Weatherford Democrat

February 12, 2014

MEET THE CANDIDATES: The race for Parker County Judge


Weatherford Democrat

Name: Cary McKay

Age: 46

Ocupation: Commercial/residential developer

Spouse/family: My wife is Joy and we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year. Our son is Jacob, 16.

Education: I am a graduate of Keller High School, 1986. 1986-87 baseball scholarship to the University Alabama-Tuscaloosa. Communications major. 1987-1990 Transferred to Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.

Professional background: Recruited out of college by Chick-Fil-a Corporate Atlanta, Ga. Worked in different locations in the United States. My job was to fix franchises that were experiencing trouble, either through financial, marketing or poorly managed stores. I decided to start my own business after a few years with Chick-Fil-a and went into commercial/residential development and have done so ever since.

Community involvement: Coached Weatherford Optimist football for six years. Board member of Peaster baseball association. Board member of Peaster football assocication. Was head coach for Peaster’s first club junior high football team. Active member at New River Fellowship and serve in the Praise and Worship Ministry. Lifelong Republican and a member of the Tea Party.

What are your top three goals should you be elected to serve? Please be specific.

Goal 1: I will do everything in my power to lower taxes and I pledge not to raise the general fund tax rate. Lack of leadership and poor planning have led to bad results and unnecessary tax increases.

Goal 2: I will involve the commissioners in the budget process and bring true transparency to the taxpayers. Bringing a budget to the commissioners with only two weeks to adopt it and the tax rate is poor leadership. My plans are to literally work with elected officials and department heads in their offices. I want to understand why they do what they do in order to determine if there is anything I can do to help them. The employees will know when they present a budget to court that I have a very good understanding of their needs. I want the employees to understand that all their ideas and opinions are very important, and that we must come together to save taxpayer dollars. We have to change the dysfunction and the excuse that is too often used, “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.” I will promote unity and NO micro-managing.

Goal 3: I will engage the mayors and the cities in Parker County in the process of long-term transportation and water planning. To take 15 years for the Weatherford loop is way too long. It should not take that long to build a two-lane road around Weatherford, and we are less than 50 percent complete. The court has taken little, if any, action on completing the east side where it is sorely needed. We will do better.

The transportation bond projects approved by the voters in 2008 are nearly complete. What is your opinion on what has been accomplished and what, if any, are the next steps the county should take?

The planning started when my opponent took office over 15 years ago. It took about nine years to take it to the voters. Now, after 15 years, the western portion of the loop is near completion. Fifteen-plus years to build a two-lane partial loop on the west side of Weatherford is absurd. The eastern portion of the loop (which is needed to actually complete a loop) has had very little action taken on it. The voters still need to approve the bond, and then the bonds need to be sold. The route needs to be firmed up, land purchased, designed and built. At best, it will be another eight to 10 years until it is complete.

Think about it: If my opponent is re-elected, he will serve 20 years as county judge plus another eight as commissioner before becoming judge, for a total of 28 years. It has taken him 15 years to get this far. At his current pace, it will be 2029 before the loop is finished. If these are the results you want from your county judge, then I am not your man.

I will get the remainder of the project in front of the voters ASAP. The longer we wait, the more it will cost. Improvements are being built in the proposed path, and as the economy improves real estate prices will rise. My opponent stated three times at a Tea Party meeting that he is in no hurry to move forward with the eastern portion. As one of the ladies said after the Tea Party meeting, “How can you call it a loop if it never connects?” Folks, we are better than this!

Earthquakes, and their possible link to injection wells used for fracking waste, have been an issue for Parker County residents recently. Do you think the Texas Railroad Commission should increase the monitoring and reporting done on these wells?

Absolutely. I personally knocked on the doors of some of the residents in the Azle/Reno area. They are very troubled and very concerned about it. Their houses are literally shaking, and items in their homes are falling to the floor with a very loud roaring noise. Oil and gas monitoring and reporting is the responsibility of the Texas Railroad Commission and TCEQ. As county judge I will do my very best to encourage them in determining if the injection wells and /or fracking is the cause of the earthquakes. I applaud Mayor Lynda Stokes of Reno for her leadership in this matter.

Please comment on the $1.3 million road and bridge fund deficit brought to light in this year’s budget talks and the court’s decision to give up individual fund balances.

I believe the lowering of the lateral road tax rate a few years ago in order to raise the general fund tax rate is the cause of the shortage. I was there the day they chose to do this, and I knew then it would come back to haunt us. At the time, each precinct had a fund balance which allowed them the ability to prioritize and fund projects which overlap budget years. Taking this away gave the judge more control over precinct funds and restricted progress at the precinct level.

