Newly sworn county officials ready to govern
January 2, 2019 was a banner day for Liberty County Republicans as they installed newly elected officials to the top spots in the county.
The GOP swept the county-wide elections with only a lone Democrat being elected to office in the county. Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace and Democrat Ronnie Davis was returned to office and drew no opponent in the fall general election.
Davis, who represents Raywood, Ames, and Devers, has served in the same office for 36 years and is the longest serving official in the county.
“My thoughts are Liberty County likes a conservatively ran form of government,” said Liberty County Republican Party Chairman Ryan Daniel.
“Liberalism has no foothold in Liberty County and that was evident in the election with Republicans winning the contested races with 70-80 percent of the vote,” he said.
Daniel praised the current Republican commissioner’s court for balancing the budget and for returning money saved to the general fund balance.
The last time the budget was balanced was in 2007. When the current court came into office, they faced spending and debt issues that had to be overcome.
“Within the first three weeks of walking in the door, our bond rating was dropped,” said County Judge Jay Knight. “The first question they asked me was why we had a deficit budget and I told them that I don’t. At that point, we hadn’t even written our first budget,” he said.
Knight believes his predecessors had to take money from the general fund to pay for expenses because the economy was in the doldrums at the time.
With growth in the county, a purchasing department that curtails spending, and an auditor that keeps the budget in line, Knight believes there is a tighter rein on county finances.
“We’re going to have to finance some of this growth that’s coming to the county and it’s nice to have conservatives who can guard and oversee the money,” Daniel said. “Our leadership in this county is pro smart growth. I believe our leadership can look at the issues, decipher them, and do what is right for the citizens of the county.”
With his hand on his grandmother’s 1950’s Bible, her last one, County Judge Jay Knight raised his right hand to take the oath of office for a second term in the top spot of the county.
Tucked tightly inside the Bible was a photo of his Uncle Red, the longest sheriff serving Liberty County.
W. P. “Red” Rose was the uncle of Knight and the grandfather of County Treasurer Kim Harris who also used the Bible for her swearing-in.
Rose served for 24 years and his brother was J. H. Rose who owned the trucking company.
“Four years ago, three of us came on this commissioners court and a few others [into county government] with visions for this county,” Knight said as he opened the ceremony.
“Because of the growth that would soon be evident, because of the opportunities for economic opportunity, the problems and concerns of this county, our goal was to work together—not just on the commissioner’s court but throughout the offices of the county,” he said.
“I’m happy to say that we have a good team now, a proactive team.”
Knight said the county that he grew up in over the last 63 years is no longer the same.
“It changed forever in 1979,” he said.
“When the farming community took a nosedive, if not through politics in Washington, it went south economically,” he said.
Land use changed. Some parcels sat idle for a while. Some areas of the county became an eyesore when greedy developers allowed unrestricted communities to blight the countryside.
“I will say commissioners worked hard to make sure it never happens again,” Knight said.
He also boasted the creation of the Development Review Committee that has enlightened area school districts, neighbors, and county leaders to know exactly what was coming before it was built.
“We’ve revamped the engineering department so that now we can see the problems before they happen,” he said.
Knight also touted the commissioner’s use of numerous workshops where citizens, leaders, and businesses can participate in solving the problems of the county with fair and frank discussion.
His first year, commissioner’s court held 33 workshops, much more than previous years where maybe only four or five were conducted. In their second year they held 43, and the third year was hampered by Hurricane Harvey and produced only 30. Last year was a record 50 workshops.
“We’re going to see a lot of change in the next four years,” he predicted.
The Grand Parkway will be completed by then, additional thoroughfares will be opened throughout the county, and unprecedented growth is on the horizon.
“Will we still be our rural county that we’ve been for 183 years? No,” he said succinctly.
One side of the river, he said, would receive phenomenal growth. Liberty, not so much.
“Our goal is to watch every action to make sure someone is held accountable,” the judge said.
“We’re going to have problems, but we will sit down and work through them.”
Reflecting on his younger years, the judge said members of the court was called road commissioners.
“They still are in a sense, but they’re also administrators in this county. They work diligently together to make sure that every dollar that is spent is done so wisely.”
The county judge encouraged a packed court room audience to embrace the coming change.
One by one, county officials took the oath of office.
Newly elected District Clerk Delia Sellers used the family Bible of former District Clerk Joy Kay McManus for her affirmation of office.
“McManus was clerk for 20 years and she set the standard by which all clerks in the state of Texas should be judged,” said the Honorable Mark Morefield, 75th District Court Judge.
“She was a clerk par excellence!”
Then Morefield charged Sellers with not only taking an oath of office but a pledge to strive to meet the standards of Joy Kay McManus.
McManus served the county for 40 years in various positions, 20 of them as the District Clerk. She passed away Mar. 7, 2018.
Sellers brought tears to the eyes of many when she invited McManus’s daughter Brenda to come and hold the Bible for the ceremony.
Lee Haidusek-Chambers invited her mom to hold the family Bible that dated back to the late 1800’s for her oath of office.
“This is my mother, Shirley Haidusek. For decades in this county, she has sat on city councils in Kenefick and Devers, she’s worked election after election, and she’s one of those silent people that help keep our county moving,” her daughter Lee said.
“She’s my inspiration and the reason I’m here before you today. I hope that I can live up to her standards.”
The first commissioner’s court of the year will be held on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 9 a.m. in the second-floor court room.