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2012-02-16

Concerned voters grill candidates

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A second opportunity to meet local candidates for local elections took place on Thursday, Feb. 2, at Bandera's American Legion Post 157.

"I've attended lots of candidates' forums where I left feeling neglected, so this one is going to be a little different," said Post Commander Charlie Baker. The format was simple. Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce himself and explain his platforms. Then questions to specific candidates were taken from the packed audience with candidates given three minutes to respond. "As a former schoolteacher, I ask those with questions to raise their hands and I'll call on you," Baker said.

Eight candidates attended the meet and greet.

Ties to ex-sheriff?

One woman seemed particularly concerned about potential ties candidates running for sheriff had to ex-Sheriff Weldon Tucker, who pleaded guilty to felony official misuse of county property prior to resigning.

Deputy David McGilvray, a candidate for sheriff, said that because he had retired from the Bandera County Sheriff's Office in 2008, he wasn't involved in the investigation into Tucker's illegal use of a county rescue boat. "I returned to the department on Jan. 1, 2009," he said.

In fact, a San Antonio bail bondsman had donated a boat, outboard motor and trailer to Bandera County in June 2007. The Courier reported the Office of the Attorney General had begun an investigation into Tucker's then-purported personal use of the rescue boat in spring 2009. After a Bandera County Grand Jury indicted Tucker in June 2010 for his misuse of the rescue boat, the ex-sheriff resigned in May 2011 without going to trial.

When asked what would make him more honest than "the last sheriff," candidate for sheriff Dan Butts replied, "I built my reputation while I was here for the last 25 years." He advised, "If this is one of your concerns, don't talk to me, talk to the people who know me."

Fielding a question about why she would make a better sheriff than her opponents, Frances Kaiser said she was the most qualified and experienced person for the job.

"For one thing, I'm different from the other candidates - and not just regarding gender. I was elected as sheriff of Kerr County three times and during my tenure, I helped build a 92-bed jail, supervised 75 employees and oversaw a $2 million budget," she said.

Five-acre well restrictions

Describing himself as "fresh meat - a person who had never before run for elected office," Bob Grimes, challenger for commissioner for Precinct 1, answered a query about the county's failure to enforce subdivision rules that call for a minimum five-acre lot for drilling a well.

"I don't know all of the history legislatively, but I assume you're talking about Avalon, an old subdivision with very small lots," he said. "The rule is you must have a five-acre minimum for drilling wells and if a rule is there, it must be enforced."

In fact, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District enforces the five-lot minimum for well drilling. In 2007, a county resident filed a complaint with the BCRAGD after learning the 2002 rule was being circumvented. On June 23, 2006, a resident of Ratcliffe Ranch Road, sold a 2.7-acre tract that had been carved out of a larger 20.898-acre tract. An existing water well was located in the 2.7 acres. Neither tract was contained within a subdivision platted before Sept. 1, 2002, or within an incorporated area, Eino Zapata, attorney for the complainant noted.

In April 2007, the man then apparently drilled a well on 3.86-acre tract, also carved out of the original 20.898-acre tract. He sold that 3.86-acre tract, Zapata's complaint alleged.

Eventually, the BCRAGD fined the developer for disregarding county rules covering the five-acre minimum for a well. As a result, other realtors' advertisements touting two-acre lots with wells were quickly removed from county fence posts.

Regarding the county attorney's role in enforcing subdivision rules, county attorney challenger Janna Lindig said, "The county doesn't have enough population for the county attorney to be involved in deed restrictions. The population must be over 200,000. I would not become involved until asked to by the commissioners."

Abuse, investigations, priorities, education

When asked how she would curb alleged law enforcement abuse of new technology, specifically tasers, during arrests of locals, Kaiser said that this sort of thing begins at the top with "leadership, training and accountability for your actions."

According to Kaiser, law enforcement officers must regain respect for the community they serve. "When people say to me, 'I don't know who I can trust in law enforcement anymore,' I tell them, 'If we can regain the trust of the community, the other things will go away'."

To a query about how she would handle investigations, Kaiser said, "It depends on the situation. The state would investigate homicides because they have more expertise. For an internal investigation, an outside agency would be called in because I don't believe in investigating my own people. However, burglaries would be investigated locally."

Asked about her highest priorities if elected, Lindig said, aside from prosecuting A, B and C misdemeanors, it would be important to enforce the law impartially across the board.

She also felt it imperative to educate law enforcement officers so the prosecution of felonies, such as alcohol-related incidents, could go forward successfully.

