SUMMARY/VIDEOS: Meet the Clay County Candidates Political Forum in Manchester, Kentucky 2022

CCN Staff Report 

MANCHESTER, KY (April 21, 2022) - In a two-evening event, April 19-20, 2022 candidates for various Clay County elected offices convened at the Clay County Public Library-Community Room for a political forum and sat down with Dr. James M. Davis, Forum Moderator, before a capacity crowd to express their ideas, share their accomplishments, and speak directly to voters about a range of topics impacting the community from economic development and jobs, to crime and the courts, trash dumping and littering, park enhancements and youth development, drug abuse and addiction that impacts on schools, families and the community, as well as opportunities to invest into the counties future! 

Leading off the evening with session one was incumbent County Executive Mr. Johnny Johnson who spoke about development potential at Elk Mountain Industrial Park, the investments made in local infrastructure, effective pandemic responses, opportunities in agribusiness, and trail town status to facilitate eco-tourism, as well as effective fiscal stewardship and deciding budget priorities. Challenger, Mr. Kevin Johnson, spoke about e-commerce with technology and small business startups, enhanced tourism thru infrastructure development, and growing the county by recruiting new businesses and new people to relocate in Clay County, and job skills development for students and young adults that will enable them to be gainfully employed and not have to leave their hometown. Both candidates agreed that working together across county and city departments with support from state and federal grants can improve infrastructure and enhance growth potential for Clay County. 

Session two included incumbent County Attorney, Mr. Joe White, who spoke about the importance of having an open-door policy, utilizing professionalism, compassion, and reasoned prosecutorial discretion with those involved with the courts. He spoke of due process and fairness, as well as being active within the community. Challenger Mrs. Jenna Corum, detailed her professional experience and years of work experience in the Office of County Attorney under a former prosecutor. She too spoke of fairness and being firm with a measure of compassion for those having challenging problems within the court system. Corum also expressed that the County Attorney should be active within the community. Both concurred that drug addiction was the root of many problems within the community, and that truancy was an issue as was littering and concurred that child support enforcement was a matter of child wellbeing. Davis spoke to the importance of parental responsibility to provide emotional and financial support for children. 

Session three included candidates for County Clerk with incumbent Mrs. Beverly Craft and the challenger and former Clay County Clerk Mr. Freddy Thompson. Both candidates touted their experience along with the importance of voter integrity, being a safe repository for records, good customer service, technology enhancements to improve services, and fiscal stewardship of county tax dollars collected. Both agreed that increasing voter participation was important to the election system to have a healthy democracy. Davis facilitated a discussion on engaging youth voters. 

Craft Thompson 350

Incumbent, Mrs. Beverly Craft and challenger & former Clay County Clerk, Mr. Freddy Thompson

Session four included incumbent Clay County Sheriff Mr. Patrick Robinson who spoke about the number of incident calls, responses to accidents, and the increased number of deputies to serve the community. He spoke of the importance of qualifications and experience. Mr. Clarence Sizemore talked about the importance of people skills, working with various agencies and the public at large, and the need for effective drug investigations and interventions. He also spoke about having special deputies embedded into the area volunteer fire departments to help maintain incident security and provide immediate support on scene. Mr. Hiram Marcum, Jr. discussed the importance of building Clay County up with teamwork, collaborative relationships, and outreach throughput the community. All three candidates expressed their concern about violent crime, illegal dumping of trash, and drug interdiction. Davis asked for more investigative support to reduce drug trafficking and trash dumping throughout the county. 

The fifth and final session of the evening saw the incumbent Jailer, Mrs. Linda Smallwood, articulate her professional experience managing detention center operations, effective financial management, and numerous rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing inmate recidivism. Mr. Chris Fultz expressed ideas about jail expansion to include federal inmates like other regional detention centers that contract with the federal government. He also spoke of skills development training and partnerships with local employers to help those discharged to have gainful employment. Mr. Mark Jackson spoke about a shift in policy to increase positive engagement with inmates and how working with each inmate he could reduce conflict among inmates, be proactive and be more aware of potential problems, and programs to improve the lives of those discharged by offering rehabilitation. Davis asked candidates to explore apprenticeship opportunities and technical training to improve employability of discharged persons. All agreed opportunities were available in the local area for training partnerships.  

