Politics & Government

Race for Jessamine County judge-executive pits state lawmaker against funeral home co-owner

David West
is the co-owner of a funeral home.
David West is the co-owner of a funeral home. Lexington Herald-Leader

NICHOLASVILLE — Whoever wins the Nov. 4 election for Jessamine County judge-executive will be a new face to the office, which has been held since 1990 by Neal Cassity. Now 75, he chose not to run again.

The race is between veteran state lawmaker Bob Damron, 60, a Democrat, and Nicholasville funeral home co-owner David K. West, 53, a Republican.

Cassity's successor will oversee a rapidly growing county with a general fund budget of $13 million and a total overall budget — including funds for the jail, roads, economic development and emergency services — of $21.5 million. The county employs more than 200 people.

The race coincides with a significant shift: for the first time in decades, Jessamine County has more registered Republicans than Democrats. In late August, the county reported 16,608 Republicans and 16,063 Democrats. West believes that will help his candidacy.

"I grew up in Jessamine County when it was at least 5 to 1, Democrat to Republican," West said. "I think the influx of people from other counties that are registered Republican has had the greatest impact on that."

Damron, a conservative Democrat, said the switch in majority party registration doesn't affect his race.

"I've always gotten strong support from the Republican side," Damron said. "... I've got a group called Republicans for Damron. They appreciate my fiscal conservatism."

This month Damron raised questions about West's time as secretary-treasurer of an organization called the Central Kentucky Funeral Limousine Association, which provides hearses and limousines to 25 funeral homes in the region.

Damron supplied the Herald-Leader with documents from a 2011 Nicholasville police investigation in which the association alleged that $6,647.50 in checks made payable to the association "were endorsed by David West and deposited into his personal bank account." The Herald-Leader verified the records through an independent open records request to the police department.

West told a detective that he believed his son David "Kelly" West had taken the checks, forged his father's name onto them, deposited them, and then withdrew the money from the account. The police report said this alleged theft happened in October 2006; the issue with the checks came up in a 2011 audit.

The association notified police on Jan. 26, 2011, that the elder West "denied any wrongdoing but said he would repay the limo service in full," according to an offense report.

The association requested that "the investigation be closed and would consider it a civil matter," the report said. The elder West was not charged, and no civil litigation was brought against him.

Current members of the limo association would not discuss the matter on the record. West said he made restitution and remains a member "in great standing" with the association.

"Everything was resolved to everybody's satisfaction," West said. "Obviously, if I had committed a crime, the police would have charged me. There was no charge. ...That debt was satisfied at that time."

But Damron said the matter should raise a question in voters' minds about someone who will handle a multi-million-dollar budget.

"The issue is that it went five years before he admitted it and made restitution," Damron said. "He was the treasurer of the organization. If anybody should know what was going on, it's the treasurer, because he gets a bank statement every month. Why did he go five years without disclosing it?"

West said he didn't wait five years to inform the association of his son's actions, "but he had done this again, and I threw him in jail, and we were reviewing to make sure that the books would be cleared, that everything would be accounted for.

"I addressed every issue in a timely and appropriate manner to the satisfaction of all parties," West said. "I find it curious that an issue that was settled to everyone's satisfaction years ago would be brought up at this time."

West said voters are tired of the status quo and career politicians.

"I come in without any strings attached, no axes to grind," West said. "I think I offer a fresh perspective, not being a politician but being more of a citizen-statesman. Judge Cassity and fiscal court have done a wonderful job, but I would like to review all the departments from top to bottom, and there may be some rust on some pipes that we can shake off and make them more efficient for Jessamine County."

Damron, who has been a state representative since 1993, said his qualifications make him the better candidate. "I think I have the contacts and the financial expertise to do the job."