For most of his adult life, Elliott County Judge-Executive David Blair has ruled Elliott County as if it were his own political fiefdom, and throughout most of those years, rumors and allegations of political corruption and favoritism have constantly followed him.
But until Tuesday none of them ever stuck. That’s when the 66-year-old Blair officially resigned as the county’s chief executive as part of his plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Ashland to a criminal charge of converting the property of another to his own use.
Gov. Steve Beshear will appoint a successor to Blair who will serve until someone is elected to serve out the remainder of the four-year term. Blair was elected in November of 2010. That could come as early as this November but most likely will not be until November of 2012.
With the exception of one term in which Blair voluntarily “retired” by not seeking re-election only to return to power four years later, there has been no question that David Blair was the political power broker in Elliott County. Nothing was done without his approval. And with Barry F. Blair serving as his father’s deputy judge-executive, it seemed clear that David Blair intended to extend his family’s political power to the next generation.
But the Blairs’ power began to crumble when both David and Barry Blair were indicted on multiple federal corruption charges stemming from the May 2010 Democratic primary election. With Republicans being virtually an endangered species in Elliott County, whoever won the Democratic primary was assured victory in November. Indeed, in 2010 no Republicans ran for judge-executive
Barry Blair pleaded guilty July 22 to a reduced charge of vote buying, admitting that he used county employees to place gravel on private driveways in exchange for votes for his father. On Thursday, David Blair admitted to being involved in what federal officials called “an extensive gravel giveaway” intended to buy votes and assure Blair’s re-election.
Under the recommending sentencing guidelines in Blair’s plea agreement, the now former judge-executive could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, to be followed by two or three years of supervised release and fined from $1,000 to $10,000.
U.S. District David L. Bunning said Blair will be required to pay restitution to the county of up to $5,000. While Blair can appeal if the restitution if it is more than that, he waived the right to appeal his conviction by pleading guilty. He also agreed to never again seek public office. That means there is no chance of David Blair returning to power.
David and Barry Blair will both be sentenced on Nov. 14.
The Blairs are the third and fourth Elliott County officials to be convicted of crimes since 2009. County Clerk Reeda Ison resigned from office in May 2009 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft charges, but we are convinced her offenses had more to do with her inability to do the job she was elected to do instead of intentional misdeeds. Later in 2009, a Boyd County jury convicted Elliott County Jailer Charles Howard of raping a female inmate he was transporting from Sandy Hook of the Boyd County Detention Center in Catlettsburg but that conviction has since been overtuned.
All that’s small potatoes compared to David Blair. Clearly, a change in power is taking place in Elliott County, and it is difficult to imagine that it will not be for the better. One can only hope real democracy can be restored in Elliott County — even if it means property owners and voters will be responsible for the maintenance of their own driveways.