Bill seeks to eliminate constables

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By Calen McKinney

They are elected to serve their constituents, but a senator and representative want the office abolished.

State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, and State Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, have filed bills that would allow the constable position to be abolished.

Koenig’s would allow a county’s legislative body to decide if the position is needed. Denton’s calls for constables to no longer be referred to as “peace officers.”

Taylor County’s constables say they disagree, and believe those in the position provide a needed service.

Constables are elected in all six of Taylor County’s magisterial districts. They are most visible when helping direct traffic, though they are law enforcement officers and can cite speeders, serve warrants and patrol county roads.

Constables receive no payment from city or county government, though Taylor County Treasurer Melissa Williams said the county pays for its constables to be bonded.

The cost is $183.24 a year for all six constables to each have $10,000 of bonding.

Training is required for Taylor County’s constables to install police blue lights on their vehicles.

Constables don’t report to any law enforcement agency, Williams said, and don’t, per say, have a boss.

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, says there has been some talk around the state capitol about the bills Koenig and Denton have filed.

“There’s always talk about that,” he said.

At press time, the bills were still at the committee stage of discussion.

And though the bills would allow avenues to do away with the constable office, Higdon said officially doing so will require a constitutional amendment.

“I don’t see that happening,” he said. “To be honest with you, constables have a lot of friends.”

Higdon said constables are sometimes considered a nuisance, but can be of help to a community.

He said a way to limit who runs for constable is to require them to pay for their bonding, which can be expensive.

“It’s difficult for a constable to post a bond for a non-paying job,” he said.

If asked to vote on the issue, Higdon said he would suggest requiring constables to complete Peace Officer Professional Standards training. Those who are serving now would be grandfathered in, Higdon said.

“It would make a constable position attractive for a retired police officer.”

He said a concern would be whether the state would have to pay for POPS training.

Higdon said he believes Taylor County’s constables are exceptional and provide a good service.

“They could use more training,” he said. “Most can’t afford it.”

Higdon said constables are more common in rural communities, like Taylor County, than metropolitan areas.

“But, again, in some counties, constables play a very important role,” he said.

Constable Jamie Gaddis says he believes he and his fellow constables are a big help to local law enforcement.

“The more officers you get on the street, the more safe a place is gonna be,” he said. “Some of us [do] a lot of work in town helping the officers.”

Gaddis said he helps serve civil papers and criminal warrants, as well as patrolling on the weekends and citing people for driving under the influence.

Constable Marshall Graham said he, too, believes his position should stay around. “We take a lot of load off the city and county when they go out,” he said. “I think we do a really good job.”

Graham said he helps seniors get their medications and unlocks cars for residents. He also patrols the county, answers phone calls from constituents, does traffic control and transports inmates.

“We serve our community here well,” he said.

Graham said he spends his own money for his constable duties, as much as $90 a week for gas.

“We took a sworn oath to uphold the law, and that’s what we do,” he said.

Constable Wayne Parson, who says he will not seek re-election next year, said he believes it doesn’t make sense to get rid of his position.

“It’s stupid to get rid of an unpaid officer with all the crime on the street.”

Constable Rick Reynolds said he does his duties for the community, not to be paid or get in the way.

He said he believes the city and county could use constables more and save money.

“We could do just about anything they wanted us to,” he said. And Reynolds said he believes not receiving payment for their duties shows that constables serve because they want to.

“That shows dedication,” he said.

Higdon said legislators are using the last few days of this year’s regular session to consider bills passed by the other chamber. Only about 10 percent of those proposed will actually pass, he said.

State Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, did not return a phone call to comment for this story before press time.

Phone numbers for Constables Robert Young and Tim Cox were either disconnected or no longer in service.

To contact Higdon or Carney about any of the bills filed this session, call the state’s legislative message line at (800) 372-7181. Constituents can also reach Higdon at (270) 692-6945 or jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov. Carney can also be reached at 465-5400 or or john.carney@lrc.ky.gov.

This year’s session is scheduled to adjourn March 26.