What’s in an elected office? Qualifications, duties and other parts of public service
Published 8:08 am Saturday, January 13, 2018
For the next 10 months, there will be plenty of political discussions throughout Clark County and the state as the general elections inch closer.
This year, all county and city offices are on the ballot, along with state representatives, half of the state senators and representatives, some school board candidates, U.S. representatives and others.
While school board candidates don’t have to file their paperwork until later in the year, candidates for other county offices must file their documents by 4 p.m. Jan. 30. The primary is scheduled for May 22. Polls will be open from 6 am. until 6 p.m.
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There is still time to file to run for most offices in Clark County, but how many people really know what qualifies someone to run for an elected office? And what responsibilities lie in holding these offices?
State statutes lay out the basic duties and qualifications for the offices, but current officeholders say there is more to their respective offices than the state requires.
Prior to the constitutional reform in 1978, county judge-executives actually had judicial powers. Today, the judge-executive is the main administrator for the county. He or she presides over fiscal court meetings and is a voting member of the court as well.
The duties of the job include executing all ordinances, orders and resolutions approved by the fiscal court, and acting as the lead administrator for the county. The judge-executive is also charged with preparing the annual budget for the county, maintaining financial records and making financial and operational reports to the fiscal court.
The position is also responsible for making appointments to a number of committees and commissions within the county. The judge-executive can also perform marriages and administer the oath of office.
Candidates must be at least 24, a Kentucky resident for two years and a county resident for one year.
The office is included in the state’s salary plan which, according to the Legislative Research Commission, runs from $88,123.93 to $97,240.20 annually over a four-year term, based on number of years served. Clark County’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for the current salary to be $97,240.20, according to the Kentucky Department of Local Government. Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham is in his third term as judge-executive.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had as judge-executive is participating and voting in the legislative process then being the administrative officer as well,” Branham said. “Sometimes that creates conflict.”
Branham, who served as a magistrate and county treasurer prior to his election, said he was aware of the situation, but not how difficult it would be to separate duties.
“I didn’t realize the extent of the conflict until I became judge-executive,” he said. “It’s an inherent presence. You can not take your administrative operations hat off and put on your legislative hat and go into a meeting.”
Winchester has a city manager government, meaning the city manager, a hired position, is the chief administrative officer who handles the day-to-day operations of the city.
The mayor is a member of the board of commissioners and is responsible for presiding at all meetings. The mayor is also responsible for executing bonds, contracts and other documents on behalf of the city.
State statute requires mayoral candidates be at least 21 years old, have been a resident of the city for at least one year prior to election and live in the city for the duration of the term. Mayors serve a four-year term. The 2018 budget set Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner’s salary at $11,690.42.
Prior to being elected mayor in 2007, Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner spent more than 20 years as city manager, where he learned how city government functions. As mayor, he can be more available, he said.
“When I transitioned from city manager to mayor, I made a conscious effort to be more visible and available to the public,” Burtner said.
The office of county clerk is charged with maintaining legal records for the county, property records, issuing marriage licenses, registering vehicles and distributing license plates, registering voters and conducting elections.
The county clerk can also serve as the clerk for the county fiscal court, though the office always maintains the fiscal court’s meeting minutes, ordinances and budgets.
County clerks are required to be at least 21 years old, a state resident for two years and a county resident for one year. State statute also requires candidates to have a certificate from an appeals judge or circuit judge that they have been examined and qualified by a clerk of the court. The salary falls under the state pay schedule for elected offices.
“Obviously I knew about motor vehicles,” Clark County Clerk Michelle Turner said. “What I did not know about was the board of appeals was under my office, that it was my responsibility.”
Through that process, property owners can appeal assessments made by the county Property Valuation Administrator’s office.
The county clerk is also responsible for selling delinquent tax bills, usually in May or June.
Turner’s salary, according to DLG, is $94,201.45.
The county attorney acts in a number of roles including as prosecutor in district court and legal counsel for all county government, as well as other duties for state agencies.