When a business owner from Lakehills complained about "smelling meth all the time," McGilvray advised, "If you suspect a drug lab, report it to the sheriff's office immediately, and we will check it out."

He continued, "Drugs account for a large part of the crime in this county. To get to the root of the problem, we need community involvement. Citizens must trust officers and communicate with them.

We can't do it by ourselves."

Dispelling myths

Kaiser dispelled rumors that, if elected, she would terminate all deputies and that, as Kerr County Sheriff, she had had "a turnover of 500 employees." She also addressed how to stop the BCSO from becoming a steppingstone for law enforcement officers due of low pay.

"You were misinformed," she told the questioner. "I did not have a turnover of 500. That rumor came from a disgruntled former employee who was terminated legally. During my time as sheriff, Kerr County never had a lawsuit in the sheriff's department that came from a termination."

She admitted that it was difficult to keep deputies because "like Bandera, Kerr County was a training ground."

To stem the exodus, she hired retired law enforcement officers because "it's important to have maturity."

Addressing the termination issue, Kaiser said incredulously, "I'm not going to fire all the deputies. How in the world could I run the jail and sheriff's department all by myself?"

She noted, however, "A few (deputies) need to move on because everyone must be part of the team. Everyone will have a job until I talk to them."

Kaiser was also asked if she would allow deputies accused of wrongdoing to resign rather than be prosecuted.

After referencing a deputy in Kerr County who had been indicted for stealing, she said, "No one will be allowed to become someone else's problem. Law enforcement officers must be treated like everyone else. I have been accused of being hard to get along with, but that's the way it will be done."

Budget surplus, lower taxes

As to why funds previously budgeted for the Bandera County Road and Bridge department had not yet been spent, Grimes said, "Roads are a big issue and road and bridge has a $2 million budget. I don't know why the money wasn't spent. The roads need to be fixed for all the residents of the county."

In fact, the ongoing severe drought contributed to the surplus of funds in the road and bridge department.

Road rehabilitation and construction requires water from streams, rivers or the aquifer. However, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality pulled the county's permit to draw water from rivers. As a result, more roads were resealed during the last several years, a process that costs less than rebuilding or constructing roads, actions that contributed to the surplus funds.

When asked if property taxes will ever decrease, Grimes admitted Bandera County taxes are very high, but added, "61 to 62 percent (of taxes) go to the school district which the commissioners court cannot control."

He continued, "Economic development and diversity can reduce taxes; however, when the county attracts new businesses, it must be careful not to jeopardize the local culture, lifestyle, water resources or tourism. New businesses must fit in with the community."

Asked what he could offer the sheriff's department, Butts recalled his long career with the Texas Department of Public Safety as a trooper, supervisor, administrator, accident reconstruction and firearms expert.

Prosecutorial experience

County Attorney John Payne, who is running for re-election, said it was difficult to break out how much of his time had been spent on prosecuting misdemeanors.

However, he noted, "The county attorney prosecutes misdemeanors and juvenile offenders and advises commissioners court. However, a prosecutor's primary duty is not to convict, but to ensure justice is done and for that, you need someone with a good sense of justice."

When asked about her criminal law experience, Lindig said during her first six months after graduating from law school, she served as a court-appointed attorney on misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, which even included a capital case. Subsequently, she has practiced civil law.

Regarding the amount of prosecutorial experience he had had prior to becoming county attorney, Payne answered, "Absolutely zero, none at all, but I do have prosecutorial experience now - and I'm the only candidate who does."

Payne went on to say as county attorney he had created a better working relationship with local law enforcement; expanded the responsibilities and duties of his staff; streamlined the court docket system; and used county resources in an appropriate manner.

Tough or fair on crime?

When asked by an attorney to opine on whether it is better to be tough on crime or fair on crime, Butts answered, "It depends on the crime. A law enforcement officer has to use good judgment and be fair on enforcement. But there are certain crimes people expect us to be tough on. DWIs can kill people so we just can't put intoxicated people back on the road. Laws were designed to give people a safe place to live."

Other candidates who participated in the informative Q&A session were incumbent Precinct 4 Constable Rod Chalmers, challenger for Precinct 4 Constable Rick Neely and Daniel MacNeil, challenger for county attorney.

Concluding the evening, Baker noted, "We sent invitations to all candidates and three said they couldn't make it. Some didn't come because they said they heard this was going to be a 'loaded' situation.

This was not a 'loaded' situation.

All the questions came from the audience."

In addition, Fidel Ramirez, who attended the session, regretted that not all candidates participated.

However, they will get a second chance. Baker said American Legion Post 157 has scheduled a second "Meet the Candidates" event on Monday, March 26.