Economy, drugs, transparency, and standing together
By Chelene Nightingale
Barren County Republican Woman Coverage
Thursday evening, March 31st, the Barren County Women’s Republican Club hosted an election forum featuring GOP Candidates for the offices of County Judge/Executive, County Attorney, Sheriff, Jailer, County Clerk, and Property Valuation Administrator (PVA). The theme of the evening focused on creating transparency, listening to the community, combating crime, and developing the strong potential for Barren County. Approximately 45-50 interested constituents remained for the entire 3-hour venue hosted at George J’s Restaurant in Glasgow.
Ruth Hunley, the Club’s President, began the meeting with the program details, explaining each candidate would be asked 4 questions after their short speaking presentations. Ruth also noted both Sheriff Candidate Steve Garrison and Jailer Candidate Chris Pulley were not present for the event. Before introducing the candidates in attendance, Ruth asked the youngest attendee at the event to lead the Pledge of Allegiance; followed by Jesse Muse, a Magistrate candidate, leading the group in prayer.
Barren County Judge/Executive Candidate, Jamie Bewley-Byrd, began the political speeches by stating she had no “written speech” as most had heard her before and she wanted to personally just communicate with everyone. Jamie definitely exudes a very friendly, approachable demeanor with quite an impressive resume ranging from engineering to politics to business. However, most might know Mrs.Bewley-Byrd from her presence in the cheer community and as the owner of Extreme Gymnastics. In addition, she is a 5th generation Barren County resident so knows the landscape very well. Her love for the area definitely came across during her speaking time especially when mentioning raising her family here.
After speaking, a concerned local Cave City resident asked what Jamie would do, if elected, to help the geographical area of Barren County. Jamie cited several solutions including focusing on tourism and economic development. The Judge/Executive Candidate also stressed the importance of speaking with the community to determine their needs for growth. Plus she cited the importance of networking with neighboring counties by regularly attending the Emergency Management Director’s Breakfasts to learn about grants and other beneficial opportunities for Barren County. Another key point she cited was to create a transparent office favorable for the people, not political agendas, and listening to local managers fighting to survive. When asked about her thoughts on the county drug problem her response of “It’s about the economy” got the loudest applause of the evening. The Republicans in this room clearly understand the issue driving our drug problem is the failing economic situation in Barren County. When people get money to stay home or can’t find a good job they often turn to drugs.
Next to stand at the podium was Mike Richardson campaigning for the office of County Attorney. This is the lifelong Republican’s second effort after earning 48% of the vote back in 2018. The compelling candidate passionately stated offenders should be held accountable while ensuring victims of crimes are provided a safe environment for their voices to be heard within the justice system.
Throughout the evening, voters asked each candidate about the rising crime rate and increasing opioid abuse in the region. Mr. Richardson cited several solutions he promised to enforce if elected County Attorney. He encourages rehabilitation programs for offenders who truly want help, but for repeat offenders who don’t want assistance, he advocates for strong prosecution. He stated too many criminals are currently violating probation and bonds without punishment and would abolish this issue once elected. He wants criminals to think twice before coming to Barren County. He strongly respects law enforcement and believes as a community we can all respectfully work together to combat rising crime.
After Mike answered questions, the first candidate for Sheriff, Charley Bunch introduced himself as a local farmer born and raised in Barren County. In addition, he has been elected twice for the office of Constable in District 3. Although the shortest delivery of the night, Charley humbly provided impactful answers to the concerns of potential supporters. Similar to other candidates featured during the event, Charley stated elected officials must be more transparent and if elected would host a weekly talk show for the community to speak with him directly. His answer regarding the opioid crisis included working closely with the drug task force, educating the youth, and getting people back to work.
Former Glasgow Police Chief, Guy Turcotte, took his turn to convey why voters should choose him as the next Sheriff of Barren County. He cited an impressive 33-year law enforcement career and extensive criminal justice education with a Bachelor of Science degree. Absent from the discussion were any present or past court cases, however, Mr. Turcotte stated the Office of Sheriff must work with both community leaders and citizens to create a safe environment for all residents. In addition, he would implement deputy patrols in order to make law enforcement visible to prevent both crimes and victims of crimes. Guy’s campaign website states: “It is vital to build trust with an open-door policy and transparency.”
