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Commissioner vs. Magistrate

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By Marty Finley

By MARTY FINLEY

mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com

HARDIN COUNTY– After months of discussion, residents of Hardin County will have another chance to vote on the type of government they want come Nov. 4.

Once in the booth, voters will be given the question, “are you in favor of a return to a fiscal court composed of the county judge/executive and eight justices of the peace, who shall represent specific districts within the county?”

The decision of yes or no ultimately will decide if the county returns to an eight-member magisterial form of government, as represented in more than 100 counties in the state, or the current three-person commissioner form of government, which took effect in 2006.

The issue came back to the forefront this summer when local businessman Al Rider presented a petition with more than 1,200 registered voters’ signatures — the required number of voter signatures to place it back on the ballot.

Those in favor of a change argue the three commissioners cannot adequately govern the terrain and population of a county the size of Hardin County.

And Rider has argued that it’s common sense for bigger counties to have more representatives.

“I always felt like nine heads [were] better than three,” Rider said during a recent forum on the topic.

But Jeff Farmer, who helped originate the movement to change the government in 2004, counters that the government has not had sufficient time to prove its efficiency.

Farmer also argues an additional five seats in county government would cost the county unnecessary money, to the tune of $260,000 annually, with magistrates working fewer hours than commissioners and representing one district each.

However, Rider has maintained that the money will be insignificant, compared to the county’s overall budget and worth it for better government.

Farmer also has said the magistrate system penalizes the county by only allowing residents to vote for one member of the Fiscal Court, whereas commissioners are elected countywide.

While the voters have more say in the election, they have less say in the day-to-day matters of government, Rider said, because they do not have the access to commissioners they did under the magistrate system.

Farmer argues against Rider’s claims, though, saying the magistrate system fractures the county as magistrates are normally concerned about the needs and concerns of their district, while commissioners have to consider the whole county.

But Rider has dismissed the notion, saying that each magistrate has an equal vote and has to be equipped to vote on every issue.

The debate has spilled over to other forums too, as the Elizabethtown and Radcliff City Council Candidates have weighed in some regard, while flame-red signs proclaiming “Yes” in bold letters can be seen in Hardin County.

If the commissioner form of government is defeated, the magistrate system would be enacted again in January of 2011 following the election to name the magistrates in 2010.

Marty Finley can be

reached at (270) 505-1762