Money is on the minds of most judge/executive and magistrate candidates who responded to a Mountain Eagle survey on issues facing Letcher County.
Although several questions asked how candidates planned to pay for some of the changes they support, when asked if there were any issues the survey had not already covered, candidates focused on the broad issue of money. The county doesn’t have it.
Among the candidates’ thoughts, few took the plunge to suggest the county needs more revenue, though most did say the budget has already been cut so much that they can’t see a way to cut more.
And while several candidates expressed a desire to make a better future for children and for the county in general, the answers provided few details about how they would do that. A short synopsis of each candidate who returned a survey and their answers to that final question follows. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
QUESTION: Do you believe litter is becoming a worse problem in Letcher County?
Terry Adams, 49, of Isom. Republican — Adams is currently magistrate in District 2, a post he has held for two consecutive terms, and three terms overall. Adams is married with one child with Down Syndrome. He is a graduate of the Letcher High School. Adams and his twin brother Larry run a plumbing and heating business.
Adams is the only candidate to bring national politics into the race, listing support for conservative social issues among his platform, and stating he is a conservative.
On local issues, he said he will collect garbage bills from everyone, and re-institute countywide recycling by working with the city of Whitesburg, which took over the county recycling center in January 2016.
“Every ton that is recycled costs the county $47. We are now spending almost $50,000 a month to have our trash hauled away,” Adams said. “I honestly believe that we can cut that cost in half through recycling. That’s $25,000 a month we could be using to fund tourism, local public safety (fire department, sheriff ’s department, etc.) and economic development.”
Adams also said that if elected, he will hire a fulltime economic development director and “find a way to pay the debt we owe on the Letcher County Recreation Center without raising taxes.”
Mica Smith Johnston, 33, of Kingdom Come Creek. Republican — Johnston is a graduate of Whitesburg High School and Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. A daughter of former Judge/ Executive Carroll Smith, Johnston has never held political office. She was raised at Kingdom Come Creek, but lived away much of the time while her husband, a retired chief petty officer, was in the Navy. They have four children.
Johnston said the county “has a very hard road ahead,” listing debt, layoffs, deteriorating roads and no money to fix them.
“It will take a long time to get the county back into a place we begin to make it better for everyone,” Johnston said. “I believe in our people and our communities and I want better for our citizens.”
Johnston, who did not answer a section of yes or no questions in the survey , defended that choice in her final open-ended question, saying the questions did not have yes or no answers and “have to decided on by the fiscal court, not the individual person.”
The other candidate running in the race is incumbent Judge/Executive Jim Ward, who is unopposed in the Democratic Primary.
Jack Banks, 62, of Cowan. Republican. — Banks is a graduate of Whitesburg High School, and holds an Associate of Applied Science from Morehead State University. He works as a nuclear medicine technologist at Whitesburg ARH Cardiology. Banks and his wife Vivian have three children.
Banks he wants to “make decisions to make Letcher County a better place to live.”
“I’m proud of our community and want to help improve it for us, our children, and grandchildren,” he said. “We need to make tough decisions to improve ourselves and our county.”
Other candidates running in the race for District 1 Magistrate are incumbent Bobby Ray Howard and Ben Fields, both Democrats.
Curt King, of Isom. Democrat — King grew up at Millstone and Haymond, and retired after 33 years as a vocational school teacher. He and two of his three sons own two body shops in Letcher County. King said he wants to make the county a better place for his three sons, one daughter, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
King said he believes the county should push for more vocational education.
“Every day, I see young people who don’t have any skills, but vocational school could teach them how to be productive citizens,” King said. “We especially need to look into adding more computer programming courses in our schools and vocational schools in order to prepare our young people for the workforce as it is today, not the workforce that was 20 years ago.”
Don McCall, 54, of Col- son. Democrat. — McCall is a graduate of Whitesburg High School, and attended Eastern Kentucky University. McCall is currently Letcher County Jailer, but is retiring from that position to run for magistrate. He has been jailer for 12 years, and worked a total of 30 years for the county. He is married with three children.
McCall said he has spent 480 hours over the past 12 years in training classes learning about budgeting, parliamentary procedure, leadership methods, duties of elected officials and other subjects.
“If elected, I will do my best to help citizens of District 2 and all of Letcher County,” McCall said.