Following the Sheriff, contenders were the two bidders for Barren County Jailer. Primary challenger Aaron Shirley acquainted himself with the interested constituents by declaring he prayed in his barn before declaring his candidacy. Mr. Shirley moved from Metcalfe County to Barren County in 2000. Although a freshman candidate, he shared he and his wife own local businesses and a child advocacy organization, When a potential voter inquired if he would be a full-time jailer since he managed businesses, Shirley assured the attendees that his wife and business partners would relieve him of his duties so he could concentrate on the position.. He stated his goal for the jailer position was to “get the budget back” which prompted some concern from doubting voters but Aaron Shirley confidently stated his business experience would be an asset.
Campaigning for re-election, Barren County Jailer Aaron A. Bennett provided an honest account of the current state of his office. He possesses a commanding presence most likely developed from his years serving in the Marine Corp, After his military service, Mr. Bennett began his law enforcement career in 2005 for the Glasgow Police Department until 2010 when he became a Sheriff Deputy for Barren County, In 2018 the voters of Barren County elected Aaron Bennett into the position of Jailer. After winning the position, he quickly learned the previous Office of Jailer had not conducted some business legally, so he worked hard to develop a culture of respect and honor by hiring a quality staff willing to be trained and work hard for a mere $15 per hour. He further shared the challenges of operating a jail within a limited budget. When asked if he could request additional funds to meet the demand, the incumbent shared an account of pleading with the Budget Committee, overseen by current Judge/Executive, Democrat Michael Hale, who rejected the request. Currently, Aaron has balanced the operation15-17% under budget while maintaining approximately 115 inmates and a quality staff he treats like family… He stated he will not lower his standards learned from his time in the Marines. He provides the inmates with daily structure and believes in rehabilitation for those who truly desire the transformation. During the voter question and answer session, voters were concerned about the lack of community clean-up. Aaron agreed it was an issue but due to Covid, he was prevented from allowing inmates to work. Recently he was granted permission to allow 18-25 inmates to work so the small crew just began community clean-up. Another issue Bennett wanted to address concerned the rise of ambulance runs which he cited was due to the rise of opiate abuse. He invited the community to communicate with him because “if we don’t know about the problem, we can’t fix it”.
After Jailer Bennett’s robust appearance, we heard from the perky and charming County Clerk incumbent, Helena Chase-Birdwell. She was elected back in 2018 and kept her campaign promise to establish both a user-friendly website and the issuance of passports. Helena cited the importance of both paper ballots and presenting driver’s licenses before voting. Although she promised to ensure voter integrity, a couple of constituents emphasized their concerns of possible voter fraud in the 2020 election. The County Clerk shared an example of a past election recount in which the same outcome was recorded, but the concerned citizens still cited doubt. Helena promised she wants all voters to feel confident and agreed to discuss voter integrity further and ensure safe, honest voting.
Rounding out the evening was current PVA Kim Shipley, although unopposed, presenting her case for re-election. During her speaking time, Jeff Jobe, Publisher of the Barren County Progress, addressed a concern about fixing unfair property valuations. Jobe stated, “Money is lying on the table.” He continued that most in that room know he doesn’t like taxes but it is just not right that on Glasgow’s Public Square some are paying taxes on $2500 in value while others are paying on $250,000. He added, “There should be a way to fix this because allowing to pay such low value will have these owners keep these buildings run down and empty and vacant buildings hurt us all.
Shipley explained that commercial real estate was evaluated with the Marshall & Swift estimation system. In contrast, residential properties (under 10 acres) were evaluated with the Fair Market Value System. In addition to this exchange, Kim kindly promised to work hard for Barren County and continue to work closely with both the Sheriff’s and County Clerk’s office. She added that she believes the changes in place will address these issues.
On April 28th at 6 pm, the Women’s Republican Club will host the Barren County Magistrate Candidates at George J’s in Glasgow. All interested residents are invited to attend. Anyone interested in a WRC membership may connect Lisa See Brummett at the event.