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Monday, December 4, 2023

Bidding farewell

Departing magistrates and judge hold last regular meeting

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

Monday was the final regular meeting of the current fiscal court. Unless there is a need to schedule a special session, when the court meets again next year only one of the magistrates – the first district’s Chris Huddle – will be an incumbent.

Magistrate’s Morris Shearer, Jack Steele, and Donnie Oppenheimer, who lost re-election, will step down and new magistrates will be sworn in to represent their districts while district five magistrate Brandon Burton will step into the judge executive role.

It was also the final regular session for retiring judge executive Mike Malone, who joined the meeting via videoconference while recuperating from his recent auto accident.

Carter County Clerk Mike Johnston took the opportunity of the final meeting to thank the magistrates for their service, and to note how much he had enjoyed working with each of them, and Judge Executive Mike Malone during their time on the court.

He noted that he’d worked with Malone for the entire eight years Malone served on the court and though the pair hadn’t always agreed on how to approach everything – Johnston is a Democrat and Malone a Republican – they didn’t let those disagreements get in the way of doing whatever work was necessary for the county or ever take differing ideas personally. He wished Malone a speedy recovery, and all the best in his retirement

Johnston made his remarks after judge executive elect Brandon Burton, who was chosen to preside over the meeting during his last regular session as a magistrate, entertained motions from the court to approve the clerk’s fiscal year 2023 budget, and set the maximum salaries for deputy clerks, which the court approved unanimously.

In other action the clerk presented the court with a check for more than $5,000 from the collection of excess fees. Johnston said that number puts the total amount returned at $164,225.17 for the year.

In sheriff’s department news, Sheriff Jeff May reported that his office had recently hired former Olive Hill police chief Bobby Hall to serve as a new deputy. May said Hall plans to finish out his time until retirement with the department, giving them another experienced officer for the next 18 months while they send other recruits through the academy.

“I think he will do a fine job,” May said.

The court also moved to approve the Sheriff’s state advancement application, for an advancement of the department’s state funding in the amount of $60,000.00.

“We’re like Mike (county clerk Mike Johnston), we start at zero in the new year,” May said.

The court also moved to approve the sheriff’s state advancement bond, to approve the department’s 2023 budget, and to approve the annual order setting maximum salaries for the department.

The court also approved the ambulance board’s recommendation to appoint Sam Lowe to serve on the board, and accepted department reports from the road department, EMS, jail, sheriff, and E911.

The jail had “a perfect audit” with no negative marks, jailer R.W. Boggs told the court. Jason Carroll, from the road department, reported they were still filling potholes and putting gravel on roads, but also preparing for winter weather as we move into the colder months.

It was an amendment to ordinance number six, changing the E911 rate charged on land lines, that garnered the most attention, though.

E911 director Joe Lambert noted that – at $1.74 per billing cycle – the county’s E911 surcharge is the lowest rate in the region. Carter County is well below the rates of all neighboring counties, he said, which charge anywhere from $3.50 up to $5 to help support their E911 services.

He said if he could get the rate increased, he would spend any money raised on improving communication infrastructure, particularly radio communication towers.

“We could put in the latest and greatest equipment,” Lambert said, and it still wouldn’t improve communications because the county needs more radio towers.

They currently have three towers dedicated to emergency communications within the county. But, Lambert said, with a county as large as Carter County, they “should have (at least) six” towers.

During discussion outgoing magistrate Donnie Oppenheimer asked how much it should be increased.

“Could we increase it by a dollar and not hurt anybody?” Oppenheimer asked.

But Huddle said he didn’t think an increase of just one dollar would make the impact needed.

“I don’t think that would really help,” Huddle said. “I think it needs to be at least two dollars more.”

That would have put the rate at $3.74, but before the court could proceed with discussion, county attorney Brian Bayes explained that he had been asked by the judge executive’s office to prepare an amendment that set the rate at five dollars.

If that wasn’t the direction the court was leaning, he said, and they were instead looking to increase it by a more modest amount he would have to present another draft amendment for the next fiscal court to vote on.

“That’s too much,” Oppenheimer said of the five dollar rate.

Oppenheimer then made a motion to have Bayes draft a new ordinance amendment, setting the rate at $3.50, with Oppenheimer, Steele, and Shearer voting aye and Huddle, who preferred a higher rate, voting no.

That put the decision firmly in the laps of the new fiscal court – barring a compelling reason for special sessions to approve the amendment before the year is out.

In addition to Huddle – the only incumbent to win reelection – that new court will include Derrick McKinney in district two, Millard Cordle in district three, Danny Joe Holbrook in district four, and Harley Rayburn in district five.

This will also be the first court made up entirely of one political party – every magistrate and the Judge Executive ran as Republicans – in recent years.

That may have been on Shearer’s mind when, at the end of the meeting, he asked for a moment to thank his constituents for the opportunity to serve – noting how much he’d learned during his time in office – and to thank his Republican colleagues and the judge executive for working with him and the other magistrates in a productive and non-partisan manner. He also urged the county to county on that productive path and resist any temptation to return to the divisive “politics of the 1950s.”

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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