By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Photo by Lisa Bicknell
From left, candidates for Magistrate of district 1: Joe Crawford, Roy Embs and Mike Abney.
The fourth forum featuring local candidates for office was held on Thursday night at the high school.
During the forum, candidates for Magistrate of the three districts had opportunity to introduce themselves and answer a few questions.
Brianna Palmer, captain of the Mock Trial Team at EKU and an intern with Davis Law in Richmond, conducted the forum.
Candidates for Magistrate, District 1 were called to the stage first.
Robert O’Neil Sanders was randomly selected to be the first to speak. He said that although he is not from here, he has been here for 29 years. He stated that he didn’t have anything else to do, and there is a lot to be done. “I have some good ideas, and I think I can be a positive influence on who I work for and who I work with,” he said. Sanders also said he has experience in construction, contract management and engineering, and he has worked with the federal government, Coast Guard and the US Army.
Mike Abney said he has lived in Estill County all his life and has owned and operated Abney Auto Sales for 36 years. His son is now a partner with him, which he said will allow him more time for being a magistrate. When asked why he wanted the stress and headaches of the public office, he said he’s learned how important it is to be involved.
Abney spoke of the positive changes he has seen in Estill County, including the new restaurants and businesses downtown, and said he’s encouraged to see young adults and older ones with a new interest and enthusiasm working hard for new growth.
He said that the beauty of living here, where people come together to comfort and support, can’t be beat. He does see a need to stimulate growth and keep the county’s youth here, while utilizing the county’s natural resources. Funding is needed, which he says will take “digging in, researching, and staying in touch with elected officials.”
Abney also stressed that balancing the budget is important, and said, “You can’t spend money you don’t have.”
Roy Embs was the next of the magistrate candidates to speak. He said he’s lived in the county all his life, and he worked for the railroad for 20 years. He also served as a water commissioner for 12 years, where he helped oversee the installation of three water projects out in the county.
Of the magistrates and judges, Embs said he can “work with everyone.” He said there is a lot of stuff he’d like to see why it’s like it is now and he’d like to work on some changes. He also said he would “try to get a balanced budget and keep it that way.”
Joe Crawford was called. He said he was born and raised in the county, and he was taught by his family to value hard work and to know right from wrong. He studied economics at EKU and diplomacy at UK. He has worked for the Estill Development Alliance for the past 13 years, where he has helped get started such programs as Leadership LEAP, the Estill Action Group, the River City Players, and the Estill County Chamber of Commerce.
Crawford called himself “the worst politician you’re ever gonna meet,” because, he said, “I really don’t care for partisan politics or politics in general.” He thinks it gets in the way of getting things done.
He is also willing to make the decisions that “might make somebody mad.”
He believes in the “inherent greatness” of our community, as is evidenced by the support of the community when the boys basketball team made it to Rupp.
“I believe in a transparent, open and engaged local government,” Crawford said. He also said he thinks public meetings should be videoed and put online.
Crawford said, “We have to focus on quality of life issues to keep young families here.”
The candidates for District 1 each drew a written question and had opportunity to answer it.
Robert Sanders was asked why he decided to run, and he answered with a laugh that he was “unemployed and looking for a good job.” But his serious reply was that he is concerned about the population of Estill County. He said he worked around the east coast, building restaurants and shopping centers. He then came back to Estill County, where he noticed that many people are desperately looking for a job, but there are “none to be had,” so people have to go to surrounding communities. Sanders said he has an idea for developing property for a factory, but he said it will take people coming together to make it happen.
Mike Abney drew the question, “What are your feelings about the landfill?”
He replied that he thought it should never have been here in the first place, but it is, so it really needs to be watched closely. He said that the worst thing about it is that is across from the schools, and that it needs to be watched to keep out “the stuff that we don’t want in there.”
Roy Embs was asked, “What is the one thing you would like to see happening in Estill County?”
Embs said he’d like to see more businesses come into the county, and he would work with the judges to balance the budget. Embs also said that he agrees with Abney on the landfill.
“The main thing is to get in there and balance the budget,” he said.
Joe Crawford selected this question: “In your opinion, what makes you the best candidate for the people who live in your district?”
