One day after standing in front of a sold-out crowd of his constituents and professing the changes for the better he's seen in McCracken County during his tenure, McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry stood in his office reading a grand jury indictment with his name on it.
"This is the first time I am seeing it," Newberry said shaking his head. "This is shocking."
Newberry and Deputy Judge-Executive Doug Harnice were indicted on charges of tampering with public records as a result of an investigation that began last summer into allegedly unlawful changes to the county's zoning maps. Paducah attorney Burton "Dell" Washburn brought allegations to light of improper changes in April. McCracken County officials asked the Attorney General's office to investigate, which led to special prosecutor G.L. Ovey presenting evidence to a grand jury for three days in December. The indictment was returned Friday just after noon.
"Certainly an indictment doesn't mean you're guilty," Newberry said. "It just means that a group of people - not even a unanimous group of people - decided that there probably should be a trial. Certainly, we are innocent in this. Certainly, this is not true."
Newberry said he wasn't notified of the indictment being returned. He read the indictment for the first time while meeting with the media. Both Newberry and Harnice will be represented by attorney Will Kautz. Tampering with public records is a Class D felony and subject to a sentence of one to five years in jail.
Harnice did not comment Friday afternoon. He and Newberry both mentioned that they would like to ask for an expedited trial to get the matter settled as quickly as possible. Newberry had, in the past contended that the zoning changes were the result of a computer glitch, but modified that stance Friday in his office.
"The city had drawn a map, and when they did they drew it incorrectly," Newberry said. "We asked them to correct the map and that was the end of this. I think I did what a Judge-Executive should do when they see something that wasn't done right, and something that costs the taxpayers money."
Newberry continued: "There was an original zoning map. The city tried to translate that map to a bigger map and when they did so, they got the lines off. They had zoning lines going through people's houses. Instead of the zoning line going down the property line, they were 10 feet off of the property line. We simply asked the city to correct it."
Newberry said the city corrected most of the map. When asked if he and Harnice corrected the rest of the map, he said "not at that time."
The matter first came to public attention after Washburn discovered that property he owned had been rezoned without the required legal notice and governmnt approvals. Further research by Washburn led him to the conclusion that hundreds of county parcels had been illegally rezoned. County Attorney Mike Murphy reviewed Washburn's work and concluded there were irregularities. That led Murphy and other county officials to ask the Kentucky Attorney General's office to investigate. Lyon County prosecutor G.L. Ovey was then appointed to investigate the matter. Ovey presented the results of his investigation to the grand jury, which returned the indictments this this afternoon.
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.