Politics & Government

Bert Combs' grandson picked as Knott County judge-executive

A Knott County businessman with a blue-chip Democratic pedigree will start work next week as the county's judge-executive, taking over as the county faces serious financial problems.

Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday appointed Zach Weinberg to serve out the term of former Judge-Executive Randy Thompson, who reported to prison Dec. 6 to begin a 40-month sentence for his conviction in a federal vote-buying case. The term runs through 2014.

Weinberg is the son of former state Rep. Bill Weinberg, chairman of the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation, and Lois Combs Weinberg, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002 and has served on the University of Kentucky board, the Council on Postsecondary Education and in other education posts; and the grandson of the late Gov. Bert Combs, all Democrats.

Democrats hold a wide edge in registration in Knott County, but Thompson was a Republican.

He was appointed to the post by GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher to replace the judge-executive before him, who also lost the office because of a vote-buying conviction.

Weinberg, 37, said he will be sworn in Monday.

The fiscal court approved deep cuts in the budget last month after learning the county was on track to finish the current fiscal year $1 million in the red. The main reason was that coal production in the county dropped sharply in 2012, reducing the amount of money coming to the county from the coal-severance tax.

However, some magistrates who voted for layoffs and other cuts — instead of a tax increase — said they felt there had been unnecessary spending under Thompson. Weinberg said his goal is to manage the county's money efficiently and avoid further spending cuts this fiscal year.

"I'm just trying to move forward," he said.

Weinberg said he appreciated Beshear's appointment and the support of state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner and state Rep. John Short, Democrats who had a hand in the decision.

Weinberg said he worked in his mother's U.S. Senate campaign for three years after college at UK and then sold real estate in Lexington for three years before returning to Knott County in 2006 to work in a family-owned natural gas business.

His most recent job was vice president of operations for Hayden Harper Energy KA, an oil and gas producer in Eastern Kentucky, Weinberg said. Weinberg and other family members also are directors at the Bank of Hindman.