GLASGOW – Barren County's solid waste coordinator wears multiple hats besides that one, so when people ask him what his job is, he says, “I'm the catch-all for the county.”
His last day as solid waste coordinator, code enforcement officer, special deputy with the Barren County Sheriff's Office and deputy director with Glasgow-Barren County Emergency Management is Aug. 21.
John Stephens, a registered nurse, was appointed to his position by Judge-Executive Micheal Hale when he began his first four-year term in 2015. After he leaves the county's employment, he'll start a job as director of the rehabilitation unit at NHC HealthCare of Glasgow. He had been employed there before coming to work for the county.
“I'm going back to nursing full time,” he said. “It's a decision that, from an outsider looking at it, would be an easy decision.”
It was actually probably one of the most difficult decisions of his adult life, Stephens said.
“I love what I do now. I love working out in the community every day and helping citizens with what they need,” he said, adding that he does miss nursing, though.
“Obviously, from a financial standpoint, it's just a decision that had to be made for my wife and kids,” Stephens said.
The hours may be a little more regular as well, as Stephens may end up helping at the scene of a wreck until 2 a.m. now or helping clear roads after inclement weather at all hours.
“I've spent many hours pushing snow on backhoes on county roads in the last [few] years,” he said.
That last part is where the “catch-all” title comes in. When he's not busy with one of those other roles, he's often helping the Road Department or Parks and Recreation Department.
He said the more trucks the Road Department has “running rock to them,” the more work they can get done, he helps with that or sitting at the front of the chipping machine to free up another man to do other work.
Tuesday morning, he was helping to paint lines on the field at the soccer complex.
He said Hale made it known from the beginning he wanted every department in the county working together as a team, and that's what happens. Another example of that is that when he needs to clean up an illegal dump. He coordinates closely with the jailer to have an inmate crew help.
“They help tremendously with roadside cleanup and illegal dumps,” he said.
He has several other duties as solid waste coordinator, including completing annual reports for the state as to how many pounds of trash go into the Glasgow landfill and its remaining capacity and reports about how much material is recycled in the county. He coordinates the tire amnesty collection every third year when it's available here through a joint venture between the state and county, and he has obtained waste-tire grants to be able to properly dispose of tires collected from illegal dumping and such throughout the other years.
Stephens has obtained annual grants for litter abatement for roadside trash to be picked up, about $52,000 this year for the county, and he coordinates the collections at sites around the county for the spring cleanup week.
The code enforcement officer role is somewhat tied to the solid waste coordinator one, but it includes handling a variety of complaints other than improper trash disposal – like unmowed yards.
Early on when Stephens took that role, the judge-executive, sheriff and he met and agreed they didn't want him to take the route of just going out and writing tickets to everyone. He attempts to talk with the property owners and get things straightened out that way first, he said.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, that's been effective,” Stephens said, adding that most of the time, people say they didn't realize there was a law or ordinance they were breaking.
The special deputy role ties in with the code enforcement, providing some extra authority for times when he needs to be on private property, for example.
Stephens also began helping out with emergency management, and he was eventually made a part-time – about 10 hours per week – paid deputy EM director.
“The thing about John is he's a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and he'll do a great job with it,” Hale said. “I hate to lose him, but I told him when you have someone that's thinking about their family and bettering their family in any situation, I respect that. That just speaks a lot of him, but he's done a great job, a great job, above and beyond.
As for trying to find someone to fill Stephens' shoes, Hale said he's not that far.
“I haven't thought about who I want and what I want their credentials to be,” he said, but he added he probably won't advertise the position.
Hale said there is a solid waste conference coming up in early September, though, so he would ideally like to have someone in place by then.