Lexington’s Sheriff Race: Kathy Witt best choice

Lexington’s Sheriff Race: Kathy Witt best choice

Calling Andy Griffith…
By Ellen Lord

Three Democratic candidates for sheriff hope to change a historically troubled office into a judicial stronghold. Brief interviews with each revealed a disparate array of views on what the sheriff’s duties should become over the next four years.

Candidate John Wigginton believes one his main strengths is lack of association with the historically troubled office.

“The [office] has a history which includes indictment of four of the last five sheriffs,” Wigginton said. “I am not linked to the history of the sheriff’s department.”

Wigginton, a Citizen’s Advocate for the Lexington Fayette County Urban Government, has served as a member of the Kentucky Crime Commission and as the secretary of the Kentucky Corrections Cabinet.

“I have a long history of public service in the Lexington community,” he said. “I would like to see…the sheriff’s department get out of law enforcement.” He emphasized that the department’s main responsibility was serving warrants, and he plans to focus on the “backlog of civil and domestic warrants.”

Candidate Joe Albaugh was partially responsible for bringing indictment charges against former Sheriff Lones Taulbee in February 1988, while serving as his chief deputy.

“I came forward with great danger to myself and my family,” Albaugh said. In addition to his work as chief deputy, Albaugh has served as the chief of detectives for the Fayette County police and now manages his own business, a lottery station at Turfland Mall.

Albaugh plans to streamline the office by reducing services duplicated by the police department. He also plans to install a merit system for employees of the sheriff’s office.

“There’s no continuity from one sheriff to another in employees,” said Albaugh.

Candidate Kathy Witt, chief deputy to the present sheriff, is well acquainted with the sheriff’s employees.

“I’ve served at every rank of the sheriff’s office.” Witt said. “I’ve seen it evolve into a much more professional office.”

She implemented the first domestic violence unit in the sheriff’s department and piloted a program to notify other departments of emergency protective orders. The program was mandated for all counties by the state legislature the following year. Protective orders entered into the Law Information Network of Kentucky allow police departments across the state notification of emergency protective orders.

“It afforded them [the victims] the opportunity to travel to other counties and not wonder if their court orders would hold,” Witt said.

Because of the emphasis the department has put on this program, “Fayette County is the number two agency in the country with the highest numbers of domestic orders into [the national system],” she said.

In addition, Witt implemented a grant program that funded projects like Front-Line Safety Planning, a program designed to help domestic violence victims plan to avoid future abuse. “Every victim in Fayette County who files a petition for a protective order is contacted by our safety officer,” Witt said. “Very few [refuse] to talk.”

One of the sheriff department’s other main duties is serving court papers in civil suits such as arrears over child-support. In 1997, Witt said, several more hundreds of dollars were recouped because of her attention to the duty.

“You never get your day in court until your papers are served,” she said. “We have to be very attentive, very committed, so that all papers get served in a timely manner.”

With two new courthouses and a new jail planned for the future, the sheriff’s office faces new problems and additional duties. To ensure high quality in her staff, Witt will seek national accreditation for the department. (At press, a debate is “brewing” over whether or not she actually graduated from college.)

“I have a tremendous passion for this job and for this community,” Witt said. Her views also seem most in-line with what ACE readers expect from a candidate: a solid and progressive record of accomplishment, combined with both initiative and ambition.