Jumping right in: Newly elected officials are busy at work for their counties
The night before Montgomery County Judge/Executive Chris Haddix presided over his first fiscal court meeting, he did a run-through in the courthouse annex.
“I came in, I turned the microphone on. I went through the entire meeting, in an empty room, just to kind of ease my mind a little bit to make sure I knew what was going on. And that was a lot of fun,” said Haddix, a former police officer who is in his first term in public office.
In Carroll County, David Wilhoite also is new to the judge/executive’s office. Although he previously served as county coroner and on the Carrollton city council, Wilhoite says he still had plenty to learn in his new role within county government.
“There's a lot of things that I didn't realize how much was entailed, [such as] the road department and different things like that. That's where you get a lot of calls,” Wilhoite said.
Haddix and Wilhoite are two of the 45 new judge/executives who took office this year. What’s more, their magistrates (Carroll County) and commissioners (Montgomery County) also are brand new.
Following the November 2022 election, new officials make up the majority of the fiscal court in several other counties, where only one or two incumbents returned. (The judge/executives in Daviess and Owsley counties were previously a commissioner/magistrate before being elected judge.)
With the work of county government constantly in motion, new officials don’t have much time to get up to speed. Both Haddix and Wilhoite credit their predecessors with helping to ensure an easy transition.
“Our previous judge [Wally Johnson] made our transition very smooth. He welcomed me with open arms,” Haddix said. “Another thing that really helped was that most of our staff stayed.”
Wilhoite also described a positive working relationship the previous judge/executive, Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson.
“He kept me abreast of certain things, what was going, and told me certain things from the fiscal court meeting that I really needed to take note of,” Wilhoite said.
Although the Carroll County and Montgomery County fiscal courts are new, their members aren’t new to each other. Wilhoite has known magistrates Benjie Long, Clay Cable and Scott Nab for years and values their different professional backgrounds and perspectives. The same is true for Haddix and Montgomery County commissioners Ralph Charles, Daniel Carmichael and Shayne Parker.
“Montgomery County, we have a population of right at 28,000,” Haddix said, “so our kids know each other, we know each other, we see each other around.”
Learning the intricacies of county government started well before taking office for Scott Nab, the Carroll County magistrate. An engineer who spent more than 30 years at Dow Chemical, Nab met with several department heads during his campaign. That research helped him learn a lot about current processes and spark new ideas.
“I have a stack of notes and interviewed a lot of people, so I generally knew was I was getting myself into,” Nab said. “I think what has been exposed to me is the number of opportunities in Carroll County. There is just an absolute plethora of opportunities in our community, and I find myself wanting to work on all of them.”
Four months into a four-year term, Nab and the fiscal court are now facing tough budget decisions to prepare for the next fiscal year.
“I have done a fair amount of prep, but when you look at it under a different lens, now you're the guy that's got to make decisions. It's totally different,” Nab said.
Over in Montgomery County, Judge Haddix said he’s thankful for the knowledge and expertise available to county officials through the Department for Local Government, KACo and fellow elected officials. This spring the fiscal court has been busy making parks and recreation improvements, such as installing a new pickleball court and basketball rims. The county is also making plans for a new senior citizens center.
“[County government involves] everything from the animal shelter to legal issues, the airport, economic development. It’s exciting,” Haddix said. “And at the same time, it can be overwhelming. So one day at a time.”