Crawford said he has pertinent experience with community issues and economic development, and he has been involved at the state and federal level with some of local projects. In doing so, he has made connections with people at both the state and federal level that would be beneficial to him as magistrate.
“I’m already involved, and I want to be more involved,” he said.
The District 2 candidates were then called to the stage, and Earl Young, Jr. was chosen to introduce himself first.
Young said he has lived in the county for 50 years, and for at least 40 years in the district. He worked for Bundy Tubing for 22 years, where he was a group leader for 20 years. He was also the vice president of the union for nine years. For 20 years, he served with the Estill County and Irvine Road Departments.
Young reminded that he has four previous years’ magistrate experience, during which he worked hard. He said it was a learning experience, and he put in 160 hours of trainings and went to a lot of meetings. He said he’d like to put that knowledge to use again.
Young would also like to see the county “standing on our own feet.” He thinks there are enough honest and good fair people to make it work. He’d like to see work come in, but says the county needs good roads.
“I promise one thing, if I get elected you’ll have fair and honest government as far as my concern,” Young said.
Bill Eldridge introduced himself as currently serving as magistrate, and said he was appointed to the position. Eldridge said it’s a great job, but it’s “whatever you want to make of it.”
He said that he left the county and went to Florida to work for a while, but couldn’t wait to get back home. “This is my home, I love it here,” he said.
He got a job with the county, and said “there is no better feeling that to go help someone,” even if it’s just fixing a pot hole. Eldridge said he will give the job 100 percent, and he promised to be there for anyone who calls.
He also said he works for the people, and he wants a better place for the kids. He said he likes to listen and think everything through before making a decision, which he makes based on if it’s good for the county.
Paul Tipton has lived in Estill County all his life. He introduced himself as an employee of IMU for 25 years, 15 of which he was the outside manager, laying water and sewer lines, and working on culverts, roads, and maintaining equipment. “We need more jobs,” he said, adding that those who drive out of county for work often spend their money out of town.
“We need a factory,” he also said, adding that since 1994, the county has lost 1,000 people. He said that jobs will bring people back and will bring a better fire department and law enforcement.
He also thinks a park and someone to monitor it will help give young people something to do and a reason to stay out of trouble.
Each month, he’ll publish his phone number in the paper. “I’ll do what’s right for the entire county, not just one district, but for all,” Tipton said.
Keith Bradley said he runs a business here in town, has lived and worked in Estill County most of his life. Bradley has served on the volunteer fire department, as well as the rescue squad and as an EMT.
He said if elected, he’d like to invite everyone to the meetings to get their input. He spoke of how bad the roads are at this time, and said he’d be willing to go to Frankfort to get grants.
“I do want to see more jobs,” he added, and said that is why he chose to start a business here, to provide himself and others more jobs.
In the Q and A session, Earl Young was asked how he planned to make himself available to the public.
Young said he would post his phone number or his cell number for anybody to call, and if at all possible, he would be there night or day if someone needed something.
Bill Eldridge was asked, “Based on the conversations with voters that you’ve had, what is the biggest challenge facing the magistrates?
Eldridge said the roads are one of the biggest issues, that he has had someone call and say they can’t keep ball joints in their vehicle. Eldridge is concerned about safety, particularly of school buses. He said the money has been there[to repair roads] for a year and a half, but they just haven’t used it.
Paul Tipton was asked, What do you see is the answer to our county’s financial woes at this time?
Tipton joked, “We need someone to win the lottery.” He also said, “We need to bring more jobs back into the county and get people moving back in.” He explained how he thinks bringing more money back into the county will result in more to spend on the roads, on the jail, and police and fire protection.
“Everything depends on the budget, if there’s no money in the county, you can’t have a budget.”
Keith Bradley was asked, “When people complain about paying local taxes, how do you plan to address this issue with them?”
Bradley said that if they complain about it, he would tell them that he has to pay taxes same as everyone else, and it’s the only way to get things done such as taking care of the roads for our school buses. “It’s hard to do anything without the taxes,” said Bradley.
Magistrates for District 3 were then called to the podium.
