By CHRISTIN COYNE
The Parker County Republican Party held a candidates forum Monday night, inviting Republican primary candidates to address the several hundred people gathered at the Parker County Courthouse and answer questions from a panel of local media.
Early voting began Tuesday and runs through Feb. 28. The primary election is March 4.
Following are some of the comments made by candidates in the local Republican primary’s contested races:
Challenger Cary McKay, a developer, called for more transparency in commissioner’s court, including video taping meetings, saying it was inappropriate that the judge, a commissioner and the auditor discussed a $1.3 million budget shortfall in the hallway.
McKay said he wants to see taxes go down, adding that the county’s budget has seen an increase of 110 percent in the last decade, from $19.6 million to $41.3 million, with the population growing 20 percent. The county should combine all the taxes the county collects, including the county tax and lateral road tax, to get a true assessment of where the county stands in Texas, McKay said, adding that he would work with county employees in their office to try to save taxpayer dollars.
McKay said residents are either happy with his opponent or are ready for change.
Incumbent Mark Riley said the county judge has multiple duties, including presiding over one of nine judicial courts in the county, and he has complied with the judicial code of conduct during the election and has the temperament and character to make judicial decisions.
The administrative duties of the judge are not those of a part-time judge, Riley said, adding that residents have had part-time volunteer commissioners but don’t need a volunteer judge, and he has no business interests that will conflict with decisions he makes.
Riley said 82 percent of Texas counties have a higher tax rate for the general operating fund than Parker County, bond ratings have improved, and transportation bond projects are on time and under budget in five years. Parker County cannot afford on-the-job training with the growth the county is experiencing, Riley said, adding that, by law, the county cannot combine the county’s taxes.
Recently appointed incumbent Jenny Barnwell said she is better-qualified than her opponent for the position of county treasurer with her 32 years of business and investment experience.
Saying she has the licenses needed to work as an investment broker, Barnwell said she has revised the county’s investment policy, though it has not yet been considered for adoption by county commissioners.
The county currently receives $6,000 in income from money that has been sitting in money market accounts, but if investments were managed more efficiently, they could bring in $250,000 to $300,000, Barnwell said.
Her opponent, Dedra Vick, an evidence custodian for the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, said that prior to working for the sheriff’s office she grew her family’s convenience store business into a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Vick said she would be a full-time treasurer, promote better communication between departments and cross-train employees.
Vick said the treasurer doesn’t need investing experience because there are written guidelines. She asked whether voters want their money at risk in a volatile economy.
Incumbent Jeane Brunson said she has 22 years experience as county clerk and has brought technology to the office, allowing staff to scan and return documents at the time of the transaction and electronically store copies of the county’s records in a separate location.
Brunson said she currently has an employee scanning court records who is not paid by taxes.
Challenger Paula Durant said she would show up for the job, run the office more efficiently by doing away with an administrative assistant position and do away with the “use it or lose it” mentality by returning unspent allocated tax money.
Durant told voters that Parker County is behind in technology compared to counties of similar size, saying she wants to see court records online and available and residents able to use credit or debit cards with the capability the county already has.
Pct. 4 County Commissioner
Steve Dugan, who has been endorsed by current commissioner Dusty Renfro, said he has been employed in Precinct 4 for 29 years and is experienced in road and bridge maintenance and interlocal agreements. Renfro appears on the ballot but is not campaigning for the position.
Fred Hammons said he has lived in the county for about 11 years and believes there is no communication between residents and the commissioner and said he would represent residents and voters.
Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace
In a four-way race where the current judge is retiring, Jerry Hataway said he has succeeded at every job he’s held, including working for decades with the Arlington Police Department, where he retired as a commanding officer for state and local task forces. He also has experience in office management and budgeting as a police supervisor, Hataway said.
Anne Hollis said she has more than 20 years experience with the sheriff’s office, is very involved in the community and has been a small business owner. Hollis said she plans to work on accelerating case resolution, making court hours more accessible for residents and implementing teen court.
Dusty Vinson said he has worked more than 21 years as a law enforcement officer in the community, including supervisory positions with the sheriff’s office and as the senior investigator for the district attorney’s office.
Candidate Greg Martin did not attend the forum.
Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace
Challenger Bernard Suchocki said his history of public service in the community, his 32 years of legal experience as a trial attorney, his experience with NASA and his attention to detail make him the best candidate. Suchocki said he is winding down his legal practice and his term on the Willow Park City Council will be up in May, so he will be a full-time judge.
Incumbent Lynn Johnson, who is finishing her first term, said the court has realized a 40 percent increase in productivity since she took over the position, and said she has tried to make it more reflective of other justice of the peace courts in the county. An attorney as well, Johnson said she has focused on helping develop local rules to assist litigants who represent themselves in the court, as well as instituted teen court to better help juveniles.