To be a county attorney in Kentucky, a candidate must be 24 years old, have been a practicing attorney and Kentucky resident for two years and a county resident for one year prior to the election.
County attorneys are paid by the state for prosecutorial duties, though county government can pay for legal advice offered.
Clark County budgeted $48,705 for fiscal year 2018 for county attorney. The state allows county attorneys to continue practicing as a private attorney. The attorney also receives a monthly expense allowance form the state as well.
Being county attorney is more than acting as a prosecutor in district court, though.
“No one tells you that you also act as the attorney for the PVA and (taxing) districts,” Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas said. “You not only prosecute all the juvenile cases, but you represent the cabinet in truancy and negligence cases. We’re the legal counsel for the fiscal court. You represent them even if you have insurance coverage. There’s a lot of administrative stuff that has to be done that no one tells you about.”
Property valuation administrator
The office of PVA was created in 1968 and combined duties of the county tax commissioner and county assessor. Like many county offices, candidates must be 24, a state resident for two years and a county resident for one year.
To qualify to run, candidates must also pass a test from the Department of Revenue. New candidates must take the test to run, though incumbents do not.
The PVA and staff are charged with assessing all property in the county, preparing records and maintain the tax roll for the county. That information is used to calculate the annual property tax bills.
Salary is based on a state pay schedule, which currently is a maximum of $97,240.20.
“The biggest struggle is the lack of funding from cuts. That wasn’t on my radar when I took the job,” Clark County PVA Karen Bushart said. “Since I’ve been here 25 years, I’ve spent 20 fighting for funding for our office and PVAs across the state.”
The state funds the office staff while locally-generated funds are for operations, she said.
Unlike many offices on the ballot this year, the circuit clerk serves a six-year term, rather than four. The job is generally charged with maintaining records and case files for both district and circuit courts in a county.
Clerks are also present during court proceedings, maintain juror information and accept payments for court judgments and restitution.
Like the PVA, candidates must pass a test administered by the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts prior to filing as a candidate.
Clark Circuit Clerk Paula Joslin said she knew how the office worked before being elected, but there were still new parts to the job.
“I think I did not realize the amount of community events and activities I would participate in,” Clark Circuit Clerk Paula Joslin said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise. I’ve been much more active in the Trust for Life.”
The Winchester Board of Commissioners serves as the legislative body over city government. Winchester has four commissioners, who are at-large members. The group, along with the mayor and city manager, meet at least once a month and are subject to the same basic requirements of residency. Candidates must be at least 18 years old.
The board approves the annual budget to fund operations for the city and hires a city manager to handle the daily administrative duties for the city as well.
Commissioners are elected to serve two-year terms, and all four commission seats are on the ballot this year.
According to the city budget, commissioners will be paid $8,771.24 each in fiscal year 2018.
“I think the first two years, I didn’t make a motion,” Winchester City Commissioner Kitty Strode said. “You’ve got to have your mind open and listen to your city manager. You can’t go in with an agenda and think you can change everything.”
Though the Clark County Sheriff’s Office performs law enforcement duties, those are actually last among those duties listed by the state.
According to the LRC, most of a sheriff’s time is spent on civil duties, such as tax collection, election duties, court security and serving warrants and other documents
The sheriff is responsible for collecting all county taxes during the year including those for the county, the state, the school district and other taxing districts. The sheriff also serves on the county board of elections, unless he is a candidate that year.
Candidates are not required to have any law enforcement training, but must be at least 24 years old, be a state resident for two years and a county resident for one.
State law calls for all deputy salaries and operational expenses to come from fees and commissions. The sheriff is to be paid from the remainder. The DLG set Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue Jr. Perdue’s salary for this fiscal budget at $97,240.20.
“I worked at the police department for 25 years. I thought it would be a smooth transition,” Perdue said. “I was really surprised because it’s much more than law enforcement. You’ve got very limited personnel. You’ve got prisoner transports that can be overwhelming. The major difference … is the responsibility for $25 million in taxes. It’s a huge job.
“I’m personally responsible. It doesn’t matter who messed up. It’s all on me.”
