Magoffin County Judge-Executive Charles "Doc" Hardin has hired a man with a felony vote-buying conviction to be an administrative assistant in his office.
Randy Salyer was convicted in federal court of buying votes in the November 2010 general election.
A judge ordered Salyer to report to prison in January 2012. He was released in July 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Hardin, whose 2014 re-election has been contested in court, announced at a fiscal court meeting Wednesday that he had hired Salyer.
The decision didn't sit well with some.
"It's a slap in the face to everyone in our county and to the judicial system," said Magistrate Matt Wireman. "It's unbelievable."
Wireman said he was surprised by the decision. However, Hardin had the authority to hire Salyer without approval from magistrates, Wireman said.
Magistrate Buck Lemaster declined to say whether he supported hiring Salyer — noting that his opinion wouldn't change anything — but said he'd heard from others in the county who disapproved.
However, Magistrate Gary "Rooster" Risner said he strongly supported Hardin's decision to give a job to Salyer, whose wife and son also work for the county.
Having a criminal conviction does not mean Salyer is a bad person, Risner said, noting that he also had a federal criminal conviction.
Court records indicate Risner was convicted on a marijuana charge in 1997. Risner said he later had his right to hold office restored.
"The way I look at it, he served his time and he's even with the world," Risner said of Salyer.
Risner said the job Salyer received was already in the budget and vacant.
Hardin, a physician who maintains his practice in addition to serving as judge-executive, said he needed additional help with county business. The deputy judge-executive already is juggling more than one job, Hardin said.
Hardin said he trusts Salyer. The two are friends.
Salyer is intelligent, good with people and has run businesses, including a produce store, Hardin said.
As for the criminal conviction, Hardin said he does not believe Salyer was guilty in the 2010 vote-buying case.
Even if others believe he was, however, Salyer paid his penalty, Hardin said.
"He should be eligible for employment in a position like this," Hardin said Friday. "I do believe strongly in second chances."
Hardin said Salyer's first task will be overseeing an important road project at an industrial site.
Salyer's salary will be in the range of $36,000 to $40,000 a year, Hardin said.
The November 2010 election caused a good deal of controversy.
Hardin, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger John P. Montgomery in that race.
Montgomery and Randall Bob Jordan, a Democrat who lost re-election, charged in a lawsuit that the results were corrupted by vote buying.
Witnesses testified that Salyer, who was on the county board of elections, paid people $50 or more for their votes, according to the decision in the case.
Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who represented Montgomery and Jordan, said he argued Salyer had bought votes for Hardin.
The judge ruled that while the losing candidates proved vote buying took place, there was not sufficient evidence to link it to Hardin, Pillersdorf said.
The month after the decision, in February 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Salyer. He was convicted later that year on two of four counts of buying votes.
Montgomery said this week that Salyer "took the fall" for Hardin in the federal case.
Hardin has strongly denied being involved in vote buying in 2010 or any other election.
Controversy has continued to mark local elections, however.
In the May 2014 primary for judge-executive, the count on Election Day showed former county Clerk H.B. Arnett winning by three votes, but in a recount, Arnett lost one vote and Hardin picked up five, making Hardin the winner by three.
Arnett's attorney charged that someone had gone back after the initial Election Day count and added votes for Hardin on absentee ballots. But county Clerk Renee Arnett-Shepherd, who oversees elections, said she did not think there was any fraud involved.
Attorneys for Hardin contend there was an error in the initial count that was caught in the recount.
In the November 2014 general election, Hardin again faced Montgomery. Montgomery carried 10 of 14 county precincts and won the ballots cast on Election Day by nearly 8 percent.
But Hardin received 791 absentee votes to 354 for Montgomery, winning election to a fourth term by 28 votes.
Montgomery sued, alleging vote buying by Hardin and improper conduct by county election officials, including Salyer's wife, Susie, a member of the county election board.
Hardin denied any wrongdoing.
Circuit Judge John David Preston ruled in February that there were so many violations of rules in the election that the results had to be thrown out. Among other things, Preston said county employees illegally spread gravel on several private driveways shortly before the election, and that some people sold their votes.
Preston declared the office vacant. Hardin appealed, which allowed him to remain in office.
A panel of the state Court of Appeals upheld the decision vacating the office.
Hardin's attorneys asked the entire court to review that decision, arguing, among other things, that there is no evidence Hardin bought votes or was aware of such acts. The request is pending.