Kentucky counties currently operate with single executive

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As Indiana looks at the possibility of changing its organizational structure at the county level, counties in Kentucky have been operating under a similar system for years.

George Zubaty, chiropractor in Warsaw, Kentucky, with many ties to Switzerland County, served two terms as the Gallatin County Judge Executive, and believes that the system that he worked under was a successful one.

In Kentucky, counties have magistrates along with a Judge Executive. George Zubaty said that in Gallatin County there are four magistrates – a common number throughout the state – and that those magistrates represent separate geographic areas of the county.

State law mandates that those four districts are realigned every 10 years to assure proper representation as populations shift.

“There are really five people making decisions,” George Zubaty said. “The magistrates are really the power behind things. We hold fiscal court meetings, usually twice a month, and the Judge Executive sets the agenda, but he does so in consultation with the magistrates.”

All five positions are elected by the residents of the county, with the County Judge Executive being the only position that is elected county wide. The magistrates are elected by the area that they represent.

In Kentucky, the county coroner, county clerk, circuit court clerk, property valuation administrator (PVA), and county jailer are all elected positions. George Zubaty noted that the county treasurer is an appointed position, because it is so important to the county that the person in that office be qualified.

The treasurer has a very vital job,” George Zubaty said. “You never get rid of your treasurer.”

The Kentucky Constitution states that the County Judge Executive is the chief executive officer of the county, and is specifically charged with “The execution of all ordinances and resolutions of the fiscal court, all contracts entered into by the fiscal court, and all state laws subject to enforcement by him or by officers under his supervision.”

The Judge Executive has, “…The primary responsibility for the administration of county government; and has the authority to create, abolish, or combine any county department or agency and to transfer functions from on agency or department to another.”

In the Kentucky Constitution, county magistrates are commonly referred to as “Justice of the Peace”, and the constitution allows for a county to have from three to eight justices who serve with the county judge executive.

George Zubaty said that everything involving the county is done during the fiscal court meeting; and ultimately the judge answers to the magistrates on how the county is being run.

During his two terms as Gallatin County Judge Executive, George Zubaty said that he held regular, daily office hours; and was also in communication with the magistrates on a regular basis. All five positions are four-year terms; and all are elected at the same time.

George Zubaty said that as County Judge Executive, he didn’t have ultimate power over what went on in the county; but rather likened his job as a county manager who ran the county business on a day-to-day basis, similar to what a city manager or town manager might do in cooperation with a city council or town board; or what a superintendent might do in cooperation with a school board.

“You make yourself available,” George Zubaty said. “You have regular office hours. With big decisions, you had everybody involved in it, but the Judge Executive handles the small things that come up on a daily basis.”

George Zubaty said that the County Judge Executive makes approximately $60,000 a year in Gallatin County; and noted that the county judge, the county sheriff, and the county clerk all make the same salary.

If the county has a working jail, the county jailer also makes the same salary; but since Gallatin County doesn’t have its own jail, the jailer there makes less.

Each of the magistrates makes approximately $9,000 per year.