The start of 2023 will bring about some big changes in Franklin County government, as the newly elected judge-executive and magistrates are sworn in on Jan. 3 at the Franklin County Courthouse.
Judge-elect Michael Mueller sat down with The State Journal to talk about some of the goals he has set for his administration.
"I am excited to get started and I am excited to join the team in this capacity," Mueller said.
Mueller, who has served as 3rd District magistrate since 2018, announced his candidacy for the judge-executive office back in October 2021 and was pitted against two term incumbent Huston Wells in the democratic primary.
After defeating Wells and 1st District Constable Steve Shelton with 50% of the vote, Mueller went on to win the general election against Republican nominee, Ken Carroll with 56% of the vote in November.
Mueller campaigned on his experience as an entrepreneur, magistrate and chair of the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce. He also emphasized his plan to spur the county's economic development and improve the quality of life for citizens.
A native of Maryland, Mueller has a degree in horticulture from the University of Maryland and has been in Kentucky for more than 25 years working in landscape design and management.
In 2007, he and his wife, Andrea, started Inside Out Landscape Design out of their house. The company specializes in building outdoor spaces across central Kentucky.
Mueller said that throughout the last few years he has been slowly stepping back from his business in preparation for his new office, but he has picked up the pace since November.
"I am going to stay with our business as a consultant ... when needed," he said of his transition. "For day-to-day operations I will be downtown with the county government."
When asked what his goals are for the next few months, he said he is not looking to make any big changes in the immediate future.
"The one thing that I have realized over the years as a business owner, is that you are only as strong as your weakest link," he said. "So, for me when people say, 'Michael, what are you going to do first?' I want to get to know the team. I want to work with the county employees. I literally want to work with every department. I want to see who needs help, who is doing well."
As with most administrations, Mueller is coming into a fiscal court office with several vacant positions. He said that he and Jack Kennedy, his deputy judge-executive, are planning to analyze which positions are necessary and which ones can be restructured to be more effective.
One area Mueller is definitely set on improving is the communication between Franklin County and the city of Frankfort, noting that the two entities have not been in sync in decades.
To help bridge the gap, Mueller said that he and Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson will have two standing meetings every month.
"I also want to propose holding quarterly meetings between the city commission and the magistrates," Mueller said. "I think the left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing. Kind of like with the parks (departments). We have had a few meetings between the two, and I think they are starting to realize that if we build this and they build that, then we will have a regional draw and that will help everybody's economic development."
The plan to improve communication also extends to how he plans to tackle the issues surrounding the bourbon industry in Franklin County, particularly the relationship with Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Currently, Buffalo Trace Distillery is trying to get a text amendment that would allow for barrel warehouses to be built in county zones marked for agricultural and residential — a move that is meeting resistance from some members of the community.
Mueller said that he has had positive conversations with Mark Brown, the president and CEO of Sazerac, Buffalo Trace's parent company.
"I just told him that I don't think there has been enough communication between Buffalo Trace, or any bourbon distillery, and Franklin County," Mueller stated. "There really has not been enough conversation, so I told him that I would really love to sit down and talk and he said, 'my door is always open, I'm in Louisville.'"
Mueller noted that he plans to find out exactly what the bourbon industry needs and how to help that mesh with the forthcoming comprehensive plan.
Some other goals on Mueller's agenda include moving forward with the first phase of the plan to overhaul Lakeview Park, building a new facility for the county road department and figuring out what to do with the newly acquired 130 acres that was once the Duckers Lake Golf Resort.
Mueller is set to be sworn in during a ceremony on Tuesday at 11 a.m. along with several other elected county and city officials including the clerk, coroner, jailer and constables.