Ready. Set. Vote.
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Pictured: BCC Staff Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Precinct 4 Commissioner candidates are, from left, John Payne, Pat D'Spain and Jody Rutherford.
Bcc Staff Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Candidates for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace are, from left, Mike Towers, incumbent Herschel Moore Sr. and Dennis Fitzgerald.
Sponsored by American Legion Post 157 in Bandera and the Ranchers & Landowners Association of Texas, a recent candidates' forum attracted a surprising number of people on a Saturday evening in Bandera.
The forum on Feb. 8 showcased local candidates running in opposed races. A forum slated for Saturday, Feb. 15, has been earmarked for candidates or their representatives vying for district and state elected offices. The session will begin at 6:30 pm at the American Legion Post, 205 12th Street.
Candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves and their platforms before answering questions from the audience.
Fiscally sound county
Former Bandera County Attorney John Payne is running for Precinct 4 Commissioner - an open seat after current Commissioner Doug King declined to run for re-election.
Commenting on Scott Pofalh's winning oration, Payne asked those attending the forum to rededicate themselves "to your Constitution, not the Constitution and that's what you're doing here tonight."
As a fiscal conservative, Payne also lauded the county for its recent credit upgrade by Standard & Poor's to AA, a two-step rating raise. "This shows how financially sound your county is. Sixteen or 17 years ago, the county was in the red. It's important that the county maintain a good strong fiscal base," he said.
Payne also noted that the county has a 33 percent fund balance, which exceeds the state's recommended 25 percent. While a bond remains outstanding on the jail and justice center, the credit upgrade will allow the county to refinance the bond payments at a decreased rate.
While the county is not "debt free," that debt is currently less than 2 percent of appraised property values.
AA rating questioned
A second candidate for Precinct 4 Commissioner is Jordan "Jody" Rutherford, a resident of Bandera County for 25 years. Since he was raised during the "drought of record" in the 1950s, Rutherford indicated he knows what ranching can be during hard times.
"I also understand supervisory roles," he said, referencing his current position as a project manager, project completion inspector and a division supervisor during his 53-year career with a public utility.
Regarding the county's AA credit rating, Rutherford dismissed it as "only the county being able to go out and borrow a lot of money for I don't know what."
To a question from the crowd, he also noted that he had started the Utopia EMS in the early 1960s and currently serves as chief of the Utopia Volunteer Fire Department.
As the third candidate for Precinct 4 Commissioner, longtime county resident Pat D'Spain said she decided to run because "I want to have a say in everything that's going on in the county." While canvassing for signatures on her petition, she became concerned because so many residents were not registered voters.
D'Spain recalled days when her father was instrumental in bringing electricity to the Hill Country. When her three minutes were up, she added, "You can call me at my house and I'll tell you the rest of the story."
Candidates for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace include incumbent Herschel Moore Sr. and challengers Mike Towers and Dennis Fitzgerald.
JPs square off
About his years on the job, Moore stated, "I've kept a low profile and haven't gotten in trouble yet and that's a good thing." On a more serious note, he said despite his over 33 years as a peace officer that alone doesn't qualify a person to be a judge.
"You can't just rubberstamp law enforcement. You must listen to both sides and that's not an easy thing to do," Moore said. "You can't go in with pre-formed opinions because even scalawags are right sometimes."
Rutherford was appointed to a vacated position as municipal judge in the City of Cedar Park. He, too, emphasized the importance of keeping a neutral stance and impartiality.
For the last 20 to 25 years, he has served as an investigator on cases from capital murder to misdemeanors. However, in a later interview, Fitzgerald said that he had retired as a private investigator last December when he decided to run for justice of the peace
Towers, a Pipe Creek resident, described himself as "a great proselytizer of the Constitution" and commended Pofahl for his fine oration. Powers also noted that in "Communist China," everyone in the room would be arrested because assemblies of more than 10 people are illegal in that country.
A strong believer in the Second Amendment, Towers noted, "We can't take our rights for granted. We must stand up for our rights."
The longtime law enforcement officer holds a Masters certification and is currently commissioned in Atascosa County. As a retired Bexar County Constable, he said, "Constables and justices of the peace work hand in hand."
To a query from an audience member, all JP candidates declared themselves to be Republicans.
Since commissioners are charged with the upkeep of their precinct's roads, one constituent was concerned that "for the last two years, nothing has been done."
Noting that the road and bridge department has done a "good job," Payne explained that the drought had precluded water from being taken out of Medina River for road construction.
On Sept. 9, 2013, County Road and Bridge Department Supervisor John Andrade received a letter from Esteban Ramos, South Texas and Concho Watermaster of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Previously, Andrade had applied for temporary water rights to use river water for road construction.
Ramos denied the request, writing, "... no sufficient surplus water was found available at the various locations requested ... Therefore, we are denying your applications." In addition, the TCEQ refunded the county's $1,668.75 in unused fees.
To rectify the situation, Rutherford advocated drilling a county well to provide water for road construction. "The question is do we want to fund it?" he asked.
D'Spain preferred not to usurp decisions made by the road and bridge department.
To a question from County Clerk Candy Wheeler about how much time would the candidates devote to being a commissioner, Rutherford said, "I'll be in your office once or twice a month. I'll be there and everywhere. " He added, however, that he would not support a "bloated county government that takes taxes and runs a job program for everyone in the county."
"I'll be a hands on commissioner who helps anyone I can," D'Spain said.
After noting that he would continue to practice law, Payne said that county governance would come first. "I'll spend whatever time it takes to serve the county. I will always be available. I believe if you're elected to serve the people, you're an elected official 24-7."