Also, all the discussions about how to make up the shortage were not held in open court. The judge and the auditor met with each commissioner and discussed their shortfalls outside of the court where the public and the press were not present. I received a phone call from Commissioner Renfro the very next day, and he told me of his concerns about what had taken place outside of court in those discussions. This is wrong!

But this is exactly what happens in an election year. My opponent doesn’t want any bad press; this is pure politics, and it is not transparency. The people and the press should be outraged by these moves. This is, after all, the citizens court.

My predictions for the coming fiscal year are that the current $1.3 million deficit will become far worse especially based upon all of the snow and ice we have experienced this year in Parker County. This deficit will be much, much larger. This all goes back to poor management, poor budgeting and poor leadership. What do you expect from a court that rarely meets throughout the entire year on budget matters?



Do you have any strategies to limit tax increases as the county grows? If so, what are they?

As the county grows, new properties and improvements are added to the tax roll. Our county government should not expand faster than the increase in tax revenue that growth allows. Poor budget management has led to general fund tax increases in seven of the last 10 years.

The county judge is the budget manager and submits his proposed budget. Continually submitting a budget that requires a tax hike to fund it and not holding budget meetings with Commissioners Court until a couple of weeks before the deadline is not the way it should be done. I will work closely with all elected officials and department heads to provide the best services as efficiently and economically as possible. But this takes time and teamwork – something that has been sorely lacking for two decades.



What are the duties and responsibilities of the county judge?

The county judge should lead our county with principled vision. I will represent ALL citizens. I will consistently provide truthful, clear, inclusive leadership. Since the specific duties are numerous, here is a good link for those who would be interested: http://vgyi.tamu.edu/files/2011/09/County-Judge-1.pdf.

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Name: Mark Riley

Age: 63

Occupation: Parker County Judge

Spouse/family: Married to Janet and we have five children and four grandchildren.

Education: I have earned hundreds of hours of judicial training credits. A graduate of Navarro College and completed additional course work in management and government.

Professional background: I am a member of the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce and am on the legislative affairs committee. I serve as secretary of the Regional Transportation Council, Secretary of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, member of Weatherford Rotary and North Side Baptist Church. Recipient of the East Parker County Chamber Community Service Award. Recipient of the Careity Foundation Community Hero Award. Finalist for Greater Fort Worth Builder Association Community Service Award.

Community involvement: Over the years I have served on numerous community boards and committees. I have served as emcee of the Ms. Senior Parker County Pageant for 13 years and was emcee for the Weatherford Blue Belles Spring Show for 15 years and stadium announcer for Roo football for 15 years.



What are your top three goals should you be elected to serve? Please be specific.

A. Parker County has one of the lowest general fund operational tax rates in the state. Eighty-two percent of the 254 Texas counties have a higher rate than Parker County. The goal is to maintain the sound business practices that have allowed us to keep the tax rate constant. We have tripled our emergency reserves, improved our bond rating from A- to AA and received the Texas Comptrollers Award for Transparency. Since I have been county judge, we completed an addition to the jail, restored the historic courthouse and implemented the first-ever voter-approved transportation bond. Each of these projects was completed on time and within budget.

B. Moving forward with plans for the Eastern Loop, which will connect with the existing Ric Williamson Memorial Highway, is a top priority. Initial design and environmental studies have been underway since 2012 when the Commissioners Court authorized the expenditures. I called a joint meeting with the city councils of Hudson Oaks and Weatherford where we discussed the implementation of the first phase of the Eastern Loop. About 200 citizens attended. I am the only candidate who is not recommending a bond issue to continue the progress.

C. The third and certainly not the least important goal is to make sure we do not back up on law enforcement support. A couple of budget sessions ago, my opponents and a commissioner wanted to reduce law enforcement funding. In a county that is one of the fastest growing in the state, we must not reduce our commitment to public safety. The judicial system, which includes all of the courts and support services, law enforcement and the jail, are responsibilities of county government as required by statute and the constitution. Those laws have millions of dollars of unfunded mandates pushed down on county government to fund.



The transportation bond projects approved by the voters in 2008 are nearly complete. What is your opinion on what has been accomplished and what, if any, are the next steps the county should take?

Unprecedented accomplishment in Parker County. When the voters approved the $80 million in bond funds, I promised transparency, oversight of the projects and a quick start. Sixty days after receiving funds, we started our first project. We are approaching the five-year mark and will soon be finished with every project and under budget.

