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Primary 2018: Incumbent judge executive, challenger square off on televised debate

Incumbent Judge Executive Dean Watts, right, and primary challenger Kenny Fogle, wait for the start of the televised PLG TV debate.

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 — The Democratic candidates for Nelson County judge executive squared off Tuesday at a televised political debate.

The debate featuring Incumbent Judge Executive Dean Watts and challenger Kenny Fogle launched the series of political debates hosted by Standard Communications and PLG-TV.

Fogle opened the debate by recounting his lengthy of record of community service that began when he joined the U.S. Air Force and continues today.

KENNY FOGLE

He fired the first salvo at Watts in his opening statement by saying that Watts’ 24 years as judge executive is too long in office. Fogle said if elected, he would serve no more than two terms.

Watts said that the right to limit the terms of office of elected officials lies with the electorate, and said he would hate to have think that voters wouldn’t have been able to re-elect former County Clerk Phyllis Mattingly to her many terms of office.

Watts made it clear that he — not Fogle — is the best candidate to beat Republican challenger Don Thrasher, who the winning Democrat will face in November.

Watts said in his years in office, he’s worked hard to keep taxes low, recruit good jobs to the community and improve the community’s quality of life.

Watts said he enjoys going to work every day and being able to make a positive difference.

“That’s important to me, and I think I can still make a difference,” he said.

LEADERSHIP STYLES. In response to a question about leadership style, Fogle said that his work in state government led him to realize that leadership means getting out of the way of talented people. If elected judge executive, Fogle said he would establish blue-ribbon commissions to tackle community issues and hash out solutions.

And indoor pool is possible, and he supported putting a committee together to work on it. He said creativity can help find ways to pay for its operating costs, including sponsorships.
“There’s way to pay for things without costing the taxpayer’s money,” he said.

DEAN WATTS

Watts said that judge executive is a 24/7 office. He said he’s learned that good leadership is empowering good people to do the job they need to do.

He wasn’t a fan of committees because in the end, with a tough decision it is the judge executive who must make a recommendation to fiscal court based on his knowledge and research.

Fogle said he supported getting input from the public on most issues.

“We have a brain trust here that’s unreal with some of the smartest people in the world,” he said.

He defended his plan to use committees to tackle community issues. “The can bring the issues to me and the final vote is with fiscal court,” he said. “I don’t plan to vote on fiscal court, but the buck stops at the top.”

CLAIMS OF CORRUPTION. Fogle was asked about his social media posts that have reference claims of corruption, favoritism and cronyism in county government that he’s been told about. Was he making accusations? Was he aware of specifics?

Fogle said he was not accusing Watts of any wrongdoing or inappropriate acts.

“When you’re a candidate you hear what people say,” he said. “I don’t know if its true.”

In the role of challenging the incumbent, you attract people who have been passed over, fired, or are disgruntled, he explained.
“I’m not accusing anyone, and I don’t have proof. My opponent is an honorable person, but I’ve at least put it out there. I put it on Facebook in hopes of people will responds with facts.”

“My answer is no, no no — I don’t reward my friends,” Watts punched back. “A candidate who puts something like that in writing, its disturbing, and they’re not talking about the issues in the community.”

TRANSPARENCY. In regard to a question about transparency in county government, Fogle was critical of how Fiscal Court votes on issues quickly at its meetings with little discussion.

“Magistrates don’t need the judge to explain the issues to them,” he said, referring to statements Watts has made that he emails information to magistrates to help them understand issues the court will need to address.

Watts said it was important to him to present the magistrates with enough information in advance to allow them all to make decision based on solid facts and figures. Many times, the magistrates have been reviewing information for weeks in advance.

“The community doesn’t want to see us bicker back and forth,” Watts said. “My style is to inform the magistrates, like they do me.”

PLANNING & ZONING. Some candidates have suggested the city and county divide their planning and zoning duties rather than work together as is now the practice. Should the planning commission be divided?

Watts said he was definitely in favor of keeping planning and zoning as it exists.

“Everyone lives in Nelson County, no matter what city you live in,” Watts said. “The planning commission makes decisions based on facts and the law, it doesn’t matter where you live in the county.”

