A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney: Endearing humor, serious focus on long-term issues


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By Kristy Robinson Horine

Special to KyForward

This is one of a series on the region’s Judge-Executives

Harold McKinney strolls down the brick walkway that laces through Constitution Square Historic Site in the heart of Danville.

He walks past the town’s original post office. It is known as the first post office built west of the Allegheny Mountains. He glances at the replica of the original jail. He admires the windows of the courthouse. This building is also a replica, but holds the original artifacts that once belonged to Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby. Shelby governed over 200 years ago, yet his hunting bag, powder flask and surveyor’s instruments remind visitors of the very spirit that helped to build this state.

A part of that spirit remains here. When the state considered closing Constitution Square as a state park, the citizens of Boyle County moved into action. They acquired the three-acre historic site, secured a grant for renovations, and now utilize the square as both an historic landmark and as the campus for Danville’s Economic Development team.

The acquisition and subsequent flourishing of the site is something McKinney is proud of. As he continues his turn around the Governor’s Circle, it could be said that he carries the same spirit of Kentucky deep inside. But if you say that to his face, he’ll probably laugh in a genuine, self-deprecating kind of way.

“I grew up in Adair County. I’m the youngest of seven children,” he says. “All of my brothers and sisters are older, richer, smarter and better looking than me.”

His humor is endearing to most folks, and that is one of the reasons why McKinney has served Boyle County for multiple elected terms as county judge executive.

The other reasons stem from the fact that McKinney has long believed there are just certain things that shouldn’t be questioned. Things like the value of honorable work, the value of working together to reach long-term goals, and the value of transparency in all the right places.

Honor in Honorable Work

McKinney came to Boyle County in 1969 to attend Centre College. He graduated in 1973 with a double major in Economics and Management and in Government. Fitted with an appropriate education, McKinney went on to work in various administrative positions at Kentucky State Hospital and later at the local health department and the district health department.

Mid-career, McKinney decided he needed to make a change.

“I knew there were doors that would not open unless I had a law degree and I wanted to practice law a bit,” he says. “I wanted to do some things I couldn’t’ necessarily do with just my bachelor’s degree. I wanted to practice law here in a small town. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do and so I did it.”

He started law school at the University of Kentucky and finished in two and a half years. He laughs at the expediency.

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“I had a family and I had a business, so I was focused,” he says.

And he maintained that focus for the rest of his law career, working over the years as Boyle County Assistant County Attorney and assisting organizations as legal counsel, including legal advisor for the state auditor’s office.

“Lawyers are as honorable a group of people as I have ever seen. I don’t see myself as being morally superior or inferior to anyone. Typically, you are involved with lawyers in some of the worst times of your life,” McKinney says. “Here is the thing, if two people could walk into the courtroom, one will lose and one will win. The winning party will think they are right. The losing party will think it’s because their attorney didn’t do a good job.”

McKinney applies that line of understanding to all the work that he does now as county judge executive.

“I have made some mistakes, but the bottom line is that you do the best you can and then you move on,” McKinney says in his matter-of-fact way. “When I was prosecuting, I used to say I sometimes had to do unpleasant things, but I don’t have to do them in unpleasant ways.”

In 2008, McKinney said yes to a position that has turned out to be pleasant.

That was the year the then county judge executive, Tony Wilder, accepted an appointment by Governor Steve Beshear as commissioner of the Governor’s Office for Local Development. This left a vacancy in Boyle County which Harold McKinney agreed to fill.

“I took a look at the job and what it was, a look at the skills that it would take to serve the citizens of Boyle County well, and I felt like I could bring those skills to the job. With my health department skills, I had done a lot of budgeting. I had a private business for a long time, so I knew how to do private business,” he says. “I knew how to step back and look at the long-term goals. I thought I brought some skills to the job, but I also have an interest in this county being the best it needs to be. That’s one of the reasons why I took it. I thought I could make a difference.”

Over the last two and a half terms, McKinney has made a world of difference in several different ways.

Winning Over Time

“When you get into an office like this, you have to get your hands wrapped around what the issues are,” McKinney explains.

In Boyle County, some of the greatest issues he could see were the spiraling cost of healthcare, incarceration numbers that were through the roof, and financial stability issues. All of these issues, he says, are long-term processes.

Starting that process in light of healthcare, McKinney says the county has adopted a wellness program with 100 percent participation.

“The wellness program is that we structured our insurance so that we will take $50 off your insurance costs every month if you participate in our wellness program. If you don’t use tobacco, we will take another $30 off your health insurance costs,” he says. “That means that your health insurance doesn’t cost you anything.”

What that also means is that every employee who receives a check from the Boyle County Fiscal Court is learning and implementing healthy and safe habits which work a dual purpose: they not only lower costs for employees and employers, but they also increase the quality of life.

Boyle County employees participate in an annual health fair where health officials gather BMI, blood pressure, weight, a complete blood panel, and participants complete a stress questionnaire. All of these results are put into a formula and every employee receives a report on his or her health status. The county receives an assessment of the aggregate, minus personal health information for individuals in the interest of privacy, and then the employees work together as a team to try to lower those aggregate risk factors.

“We don’t buy memberships in health clubs. We do try to educate our folks on things like how much a serving is, fat content, a lot of health education,” McKinney says, and explains that safety on the job is a big factor in reducing risks as well. “We want people to start thinking about safety, thinking about their health because if they start thinking, that’s where you are going to get the change. We have had walking challenges, nutrition classes, we are asking people to start thinking.”

McKinney says that folks in his area also need to start thinking about where the incarceration system is going as well.

“We need to stop putting people in jail because we are mad at them. We need to put them in jail because we are afraid of them,” he says.

Issues like substance abuse need treatment programs. Even though drug abuse can lead to criminal activity, the root cause is the drug issue, which is what McKinney believes is the part that can be changed.

“We must think about where we want to be in five years and where we want to be in the long run,” he adds.

The same goes for the rolling stock of the county. Rolling stock includes county vehicles, like cars and trucks and dump trucks and ambulances. While the county has replenished the dump trucks of late, there needed to be a plan to replace and repair the rolling stock over time so that the cost was spread out. McKinney and his team in county government have worked to get the rolling stock on a maintenance and replacement schedule. So far, it is working. The county’s financial situation is pretty good, he says.

McKinney is not only working in a fiscally responsible way in his own county, as treasurer with the Bluegrass ADD, he also works “to make sure that the board and the public can see clear and concise financial statement and clear and concise budget aspirations for us and then compare our performance.”

Public business should be conducted in a public way, he believes.

“If I own McKinney Enterprises, I don’t have to tell anyone anything until I file my taxes. If you are in the government you can’t hide stuff. This is the law, that’s just the way it is,” McKinney says. “We take a very measured approach to where and why we spend money. People can understand how and why their tax money is being spent. I’m into transparency.”

Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance writer in Paris. She wrote this story for the Bluegrass Area Development District.


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