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New law advances unified government conversation locally

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Guest column by Ken Howard

By Ken Howard

If someone asked you "What is the third largest community in Kentucky" what would you think?

Louisville Metro is first. Lexington/Fayette Urban County is second. But who is third?

When Hardin County residents are asked this question the common answers are Covington-Kenton County or Bowling Green-Warren County or Owensboro-Daviess County.

The correct answer is us, Hardin County.

But if we do not view ourselves as the third largest after Louisville and Lexington, is it surprising that others (federal government, state government, 'industry, etc.) do not either?

Historically, we have viewed ourselves as parts (Elizabethtown, Radcliff, city, rural, north and south) not as a whole (Hardin County).

Hardin County United has been exploring the question: Are we better together?

More than a year ago, a group of volunteers known as Hardin County United started thinking about this question. The group concluded that the positive possibilities of "together" was worthy of consideration and discussion in Hardin County.

The group adopted the Mayflower concept. If we sailed from Europe today and landed on the shores of Hardin County with almost 110,000 people living and working here, how would we govern ourselves? The current seven units of local government (county government with six cities) or something different? Something more "together?"

After much research, the group concluded something more together is known as unified government under Kentucky law.

So we began the discussion last fall with fiscal court, city councils and more than 30 civic groups: Do we want to think about unified government for all of Hardin County, understanding that only a vote of the people can approve such a change?

Most people after having unified government explained wanted to think about it and make the decision for themselves at the ballot, it's called democracy.

During these community discussions, one concern was universally expressed: Only a particular city's voters should determine if such city would participate in unified government, not the voters of the county as a whole.

Hardin County United agreed with this concept from the beginning. To ensure this "city vote," a change in state law was required. Rep. Jimmie Lee, Sen. Dennis Parrett and others went to work and House Bill 189 passed unanimously in the 2012 General Assembly. It guaranteed a city vote and more. So, the skies are clear to sail (think) about the possibilities of being together in Hardin County (unified government).

Mark Twain once said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Hardin County was built by forward-thinking people to make it better than most. Unified government is a continuation of this type of thinking.

So, let's explore, dream and discover together if unified government is right for us. You can begin with information at www.HardinCountyUnited.com.

Ken M. Howard, a circuit judge and former county attorney, is a member of Hardin County United and chairman of its governance committee.