Less than a week after Johnson County Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Beeson announced that he would not run for a third term in office, two candidates — A.J. Mathieu of Joshua and Larry Woolley of Grandview — declared their intentions to run for the Precinct 4 seat on the Commissioners Court.
By the end of September, Tim Sinclair of Keene joined the race, and David Patterson became the fourth candidate for Precinct 4 in late October. Bart Basham of Grandview filed just days before the Dec. 9 deadline to become the fifth and final candidate in the race.
All five candidates are running as Republicans. With no Democrat on the ballot, the winner of the March 4 Republican Primary will claim the Precinct 4 office, unless there is a runoff — a distinct possibility since a candidate must have at least 50 percent of the vote to win outright and ballots being divided between five candidates in this race.
With three weeks left before the primary and only a week remaining before early voting begins on Feb. 18, Precinct 4 candidates this week once again touted their qualifications and boiled down their campaigns to the one issue they each believe is most important in the race. Here’s what the candidates, listed in the order they are listed on the ballot, had to say.
Mathieu, 41, said he moved to Johnson County with his family as a teenager and has lived here ever since, except for about a year when he lived in Fort Worth. He graduated from Joshua High School and attended some college, and has owned his own business, Accelinet Computer Services, since 1997.
Mathieu and his wife, Erika, have two sons, 10-year-old Alex and 6-year-old Ayson.
Mathieu has served on the Joshua City Council since 2009, and in that time, he said, has had experience with “almost every function of a county commissioner ... at the city level.” Being a member of the North Central Texas Council of Governments Executive Board has given him experience at the regional level and his involvement with the Texas Municipal League has given him experience at the state legislative level, he said. He is also a co-founder of the Greater Johnson County Transportation Coalition.
Mathieu said that the job of a county commissioner is primarily administrative, and while other candidates in the race claim to have administrative experience, “I actually have relevant government administrative and legislative experience, and successful experience at that. I have dealt with road projects and equipment purchasing, so our county roads will be well taken care of under my leadership.”
Mathieu said that during his tenure on the council, the city of Joshua has built a city park, a fire station and a YMCA, “so my experience will be key in building a new jail.” He said he has dealt with property acquisitions and developing as well as with police and fire services. He also played a key role in bringing a CASA weather radar unit to Johnson County, he said.
“I’ve handled tax rates and budgets in good years and bad, and I’ve been a business owner for over 16 years, so I understand the private sector perspective,” Mathieu said. “One thing I’m most proud of, though, is my three years’ of commissioners court attendance. By the time my opponents decided to show up, I was years ahead on understanding this job. I am dedicated to public service and I have the record to prove it.”
Mathieu said that several years’ worth of declining tax revenues, the need for the county to be competitive in the salaries it pays employees, “especially in the sheriff’s office,” and the need to address problems with the county jail are all “vitally important” issues facing the commissioners court. But for him, Mathieu said, a top priority would be taking the county to “a new level of accountability and transparency.”
He said, “I believe we will improve as a county by supplying the maximum amount of information to our citizens so they have the greatest opportunity to be part of their government,” adding that full meeting packets each commissioner and the county judge receive before each meeting should be posted on the county website, along with meeting agendas.
Mathieu said he has talked about making those packets available to the public several times, and although there would be “almost no cost” associated with doing so, the commissioners have not done that so far.
He said the court “needs to act on improving the audio in the court room so people can hear,” and that commissioners court meetings should be videotaped “so the public can see what’s going on.”
“Keeping information from the public is not what our founders intended, and I will change that,” Mathieu said. “I’m the only candidate to have addressed the commissioners several times about improving accountability of court appointments and they have failed to act on that as well. If elected, I will address these issues in short order. It cannot be overstated that the trust relationship between the people and the government must be a top priority.”
Basham, 46, said he has lived all his life in Johnson County. His wife, Gina, works in risk management at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. They have two daughters —Kelanie is a freshman at Texas State University and Hannah is a freshman at Grandview High School.
Basham is a Grandview High School graduate. He owns a trucking company that participates in the road and bridge construction industry, he said, and his company is currently involved in bridge construction projects in Lubbock and Plainview. Basham also said he worked with the Texas Department of Transportation on the expansion of U.S. 67 between Alvarado and Keene.