Douglas Dooley was the first of those to speak. Dooley said his hope is that everyone will come together to make the necessary adjustments needed to form a better foundation for the county. He sees opportunity here, and said he’d like to give back to the community that has given so much to him. His work experience includes working for Bundy Tubing for 15 years at various facilities, where he was promoted from production operator to acting supervisor over the years. He said he had to find part time work at one time during an economic downturn when he was laid off, and he went to work for Wigg and Judy Wolfinbarger, and they taught him a lot. He also worked for Johnny French for an excavating and tank service where he learned how to operate heavy equipment and basic diesel mechanics. Eventually, he ended up working for his in-laws at Marcums Auto Sales. In all his jobs, he said, he gained experience in working beside a team.
Gary Robinson introduced himself next. He’s a graduate of ECHS in 1981, and has been self employed as a painter and a general contractor for almost 30 years. Robinson said he was a member of the United States Navy, a member of the Kiwanis Club, and a member of the golf club where he is serving as vice president of the board for his second three year term.
He has coached and volunteered for his kids’ school activities and sports. He listed some of the problems facing the county, but also spoke of some of the positives. He said there is a lot of good things going on. He spoke of the county’s natural beauty, and said he visited the Kentucky River Park last week. “I can’t think of a more beautiful place to go for a walk or go watch your kids sporting events,” he said.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to work with others to solve problems,” he said.
Gerry Flannery was next to speak. He named several duties of the fiscal court, which include appropriation of funds and maintaining all roads. “I have traveled a lot of roads and many of them are in dire need of repair,” said Flannery. He said, if elected, he would be available to take calls, and that his number is in the book. He also said that being a magistrate is a full-time job, and that he is retired from Jackson Energy and has the time to devote to the job. He spoke of the importance of services to keep people in the county safe, including 911, fire, rescue, and ambulance. Flannery said he would work with other magistrates and the judge, and would work to bring more jobs in. “Because of the road problems,” he said, “a lot of companies won’t come in.”
Holden Hardy introduced himself. He said he was born and raised in Estill County and lived in District 3 all his life. He said that growing up, he had great role models who taught him hard work, honesty and respect. He has three daughters, and he hopes they grow up to love the county as much as he does. Hardy said he has worked for the fiscal court and as a bailiff, as well as a CDL driver for the road department. If elected, Hardy said, “I will not be idle. I will work and do my best for the people of this county…it will be a privilege to serve.”
Melvin Fields was the last of the candidates to speak. Fields thanked God to be there, and said without Him he’d be nothing. He said he has farmed for half his life and now works in Lexington. “I love my county, but I want to get back home,” he said. Fields was raised on Red Lick and has lived at South Irvine for 25 years. He’s not afraid of hard work, and not afraid to get his hands dirty. He said if anybody has a problem to call him.
“I want to be your magistrate 24/7, seven days a week,” he said. He also said when he “takes that problem on, it’s no more your problem, but my problem.”
Doug Dooley was then asked, “What makes you feel most proud about living in Estill County?”
“It’s just a good place to live, and I just want to try to make it better for everybody,” said Dooley.
Gary Robinson was asked, “In your opinion, what are the most important skills or qualities for a magistrate to possess?”
He replied, “Balancing the budget, dealing with people, making good decisions, working hard, and doing what you say you will do.”
Gerry Flannery’s question was, “What solutions would you recommend for all of the trash along our road sides, in our streams and rivers?”
Flannery said much of the garbage comes off trucks heading to the landfill. Although he thinks it would be hard to write them all a ticket, he thinks they should be cited. He also said a lot of stuff comes from upstream in the eastern part of the state and that it would be hard to stop it.
Holden Hardy was asked, “What kind of involvement have you had in county government or community service in the past?”
Hardy said he served as bailiff for the Estill County Sheriff’s Department and has worked for the road department, so he has seen all the issues with the roads that all the other candidates have been talking about lately.
Melvin Fields was asked, “How do you feel about city and county government merging into one governmental body?”
Fields replied, “I don’t think they will right now, because Estill County’s broke. Why would you want to bring another city into a county that is broke?”
The last of the Estill County Candidate Forums will be Thursday, May 3, from 6 to 8 at the high school auditorium. Forum Five will feature candidates for mayor, constable, and jailer. The forum is free and open to the public.