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COLUMN: Judge hopefuls jockey for position

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By Ben Carlson

Anyone who thinks the ongoing battle to determine the county’s next judge-executive is nothing but four candidates spreading their positive messages about why they should be elected just isn’t paying enough attention.

We need look no further than last Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting for evidence.

With all four candidates — incumbent Steve Cornish, Magistrate John Wayne Conway, highway foreman Chip Chambers and independent candidate Donna Drury — in attendance, there was no shortage of positioning going on.

The most obvious was the year (or is it years?) old issue of the road department patching holes on the private section of Chico Drive.

Conway pounced on the issue as Cornish and Chambers attempted to patch it over by saying they weren’t aware at the time that that portion of the road was not on the county’s maintenance list.

Conway, a road builder by trade, quickly pointed out that Chamber’s assertion that only a “wheelbarrow” of patching material was placed in holes was actually 2 tons. Then, when Cornish pondered the “sins” of dumping leftover material in the potholes vs. throwing it away, Conway seized the opportunity to point out that it was cold patch instead of hot, the difference being that cold patch, unlike hot patch, could have been stored for future use at the highway facility.

While discussing the bills list earlier in the meeting, Cornish apparently tried to score some points by pointing out a 3-year-old bill for disinfectant that was purchased by Chambers for the highway barns.

Cornish questioned why the highway department needed $1,100 worth of disinfectant. Chambers explained that a floor drain there was backed up, and that when snow and ice melts from the trucks, the resulting water pools and stinks.

Cornish then tossed out the notion that the bill was sent directly to the highway department and Chambers didn’t submit it for payment, a comment made apparently to call into question Chambers’ management abilities.

Chambers counter-attacked, saying that since the bill is from three years ago and that he no longer orders chemicals from the company, it would be best if he called and questioned the company before paying the bill.

Cornish continued to press, but Chambers got in the last word by suggesting the bill be held until he had a chance to call the company.

“It’s been three years,” he said. “A few more days won’t make any difference.”

And lest you think Drury was just along for the ride, it was interesting to see her dash from the meeting after a group of “fix-our-road-or-else” Mallard Cove residents grumbled and mumbled their way out the door after being cut-off in mid-sentence when Cornish asked for and received a motion to adjourn the meeting.

Drury hightailed it out the door after them, and apparently arranged a meeting with them for later in the week, ostensibly to gain their support by offering to help fix their problem.

Cornish has apparently entered the fray, too, by jumping with both feet on a report that highway workers picked up and disposed of carpeting from a city residence.

Someone apparently witnessed the pickup and tipped off a magistrate who reported it to Cornish. Cornish is apparently handling what would normally be an internal personnel issue as a serious breach of county policy.

Is that breach worse than ordering Chambers to send workers out to pick up a couple of dead cats alongside a road? And, if that were really a “health issue,” is that a bigger health issue than the dead horse that, according to Conway, laid alongside a road in his district for weeks?

Or leaning on Chambers to green light an emergency work order to fix a private driveway?

Or ordering him to spread cinders on a private road?

Who knows?

But it is clear that with May’s primary only weeks away and no less a challenge awaiting the winner in November, all candidates for judge-executive are eagerly picking all the low-hanging fruit they can find and not hesitating to turn it into jam.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.