►VIDEO: County judge candidates answer questions

front pageTax suit, Texas Ranger investigation among issues discussed

Jimplecute Editor

With less than a week remaining before Marion County residents begin early voting, the three candidates in the Republican Party Primary for County Judge revealed their positions on a variety of subjects during interviews with the Jimplecute

Kim Smith, Steven Shaw and Leward LaFleur seek to replace Lex Jones who has opted not to seek another term.

This report will follow a question and answer format and includes video from the Marion County candidate forum on February 1, 2018.

For the last two budget cycles the county had tapped surplus funds in order to balance the budget. Do you see this continuing? How would you correct it?

LaFleur: The budget is a growing living thing. It doesn’t just stop once the budget is finalized and approved. In the county things come up that are out of the Judge or Commissioners control. For instance last year we budgeted $77,250 on public defenders but a considerable amount more was needed. Same goes as forensic evaluations, Autopsies performed, $9,000.00 was set aside in the budget but again a considerable amount more was used. No one can predict death rates or court cost.

Smith: I would look for ways to avoid tapping into surplus funds by looking for opportunities to reduce costs and cut waste in any organization but it may need to be done in creative ways.  Correcting overspending may require a change, and change needs to be done slowly as to decrease disruption. As with anything else, making recommendations are easy until one sees the fine details and understand why things are the way they are.

Shaw: After reviewing the published 2018 budget and comparing each category to 2016 and 2017 actual expenditures, it appears that the recent nominal property tax increase, combined with the addition of new properties to the tax rolls will adequately address this shortfall. Absent that I would look at possible re-bidding of existing contracts with vendors, and discuss possible privatization of non-essential services with the other department heads.

Do you support seeking the Texas Historical Commission grant to help fund the $5.3 million renovation of the Marion County Courthouse? Why?

Smith: I would look at the total cost of renovating the court house and compare it with what short falls our current budget allows.  The ideal situation would be to avoid applying for and obtaining a grant since state grants require a tremendous amount of stipulations and reporting.  I cautiously support seeking a state grant for renovating the court house, based on requirements of the grant.  At the end, a renovation of our historical court house would be an exciting project and would something to be proud of for many years.

Shaw: Yes, I do support such a move. The availability of grant funds to assist the county in accomplishing beautification and restorative projects will serve to enhance the attractiveness of our community. Through such action we form a cooperative partnership with other agencies and the City of Jefferson, while working toward a common goal of making our county a more attractive locale for newcomers and industries.

LaFleur: I support seeking the grant. Our courthouse is in desperate need of renovation but I think we need to come up with a plan B also.

What would you do as county judge to help reduce crime in Marion County?

Shaw: As a retired law enforcement official with over forty years of experience in crime reduction, I would assist the Sheriff’s department by offering to develop and implement programs which I have found effective in the past. These would include: a. Community Crime Watch Programs; b. Possible development of internet based Service Request Forms and intelligence reporting by concerned citizen groups; c. Seeking additional grant monies to fund task force and overtime programs for targeted and repeat offender apprehension; d. Utilizing my certification as a Texas Commission On Law Enforcement instructor skill set to offer in-service training programs to employees. e. Focus on nuisance abatement to improve quality of life in the rural areas of the county.

LaFleur: Stay in close communications with the sheriff and make sure he has what is needed to do his job of crime reduction.

Smith: I would collaborate with Sherriff McKnight with the following strategy: a. Review current data on types of crime, and trends such as location of crime, days of the week, time of the day to look for patterns. b. Once the data has been reviewed, I would review resources such as staff, reserves, equipment, budget, and community programs available.  I would also look for possible ways to trim waste. c. After a careful data analysis, I would propose a strategy to address crime reduction.  This could also include reviewing state grants and programs aimed at crime reduction. d. Once the strategy has been in place, a periodic evaluation would be done to determine if the changes have been effective and make necessary changes.

What are your infrastructure improvement priorities?

LaFleur: Roads, I’d like to focus on how we can improve the quality of our roads. It has a domino effect on other industries, and infrastructure services. Public safety, ambulance, fire, and sheriff can travel safely and more efficiently to help our residents, thus improving everyone’s lives. I would like to look into hiring a grant writer for the county to get us more state/federal grants for projects around the county.

Smith: Infrastructure improvement priorities would include; road conditions including appropriate drainage, and increasing adequate and affordable housing.  I would like to see an increase in healthier lifestyle opportunities by improving and further promoting our farmer’s market, adding walking paths or trails, promote current outdoor activity opportunities such as water sports, hiking, mountain bike riding and promoting local events such as fun-run/walks and the Jefferson Heritage Triathlon.

Shaw: The obvious answer is roads. Unfortunately, the solution is going to require rethinking of ways to best address the road conditions. County commissioners have only limited resources to accomplish the daunting task of maintaining the roads. I would seek alternative funding sources though the research of road and bridge grants, and possibly flood control grants that would have a mutual application to address roads in or contiguous flood prone areas. Another idea would be to consider privatization of some road repair and maintenance programs, and to consider consolidation of equipment services to provide increased operational efficiency and hopefully lowering equipment costs.

