By Kristy Robinson Horine

 

reagan_taylor_madison_judge_exec_candidateHe pushes the button and the mechanism inside the case retracts the thin metal strip. As it snaps back into place, a small cloud of sawdust erupts in the air. He’s measured twice, so he makes the cut.

It is true and good — just like he knew it would be.

After all these years, experience has been the best teacher for Reagan Taylor, Madison County’s newest County Judge Executive.

Taylor is an eighth generation Madison Countian. His granddad was a retired farmer. His uncles and family farmed. Though he grew up in Stateland, a Richmond subdivision, when he got out of school in the afternoons, he would travel to the fields to help house tobacco.

After high school, Taylor started working for his uncle’s insurance company. It wasn’t long before he heard the call to build. He didn’t know it at the time, but heeding that call would lead him from building houses to building community.

I think it’s just where the good Lord leads you. I wasn’t much of a scholar. I didn’t learn really well out of a book, I learned by doing with my hands,” he explains. “My uncle wanted to build a house, so I came out of the office for him as a laborer and then I went and learned the construction business. That’s how I got my feet wet. I didn’t know anything about it. We framed it and roofed it and I packed the shingles and the 2x4s.”

After learning the initial ropes with his uncle, Taylor found he had enough experience to venture out on his own. In September 2001, he incorporated Reagan Taylor Builder and started with two spec houses on residential lots.

In 2007, Reagan Taylor Builder won the bid on a 30,000 square foot facility that would become Liberty Place, a substance abuse recovery facility in Richmond. From there, he constructed a few doctor’s offices and a 20,000 square foot outpatient facility for Baptist Health.

Though the work suited Taylor because it was different every day and didn’t leave him behind a desk, crunching numbers, Taylor found that it was about more than just superficial satisfaction. It was building relationships and investing in the community through projects that would serve him and his neighbors and family.

“My philosophy is basically about serving others,” he says. “Growing up, my mom and dad always taught us to serve others. You shine your light; you help people where you can. Even though I was working in the construction business and getting paid for it, residential houses are probably one of the biggest purchases people will make in their lives. This is their home. They are creating memories there. And then you get into these commercial projects like Baptist Health and the rehab facility, those places are serving our community.”

With no experience in the public sector, other than a strong desire to serve others, Taylor again turned to a different kind of blueprint.

 

From building homes to building community

Taylor explains that in residential building, a builder can offer two types of homes: those built on spec, and a custom home. With a custom home the owners choose the lot, choose the plans, and the builder follows their directions. With a spec house, the builder owns the lot and comes up with his own plan, building on faith that a purchaser will come along and love it enough to live there. No matter what type of construction Taylor dealt with, one constant was how he worked with the government.

“In the construction business, you deal with government quite a bit. You are obviously engaged, and to be honest with you, I felt like I was serving government all the time instead of government serving me. This is a community that I love and I wanted to make a difference. I felt like I couldn’t do that well enough without being involved,” he says.

“When you are an eighth generation Taylor, it is instilled in you that your family is important, that your town is important, so I felt called. I prayed about it for quite some time. I was open-minded about it. I said, this is my message, this is what I believe in, if the community believes in it, too, they will vote for me, if they don’t they won’t.”

The community believed.

After running a campaign on the premise of building a better Madison County by promoting growth where everybody benefits, being an example, holding people accountable, maintaining a level of transparency in government, and treating everyone the same, Taylor won the election, beating 20-year incumbent Kent Clark.

Within the first week, Taylor took inventory. He visited every department and met with every employee he could. With a county as large as Madison, covering over 80,000 people, the employee list included roughly 200 people. But Taylor says the time was worth it.

His time spent on the Bluegrass Area Development District board was time well spent too. As a newcomer to governance, he had access to a network of Judge-Executives and to staff professionals willing to share their expertise and advice.

He has put his experience – and theirs – to good use.

“We asked the employees to fill out the pros and the cons of working in their department. We learned so much and it was anonymous,” Taylor says. “It allowed us to see a huge need for Human Resources. In order for employees to work to their fullest potential, they need to be able to trust leadership, and they also need a safe haven to know that they are not going to get retaliation. That was the start of getting better service internally. We were able to then learn more about people.”

In order to build a custom community, Taylor knew that not only did he need to make certain of his materials, he also needed a plan in which to use those materials.

Government is a very fast paced job, but it is also a very slow process. It kills me sometimes. Coming from a real estate and construction background, we moved at a fast pace, we had deadlines. The faster you got things done, most of the time you were more profitable,” he says. “You come in here and it is hurry up and wait, but that is part of the process. But there are processes you follow so that there is proven transparency.”

rtaylor listTaylor’s plan is so transparent he posts it on his office door.

“Facility maintenance, AT&T contract, branding campaign, purchasing inventory clerk, drain program, credit card system, comprehensive plan, fire station cleanup …” Taylor pauses long enough to let the list items sink in. “I can keep going on and on. To sum it up, we want to be as efficient as we possibly can. This is our second group of lists. With our first group of lists, we had 64 items in 30 minutes.”

Within this first year, Taylor and his team have tackled multiple projects. In addition to a personnel survey, they have reduced the assessed value of all county vehicles by a million dollars, saving taxpayers about $17,000 in premiums. Some vehicles were assessed above their actual value. Some vehicles were still on the list, but were no longer in working order. Some vehicles were no longer even owned by the county.

And they have changed the purchase order process so that all Purchase Orders (POs) are approved before the checks are written and signed.

In fact, Madison County is on track to become the first county to have a paperless audit in Kentucky since all POs are now processed electronically.

Common sense matters

This building process is based on common sense, Taylor says, something that some people questioned because of Taylor’s lack of experience in public service.

“At the end of the day, two plus two still equals four. It’s how you manage, it’s how you hold people accountable,” Taylor explains. “It doesn’t matter if it is a $10,000 job or a $10 million job, you still have to make sure the job is getting done. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you want to get re-elected, you have to do it within four years.”

At the end of each of his days, Taylor turns and looks at the progress. A portion of the framework has been leveled over here, the foundation has been shored up over there. The nails and screws are secure and the materials are worthy of a palace. He’s building for his people, for his neighbors, and for the ninth, tenth and elevenths generations of Taylors yet to come. It is his goal to be able to look at the work he has accomplished and be proud of maintaining his honesty and his service to others.

“All you’ve really got in this world is your name,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m a one-termer, or if I am a five-termer, but the decision that we make will be the best for this community and for the guy that’s going to follow me.”

Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance writer from Paris. She wrote this story for the Bluegrass Area Development District.