On Wednesday, April 20, night two of the political forum was conducted with candidates for County Coroner, Magistrate, and Constable that shared their ideas and commitment to the voters of Clay County.  Session one began with the only candidate to appear for County Coroner which was Mr. Billy Aaron Smith who outlined his understanding of the important role of Coroner to secure and maintain order at the scene in conjunction with law enforcement, to order investigations in manner and cause of death, that he served as a Deputy Coroner for three years of experience and was actively certified in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  

The sessions for candidates for Magistrate districts 1-6 was very active with several incumbents and challengers discussing major issues facing the county from jobs, infrastructure, tourism, grants, trash dumping, youth programs, and fiscal management of the county budget. Mrs. Sonya Hoskins Gray spoke about the challenges of littering, illegal dumping, and was open to a collaboration to help educate the public and provide sanctions for violations.  She shared that tourism was a key initiative that has her attention and support. Mr. Scotty Smith also spoke of not only residential trash pickup requirements, but also some local business entities needed to maintain their trash services and keep it nice and tidy.  He also emphasized support for tourism activities. Mr. Ben Burkart shared his commitment to being an active servant for the district, supporting tourism, and spoke of the animal control problem as a public safety issue and shared a number of ideas on potential resolutions. Mr. Danny Finley spoke about budgetary challenges and that it would take multiple growth activities to increase revenues and make additional investments in parks and outdoor recreation facilities.  He added that finding efficiencies in the budget was important but that seeking external grants was an incredible opportunity moving forward. Additionally, he indicated his belief that this was a pivotal moment for Clay County to “catch up” and move forward or face even more challenges in the future. Mr. Russell Smith spoke about the importance of working across the district lines to enhance opportunities for Clay County as a whole, budgetary challenges, and progress that had been made in local infrastructure projects.  He added that maintenance of current infrastructure was key to reducing future expenses.  Mr. Eugene Stewart shared his ideas for job creation with tourism as a centerpiece including a boat ramp and camping park at Oneida and the need for a move in a new direction with fresh ideas and new leadership. Mr. Hugh Lunsford also spoke of the progress that had been made regarding roads, bridges, and that he was focused upon an upgrade to local parks and youth development programs.  Mr. Louie Jones echoed the sentiments of an earlier candidate and spoke about his professional experience in infrastructure development, his commitment to fiscal responsibility and accountability to the voters and wanted to improve opportunities for locals to be able to find and keep jobs in Clay County.  Mr. Blaine Smith, IV shared that technology was a key component of future job growth, how he was interested to improve job prospects for local citizens, and that being a change agent was important at this time for the county to move forward. Mr. Johnny Bray expressed his commitment to working with other members of the fiscal court to solve problems and to represent his district needs.  Mr. Ronald Gibson spoke of youth development, tourism, and being active within his district. It became an interesting point of order regarding seeking external grants and what that entailed and who was a qualified grant writer. Davis extended a challenge to all incumbents and challengers to find a way to enhance the parks across the county for family activities and tourists to enjoy, to work to facilitate the creation of new jobs and small business startups, to increase the number and quality of grant applications submitted whether that be a contingency contract or a term contract with provisions for performance with a legitimate, credentialed grant writing professional.  

The final session included Mr. Denver Napier and Mr. Richard Brian Hubbard.  Both candidates spoke of working in collaboration with local law enforcement officials, working for their districts to offer patrols, assist motorists, and monitoring and reporting drug trafficking activities, illegal dumping, and “night walkers”.  

The two night “Meet the Candidates 2022” political forum concluded with all candidates having displayed professional dispositions and having conducted themselves in a professional manner. There were instances where audience members asked to be heard and they were given a moment to express themselves. Dr. Davis, forum moderator, thanked the candidates for the thoughtful discussion and those citizen voters in attendance. #EveryVoterMatters #LeadershipMatters  


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