Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White announced this week he will not seek a fourth term. White, 52, is in the third year of his third term. He announced his decision to step down now to give others time to consider their options.
“People can start signing up to run for my position by Nov. 1. That gives them about six weeks to decide to run,” White said. “I didn’t want to surprise people with this. It’s a big decision to run, and I wanted people to have time to make that decision.”
At the end of each year, White said he analyzes his work in office and takes a “hard look at my position to ensure I am making the impact I intended,” he said. “In December 2020, I began praying over this next term and seeking wise guidance on what is best for my family as well as my county. After careful consideration I finally decided … this would be my last term.”
When he ran for judge-executive in 2010 at the urging of businessman Bill Dunning, White had a vision for Lyon County. “And I was determined to make it come to life,” he said. “This has been, and will forever be my home, and I wanted to fight for it and bring about the changes I felt were needed. It was my desire to one day step away from my position when the county was in good working order, and I have fulfilled my goals. I have fought hard for this county, and I believe I am continuing to do so by knowing when my time is done.”
White said he believes limited terms are healthy for elected officials and for their constituents.
White said he has no plans to seek higher office, but he does plan to seek a position in private business or with a private advocacy organization. He didn’t rule out running for elective office again at some future date.
Dunning first approached White about running for judge-executive in 2005 citing the 2006 election. “I had always followed state and national politics but not as much on local issues,” White said, noting he knew little about the position and told Dunning that he wasn’t a lawyer, so how could he be a judge? “Mr. Dunning politely told me legal work was not part of the duties of a judge-executive.” County judges’ judicial duties ended when judicial reform legislation was passed in 1976.
“Over the next few years, I educated myself on the position of county judge-executive, and the issues facing the county,” White said. “Despite my initial lack of knowledge about the job, Mr. Dunning came calling again in 2009. This time I was more prepared with goals I wanted to accomplish, and I agreed to run in 2010. … I wanted to see my vision come to life. My top goals were improvements at Lee S. Jones Park, a transparent local government, stronger emergency preparedness, a debt-free county, better communication between government and citizens, and a pathway to good, reliable internet.”
White has accomplished his initial goals and has set more. He cited these:
• “Because of the hard work of staff, private donations and hard-working volunteers, Lee S. Jones Park has become one of the most beautiful and cleanest parks in western Kentucky. With our newly created website, video of fiscal court meetings, and Facebook updates our transparency is second to none. Every year, we have increased our transparency to the public.”
• For a small county, Lyon’s emergency management team has updated its preparedness beyond what White thought possible. “I have had several very good emergency managers who have built upon the last one, and today we are more prepared than ever,” he said.
• Lyon County has been debt-free since 2014, making it one of the few in Kentucky that is debt-free. White credited the work of treasurer, Kathy Coursey, and finance office, Krista Grigg, and “excellent magistrates with the county remaining debt free through some very difficult financial times.”
• Communications during emergency situations have been a top priority. “I use Facebook, Code Red phone calls, radio and news media during county emergencies to make sure everyone stays informed and citizens can make wise decisions on how to protect their family and neighbors,” he said.
• The goal that has eluded White for years has been establishing fiber optic internet countywide. Now however, it appears that goal is about to be reached. “I believe we are now on the path to solving our internet problem,” White said. “The money we are now investing should cover more than half the homes out in the county. And I plan to be very aggressive during the remainder of my term in applying for more grants to expand high-speed fiber internet to as many homes/businesses as possible.”
Despite his achievements, White has faced unanticipated issues and disappointments during his tenure. “Until recently, the lack of internet was my biggest disappointment,” he said. “I had one project fall apart outside of my control and another project was too expensive. We would take a step forward and two steps back. But I’m so happy that we are now on the road to solving the internet issue for a large segment of the county.
“I think my biggest disappointments revolved around people playing politics,” White said. “Often, the differences in views or simply party affiliation, block us from solving the problems we need to fix. I really don’t care about party affiliation on the local level — if you want to solve the county’s problems — I can work with you. But some people will not work together to solve issues as they are afraid of losing some of their own power, credit going to other people, or they don’t trust someone from a different political party. Also, never knowing who may turn on you at any given time can wear a person down. I have thick skin, but I’m still human and over time this can wear on you. Even so, because of the good, hard-working people in Lyon County, these disappointments were overcome.”
There were unanticipated issues that didn’t fall within the judge-executive’s duty. However, White felt his position provided the perfect platform on which to stand as a watchdog against state and federal overreach.
The first battle he faced came in 2013, and involved the planned closing of fishing below 10 dams on the Cumberland River. “It would have devastated some of our local mom and pop stores, tourism, and our culture of fishing below the dams for over 50 years,” he said. “When I learned of this plan, leaders in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already met with federal legislators saying safety was the reason for closure. “But after a lot of phone calls and some Freedom of Information Act requests, I discovered safety wasn’t the reason.”
White then built a grassroots campaign involving thousands of Kentucky and Tennessee residents. The corps’ top brass wouldn’t budge from their plan. In response, White and his supporters persuaded federal lawmakers to pass the Freedom to Fish Act in 2014. It was renewed in 2018 and signed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump and remains in force.
Before the battle with the corps ended, the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to change the landscape of Land Between the Lakes leaked out. “I asked Della Oliver, a former resident of the region, to educate me on the history of LBL so I could help in the coming battle,” White said. “We put together a coalition that has stood against landscape change, detrimental logging and burning, road closures and poor roads to cemeteries and now a lack of budgeting. There have been wins at LBL — their ideas of landscape change have been set aside.” Even so, the coalition remains vigilant to ensure the original reasons LBL was created are enforced.
In 2018, Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake were experiencing a massive invasion of Asian Carp. The invasive species were negatively impacting fishing, fishing tournaments, the value of lake homes, tourism, and marinas. Many people had given up on our lakes and considered them dead. In response, White declared “War on Carp” to educate the public on the detriments to western Kentucky and find financial help from federal agencies. It turned into a national battle because many states were fighting similar invasions. White’s action was strengthened by his relationship with Sen. Mitch McConnell and other federal lawmakers. “It changed everything when we were able to involve our legislators and obtain more than $25 million annually in funding for multiple states,” he said. “This fight will continue, and our hero commercial fishermen and the plan to cut the carp off at the dams with barriers are working.”
Other issues that required grassroots campaigns involved persuading the state to demolish and replace Lyon’s middle school that had developed huge cracks in its concrete structure. “We developed a video produced by David McGowan called ‘Fractured Education,’ which helped us receive funding for a new middle school,” White recalled.
He started a campaign called ‘Pay the Badge’ that prompted good pay hikes for state police and Department of Corrections officers.
White also successfully pushed for years against the state’s plan to relocate U.S. 641 through some of Lyon’s prime farmland. The Department of Transportation finally reengineered a new route across state owned land. White also persuaded the Federal Emergency Management agency to redraw inaccurate flood maps in three years instead of 20.