He noted that the planning commission has room for improvement, and gave the commission credit for its willingness to make improvements.

Fogle said on social media he would like to “repeal and replace” planning and zoning because it has been “a thorn in people’s sides for years.”

He claimed that planning and zoning has had a negative impact on the community and made it difficult to get approval for a new driveway, building, etc.

“I want to take it down to the bare minimum and start over,” he said, and put together a committee that would include developers, landowners and more, to see what works and what needs to be fixed in planning and zoning.

“The landscape has changed, and we have to start all over and find out what works,” he said.

Watts pointed out that the local rules and regulations have been changed and updated over the past few years. He noted that planning and zoning comes up as a hot topic every election cycle because it is one of those things people don’t think of until it affects them.

Fogle claimed that new the restrictions created by planning and zoning have led to few new homes being built in the county. He would create a blue ribbon commission to fix the problems.

As rebuttal, Watts provided figures from the planning commission that showed that more than 800 new single housing permits were issued in Nelson County in the past five years. The planning commission is not hurting the county’s housing market, he said.

OCCUPATIONAL TAX. Fogle confirmed that he considers the occupational tax unfair to all, but particularly the lower income workers.

He supports finding ways to replace the occupational tax money, noting that “making up the revenue is the tricky part.” More new homes would add to the county’s tax base and perhaps eliminate or reduce the occupational tax.

“If I can take (the occupational tax rate) to zero, I will find a way to do it.”

Dean defended the occupational tax and rebuffed suggestions that a lot of money is wasted in administrative costs.

The tax brings in about $1.2 million, and 4-1/2 to 5 percent go to administrative costs, he explained. He noted that the property tax revenue from new home construction is limited to a four percent increase annually, no matter how high tax assessments go.

“The property tax rate is capped at 4 percent revenue increase, and we already have had that,” hes aid. “We’ve had to lower property tax rates due to that 4 percent revenue cap.”

RECREATION. Both men agreed the county needs more recreation opportunities for county youth and adults.

Watts said the desire to keep taxes low limits the ability to invest in new recreation facilities. An indoor pool facility can be funded, but sustaining its operations is the real problem. He cited indoor pool facilities in Lebanon and Elizabethtown that require taxpayer subsidies to their operating budgets.

Fogle disagreed with Watts’ statements on an indoor pool facility. “I think we can sustain it, not with fees but with sponsorships,” he said, adding that there may be a way to have health insurance pay for it

COUNTY’S ROLE IN STATE PARK AMPHITHEATER RENOVATION. Watts said when he heard of the amphitheater’s shutdown by state officials, “I went in with both feet.” He and Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton and local legislators met with state officials to find a way to get the amphitheater open again.

Funds for permanent repairs at the amphitheater will come from private sources, Watts said. The drama is too important to the community to not have taken action, he explained.

Fogle agreed that it was important to take action to save the drama’s ability to function at the amphitheater. He said he would support adding more uses at the facility, which he said should be owned by the county and leased to the drama association.

NELSON COUNTY JAIL. Watts said the jail has historically struggled with overcrowding. The jail was built to hold 100 to 105 inmates, and has — until recently — held as many as 170 inmates.

A new county jail is in the future, he said.

Fogle questioned the need to build a new jail and suggested making more use of home incarceration.

“We have to stop putting people in jail for every little reason and find alternative punishment options,” he explained.

In closing the debate, Watts cited his experience, his track record of progressive leadership and taxes low as reasons to return him to office.

“I’m the best candidate to defeat Don Thrasher in the fall election,” he said. “I’m a fiscal conservative, compared to the liberal democrat that Kenny said he was in his book.”

Fogle said his years of community service and dedication to teamwork as important differences between he and Watts.

NEXT UP: The Civic Center will host the sheriff debates Wednesday night (Republican candidates at 6 p.m., Democratic candidates at 7:15 p.m.), and on Thursday night, the 50th District state representative debate at 6 p.m. and the jailer debate at 7:15 p.m.

All debates will be live at the Civic Center and the public is invited to watch them in person. The debates will be replayed at a later time on PLG TV.

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