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Thrasher seeks change from magistrate to commission form of county government

Don Thrasher, the Republican candidate for Nelson County judge executive, said Tuesday he plans to launch a petition drive seeking to seek voters’ approval to change county government from its existing format with five magistrates elected from their districts to the commission form of county government with three elected “at-large” commissioner representing the county’s residents. File photo.

 

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 (updated 12:20 p.m. March 8) — Don Thrasher, the Republican candidate for Nelson County Judge Executive, announced Wednesday the launch of a petition drive seeking to change the the county’s form of government.

In a press release to local media, Thrasher said the move to change county government was prompted by Nelson Fiscal Court’s decision Tuesday to ignore his call to delay the final vote on a zoning amendment requested by the Woodlawn Springs Golf Course LLC.

Don Thrasher, Repubican candidate for judge executive, addresses fiscal court at a recent meeting.

Thrasher had called on fiscal court to delay the Woodlawn Springs vote at its meeting Tuesday, but there was no mention of a delay or Thrasher’s request. The court’s final vote was unanimous to approving the zoning amendment the golf course owners sought.

Thrasher’s petition seeks to change county government from a fiscal court consisting of five magistrates and the county judge executive, to the commission form, which consists of the judge executive and three county commissioners.

The main difference between the two forms of county government are how its members are elected. Currently, the voters in each magisterial district elect their magistrate; in the county commission format, all voters in the county vote for three commissioners no matter where those candidates live.

The commission form is still based on geography, however — the change would mean redrawing the county into three districts from which the three commissioners would come from. The county’s voters would elect for three commissioners, and the commissioners would be answer to the residents of the entire county, not just their district.

The majority of county governments in Kentucky are the county judge executive / magistrate format.

Thrasher’s press release cited off-the-record conversations with two sitting magistrates who allegedly told him how the “unwritten good old boy obstacle to getting accomplished” works in fiscal court.

“… The unwritten code works like this, if a resident of district 4 can’t get his or her magistrate to back something the other magistrates will not address it. In other words even if the other magistrates may agree on something a citizen proposes, if the person proposing it does not live in their district they will only vote or support something brought by that district’s magistrate.

“This is ingrained in the magistrates from day one and perpetuated because no magistrate wants to rock the boat in fear of whatever proposals they bring up will meet with opposition. The unwritten rule has been illustrated time and time again in the voting practices of the Fiscal Court. Review of past votes reveals that the only opposing votes by magistrates are for budget items that are not district specific.”

Thrasher and a group calling themselves Nelson County Citizens for County Commissioners will start seeking signature for a petition beginning Saturday, March 10. Individuals seeking more information can contact Thrasher.

PETITION TO CHANGE. KRS 67.050 lays out the steps for switching from a magistrate form of fiscal court to a county commissioner form.

Citizens of the county must present the county judge executive with a petition with signatures equal to at least 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the county in the last presidential election, or 1,200 registered voters of the county, whichever is less.

If a valid petition is submitted, the judge executive calls for the issue to be placed on the ballot at the next regular election in order for the voters to decide which sort of fiscal court they favor. If a majority of the voters favor a county commission form of fiscal court, the county judge executive must, by the first Monday in January in the year of election of county officers, divide the county into three commissioners’ districts

State law also outlines provisions for switching back from a commission form of fiscal court to a magistrate form. Neighboring Hardin County switched to a commission form of county government, but switched back to the magistrate form of county government several years ago.

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