Basham said his qualifications to be commissioner in Precinct 4 start with the seven-and-a-half years he worked for the precinct after graduating from high school. That, he said, is where his education in the road and bridge construction business began.
Basham said he has since spent 20 years working in the private sector and that running his own business in the same field gives him experience on both sides of the aisle — in the administrative side and in the hands-on labor side — that “fulfills both sides of the duties of a county commissioner.”
Basham said there are “so many different issues right now” facing Johnson County commissioners. But he believes the best place to start would be at the ground floor.
“Right now, I think my main objective would be just to provide the basic services the taxpayers are paying for, and to do that in the most conservative manner possible, so that we’re not constantly going to the taxpayers for more money,” Basham said.
That includes building and maintaining county roads and bridges, providing public safety services through the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and providing the necessary emergency services, he said.
“These are the key services taxpayers expect and deserve, and I would provide those services in a respectable and financially feasible manner,” Basham said.
Patterson, 52, said he has lived in Johnson County for “about 35 years, total.” He graduated from Chisholm Trail Academy in Keene, and has some college. But, he added, most of his education comes from on-the-job experience.
Patterson and his wife, Barbara, have four children. Daughter Doris is a registered nurse working in Chattanooga, Tenn., and daughter Heidi is a child nutritionist for the Burleson ISD. Ten-year-old twins LeeAnn and Andrew attend Keene Adventist Elementary School. Barbara Patterson is a registered nurse who has worked for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne for more than 20 years, and David Patterson owns Dave Patterson Construction, which specializes in residential and commercial construction.
Patterson said his 15 years of experience in local government have given him the experience and qualifications necessary to be county commissioner. His tenure on the Keene City Council and on various Keene city boards has given him a “vast knowledge” of how local government works, including the process of creating and adopting a budget, he said.
Patterson said his experience in city government coupled with his experience in running his own business have allowed him to “thoroughly understand how to manage manpower and how to manage machine power” while maintaining a budget based on a reasonable tax rate.
Patterson said it is “hard to pinpoint just one” issue that he considers the most important facing county commissioners. He said that finding an acceptable solution to problems facing the county jail is near the top of the list, but that his top priority would be “examining the wage scale” of county employees and “working to bring it in line” with that in similar counties.
“When we hire good employees and train them, we want to keep them in Johnson County instead of seeing them move on to other, higher-paying jobs somewhere else,” Patterson said. “We have to do a better job of keeping these employees here, and the way to do that is to raise salaries.”
To raise salaries, Patterson said, the county has to increase revenue. Increasing revenue means increasing the tax base, and the best way to do that, he said, is to increase “economic development and economic diversity” in the county.
Patterson said county officials need to actively recruit new industry and other kinds of economic development, and to do so by making sure that those looking for somewhere to move their company or to start a new business know “why Johnson County is the ideal place for them to be. We have to show them that we have the natural resources they need, and that we have the work force to fill the jobs they would bring to this county.
“We’re going to have to plan for the future, and it has to be done today,” Patterson said.
He added that while he believes current members of the commissioners court have done a good job, new blood on the court would mean “new vision, new ideas. And new ideas can be a very good thing.”
Sinclair, 57, has lived in Johnson County since moving here in 1972. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a major in accounting, from Southwestern Adventist University, and owns his own company, Power Klean, specializing in parking lot striping and maintenance.
Sinclair and his wife of 29 years, Tracy, have three children. Son Ron, a SWAU graduate now studying law at Baylor University, is married and has two children. Daughter Chandler is married and works as an ER nurse in Fort Smith. Son Travis is a senior at SWAU and will graduate in May. All three, Sinclair said, have or will have bachelor’s degrees from SWAU.
Sinclair said his “education and work experience uniquely qualify me to represent this precinct and help Johnson County be the home we can remember and can look forward to growing old in.” He said he has spear-headed projects that “bring both enjoyment and profit” to the county, and that he has the ability to be both a leader and to work within group efforts to accomplish goals.
