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Commissioner candidates face off at GOP forum - Odessa American: State Government

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Commissioner candidates face off at GOP forum

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Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2020 5:19 pm

Ector County Commissioner candidates for precinct 1 and 3 talked new courthouse, taxes and trash during an Ector County Republican Women forum Wednesday at the Odessa Country Club.

Moderated by CBS 7 co-anchor Jay Hendricks, the event also featured 11th Court of Appeals Judge candidate Bruce Williams. Attorney Frank Hunold also is running for Place 2 on the Eastland court, but was not in attendance.

Stacy Trotter, 385th District Court Judge, is running for Place 3 on the appeals court.

Dale Wayne “Hoss” Dugger, former Odessa city council member Mike Gardner and incumbent Eddie Shelton are vying for the precinct 1 spot.

Businessman Jeff Russell and Realtor Don Stringer are going for precinct 3. Incumbent commissioner Dale Childers is retiring.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, stopped by before the forum began to meet and greet those attending the gathering.

Gardner said he wants to give Ector County taxpayers a voice in how money is spent. He also is concerned about the condition of the roads and he thanked voters for approving the Ector County Assistance District meant to resolve the county’s greatest needs which were identified as road infrastructure, law enforcement and illegal dumping.

“… It saddens me to see our precinct in disarray with trash everywhere,” Gardner said.

He added that you not only have to look out for traffic, but potholes on the roads. Gardner said Sheriff Mike Griffis and his deputies do a wonderful job.

He said Shelton wants to issue debt without asking voters first and said it should not be a surprise that the only time he cares about his district is when he’s running for reelection.

Gardner said a wise Ector County commissioner once told him that the burden should not be on taxpayers to spend more, but the government to spend less.

Dugger said he and his wife work more than full time at their business Absolute Pistol Training.  He also was concerned about the amount of trash that’s everywhere in precinct 1. In a previous interview with the Odessa American, Dugger said a national company has the landfill in West Odessa off I-20 and they may need to take it over to make dumping less expensive because it currently costs $400 to dump a trailer load of trash when you can go to Midland and do it for $54.

“It sounds hardnosed, but we need to monitor the dumping sites and fine them so it will hurt when we catch them,” he said in the interview.

Dugger added that the county needs to support the volunteer firefighters in the county and do something about providing water in West Odessa.

Shelton said he is a lifelong Odessan and is honored to be a county commissioner. He added that he has undergone leadership training and has been in this community, he’ll be here and he’ll continue to support the community.

He said the county has 600 employees around a $60 million budget.

Stringer garnered extensive oilfield experience working for his dad Burt’s service company and later for the Arc Pressure Data flowback and wireline services company. Stringer was a Realtor for Virgil Trower & Associates for three years in the late 1990s, sold new construction for Whitehead Construction for 10 years and rejoined Trower in 2010.

“In those 22 years, I have developed what I consider pretty good negotiating skills,” Stringer said.

He added that those skills could be used in the commissioner’s court for contractors and purchasing.

Russell also has lived in Odessa his whole life. He said people throw the word conservative around, but you sometimes don’t see the conservative values to go with it.

 “I live out those conservative values,” Russell said. He added that he wants to protect taxpayers while still delivering the things the county needs and the taxpayers require. He said it’s a privilege to be on the ballot and the support he has received means a lot.

He said it is time to talk about a new courthouse, but the $100 million price tag is too much. Russell said the debt service on that would be $430,000 a month for the next 30 years, which is about 8.5 percent of the county’s budget.

Russell said he has never said a new courthouse isn’t needed.

 “… I think we can do a lot better with a lot less,” he added.

Touring the courthouse, Stringer said it is outdated and the district clerk’s office is so overcrowded that the staff is working on top of each other.

 “The plumbing is horrendous,” Stringer said. “None of y’all would put up with the smells in that courthouse in your own home. I’m not saying open up the checkbook. It needs to be researched. There is a (consulting) firm working on it as we speak and costs are coming in lower than five or six years ago,” Stringer said.

He added that he would want local contractors to build a new courthouse so it would have a trickle-down effect.

Shelton said 10 years ago was the time to start talking about a new courthouse.

“It’s part of infrastructure,” he said.

He added that the county needs to start planning for tomorrow and making sure that things are being kept up to date.

“The courthouse is a big issue. There’s not an option here. It’s something that needs to be talked about. There needs to be planning going on to find the best methods, facilities,” best locations and best builders.

Dugger said it might be time to talk about a new courthouse, but the voters turned it down. He added that he is dead set against trying to bypass the voters by issuing debt.

