Lifelong Madison County resident J.D. Chaney was recently appointed to the prestigious position of executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities in December, a position which he said he is honored to serve.
Chaney grew up in Waco, later graduating from Madison Central High School in the mid-90s, where he served as his class’ president.
He briefly left the county and traveled to Montana for his post-secondary education earning his degrees in political and economic sciences. And while he said he loved Montana, his roots were placed firmly in the bluegrass, bringing him back home to attend the University of Kentucky for law school, and then EKU for his master’s in business administration.
“Like most Kentuckians, I was ready to come home,” he said. “I have traveled all over the state, but Madison County is where I wanted to raise my children and my family...I have been to almost every city in Kentucky and raising my family in Richmond and the greater Madison County community, it is a place near and dear to my heart.”
Chaney began his long standing career with the KLC in 2001 as a law clerk while earning his degree at UK before climbing his way through the ranks to serve as the deputy director beginning around 2015.
“I have held a variety (of positions) and I have loved them all,” he told The Register. “I fell in love with KLC. Serving the people that serve is one of the most rewarding experiences, and I get to do that every single day.”
In his own words, he says the goal of the KLC is to “serve those who serve,” providing legislative advocacy, legal services, community consulting, training and policy development and research to 380 cities and municipal groups.
KLC was created in 1927 with the pioneers of the nonprofit establishing a united voice for the Kentucky city governments in the state legislature.
“What those pioneers realized was not every city could afford to have an advocate in Frankfort and they needed to be united and more uniform,” Chaney explained. “And that is reflected with city officials even today as most of the elected city officials aren’t full time, most are part time maintaining a normal day job and their families. So having representation in Frankfort is what kicked it off and remains the core to this very day.”
One of the biggest programs in KLC, according to Chaney, is the Community Development Program, which helps with establishing strategic plans in cities like Berea.
In the day-to-day operations as executive director, he oversees 72 employees, helps work with the budget, the management of the KLC and, most importantly, serves as the chief advocate for cities as a liaison to state policy makers.
In his new position as director and CEO, Chaney hopes to address the “low hanging fruit” in developing a strategic plan of their own.
“One thing that we have been lacking and low hanging fruit: we get out and advise with strategic plans but we don't have one in our organization for many divisions and departments,” he said. “We haven't met with employees or members on what our strategic plan is overall and we have not paused to have a conversation about where we are going or need to do.”
In addition, he hopes to review the KLC mission statement and values — which he says have not been reviewed in almost 15 years — to see if they are meeting the needs of the agencies they represent.
“I think we are in most ways but complacency kills,” he said. “There is a constant analysis we need to engage in. We are also seeing a lot of change with about one-third of elected officials changing each year, and therefore the demographic is slowly shifting.”
Although J.D.’s job is to represent the cities, his wife, county Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney represents the Madison County government, making their household one full of politics.
And while he says he and his wife have some differing viewpoints, he claims it is a great benefit to him to see the way cities and their respective counties interrelate and are mutually dependent.
“We don’t always agree, but the more you understand issues facing local government, it shapes the way I view certain things; be it the correction issue you all are facing and the way it impacts city,” he said. "Although the city has no fiscal responsibility, it definitely impacts the quality of life...We talk about it quite a bit and sometimes we agree to disagree on policy, it is generally friendly.”
In his transition to his new position, Chaney said it is an adjustment, but he is honored to have been appointed by the 18 board members to serve.
“I have been overwhelmed with the support with city officials, board members and stakeholders and staff and I am having an absolute blast in this position,” he said. “It is my dream job. I am fortunate to be here.”
For more information about the KLC, visit klc.org.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.