Local attorney challenges county government move

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Asks magistrates to consider sponsoring resolution to pull funding for new government center

By Marty Finley

An Elizabethtown attorney has collected hundreds of signatures in opposition to the relocation of county offices from the downtown area.

Benjamin Humphries, whose office is located on East Poplar Street, said he has generated around 300 signatures through a petition circulated in his office and personally emailed magistrates asking them to consider sponsoring a resolution pulling money for a new county government center.

Humphries said circulation of the petition started shortly after the county allocated money for the design of a new building. Visitors to his office have voluntarily offered their signatures as they have noticed it, he said.

Humphries said he did not put forth a strong effort to promote the petition but has optioned it as an outlet for county residents to voice their disapproval. He plans to present the petition to Hardin Fiscal Court at some point.

Humphries also is considering an appeal in Hardin Circuit Court and said he needs to hold discussions with the aggrieved parties who spoke out against Fiscal Court’s vote last week to hire ICON Engineering & Inspection Services for the performance of architectural and engineering services.

Among those who spoke against the measure were Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council Executive Director Heath Seymour and Judy French of the Hardin County Historical Society.

French during the meeting told Fiscal Court they made the decision without giving taxpayers a chance to properly weigh in as she pushed for town hall meetings and open discussion. Humphries seconded French’s comments this week, saying the decision was made on short notice with little warning to the public.

“I still think there is time to right this wrong,” Humphries wrote in a letter to Magistrate E.G. Thompson.

In his response to Humphries, Thompson pointed out the decision to hire ICON was 8-1 and said any attempt to undo the vote “would likely only be an exercise in futility.” Magistrate Bill Wiseman offered the only dissenting vote.

Thompson reiterated this point during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, saying he stands behind his vote to consolidate county departments under one roof.

“It is time to move forward,” he said.

Magistrate Fred Clem said he understands the concerns of those who disagree with the decision, but he based his vote on facts he unearthed.

“Our vote was well thought out and we did our due diligence,” he said. ‘I don’t think there’s anything to reconsider.”

Judge-Executive Harry Berry last week said the county is not abandoning downtown because the Hardin County Attorney’s Office will consolidate its divisions and staff and move into H.B. Fife Courthouse.

The new facility is expected to encapsulate around 60,000 square feet and cost $12 million, most of which will be financed through bonds and paid down over time. The new facility would be located on land owned by the county adjacent to the Emergency Medical Services center.

Last week, downtown business owners indicated the loss of county government would impact their customer base and lead to more vacant space.

Elizabethtown City Councilman Kenny Lewis, whose auction company is located in the downtown area, pointed to numerous proposals made by the city several years ago to obtain the former Herb Jones Chevrolet property in conjunction with the county and construct a new downtown government center with a parking garage.

One of the options included the city and county sharing the building and costs. Lewis said the proposals were cost effective for both governments. As it is, he said, the county shuffled in its plans without seeking further input.

“It was the most hush-hush, under-the-table, under-the-radar operation I’ve ever seen,” Lewis said.

Seymour said the county should be more open to talks considering the project is slated to cost millions.

“It just seems like there should be more discussion before we spend that much money,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.