Sherry Sexton, 51, of Deane. Democrat. — Sexton is a graduate of Fleming Neon High School and Pikeville College and holds a bachelor of arts in education. She has lived in Letcher County her entire life, and worked for the past 24 years in the Letcher County School system as a secretary, Family Resource Center coordinator, energy manager and grant proposal writer. She is married and has two daughters and four grandchildren.
Sexton said she has successfully written grant applications worth $15 million for the school district, and if elected she will work on grants for the county.
“I will research and write any grants that will address revitalization and tourism, economic development and energy savings efforts,” she said. “I can and will do energy audits of county-owned buildings so that we do not waste money on electric bills.”
Other candidate running for District 2 Magistrate are Republicans Roger Nease, Brad Collie, and Jessica Brown, and Democrats Mike Hall and Therman Begley Jr.
Codell Gibson, 67, of Craft’s Colly. Democrat — Gibson is a native of Bellcraft and one of 14 brothers and sisters. Gibson is retired, and is a former magistrate who lost the District 3 seat in 2014.
Gibson said he believes people here “are the best people in the world,” and said he is elected he will “work as a team member” for the good of the people, and for jobs.
“Win or lose, I will still work for a better county for our children. They are our future,” he said. “We have a drug problem, but it should be treated as a sickness. They are good people that made a bad choice.”
Emory “Fudge” Mullins, 61, of Neon. Democrat. — Mullins attended Fleming-Neon High School and obtained his GED certificate in 1977. He owns a florist shop in Neon, and has been in business for 40 years. Mullins is one of 12 brothers and sisters.
“I love people, love this county and want to move forward,” he said. “I believe I can pull us all together, especially (the) judge and magistrates.”
Other candidates running for District 3 Magistrate are Republicans Maverick Cook, Dallas Adams and Leonard Tackett, incumbent Woody Holbrook, a Democrat, and fall write-in candidate Debbie Collier.
Roger Back, of Jeremiah. Democrat — Back grew up at Adams Branch, but has lived at Doty for 13 years. He worked as a coal miner for 20 years, and is now employed by Letcher County Water and Sewer.
Back said the county should cut spending to meet the budget, but “we are at the point where we have nearly cut everything but basic services.”
“We must seek additional sources of revenue to ensure we are able to provide for tourism and incentives for new business,” Back said.
Melody Coots, 45, of Van. Democrat. — Coots is a native of Harlan County and was graduated from Cumberland High School. She also attended Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, and Eastern Kentucky University and holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice. A former restaurant manager and deputy jailer, Coots describes herself as a mother, full-time grandmother and homemaker. She is a former Lynch City Council member.
Coots said she will take her campaign signs down when the election is over, will work with anyone in her district who needs help, and will take the information about their problems to the fiscal court.
“I will work with the fiscal court and vote the best way for the people. I want to make the best decisions with the fiscal court and county judge,” she said. “I will work with the fiscal court and county judge/ executive as a whole to better our county. If elected, I will be available to my district by home phone, cell phone, email and texting.”
Robert “Sarge” Howard, 61, of Whitesburg. Republican. — Howard is a graduate of Whitesburg High School, and attended several colleges while in the military. He has an associate degree in science from Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., and a bachelor of ministry degree from Masters Divinity School. Howard is retired from the U.S. Army, and from the Letcher County Board of Education, where he was a JROTC instructor.
“I would like to work hand-in-hand with the county broadband committee to make every effort, turn over every rock, to find a way to initiate countywide broadband to bring Internet access to all corners of the county,” Howard said.
Other candidates running for District 4 Magistrate are Republican Kenny Whitehead and Democrats William “Cheddy” Smith, Houston Meade, and J.R. Banks.
Johnathan Belcher, 28, of Jenkins. Democrat. — Belcher is a graduate of Jenkins High School and has a degree in network administration from Mountain Empire Community College at Big Stone Gap, Va. Belcher said his grandparents taught him to be honest, to always be learning, and to give everything he does his full attention.
He said he wants to “prioritize local development and small business, attract multiple outof area businesses large enough to add diversity among employment options, and strengthen the local economy before another crash takes us out.”
The other candidates running for District 5 Magistrate are Democrats Steve Vernon Addington and Bennie McCall.