The Federal Highway Administration attempted to overextend their authority on the Western Loop with EPA requirements. I went to bat for the taxpayers and after months of discussions, the citizens of Parker County won the battle. The Feds conceded they had no authority over our local road, and I was able to get the normal environmental review time for the interstate interchange reduced from about three years to nine months. This victory saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and kept Washington out of our business.

The county has not stopped planning and implementing our transportation plan. A public hearing on the Eastern Loop interchange, which will begin at Centerpoint Road, will be held this summer. The county has funds to pay our share. The success we have enjoyed is because of the partnerships developed. I meet regularly with city representatives, TxDOT, regional partners and NCTCOG transportation staff. There has never been such a unified partnership in Parker County. I am secretary of the Regional Transportation Council and have secured $35 million in state and federal transportation dollars for our county and will be chairman in 2015. I have recommended to the commissioners, and they have agreed, that we should approach precinct road building operations in the same manner as I used with the bond. We should prioritize repairs for local roads, improve standards, and cut operational costs by consolidating equipment. That process has begun.



Earthquakes, and their possible link to injection wells used for fracking waste, have been an issue for Parker County residents recently. Do you think the Texas Railroad Commission should increase the monitoring and reporting done on these wells?

The Texas Railroad Commission is in the process of hiring a seismologist to gather scientific data on the earthquake occurrence in Northern Parker County. SMU is also conducting a study. Everyone acknowledges a problem exists. It is important to gather scientific data to provide the best possible answer to the cause of the tremors. It is important the RRC keep the public updated on their process and push for a timely response with their conclusions.

Please comment on the $1.3 million road and bridge fund deficit brought to light in this year’s budget talks and the court’s decision to give up individual fund balances.

The question is misleading, in that the fund balance of all county funds is reported on regularly. The R&B fund balance is overseen by the commissioners. The difference in the precinct fund balance and the one for the general fund is simple.

The R&B fund balance is split into five accounts. Each commissioner had his own reserves (not allowed in the general fund) and the R&B reserve fund. Unlike the general fund departments, the precincts draw down on their own reserves and make allocations from the main reserve fund as well.

The commissioners have sole responsibility for their budgets. The commissioners have made the correct decision to eliminate individual precinct reserves and operate the same way as the general fund. There have been previous commissioners who have opposed that move. Fortunately the current court sees the value in changing the process.



Do you have any strategies to limit tax increases as the county grows? If so what are they?



We have already limited tax rate increases and continue with the same tax rate. Individual tax bills may or may not increase based on appraisal changes (which are not controlled by Commissioners Court). Tax bills may increase because of the tax rate of other entities.

The general fund operating tax rate for the county is about 12 percent of the average tax rate for all taxing entities. Statewide, 82 percent of the 254 counties have a higher operating tax rate than Parker County.

Through sound business practices and a proven conservative approach to budgeting, we limit the tax while maintaining the expected level of service. Every budget has been scrubbed for unnecessary operating expenses. We cannot control unfunded mandates from the state which account for a large portion of our budget.

One of the biggest cost savings I was able to get approved was a change in our employee health insurance plan. We bought health insurance through an agency that cost us about $250,000 in commissions and administration fees.

Over the vehement objections of a former commissioner, I convinced the court to join a group with regional entities. Now, we pay no commissions and spend about $50,000 in administration fees. All monies paid by the county and employees now go directly to providing the benefits.

The transportation projects are one of the biggest economic engines we could have and with the positive growth we will continue to experience, we will have appropriate funds available to provide the expected services. If there is an economic downturn, we will do as we did several years ago. Cut expenses.



What are the duties and responsibilities of the county judge?

The county judge has multiple responsibilities beyond commissioners court. About half of my time is spent on judicial duties. These duties are an important part of the judicial process for our citizens and I am the only candidate qualified. I preside over Probate Court, which hears will prove ups, guardianships and mental competency hearings. I also am on a rotation schedule with the justices of the peace to set bond at the jail. A judge goes to the jail seven days a week, including holidays. This schedule was implemented after I became judge. The taxpayers have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars because every judge is committed to making the process the best it can be.

Presiding over probate matters requires an individual who has the temperament and stability of character to treat all parties fairly and impartially. Guardianship hearings may affect a senior citizen, or a minor child.

Regardless of the age of the proposed ward, a life is impacted by the judge. That decision is not to be taken lightly or with a cavalier attitude.

As county judge I represent the county before state agencies and serve on regional boards. I also have been an invited speaker at an international oil and gas conference and transportation conferences. The county judge must have the ability to build partnerships and provide a vision for solving problems. I have the proven leadership and verifiable record of accomplishments to continue our success.