Franklin County Magistrate Michael Mueller is running for judge-executive, he told The State Journal on Friday.
When contacted moments later for comment, Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells said that he is running to retain the county’s top elected post.
The announcements set up a Democratic primary race between a long-established local politician in Wells and Mueller’s much more recent political star.
A 47-year-old businessman, Mueller thinks it’s time for new leadership to move the county in a new direction.
“For the last three years, I've been on the fiscal court and I just truly feel like I have more to give to the community,” Mueller said. “I have a vision that I think can help our community grow in a smart way.”
Wells, 70, was first elected to the judge-executive position in 2014 after four terms as District 5 magistrate; he has previously served on the Frankfort City Commission and as mayor of Frankfort. Wells is a retired principal of Bondurant Middle School.
Claiming to have unfinished business at the county helm, Wells mentioned cleaning up the long-ailing Farmdale Sanitation District, redoubling efforts on economic development and expanding broadband into the county as primary issues.
Mueller has served one term as magistrate for Franklin County’s 3rd District, which is situated in the eastern portion of Franklin County. Before gaining elected office, Mueller chaired the Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce and served on various community organizations.
He owns and operates Inside Out Design, a renowned design-build hardscape and landscape business, along with his wife Andrea Wilson Mueller.
Mueller said that his campaign team will consist of his wife, Paula Woolums who helped him run his magisterial campaign, and his treasurer Lidia Powell among others.
Wells has yet to respond to a question regarding his campaign team.
As magistrate, a recent effort of Mueller’s was the creation of a master plan/feasibility study for the future of Lakeview Park. Mueller has advocated for a large indoor multi-use facility at the site. The plan, with a price tag of $187,000, has been ongoing for several months, and consulting firm Hitchcock Design Group plans to present a full draft of it to the county’s park committee on Nov. 15.
One top priority listed during the planning process was indoor “fieldhouse,” an event center and recreation space which Hitchcock said would span approximately 160,000 square feet.
Mueller said that planning and eventual implementation of improvements to Lakeview Park are a major objective of his moving forward, as they could prove majorly beneficial to the area’s quality of life.
“Our citizens pay taxes, and they deserve a nice park,” Mueller said. “On the flip side, we can use it for economic development too, which has obviously been a big issue in our community.”
Wells, who is on the park committee with Mueller and Magistrate Scotty Tracy, has expressed more pause at the potential cost of such an ambitious project, but has generally voted along with the two magistrates.
Mueller added that he thinks the entire community could do a better job of defining its “vision,” for what it wants to become.
“I think ultimately, we need to figure out what direction we want to go and who we want to be,” Mueller said. “I think there are a lot of things where we need to sit down with the community, our governments and everybody else to figure out who we want to be.”
Wells, for his part, has recently helped guide the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds toward extra pay for some county employees and tentatively directed funds for broadband expansion into more remote parts of the county.
Mueller pointed to Franklin County’s slow growth relative to its neighboring counties as a cause for concern that he would attempt to tackle.
Wells said he wasn’t satisfied with the rate of population growth, and pointed to the impending extension of sewer service to the Farmdale area and along U.S. 127 as an opportunity for the county to grow “the right way.”
How that growth looks, both Wells and Mueller agree, will be a major issue going forward. The city and county are currently taking part in a significant update to the area’s comprehensive plan, a document that informs much of area’s growth and development patterns.
“I think we can do it in a way that doesn’t look like Scott County, but also doesn’t look like Owen County,” Wells said. “Owen County’s growth is slow, and Scott County is growing too fast.”
Mueller, similarly, emphasized the importance of striking a balance when it comes to growth. He also stressed the importance of infill development.
“When I say we'd like to grow smart, I don't think we want to be a mega-anything,” Mueller said. “I think we need to be diverse, and I think there's a lot of buildings, especially since the state government’s role has changed, that need to be looked at as opportunities for infill.”
Wells said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a Republican challenger announce a run for the seat in the coming months and Mueller stated that he hadn’t heard of anyone else running as of yet.
Mueller said that he informed Wells that he was running earlier this week. Both stated they look forward to a challenge.
“We’re not two people who are running with the same views,” Wells said. “His view and my view are different. I think having a different choice with where you want to go will be a good battle ground for both of us.”