Fiscal court closes purse strings on deputy judge-executive salary

Published 4:25 pm Thursday, November 11, 2021

By Miles Layton

editor@winchestersun.com

Clark County Fiscal Court decided not to set a salary for Judge-Executive Henry Branham’s appointee as deputy judge-executive, a former county employee who had been fired by the court.
During Wednesday’s meeting, magistrates agreed with Branham that as judge-executive, state statute grants him the power to appoint who he wants to the job, but the court controls the purse strings as to how much this appointee may be paid.
Magistrates chose not to set a salary for the position.
In March 2020, magistrates terminated county finance officer Frankie Faulkner by a vote of 5-1, with Magistrate Travis Thompson dissenting. Because it was a personnel matter, magistrates did not discuss in open session the reason for Faulkner’s dismissal.
Branham conceded that while there is a majority who doesn’t support him appointing Faulkner, state statute gives him the authority to appoint the deputy judge-executive who should be paid a “reasonable” salary.
Branham said Thursday that he has not rescinded Faulkner’s appointment and she has not withdrawn her name.
“Frankie is very important for my administration to succeed during my tenure,” he said in an interview following the meeting. “She has the experience and skill necessary to assist me in that.”
Magistrate Christopher Davis said given Faulkner’s past, Branham’s move to appoint her was not a good idea.
“I think, respectfully, this appointment was ill-advised,” he said. “I think you had to have known coming into this that it was going to cause a major issue with the court given that it was a majority vote that made this decision with respect to this employee a little over a year and a half ago.”
By a 4-2 vote, magistrates quashed the deputy judge-executive’s salary of $55,000 — an amount suggested by Branham based on what the position paid previously.
“I thought with her experience and dedication to county government in the past, and my recognizing that she has been convicted of nothing, that is the reason I’ve asked for the salary that this court, by majority vote, has set in the budget,” Branham said.
When a salary of $45,000 was suggested for the job, magistrates voted against that amount, too.
In both motions, magistrates Davis, Daniel Konstantopoulos, Greg Elkins and Joe Graham voted against the measure while magistrates Robert Blanton and Thompson voiced their support for the salary. No other motion to set the job’s salary was put forward.
“I certainly understand your (Branham) rights under statute to appoint a deputy judge, but I think it was poor judgment, was ill-advised and quite frankly, I don’t know in my mind, for my part, that there is any reasonable amount above zero that I can support,” Davis said.
Citing state law, Branham said Thursday that the four magistrates who voted not to set a salary were not acting pursuant to established law.
“(State law) prohibits them from doing exactly what they did,” he said. “I am hoping that reason prevails with their thought  process.”
Blanton said in the past, fiscal court determined salaries for new hires to be paid, some higher and some lower, so he saw no reason not to set a salary for the deputy judge-executive.
Faulkner attended the court meeting, but did not say anything as magistrates deliberated her future. Faulkner was unable to be reached for comment.
In late October, Gov. Andy Beshear appointed Branham as judge-executive in the wake of Chris Pace’s death in October from COVID-related complications. Branham had held the post for 12 years before losing the election to Pace in 2018.
Branham said when he was making plans to organize the judge-executive office, he initially offered the deputy judge-executive job to Janet Townsend, a former deputy-judge executive, but she turned down the job. Townsend serves as the county’s director of operations and human resources.
Davis offered high praise for the judge-executive’s staff and capabilities, noting in particular Townsend, who he said is handling many of the traditional functions that a deputy-judge executive oversees.
Davis said given the amount of money the county is spending for the judge-executive’s staff — “money well spent” — he doesn’t think it is appropriate to hire a deputy judge-executive. Davis noted during Branham’s last term as judge-executive, he didn’t employ a deputy-judge executive and probably had less staff too.
Branham said he needed to appoint someone to do the job and despite Faulkner’s past with the court, she was willing to serve.
Davis said while he agrees that Branham has the state statutory authority to hire who he chooses as deputy judge-executive, he had a couple of problems about Branham’s decision to offer the job to Faulkner.
Davis said the county’s administrative code does not permit the court to rehire any hourly county employee who has been fired — same is true with jobs that have been created by state statute such as department heads.
“I think it sets a fairly poor example for county government to have an employee who was terminated, whether you agree with that termination or not, to bring that person back, and as all things, as deputy-judge executive,” he said.
Acknowledging Faulkner’s past, Branham said there was never an investigation into the allegations surrounding her dismissal nor was she charged with anything.
“I’ve never seen any resolution,” he said. “I saw allegations, but I never saw a forensic investigation of the computer system that was made public. I never saw any charges filed in court as to why she was dismissed.”
Branham said after reviewing fiscal court minutes from 2020, Faulkner was dismissed without cause as any other employee in the judge-executive office would be in any county in Kentucky.
“With all that being said, she has been proven guilty of nothing,” he said. “She’s not had an opportunity to defend herself in a court of law.”
Prior to Faulkner’s termination, she had worked for the county since 2011 as the county’s finance office, and later served as the assistant treasurer.
“I worked with Mrs. Frankie for six years and she had been with the county seven years,” Branham said. “I fully trust and am very confident in her work.”
Konstantopoulos added that more than a year ago, fiscal court decided to dismiss Faulkner, so he doesn’t think it is appropriate for the court to discuss the issue again.
A point echoed by Elkins who said that given Faulkner’s past dismissal, he can’t support the Branham’s appointment.
Thompson said he supported Faulkner in 2020 when her employment status with the county was being discussed and he supports her now.
Branham said to the Winchester Sun, “Let me add that this action by a majority vote of the Fiscal Court is unprecedented in Clark County. I was a magistrate for five years, county Treasurer for 2 ½ years and Judge/Executive for 12 years and I have never seen anything like it.”
Davis said hiring someone who has been fired by the county sets a bad example.
“We got to think about the example it sets not just with the public but with our other employees — what they would be allowed to do or not do should they leave, be dismissed or whatever the case,” he said. “For that reason, I’m sorry, but I can’t support this motion. I regret that it has come to this. I’m sorry that you’ve (Branham) put the court and Mrs. Faulkner in the position, but you have.”