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When Steve Coulter hands over the keys to the Spencer County Sheriff’s Office to Buddy Stump at the first of the year, he will leave with few regrets.
“I am proud of what we have done,” said Coulter, who has been county sheriff since 1994. “I think we have served the citizens well.”
Again, he will leave with few regrets. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any: “I just hate that it had to end this way,” he said.
“This way” was reference to his general election loss to Stump by less than 300 votes on Nov. 2, a campaign that publicly showcased the acrimonious relationship between the two candidates. Stump, who most recently has been a detective with the Mount Washington Police Department, worked as a deputy under Coulter for a few years and unsuccessfully campaigned for the Spencer County sheriff job in 2006.
Regardless of the terms of his exit, Coulter is proud of his 21-year tenure with the sheriff’s department, which included a four-year stint starting in 1990 as the only deputy under then-sheriff Melvin Hume.
“I don’t take all the credit, but when I came in January of 1994, our office was over at the courthouse,” said Coulter of his genesis as sheriff. “We had a one-line phone, a little two-room office, no fax machine, no copy machine, no computer. If we needed a fax or a copy, the county clerk was nice enough to let us walk across the hall and use her machines.
“At that point in time, we owned our own vehicles and we maintained them 100 percent,” he said, noting that the county first purchased cruisers in 2005. “Our radio system was terrible in our cruisers — you could get better service with a CB radio. We have come a long way.”
Trying to keep pace with a county population that more than doubled during Coulter’s years with the sheriff’s department, his staff grew from two to its current roster size of 11, including himself, six full-time deputies, two part-time officers, one full-time clerk and one part-time clerk.
“It was a challenge not just for the sheriff’s office, but all emergency services,” said Coulter of the county’s boom years. “We were strapped with low manpower and no funding. But we struggled and got through it, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
By his own count, Coulter is one of 37 sitting sheriffs in Kentucky who were defeated in the November elections. At least some were likely caught up in the nationwide voter backlash against the Democratic Party, of which Coulter is a member. Included in the overhaul was Scott County’s Bobby Hammons, a veteran of more than 30 years who was voted Sheriff of the Year in 2009 by the Kentucky Sheriff Association.
“I have no hard feelings with anyone in the county because I lost,” Coulter said. “I wish the incoming sheriff success.”
Coulter has no definite plans once he turns the office over to Stump. By state law, he is required to ensure all tax collection data is reconciled with the incoming staff, but Coulter is confident that the process will take less than the Jan. 15 deadline.
After that, Coulter said he will seek a job, hopefully in law enforcement. He realizes he will likely have to work in another county, but said Spencer County will always be his home.
“I love this place,” he said. “I was raised here; my children were raised here. I will stay here, and continue to support and be involved in anyway that I can.”
Plus, Coulter said, he already has his eyes on 2014.
“In four years I plan on being back,” he said of another campaign run at the sheriff post. “I want to serve the people of Spencer County again.”