The Fayette County Board voted 9-4 on Tuesday to appoint Mary Sue Ruot to the circuit clerk position, but not before some discussion about politics being involved in the appointment.
Doing most of the talking was board Chairman Steve Knebel, who said he was prepared to appoint Ruot to the post, despite opposition from Republicans.
At issue was whether it was fair to appoint Ruot to the post vacated by the retirement of Marsha Wodtka, because Ruot is a candidate for circuit clerk in the November general election. She is being opposed by Republican Nona Nonie Beckman.
Ruot has been serving as circuit clerk on a temporary basis since Aug. 1, when she was appointed by Circuit Judge S. Gene Schwarm. Schwarm made the temporary appointment after the board delayed action on the appointment at its July meeting.
Under state law, the person appointed to succeed Wodtka until the general election must be a Democrat.
Knebel, who is a Republican, said that when he learned of Wodtkas pending retirement, he asked the local Republican, Democrat and Green Party leaders to submit recommendations.
The Democratic Central Committee quickly recommended Ruot, a 26-year employee of the circuit clerks office who had been Wodtkas chief deputy clerk, Knebel said.
After some time, the Republican Central Committee gave its recommendation, but Knebel said at Tuesdays county board meeting that he received a phone message from committee Chairman Randy Pollard informing him that the partys candidate had withdrawn.
It was time, Knebel said on Tuesday, to make a decision, regardless of politics.
He said that board members are elected as either Republicans or Democrats, But that doesnt mean that this board should be run politically.
We need to base our decisions on whats best for the county and the taxpayers of the county, Knebel said.
Should politics play into that? Somewhat, he said. But I hope that we dont base our decision on politics.
I know how its been done in the past. I know a lot of things have gone politically. I dont agree with that, Knebel said.
Were a board, a joint board, not of Republicans, Democrats, Green Party and Independents. It behooves us to do the best job we can for the citizens, he said. I feel strongly about that.
I ran as a Republican; I am a Republican, Knebel said, explaining that a number of Republicans had been urging him not to appoint Ruot.
Ive caught a lot of flack from this, but Im a big boy, I can take it, he said.
Sometime, somebody has to step up to try to make a difference, Knebel said. What it amounts to is that weve got to make a decision.
Hopefully, we can put our political (feelings) aside, he said. What has happened in the past, I dont care; history is history.
Board member Dan Barenfanger, a Republican, asked, Why dont you want to wait 60 days? referring to the time allowed by state statute to make an appointment.
Before Knebel could respond, board member B.J. Wilhour, also a Republican, said, There is no reason the circuit judge should have to make our decisions for us. I agree with Steve.
A short time later, Wilhour said, I dont even think we should be talking about this, supporting a recommendation to put someone with experience into the circuit clerks post.
It doesnt make sense, he said, to bring in someone for two months who doesnt even work in the office.
Knebel said, Politically, is this the wrong thing to do? Sure, it is. But I made up my mind to do the right thing.
Yes, its unfortunate that theres an election this year. But this should have nothing to do with politics.
Board member Greg Fulk asked whether Pollard would submit another candidate, and Knebel said that was a possibility. But, Knebel said, hes didnt favor delaying the matter any longer.
It doesnt matter if we do it this month or next month, he said. They have had ample time to submit recommendations.
I dont see any sense in dragging it out another month, Knebel said.
He said a key issue for Republicans is that the appointment of Ruot would give him incumbent status. Ive talked to her (Ruot) about that, and she could care less about that, Knebel said.
He also told fellow board members that he believes that will make little difference in the eyes of the countys voters in November.
I think they (voters) are going to look at their (candidates) years of service, Knebel said.
In addition to Knebel, those voting for Ruots appointment were Republicans Wilhour, Jeff Beckman, Dean Bernhardt and Troy Pattillo, and Democrats Loy Staff, Glen Daniels, John Daniels Jr. and Joe Kelly. Casting dissenting votes were Republicans Barenfanger, Fulk, Lee Schaal and Darrell Schaal.
Prior to the vote, Knebel said he believed that if the board would set aside politics with its vote, it hopefully be the start of a trend.
This is one of those things, if we do the right thing, it might be a step in the right direction, Knebel said.