By Rodney Davis
The older I get, the more I realize my mom was right when she told me, “You don’t know everything.” And I never will. I learn new things every day from all sorts of folks: clients, other lawyers, friends, family, co-workers, the media, and, yes, even my 12 year-old. I realize many assumptions I have held over time simply are not accurate if I look closely at certain issues. This is my point in writing this column: let’s learn and explore new things.
Given that it is election time I thought it would be great to do a series of articles on “Civics-101-Duties of Elected Officials.” For an excellent source of information, aside from my comments in this article, I draw readers’ attention to “Duties of Elected County Officials-Informational Bulletin No. 114” produced by the Legislative Research Commission. This bulletin is accessible online at https://kydlgweb.ky.gov/Documents/Counties/ib114.pdf.
County elected officials are: county judge/executive, sheriff, county attorney, county clerk, jailer, coroner, justices of the peace (magistrates), constables, county surveyor and property valuation administrator. These officials are commonly referred to as the Fiscal Court. Given the limitations of time and space we will attempt to explore the duties and responsibilities of each of these offices over the next few months. The impact of county government on the daily lives of citizens in Kentucky cannot be overstated. With 120 counties, Kentucky ranks fourth in the country for the number of counties in a state right behind Virginia with 134. Texas has the most counties with 254. What makes Kentucky unique in topping this list is its relatively small geographic size and population compared to the other states at the top of this list.
The Office of County Judge was originally created in the Kentucky Constitution of 1850 and combined many judicial and administrative functions. The Office was changed with the Kentucky Constitution of 1891, and County Judge became not only the chief judicial officer in the county, but was also made the presiding officer over the fiscal court. Significant changes to the Office occurred in the 1970s, first with the 1975 judicial amendment to the state Constitution, and then in 1976 with the enactment of KRS 67.710 and KRS 67.715. The 1975 judicial amendment eliminated all of the judicial duties previously assigned to the county judge and the title of the office was changed to County Judge Executive. This reflects the modern duties of the office as being administrative and executive in function.
KRS 67.710 sets out eight specific duties of the Judge-Executive: 1. Execution of all ordinances, resolutions and contracts entered into by the fiscal court, 2. Preparation and submission to the fiscal court for approval an administrative code for the operation of the county, 3. Furnishing the fiscal court with information regarding the operation of the county departments, boards and commissions, 4. Require all officials utilizing county funds to file a detailed annual financial report, 5. Prepare and submit to the fiscal court an annual budget and administer the provisions of the budget, 6. Keep the fiscal court advised of the financial condition and needs of the county, 7. Exercise, with the approval of the fiscal court, the authority to appoint, supervise, suspend and remove county personnel subject to state law and 8. Make appointment or remove, with the approval of fiscal court, members of boards, commissions and administrative positions of the fiscal court as may be appropriate. Additionally, KRS 67.715 tasks the Judge-Executive with the power to create, abolish, or combine any county department or agency; create or combine special districts, and ensure that the county is represented on all boards, commissions, special districts, and multi-county programs in which the county participates.
While the list of duties contained in the previous paragraph may seem relatively short, the Judge-Executive is also tasked with numerous other duties assigned to the Office by statute or administrative code. The Judge-Executive may perform marriage ceremonies, and if the County Clerk is absent he, or she, may also issue marriage licenses. The Judge-Executive may establish and appoint officers to a county police force, and he may administer the work of county prisoners on community service related projects if the County has a written policy on such a program. Additionally, the Judge-Executive appoints members to the county board of assessment appeals, and administers oaths of office. He may also commence a condemnation action for county road purposes, become the alcohol administrator should the county be voted wet, and grant permits for fireworks displays.
Further, the Judge-Executive may have the commanding officer of the National Guard report to him on orders of the Governor to complete a specific tax. Perhaps the most unusual duty I found was that the Judge-Executive has an affirmative statutory duty pursuant to KRS 249.195 to control and eradicate Canada and nodding thistles on all lands, rights-of-ways and easement occupied or controlled by the County. The unusual duties category also includes the duty of administration of the confederate pensions (KRS Chapter 206, repealed in 2012) and vacant or unappropriated land within the County (KRS 56.210).
What does all of this mean to you? It means that Judge-Executive in Estill County is tasked with creating and managing an annual budget of approximately 6.2 million dollars. Further, he must manage a county work force of approximately 74 full and part-time employees who work for the various departments in the county. These departments include, but are not limited to, the animal shelter, county fire department, 911, road department, recycling center, senior citizens center, CSEPP and the administrative employees that work for the fiscal court. The Judge-Executive also must manage all fo the county property from real estate to equipment. Finally, in managing all of these various duties, the Judge-Executive must work closely with various state and federal agencies such as the Department for Local Government, Department of Transportation, the Administrative Office of the Courts, FEMA and the Department of Revenue. Clearly, this is not a position for the faint of heart.
I hope you have found this information helpful and insightful. Questions? Please, do not hesitate to call 606-726-9991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to answer them.