 “If they want to bring it up for a vote again and it passes,” that’s fine with him, but “we have other things that need to be addressed.”

Gardner, who was on the city council for four years, said a new courthouse is needed and he doesn’t have a problem with building a new one.

“But I am 100 percent against issuing debt against you guys,” Gardner said referring to the people in the audience and Ector County. “I think that is a commissioner’s job whenever we decide to do this it is our job to educate you as to what the needs are. I don’t believe it’s right to issue debt for something. I think it needs to be bought to the voters. Voters need to be educated. I do agree with (Eddie Shelton) that something needs to be done,” Gardner said.

With his years on the city council, Gardner said he feels he has enough of an inside track with the people who run the city that he can negotiate with them and the water district and fire department.

Dugger said he has working-class common sense. As far as giving tax money to the city, Dugger is against it. If the tax money was voted for by citizens of Ector County, it should stay with Ector County. 

He added that he’s not against everybody getting together and talking.

“We’re all civilized people, for the most part. I think we can come up with a solution,” Dugger said.

Shelton said we have to have a common goal to work together for the common good.

“Once we can unite on that front, we can work together. I’m a businessman, not a politician. I make decisions for county and community, what’s best for them, how can we come together for the greater good and once we can determine that, then we can start working together. I’m a leader. I go to leadership training. I use those skills I’ve acquired to work with the county, the city (and) work with all leaders,” Shelton said.

Stringer said everyone should read Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” and it would help everyone understand.

“We have got to improve countywide and the city of Odessa is within the county. We’ve got to get along with each other. It doesn’t hurt to sit down and say, ‘OK. What do you want from us?’ Maybe they need a fire station out west … What can we do to help?” Stringer said.

Russell said the key is to make the focus stay on the best way to meet the needs of residents and taxpayers.

“I’m concerned that we continue to keep that in mind. We need to look at the interlocals, (interlocal agreements) but we need to keep it mind do what’s best for the community,” he said. 

Gardner said he has organized a meet and dump event Feb. 29.

“I’m going to pay for them to dump their trash,” he said. “We put this thing together in a couple of weeks. I don’t know how much trash people will bring. It’s going to be a really good deal …,” Gardner said.

Dumping, being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, getting the jail expansion complete and freeing up tax dollars are some of the priorities the candidates mentioned.

“The biggest issue facing our county and community is our infrastructure and our collaboration with the other taxing entities in the community. We are stronger as one. If all pull together toward a common goal, we can get a lot more accomplished. Once we pull together, we’ll be unstoppable,” Shelton said.

Russell said the city recently saw a dip in sales tax revenue.

“We can kind of feel we’re troughing down a little bit. We’ve got to be really good fiscal stewards to get through that. We’ve got to work on our staffing. Staffing continues to be a real problem, particularly in the jail. I agree with Don that we’ve got to find a way to move these guys through the system faster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not enough criminal defense attorneys in the system,” Russell added.

Cornyn spent a full day in West Texas Wednesday. He stopped at the funeral of the late oilman Clayton Williams.

“He’s a great man and sort of a Texas original and then we wanted to come by to talk to Republican women about the upcoming Republican primary March 3, which is two weeks out …,” Cornyn said.

He was also going to participate in a roundtable at Medical Center Hospital on e-cigarettes and vaping finishing up with a fundraiser in Midland for his reelection campaign.

“We’re trying to get around the state and trying to get everybody fired up and get them out to vote,” Cornyn said.

He is in a contested primary contest against Republican Mark Yancey of Plano so he declined to say who he will support in the District 11 congressional race.

 “There’s so much at stake because right now it looks like Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed, so-called Democratic Socialist” is leading, Cornyn said.

 “We don’t know what’s going to happen for sure, but one thing for sure is the Democratic Party has become very much radicalized and I think it’s going to a stark choice between the candidates for president and up and down the ballot. One of the things that we’ve done that I’m particularly proud of is the federal judges that have been nominated and confirmed under President Trump. Sen. (Ted) Cruz (R-Texas) and I have worked very closely with the White House on that, so I’d like to keep that going. And if we can get the House back, that would be gravy,” Cornyn said.

In the Senate races, Cornyn said, “We’re playing defense primarily. The one seat that I think we’re going to pick up is in Alabama, so that will be at 54. The rest of them are pretty much playing defense around the country. Again, I think a lot of this in a presidential election year is going to turn on the presidential nominees and who turns out for those races, but we’re predicting more than 11 million people turning out in Texas, which is going to be a historic turnout.”

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