Republican Jon Larson said he knows exactly what he'd do if elected Fayette County Judge-Executive over Democratic incumbent Sandra Varellas. He wants to abolish the office.
The Lexington criminal defense attorney said he supports an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution sponsored by state Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, that would do away with the office in Lexington.
The legislation, which would require approval from voters statewide, would also abolish the office in Jefferson County, which has a merged city-county government similar to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
"The worst and most obvious situation apparent to anyone interested in good government is the continued existence of the Fayette County judge-executive office," said Larson. "My purpose is to eliminate this unnecessary office."
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Varellas, a Lexington attorney who has held the post since being appointed in 1980 by then-Gov. John Y. Brown, acknowledged that the job is "a part-time position."
But she does not think the post should be abolished.
"There are important duties, and when those powers need to be exercised you need somebody who knows what they are doing," Varellas said.
In 118 counties in Kentucky, the county judge-executive typically has most of the power in local government. When Lexington and Fayette County merged in 1974, the duties and power of several elected county positions were diminished.
Despite the lack of duties in Fayette County, the state constitution requires Lexington to maintain its shadow government — three magistrates, three commissioners, three constables and the county judge executive.
"With no more county government, there is no need" for the county judge-executive, said Farmer.
As judge-executive, Varellas makes more than $8,000 annually. Her job duties include swearing in deputies and airport police, and authorizing the sheriff's department to go out of state to pick up prisoners, appointing members of the board of assessment appeals, appointing replacements when someone vacates a county office and presiding over fiscal court.
Commissioners, with the judge-executive, make up the Fayette County Fiscal Court, which votes each year on a county road budget. In 2011, that was $1.45 million. The money comes from Frankfort as Fayette County's share of the state gasoline tax and the road work is done by the Urban County Government.
Commissioners make $50 a year. County roads are those outside the Urban Services Area.
Larson, 65, said the various duties of the county judge-executive can be handled by district and circuit judges or the Urban County Government.
But Varellas, 64, said it's important for people who live in rural portions of the county to have someone who's focused on their roads.
"If you eliminate this position and eliminate the fiscal court and just pour those county road funds into the Urban County Government coffers, people in the county would get lost in the shuffle," she said.
Varellas said one of her most important duties is to appoint people to other vacant county offices, such as county attorney, coroner, sheriff and county clerk. She has made more than half a dozen appointments since 1980, including in 2008 when she appointed Don Blevins Jr. to replace his father Don Blevins Sr. as county clerk.
That appointment has become an issue in the 12th District State Senate race with incumbent Alice Forgy Kerr contending that Blevins Sr., her challenger, orchestrated the appointment of his son to succeed him when he retired as Fayette County clerk.
"In a back-room deal, he shook hands with political bosses," contends an ad paid for by the Republican Party of Kentucky. Varellas has said she did not have any contact with Don Blevins Sr. or any Democratic party official about the appointment of his son.
Larson takes issue with the procedures governing the way the county judge-executive fills vacancies.
"The most egregious problem with this situation is that there is no openness in the appointment process," Larson said. "The mayor and the council are shut out of it. There seems to be no public review of candidates."
The 2011 budget for the Fayette County Judge Executive's office is $18,090, which includes Varellas' salary and benefits, one telephone line and $150 in salaries for the three county commissioners.
Larson said he was concerned that in 2009 the Urban County Government spent $4,846 more on her office than the $23,538 that was budgeted. But Ryan Barrow, budget director for the Urban County Government, said the parts of Varellas' office budget that she controls were below the budgeted amount by $1,000.
Barrow said Varellas did not have control of an increase in what the Urban County Government spent on her health insurance.
The vote to abolish the Fayette county judge executive's office would occur in 2012 if the constitutional amendment were to pass, Farmer said. Varellas said the Urban County Charter would also have to be revised.
Larson is an Army veteran who has chaired the Fayette County Human Rights Commission and the Fayette County Environmental Commission.
Varellas said she had proven herself in her 30 years in office. "I've been able to work quite well with Urban County Government," she said.
Meanwhile, there are no contested races for the three county commissioners and magistrates. Magistrates do not get a salary but can charge people a fee for performing marriages.
The three constables in Fayette County also don't draw a salary. The constables deliver civil court papers for a fee which is sometimes between $30 and $40. They have arrest powers and can carry a gun.
In the second district, Republican Jim McKenzie, 49, a bank loan officer, is running against Democrat Jim Greathouse, 44, who owns a tree service and a memorial plaque restoration company. Greathouse said he will run the office "like a business." McKenzie said he will bring professionalism to the office.
In the third district, Republican Steve Hamlin, 45, is running against Democrat K.W. "Ken" Winburn.
Winburn, 67, said that for 17 years, he managed the constable's office for his wife, Patricia Ann Winburn, who was constable in that district for four terms beginning in 1994. Patricia Ann Winburn died last year.
Hamlin was a deputy constable in the 1990s and was formerly a Transportation Safety Administration employee at the Lexington airport. He now runs an insurance agency.