Mason County voters and candidates met Tuesday at Maysville Community and Technical College’s Crockett Auditorium at a forum designed to give the two an opportunity to become acquainted.
The forum was organized by the Maysville Mason County Area Chamber of Commerce and held in cooperation with The Ledger Independent newspaper and WFTM radio. WFTM Manager Robert Roe and Ledger Independent Publisher Rod Baker served as moderators for the event, serving up questions on local issues to the candidates including jailer candidates Lisa Kern-Yeary and Stephanie Wood; candidates for county commissioner District 2 Chris O’Hearn and Curtis Rosser; and candidates for county attorney John Estill and Bryan Underwood. All of the candidates who will be on the ballot in the May primary are Democrats.
Chamber Executive Director Vicki Steigleder opened the forum and welcomed candidates and voters to the packed house auditorium before handing over the event to Roe and Baker.
A common theme ran throughout each segment devoted to the three offices — drugs are the biggest issue facing local government. Or, as current Mason County Attorney Estill said when asked what the biggest challenge facing his office is: “Drugs, drugs, drugs.”
First to take center stage were candidates for jailer — incumbent Lisa Kern-Yeary and her challenger, Stephanie Wood, who served as chief deputy under former jailer Lisa O’Hearn.
Both candidates opened by offering their experience and qualifications for the office and cited safety and security for inmates and staff as a top priority.
Kern-Yeary, a former probation and parole officer, said she has worked with law enforcement and detention facilities giving her a view of the job from several perspectives. She pointed out safety improvements which have been made in the year she has been in office and other improvements in the works including a new camera system and a full body scanner. She said she has developed an internal investigative unit to examine issues concerning security when they arise.
Both admitted that overcrowding is a problem and vowed to address the issue .
“When you have an inmate stepping over another to go to the bathroom, that’s a problem,” Kern-Yeary said. She said since her appointment she has worked to make sure space is used wisely.
Both also agreed that drug abuse and addiction is the primary cause for repeat offenders and said treatment programs could hold a solution.
Next up were candidates Rosser and O’Hearn for county commissioner. Woodie Insko, the third candidate, did not attend.
Rosser and O’Hearn found themselves agreeing on several issues, including drugs as one of the biggest obstacle to the county’s success, although the poverty rate in the area was also cited as a concern by Rosser, who said the county suffers from an identity crisis
Rosser said agriculture is a key component of the area’s success, although he said there is a need for good jobs. O’Hearn said there are jobs available but finding workers to fill them is an issue.
The final candidates to make their case to the voters were Estill and Underwood. The two have been involved in a heated campaign via social media and neither pulled any punches during the forum.
In his opening statement, Estill pointed out his experience and that of his staff, not only as a prosecutor but also in serving county government offices including fiscal court, and the detention center, work that is a big part of the job, he said.
Underwood said he wants to “be your next county attorney but Mr. Estill wants someone else to be. But I think you should have a choice and that’s why I’m running, to give the people of Mason County a choice.”
Underwood said he would be a full-time county attorney although he was unsure of the budget for that office. Estill said that is an issue since there is no budget for county attorney.
Questions were also offered on how each would approach the issue of blighted properties and illegal dumping with Estill saying trash kills tourism and commending county employees for aggressively pursuing illegal dumpers and owners of nuisance properties and Underwood saying cleaning up the East End of Maysville would be a top priority for him.
In closing Underwood said he would work hard for the people of Mason County.
“I want to be part of solving our community problems,” he concluded.
Estill ended by calling out Underwood for what he said is misinformation being spread, claiming that he would resign if elected and hand over the office to an associate. That, he said, could not be further from the truth.
“I’m enthusized, I’m energized, I’m all in,” he said.
The Kentucky primary election will be held on May 22.