Magistrates serve as members of the county’s fiscal court, with each responsible for a specific district within the county. The state requires magistrates to be at least 24 years old and a resident of Kentucky for two years and the district for one year prior to the election.
The main duty is to serve as a member of the fiscal court, which serves as the county’s legislative and administrative body, and includes the ability to “carry out governmental functions necessary for the operation of the county,” according to state statute.
“The amount of time (required) is unbelievable,” Magistrate Robert Blanton said. “It’s not two meetings a month. I’m doing something for the fiscal court every day.”
“I didn’t realize it’s a full-time job,” Magistrate Daniel Konstantopoulos said.
The other part is dealing with the budget and the county’s finances.
“I didn’t realize how large the budget for the county is … and how much time goes into preparing that budget,” Magistrate Greg Elkins said.
“People don’t realize how much money we don’t have,” Magistrate Sheila McCord said. “There’s so much we can’t do because of state mandates.”
Clark County’s magistrates are paid $6,772.56 annually, according to Branham.
The county coroner, in addition to investigating deaths, has many law enforcement powers including those of arrest, bearing arms and administering oaths.
The primary duty, though, is to establish the cause of death, whether from natural causes or other means.
In coroner’s cases, a body is not allowed to be moved without direction of the coroner or a deputy. The coroner can also request an autopsy to fully determine a cause of death for a person.
Other duties include locating next of kin for unclaimed bodies and signing death certificates.
Candidates must be at least 24, a state resident for two years and a county resident for one. There are no required certifications, training or experience.
The coroner is paid from county funds; Clark County budgeted $15,663 for the coroner this fiscal year with additional funds for expenses and deputy coroner salaries.
“What I was least prepared for was dealing with the needs of the office” such as vehicles and other supplies, Clark County Coroner Robert Gayheart said. “With the help of the county judge and various fiscal courts, I’ve been able to obtain… all those things. We have a free-standing office today. We didn’t have one when I started.”
The county is responsible for maintaining and incarcerating prisoners, and most counties have a jail with an elected jailer.
Counties are allowed to contract with other counties to provide the service or participate in a regional jail.
Jails are allowed to house state prisoners for additional revenue, which Clark County does.
The jailer and staff are required to provide for the prisoners needs, including meals, lodging and medical care as needed. “The jail must be kept warm, clean and free from vile odors,” according to state statute.
The salary is set according to the state’s pay schedule with the same qualifications: 24 years old and residency requirements.
“I wasn’t expecting the amount of time involved,” Clark County Jailer Frank Doyle said. “It’s not a nine-to-five job. Our job is the care, custody and control (of prisoners). It’s like operating your own little city. It’s been three years and I’m still learning.”
Doyle’s salary was set at $94,201.45 for this year.
District court is the lower of the two levels of county courts. District court and its judges’ jurisdiction includes juvenile cases, misdemeanor criminal violations, probates of wills, traffic violations, violations of city and county ordinances, voluntary and involuntary mental health commitments, probable cause hearings for felony charges, small claims cases and civil cases with a maximum of $5,000 in damages.
Candidates must be a resident of the district for two years and a practicing attorney for at least two years.
Clark County, which shares a judicial district with Madison County, has three district judges, all of which are up for re-election this year.
According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, district judges in Clark and Madison counties are paid $112,667.62 annually.
“You really don’t realize it’s a 24/7 job,” Clark District Judge Charles Hardin said. “You don’t know how many calls you’ll get at 3 a.m. for search warrants or EPOs. I had over 300 cases in the last year. I think Clark County averages 600 cases last year. We have Madison County and that adds another 11,000 cases.”
To file to run for a county office, filing forms are available on the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website or at the county clerk’s office. The filing fee for all county offices is $50. Because district judges serve more than one county, they must register through the Kentucky Secretary of State. They are also subject to a $200 filing fee.
The deadline to file for the 2018 election is 4 p.m. Jan. 30.
For more information, call the Clark County Clerk’s office at 745-0282 or the Kentucky Secretary of State at 502-782-7416 or 784-7426. Forms are also available at www.sos.ky.gov.