After a decade at the helm, Bardstown police chief retires

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Marksbury praised for steady leadership

By Frank Johnson

Back when Bardstown Police Chief Charles Marksbury was just beginning his career in law enforcement as an officer with the Nelson County Police Department in the mid-1980s, retired Sheriff Mike Newton would tag along during his overnight shifts.


The two had met while working on the county police force and had both previously served in the Bloomfield Police Department. They become good friends and Newton, who was trying to get back into law enforcement at the time, recalled one particular shift when the pair staked out the residence of an alleged burglar.

It was 1 a.m. when they started and by 4 a.m., when Marksbury’s shift was ending, there had still been no sign of their suspect. Newton said Marksbury could have just called it right then and headed back to the station to write a report, but instead he stuck around.

“He stayed on out there trying to solve a crime,” Newton said of Marksbury and, at around sun-up, he had his chance. “The guy eventually came out and when he got up, we came in and got him.”

Inside the suspect’s residence, they found the stolen items for which they were looking. Newton said

this story exemplified Marksbury’s approach to his 28-year law enforcement career, which will soon come to an end with his announcement that he will retire Feb. 28.

“As long as there was a lead, he would stay with it,” Newton said.

Marksbury has led the department for the last 10 years and recently submitted a letter detailing his retirement to Bardstown Mayor Bill Sheckles, who made it public at a city council work session Tuesday.

Assistant Police Chief Rick McCubbin will be named interim chief after Marksbury’s last day. They mayor is in charge of hiring and firing city employees, and Sheckles said further decisions regarding finding a replacement for Marksbury will be made closer to his retirement date.


‘It gets in your blood’

Marksbury, 61, grew up on his father’s dairy farm just over the Spencer County line near Fairfield. It required hard work and when he graduated from Taylorsville High School in 1967, he said he followed the lead of many others at that time and signed on at the GE plant in Louisville.

“Back then, the place to work was GE,” he said.

However, after two years, Marksbury tired of life on the factory floor and the uncertainty surrounding it due to a series of “wildcat” strikes. He returned to his father’s farm but his life was then upended when he received his draft notice, shortly after meeting the woman who would become Peggy Marksbury.

Instead of heading to the jungles of Vietnam, Marksbury was deployed to a base in Germany. While there, he said, he got used to the discipline and structure of military life and when he returned home, he got a job with the Bloomfield Police Department thanks to a government grant funding officers for rural counties.

After that, Marksbury said, he was hooked.

“Once you do it, it gets in your blood,” Marksbury said of police work. “You always have that drive.”

So, even when a few years later Marksbury took a job at Ford Motor plant in Louisville (“The pay was too good to pass up,” he said), he found himself back on patrol two years later when he joined the Nelson County Police Department in 1984.

Since then, Marksbury has seen a lot of changes in the way police do business. The Nelson County Police Department has disappeared and the Bardstown Police Department has grown from 11 officers when he started in 1989 to 23 officers. He described the changes in technology as “unbelievable.”

“When I took over as chief in 2000, we didn’t even have any personal computers,” Marksbury said.

However, he noted one of his proudest accomplishments has been moving the police department from its cramped space downtown to its new location in the same building as the Nelson County Sheriff’s Department. The department’s floor space went from 1,900 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

The tiny quarters in the downtown building resulted in some rooms serving dual purposes that created interesting situations.

“At the old police department, the break room was also the interview room. You could be sitting there eating lunch right next to someone who had just been taken in custody,” Marksbury said.

Making the move was an effort that required lots of cooperation with county and city officials to make it happen, but Marksbury said it has made all the difference.

“When we first come over here, it was just ‘Wow!’” Marksbury said.


Leading by example

Other law enforcement and city government officials pointed to Marksbury’s calm and steady leadership, particularly when he first started the job. The department was in upheaval following the short stint and subsequent firing of the previous chief.

“It was his steadying force that righted the ship when we went through that time,” said Bardstown Mayor Bill Sheckles, who became a city councilman at about the same time Marksbury became police chief. “He held the department together and moved it forward.”

During that chaotic time, Newton said Marksbury’s calm demeanor was an example the other officers fed off of. After things calmed down, Newton said Marksbury continued to lead the department with a low-key approach that was determined to get the job done right.

“He didn’t expect officers to go out there and write a thousand tickets,” he said, explaining that Marksbury believed it was about making sure it was well-deserved. “We call it the ‘good ticket’ and not the BS tickets.”

Newton said Marksbury’s low-key nature also meant he led by example instead of focusing on earning praise and acclaim.

“We didn’t care about who took the credit as long as the job got done,” Newton said. “Once you’ve done the job, people know who was leading the office, you don’t have to get out in front. Everybody … they knew he would never ask someone to do something he wouldn’t have done.”

For his part, Marksbury said he was just thankful that he had been able to have a job that he loved.

“You hear so many people who say they just hate their jobs. I enjoy coming to work,” he said. “I feel that we have a really good department. The officers are a joy to work with. The city should be proud.”