Court to change the name of the road Thrasher lives on from Salt River Road to either Bardstown Road or General Nelson Road.

OPTION 2: APPOINTMENT AS CONSTABLE.  The second option Thrasher suggested is for Watts to appoint him to fill the open office of District 4 constable. If appointed, Thrasher wrote that he would limit his duties to serving court papers and only perform law enforcement duties in the event of natural disaster, a state of emergency, or at the request of the sheriff.

The final two options involve appointments to jobs within county government — as Magistrate Research Adviser or Deputy County Executive.

OPTION 3: MAGISTRATE RESEARCH ADVISER.  As research adviser, Thrasher wrote he envisioned the volunteer position as one to assist the magistrates in any “research advisory capacity” similar to the way the Legislative Research Commission assists the Kentucky General Assembly.

OPTION 4: DEPUTY COUNTY EXECUTIVE. As Deputy County Executive, Thrasher states he would waive compensation for the position as required by statute.

Thrasher’s email ends by stating he was open to consideration of alternative settlement officers from Watts, though he warned that a lack of a settlement will likely mean a lengthy legal fight ahead.

“It is my fervent hope that I can do something positive and beneficial. While being a watchdog of the county I live in seems good on its face, I would rather go after some for profit corporation that is taking advantage of people. I don’t see a lot of upside of litigating people and institutions who more than likely are in government for the right reasons. But please understand if the stand is to be dogmatic and unmovable towards resolve, my fight here would be justified and protracted.”

THREAT OF BAD PUBLICITY. The following day — Sunday, Dec. 3 — Thrasher sent Watts, Hite and magistrates a copy of a press release from a group called “Historians for Justice” based in Los Angeles that is apparently set for release Wednesday, Dec. 6th — the day after Tuesday’s Fiscal Court meeting. The press release blasts Watts for renaming Thrasher’s road after the Bullitt Lick Salt Mining Operation.

“Judge Dean Watts has insensitively chosen to name a road after Salt River which derives its name because of the Bullitt Lick salt operation. Bullitt Lick was the site of some of the worst slave abuses during the slavery era. For an elected official to be so racially insensitive towards history is truly incredulous,” the press release states.

The group claims it is a “non-profit that enlightens the public about the past and attempts to correct the present and future for equal justice.” A Google search for Historians for Justice Inc. found no information regarding the group or its existence. At press time it is unknown if the release will actually be released via the PR Newswire website as indicated.

POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS. Thrasher’s settlement offer noted that he plans to run for District 4 Constable and fight the court’s existing requirement of a $1 million bond in order for someone elected to the office to actually serve. Thrasher says that if his magistrate — 4th District Magistrate Jeff Lear — fails to get Thrasher’s road ordinance approved by fiscal court (it was presented at Tuesday’s meeting), he will drop his plan to run for constable and instead challenge Lear for his fiscal court seat.

“Truthfully, out of all of the above I would rather the road name be changed to Bardstown Rd. and would love nothing more than to tell the media I was wrong about Judge Watts, I would much rather say “Judge Watts has shown real wisdom in listening to the will of the citizens on the road, he ultimately fought for his constituents rights and I support him fully moving forward,” Thrasher wrote in his settlement email.

“Please let me know if you are open to any of the aforementioned ideas, or feel free to proffer your own ideas, or we can keep marching down the rabbit hole.”

NO SETTLEMENT. In an email to Thrasher dated Monday, Dec. 4, County Attorney Hite said Watts would not agree to any of Thrasher’s four settlement proposals. Hite instead suggested that he and Thrasher jointly file a request for an opinion on the road renaming matter with the Kentucky Attorney General’s office. Both parties would agree beforehand to abide by the AG’s opinion.

In his response the same day, Thrasher turned away Hite’s proposal and rescinded his settlement offer.

BACKGROUND. Before filing his lawsuit, Thrasher exchanged multiple emails with both Watts and Hite regarding the road name issue.

In a Nov. 29th email to Hite, Thrasher filed a request for Watts to recuse himself from a portion of the Dec. 5th Fiscal Court meeting in order for Thrasher to present the magistrates with his evidence of Watts’ official misconduct. Thrasher said if he was not given the opportunity to address the court without Watts present, he would file for a restraining order in Nelson Circuit Court to force the issue.

Thrasher’s proposed ordinance regarding road name signs requiring fiscal court action was mentioned, but no action was taken by the court.

Watts never recused himself at Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting, and Thrasher did not present evidence to the court regarding the misconduct allegations.

NEXT UP. Nelson Fiscal Court meets next on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.

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