Being self-employed in the construction industry, Sinclair said, has given him an understanding of “how to get the best Prices and how to stay in the black, along with keeping workers and interested parties satisfied.”
He continued, “There is no one qualification, but a myriad of experiences and abilities that combine to give me the desire and the ability to serve Johnson County residents well and be a valued member” of the commissioners court.
“I have the vigor and dedication needed to fulfill every aspect of this position, balanced with the maturity and wisdom gained through my experiences to serve my county,” he said.
For Sinclair, the most important issue facing the commissioners court is “the impending growth of our county and the stresses it will put on our infrastructure,” he said. “We need improved roads in our county not only to attract potential business growth but for improved response times for our emergency services.”
Sinclair said he would be “willing to lead” in developing a master plan to look strategically at expected growth areas in Precinct 4 and the rest of the county, because accurate data is essential in developing a working strategic plan.
“Part of this plan would be for Johnson County to obtain its own traffic counters,” he said. “TxDOT information is sometimes 10 years old. Things change. And part of the plan would be to strategically identify repairs and road projects over and above the normal repairs within each precinct.”
Sinclair acknowledged that the question of how to pay for such projects is an important one. But, he added, he believes the answer lies in the difference between the county budget and the county revenue.
“The county budgets approximately 98 percent of projected revenue. Taxes collected are close to 101 percent,” he said. “There is a 3 percent difference, and a portion of that [3 percent] could be put into a dedicated reserve account that would be set aside” for this purpose.
Woolley, 55, said when he and his family moved to Grandview in July of 1982, he worked as an ag teacher at Grandview High School. He spent 30 years in public education — nine as an administrator and 13 as a county-wide vocational coordinator with what was then known as the Johnson County Special Education Co-Op. He opened his own business, Larry Woolley and Associates Realtors and Auctioneers, LLC., in the mid-1980s, specializing in farm and ranch equipment on the auction side, and in farm and ranch properties on the real estate side.
He and his wife, Leslie, have two daughters. Landi, a Texas Tech graduate with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in agriculture and communications. She lives with her husband in Amarillo and works as director of publicity and special events for the American Quarter Horse Association. Loni Woolley is a graduate student at Texas Tech studying animal science.
Woolley said his 30 years of experience in education and his nearly 29 years of experience as a business owner , coupled with about 30 years of community and civic involvement give him the kind of “multidimensional background and well-rounded training” necessary to be a good county commissioner.
“Plus, I have a master’s degree and a certification that focuses on schools and public administration. I don’t believe any of the other candidates have that,” he said.
While “infrastructure and roads are always going to be a huge concern” for the commissioners court, Woolley said, “the one thing that seems to be a obvious problem right now is the glaring inequities as far as what our county employees, especially those in law enforcement, make” compared to other governmental agencies.
Woolley pointed to the fact that commissioners this week were once again faced with questions regarding pay, overtime and staffing shortages in the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, specifically regarding dispatchers. Chief Deputy Michael Powell told commissioners Monday that the JCSO recently hired three new dispatchers but that three more have resigned, and that others are out for other reasons. He said the JCSO has not been fully staffed at any time since the start of the budget year.
That, Woolley said, is a result of the fact that Johnson County pays its law enforcement officers and dispatchers significantly less than other area agencies.
“We are a training ground for other departments that pay more,” he said. “We hire good people and we train them, but you can’t blame them for wanting to make more money to take care of their families.”
Woolley said he believes the county also needs to correct inequities in pay scale between different departments within the county.
Commissioners will “have to take small steps over a period of time” to address those inequities and make sure that Johnson County employees in all departments are paid on a level consistent with other area agencies, Woolley said. The first step, he added, would be an in-depth study of the county’s pay scales for all departments.
Improving pay scales would improve employee retention, and improving employee retention — especially among public safety employees — would provide continuity and consistency that leads to better service to county residents, Woolley said.
“Given some time, I believe we can make those changes,” he said. “But you can’t wait until its budget time to do that. We have to start earlier, work specifically on that issue. We can’t do it all at the last minute in a budget workshop.
“We can do it. But it all boils down to long-range planning and having a vision for the future of the county,” Woolley said. “I have that vision.”