With McLean County Judge-Executive Edward West officially announcing his intention to run in the Nov. 5 election as a write-in candidate, that brings candidates vying for the county's highest seat up to three.
Gov. Matt Bevin appointed West, a Republican, to the position in May after then- Judge-Executive Mike Burden, abruptly announced his resignation in April after being elected in January.
At that point in the election cycle, it was too late for Democrats to have a candidate on the primary ballot, so the Democrats of McLean County nominated Earl Melloy from their party, and the Republicans would also do the same. The McLean County Republican Committee selected Curtis Dame as their candidate for judge-executive for the November election.
With the GOP and Democrat candidates filed, West was left to either not run, or run as a write-in candidate. He chose the latter.
West, Melloy, and Dame all say they will run a clean race, and only want what's best for the county they each have called home for decades.
West said when he came into the position of judge-executive, the county was still weeks out from needing a budget, by law, and a new county treasurer stepped into the mix. He said things were chaotic for awhile, and that he and the fiscal court are still grappling with solid footing when it comes to dealing with the financial woes in the county.
The county, which is looking at a $2.5 million deficit, has had to make some difficult decisions, and those are far from over, West said.
He cited a decrease in population as one of the biggest long-term problems facing the county. With fewer and fewer people
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choosing to stay in the county means a dwindling tax base. A solution to that keeping people in the area is to talk to the citizens who will one day will inherit the county: the youth.
Once school is back in regular session, West plans to begin a youth coalition in order to gain a sense of what young people like about McLean County, what they dislike, what they would like to see here, and ideas for how to get to that point.
"This is their county," he said. "Everything we do should not be geared toward us, it should be geared toward those who come after us."
West is also working with the Murray State University Small Business Development Center to organize how-to-start-your-own-business classes in the area. In order to keep people in McLean, people need access to common goods and services. When West looks out on Main Street in Calhoun and sees all the empty shops, he knows that's part of the problem.
He recalls being a child and seeing car dealerships, shops, and even a movie theater in Calhoun that all eventually left.
"We watched them all go and said, 'Oh, that's too bad,'" he said. "We have to work to bring more business and commerce here."
If elected West said he will use every resource that he has developed in all his years of government service to make McLean County the "very best place it can be."
"Not just for you, but for my children and my children's children," he said. "I'm one of you. I'm only here for a short time, all of us are. I want to leave this place better than I've found it. This is our home. We want to keep McLean County McLean County. I think it's worth fighting for."
Dame became interested in running for the judge-executive's position after hearing from various community leaders, business owners, and farm families in early May that they would like to see him fill the vacancy. With his experience in economic development and community building from local to state levels, Dame said it makes him a suitable candidate.
"Having grown up here I just have a passion for McLean County," he said. "[The community] asked me, and when we had the opportunity to do the community forum for the Republican candidates and anybody could show up and put their name in the ring, I thought, why not?"
Dame said he thought he would eventually head down this path later on in his career. He is humbled by the fact that local families and farmers and business leaders asked him to pursue the position.
If elected, his goal will ultimately be to tell a transparent story. One of the first actions he will take as judge-executive is to implement a Facebook Live policy for all the fiscal court meetings, so that everyone in the county can have access to the goings-on of the court no matter where they are.
He knows the financial woes the county is facing, and thinks a lot of people are not aware of how the county came to be in such dire straights.
"I want to make it easier for the average citizen to get on their phone and they can at least see where we are at, what our standings are," he said.
That is why the three pillars of his platform are accountability, transparency, and honesty. He thinks those three things will bring pride back to local county government.
If elected Dame will also have what is called a SWOT analysis performed. SWOT, or a look at the county's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, will be a way for Dame and other fiscal court members to work with the Centers for Economic Development in Kentucky to determine what the county has working for it, and against it.
"For me, it's pretty simple: there is no I in team," he said. "In order to ride this budget train back on track, it's going to take more than one person. It's going to take teamwork, it's going to take a vision, adequate planning, and I can guarantee that will happen."
Along with many others in the county, Melloy was surprised with Burden resigned, an act that also prompted members of the public to reach out to him and encourage him to run for the position. Melloy ran for judge-executive in 2014, and since then has been helping his son with his store in Livermore.
"People have been contacting me, and I've been realizing that with the experience I have and with my proven record of being an effective and competent leader in the past, that I can hopefully help the county in the situation that we find ourselves in," he said.
Melloy is very concerned with the future of the county, and if elected he promises to work as hard as he can each and every day to help the county be successful.
He also cited the financial burdens facing the county as critical at this time. What's especially concerning to him is that current revenues aren't enough to meet current expenditures. He said resolving these issues will be a difficult task in the coming years, no matter who is elected.
He said his experience of 25 years as an administrator handling a large budget, some years that included some tough, "belt-tightening decisions" make him qualified for this position.
"I've been there, and I've done that," he said. "I've proven myself to be an effective leader."
He also said the county attracting industries or capitalizing on what it already has is integral for bringing more funds into the county. An example of this, he said, was when Ohio County stood ready with land available for O.Z. Tyler to build a rickhouse after it was unable to in Daviess County.
"We aren't too far away from major transportation," he said. "I could see a big warehouse industry coming in, or manufacturing."
Melloy also said continued focus on county infrastructure is important for moving it forward. Roads and bridges yes, but also technology. There are a lot of areas in the county with poor or no access to high-speed internet, which is almost necessary this day and age, he said.
If elected, Melloy said he will work with members of the fiscal court to do what's best for McLean County.
"I want to make sure we can sustain ourselves as a county going forward, not only five years, but 25 years from now," he said.
Bobbie Hayse, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7315.