by Amelia Holliday
HAZARD — In an age where sex scandals and fraud seem to run rampant among government leaders, it’s no wonder anyone would assume there has been a misuse of government moneys on every level. This issue came up at this month’s Perry County Fiscal Court meeting when concerns about county officials’ vehicles were brought to the court’s attention.
Lloyd Engle, retired postmaster and long-time resident of Lost Creek, addressed the court on Tuesday after issues on the agenda had been finished, saying it had been brought to his attention that county vehicles issued to Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble and the magistrates were being used for matters other than county business.
“I buy gas for my vehicle, I’m sure these people do the same thing here. We expect you guys to not, if you want to use it for duty I’m all for that, that’s fine. But these vehicles shouldn’t be in Breathitt County or Lexington and places like that unless it is official duty,” Engle said.
The court voted last year to approve the purchase of a 2012 Ford F-150 Raptor 4x4 extended cab to replace the judge’s used Ford F-150 he had been using for eight years. All three magistrates drive Ford F-250s.
Engle said he had heard from reliable sources, which he declined to identify, that the vehicles had been used to give tours of private property and to move furniture from Perry County to Lexington. He said he thought a solution to this problem would be to put some sort of identifier on the vehicles, such as having the office of the drivers printed on the sides of the vehicle they’re using, something he noted is done with state vehicles.
“When you go up to a lot of these places a lot of people don’t even know who you are,” Engle said. “There’s only a couple of reasons why I can think that you don’t want to be identified. One’s that you’re ashamed… Second point I’ll make here is that maybe you’ve got it in places maybe it shouldn’t be at.”
“I’ll be glad to give anybody my mileage on my truck, where I go, and anything like that,” Noble said. “My truck is parked when I go home every night, and I get in an old white truck and drive it. Have I misused it? No.”
Noble said while he was not afraid to be identified in his vehicle he is also not willing to make it easier for those to identify him who may wish to do him harm.
“I’m not going to put my life on the line if somebody’s upset,” he said. “We had some people killed out on (Highway) 28. We have people that might be upset with us.”
In 2008, Jimmy Darrell Neace, then magistrate of District 1 in Perry County, and county highway worker Lewallen Caudill were shot and killed at Ben’s Quick Stop in Grapevine.
Engle said he understood that feeling, having been on the Perry County Board of Education for a number of years and having confrontations with disgruntled parents and citizens.
“I was walking down the street down here, this was just after I had gotten off the school board, and this guy came and walloped me a good one; me and him fought in the street over there. I still go places, and as long as I live I’ll go down that street and anywhere else,” Engle said. “I’d give the job up and go home, I mean, if I was afraid to get out and go places.”
District 1 Magistrate Frank Hurley said he would not display his office on his vehicle because it would complicate matters he has to handle in his district.
“I had a call just before I came to the court meeting today. This lady at Buckhorn said she was afraid somebody was stealing timber on her property, a guy that’s been in the pen and he’s out. He made threats to her. She wanted me to go with her to look and see if they’re encroaching on her property,” Hurley explained, noting that there are things magistrates are asked to do to help citizens that would not benefit from being easily identified.
Noble said he would not display his office on his truck and the issue was dropped, however, Engle said he thought having identifiers was the only thing that made sense for the county officials to do.
“I feel strongly about this, I think if you want to be our judge … you ought to be able to put that on that vehicle that belongs to the people. It’s not your all’s to use for private business,” he said.