Secondly is the County Jail. The current administration has done a good job in working on USDA grant opportunities to assist in the funding of jail construction. However, the idea of a bond program, with the accompanying additional tax burden does not appeal to me. I would work with the Sheriff to look at the possibility of privatization, with the focus necessarily being directed to a regional correctional facility, in cooperation with other contiguous counties and Intra Governmental Agreements with ICE and INS to insure sufficient demand to justify the construction and operational costs for the vendor. A huge benefit of this option would be the freeing up of Sheriff personnel from jail duty and the indemnification of the county of liability by a private vendor.

► Watch Smith, Shaw and LaFleur respond to the importance of a law background:

Marion County Candidate Forum, February 1, 2018

Why are you the best choice to be the next county judge?

Smith: As a longtime resident of Marion County, I have a vested interest in the well-being of our county.  I have prior management experience which includes over-seeing a department budget and staff, and working with a local government and community outreach. I am interested in solving problems and improving the lives of others in our community.

Shaw: As an experienced government leader with over forty years of public service as a law enforcement supervisor, combined with twenty six years of experience as a trial attorney, and am a Certified Financial Planner, I alone have the education, skill set and knowledge base to be able to walk in and “set up shop” without additional substantive training. I am also deeply invested in Marion County and only want what is best for the taxpayers here.

LaFleur: I don’t look at this as a competition; I have new ideas, and a fresh perspective on how the county should conduct its business. We need to be brought into the 21st century as far as technology and service. Service to others is what it’s all about. I am a compassionate, common sense conservative.

If elected, what would you change? What would you be sure to not change?

Shaw: I do not intend to make any changes for a considerable period of time. The position of County Judge is one of a cooperative group of senior advisors (County Commissioners), as well as experienced existing department heads that have been doing their job for a long time. Insisting on immediate change would only result in a dysfunctional government. My goal is to meet with and listen to every county employee in an attempt to identify what assistance I can provide to them to help them succeed and be a more productive employee / public servant. My primary focus would be to provide the citizens of Marion County with a transparent, community focused government that puts the citizens’ needs first.

LaFleur: I would only change things necessary to more efficiently serve the people of Marion County. Responsible, sustainable change is healthy but to come in and make drastic change would be irresponsible. I would never lie and say I’m going to do this or that because I don’t believe anyone can make an educated guess as to how they would do it as County Judge until he or she is actually in the hot seat. Many people misunderstand exactly what the County Judge does. I would like to see a better line of communication from the people to the office of County Judge. I would also be in close contact with the other elected officials in the county to make sure they have what is needed to conduct their jobs. As far as not changing, that again is hard to say because it would be irresponsible to assume. Our county is in pretty good shape for the shape she’s in. We have no debt, a surplus of funds, and are A bond rated. The county has been in good hands thus far.

Smith: Things I would change: I would move forward on the court house refurbishment project.  Things I would definitely not change:  I would not want to change the historic feel to the city of Jefferson, keep country feel to outlying areas, and keep what we have: a great place to live and raise a family, and enjoy the outdoors.

To LeFleur, there is a report you were sued for non-payment of property taxes in another county. How do you respond?

LeFleur: Those matters involved a small piece of residential, family-owned property in Gregg County. While that property was deeded to me by my mother, she continued to manage the property and did not inform me that there were unpaid property taxes. Once I was made aware of them, I promptly paid all outstanding taxes.

To Smith, why have you chosen this time to become politically active?

Smith: I believe we need good people to run for local elections; good people that are trustworthy, honest, and want the best for our community.  We need people willing to tell the truth, people of integrity who are running for the right reasons.  These people need to be genuine, and authentic.  As an individual that loves the community in which I call home, I believe I can be that person to best fulfill the job as Marion County Judge.  I have chosen this time to be politically active because my family is grown, and I have the time and energy to devote to improving the lives of others as Marion County judge.

To Shaw, there is a report that while you served on the board of the Dallas Police and Fireman’s Fund, the Texas Rangers investigated the organization for financial improprieties. How do you respond?

Shaw: I served on a twelve member board of trustees for the D.P.F.P from 1999 until early 2011. During that time I served with integrity and honor in an effort to provide police officers and firefighters a secure retirement. As Board members, the trustees were tasked with voting on recommendations and proposals of nationally recognized professional investment and real estate managers. We did not have any responsibility for actual management of investments. My service on the Board ended near the same time as the 2011 real estate market crash, and not long after the 2008 stock market crash. All pension funds (and almost all individual investors) saw the value of their investments shrink considerably. In the seven years since my departure from the board the true impact of the real estate market crash took hold on the fund, and changes were mandated by the city of Dallas and supported by the Texas Legislature. Subsequent to that, I am aware that some of the money managers who had been employed by the fund were investigated, but no trustee or staff member was, to my knowledge.

The skeptics among the readers are able to contact any of my many supporters (who have given me their permission to list them as publicly endorsing my campaign) and who are members of this retirement system. They will vouch for my hard work and integrity in this regard. They include:

David Brown
Chief of Police, Dallas, Texas (ret)
Currently ABC News National Consultant

Charlie Cato
Exec. Assist. Chief of Police, Dallas, Texas (ret)
Currently Chief of Police, Mesquite, Texas

Brian Harvey
Deputy Chief, Dallas Police Department (ret)
Currently Chief of Police, Allen, Texas

►VIDEO: Marion County Candidate Forum held Thursday Night” and
March 1 Edition of The Jimp!

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