By Chad Hobbs
Last Thursday, Leslie Stith was sworn in as the new Judge/Executive for Meade County, appointed to fulfill the remaining two years of Judge Gerry Lynn’s term, who passed away earlier this month. Kentucky state law mandates the Governor appoint someone in such a situation.
Stith was born and raised in Stith Valley, which lies between Guston and Flaherty, where his family has lived since the mid to late 1800’s. He was born the youngest son of Ralph and Nellie Blanche Stith. He graduated from Meade County High School in 1977 and the University of Kentucky in 1981 with a BS in Agriculture Education and Economics. He would go on to work for Stauffer Chemical Company for nine years. After Stauffer was bought out, Stith says he was picked up by Monsanto and finished his career working 25 years for them. He served as a chemistry specialist, a genetics specialist and a marketing manager, responsible for a $32 million business with Monsanto. So, budgets will be nothing new for him.
Public service is also nothing new to Stith. His grandfather served in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1900. His father served in the Kentucky General Assembly, under Governor Happy Chandler in the 1950’s. His brother Dale was a magistrate and the former fair board chairman here in Meade County.
“Our parents always told us to give back because we were blessed to have what we have, and any time you have a chance to give back, you need to do that,” Stith explained. “That’s what we try to do.”
Stith’s wife, Donna Robinson Stith, made a career of giving back, as well. She started out teaching in Breckinridge County, and then moved to Flaherty Elementary after they were married and moved back to the family farm in 1988. After teaching 4th grade for many years in Flaherty, she served as the counselor there for a while before finishing her career at the Meade County Board of Education office, as the Gifted and Talented District Coordinator.
Stith says that this has been the biggest surprise of his life, along with the biggest honor to even be considered for this position. Though, he points out Judge Lynn left some big shoes to fill.
“It’s tragic. You know, look, my heart goes out to the Lynn family and the citizens of Meade County,” Stith said. “I mean, we lost a good man. So, first and foremost, I want everyone to know that I am sorry for that. This is going to be a tough transition, but we’ll get through it.”
When asked about where his politics lie, Stith offered this analogy, “Chad, if you pull up to an intersection, don’t you usually look as far left as you can see, and wouldn’t you look as far right as you can see, to gather the information together to make a decision to cross that intersection? That is pretty much how I look at where I stand on politics and Meade County. I want to hear the information from the left and I want to hear the information from the right. I’m pretty much a middle of the road kind of guy.”
Stith said that, if it’s good for Meade County, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Republican magistrate, a Democrat magistrate, or a citizen that comes up with the idea. He took this even further when I pointed out that one thing I’ve noticed, in almost a year covering the Fiscal Court, is that it would be difficult to tell which magistrates were Republican or Democrat at a meeting, unlike national and often state governments.
“I think Judge Lynn made a very hard point to make that happen, and boy, that is one of the many things I admire about him because I’m going to try to continue that same thing,” Stith said. “I haven’t had a chance yet to meet with all the magistrates, but I’m going to ask them to be virtually nonpartisan. When we are coming together at a Fiscal Court meeting and handling business, we are all one team. My goal is that we can all come together and put politics aside.”
Though he has only been on the job for three days, Stith has some big goals he hopes to achieve. From an economic standpoint, getting up to speed with Nucor and building a relationship with their people is pretty high on his list, as is working to help assure a new granary finds a home in Meade County. He also says that getting people back to work is a priority along with attracting new businesses and industries.
“I want to go out and sell Meade County. I’m pretty good at that,” he explains. “Meade County has got a lot of things to be proud of. For a small rural county, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I just want to push it to the next level, if I can. I want to keep it going.”
Stith hopes that Meade Countians will have a little patience and give him some time to get up to speed. With just three days on the job so far, he still has a lot to catch up on. One of the first things, he says, is to meet with all the department supervisors to better understand how they function and listen to what some of their concerns might be or bumps in the road they are facing.
“Look, Judge Lynn had big shoes. All I want to do is get my feet in them. Now I don’t know if I can fill them out; it may take me a little longer. I’m not Judge Lynn. I’m Judge Stith, and we are going to do things a little bit different, probably,” Stith stated. “Just give me time to get my feet in there, let them swell up a little bit so I can wear those shoes and hopefully, I think Meade County will be happy with what they see.”