Name: Carol Bush

Current position: Ellis County Judge

Age: Two score and seven

City of residence: 

Waxahachie

Education: St. Mary’s University School of Law: juris doctorate

Trinity University: B.A. political science

 B.A. French

 Minor: Spanish

Professional credentials/ certifications/commendations (relative to office):

Member of the State Bar of Texas

Member of the Ellis County Bar Association

Southern Methodist University: Alternative Dispute Resolution/ Mediation Training

Prior experience (relative to office):

• Current County Judge

• County Court at Law Judge 1996-1997

• Law practice which makes me familiar with the law and legal processes within the scope of the County Judge’s jurisdiction.

• Mediation practice: Being a trained mediator enables me to apply that skill set to the office and the Commissioners Court. It is invaluable in consensus building.

Family: Husband-Brad Bush; son-Adam: Texas A&M University (Classification: Junior member of the Corps of Cadets); daughter-Hannah: Waxahachie High School senior honor student and athlete (accepted to University of Texas at Austin).

Hobbies: Running, skiing, reading, writing.

Campaign Web site:

www.judgecarolbush.com

QUESTION 1: In your own words, why are you running for Ellis County Judge?

ANSWER: I am you … a parent, an attorney, a previous assistant district attorney and county court at law judge, a mediator, a businesswoman, a community volunteer, a voter, a taxpayer and a resident of Ellis County. I am a person who has chosen to work and raise my family in a charming small town; a person who cares about the future direction of the place I call home.

Almost a year ago, I was appointed by the Commissioners Court to serve as Ellis County Judge. It was an honor to be called to service; and, it was a position that I assumed with a great sense of responsibility to the Court that appointed me and to the citizens I would be representing.

As County Judge, my goal has been consistently to administer the business of the county with no other agenda than to promote the best interest of its citizens.

I believe in listening to the voice of the people, being fiscally conservative, supporting law enforcement, promoting economic development, streamlining operations, stretching our resources, facilitating the smooth operation of our departments and the commissioners court, providing a healthy work environment and offering quality customer service to the constituents.

I am running for county judge because in the course of doing the job, I have truly embraced the challenge of being your county judge; and, I’ve realized that I can make a difference.

There is still much to be done; and, I would welcome the privilege of representing the people of Ellis County in the days ahead.

QUESTION 2: Ellis County is growing, and with growth comes new challenges — and problems. As county judge, what are some of the policies/programs you will implement to improve services and combat growth-related problems in our county?

ANSWER: The challenge in growth is staying ahead of the curve and setting priorities. It requires a continual assessment of the county needs and long-term planning in order to keep taxes low, support law enforcement and maintain and develop infrastructure.

In light of the economic uncertainty, it is critical to streamline operations. I empathize with overburdened taxpayers.

Administration of the county business can benefit from the same budget consciousness that we utilize when administering our personal finances. With one child in college and another to follow this August, I understand the necessity for cost-saving measures and conservative budgeting. The same principles apply at the county level.

In order to preserve the character of our community, it is essential to support the efforts of law enforcement.

Most people move to or remain in small towns because of the lifestyle it affords. The public has an expectation of a safe and secure environment in which to raise their families.

When urban growth encroaches, it becomes increasingly necessary for law enforcement to keep pace.

Our current, on time and on budget 248 bed jail expansion is an example of this court’s vision to meet the unfortunate but anticipated community needs. As county judge, I have developed a strong rapport with our sheriff and sheriff’s office which enables us to dialogue and formulate an approach that best serves Ellis County.

As a commissioners court, we recognize the need for adequate infrastructure to handle growth. Recently the court adopted a program that is being conducted by the engineering department to inventory and assess our nearly 1,000 miles of county roads. Evaluating the condition of our existing roadways is the first step in planning for our future. It provides us the information necessary to make more fiscally sound judgments regarding our roads that can impact basic travel conditions to economic development.

QUESTION 3: As county judge, what will you do to involve the citizens in informing and/or taking an active role with county government to solve/address issues facing Ellis County?

ANSWER: Elected officials should be accessible and responsive to the people they serve. As an attorney, judge and mediator, I place a high value on communication. It has been said that county government is government that is closest to the people.

The way that it is structured allows constituents quick access to their elected officials. There are forums in which to be heard; and, they exist for a reason. I believe that it is my responsibility to listen. As the presiding officer of the commissioners court, I truly welcome public participation.

In an effort to accommodate the public, we hold court the second Monday of the month at 10 a.m. and the fourth Monday of the month at 6 p.m. I prefer the public to be involved. That input assists the court in making decisions that reflect the public mindset.

QUESTION 4: What would you identify as the top three issues facing Ellis County and as a county judge, how would you address those issues?

ANSWER: The top three issues facing the county are the budget, maintaining adequate law enforcement and addressing road, bridge and drainage issues.

The goal of my office is to keep taxes low. The people, and I am one of them, do not want a tax increase. That means the budget must be trimmed continuously of any excess fat. As county judge, I routinely scrutinize the budget and look for more efficient ways to operate; and, I collaborate with other elected officials and department heads to do the same.

We are accountable to the taxpayers and have an obligation to “live within our means,” reducing our expenses wherever possible without sacrificing service. We also explore programs that benefit the residents of the county. A recent example is the Coast to Coast program the Commissioners Court and I recently adopted. It is a no-maintenance, no strings-attached prescription card discount program that is open to all residents and generates a rebate to the county. It will be readily available at participating pharmacies at no cost to the user or the county.

Streamlining is also essential as the county is faced with the unfunded or underfunded mandates from the state and federal government. These mandates undermine our bottom line so alternative funding sources must be explored and the lines of communication must remain open with our legislators in order to enlist their assistance.

Maintaining adequate law enforcement is critical. Our Sheriff’s Office does an outstanding job; and, as the county experiences growth, law enforcement must be prepared to handle crime which is the sad corollary to that growth. Ellis County is prepared in that regard. We are in the midst of construction, expanding our jail by 248 beds. This will allow us to accommodate more inmates when the need arises and generate revenue by contracting with other entities to handle their inmate overflow.

Maintaining our infrastructure is the third issue. At present, however, I believe the construction and maintenance of our bridges are priorities and key to the public well-being. For example, law enforcement and medical emergency responders must be able to access people in need and school buses must be able to safely transport students. As for road and drainage issues, the engineering department is currently gathering information from the road inventory program that we as a court implemented a few months ago.

This will allow us to assess the overall county road picture and implement a strategy for making improvements. Regarding drainage, Ellis County experiences drainage issues because of development in areas of Duncanville and Dallas. Water has to go somewhere, and unfortunately for us, that “somewhere” is right here.

Again, it is the Court’s plan to work with our two county engineers to identify those areas most adversely affected by drainage issues and tackle the problems created by those surrounding counties to the north of us.

QUESTION 5: As county judge, what do you see as the pros and cons of a combined road and bridge division for the county?

ANSWER: A combined road and bridge division has the potential to benefit the county in the following regard:

1. Standardizing equipment and the purchase of materials and eliminating the unnecessary duplication of resources, which could provide substantial cost savings;

2. Facilitating better-coordinated long range planning; and

3. Providing consistency in maintenance and operation regardless of change-over in commissioners.

The downside of a combined road and bridge division would be difficulties inherent in just about any reorganization. Attempting to reorganize too quickly could impair a smooth transition of operations; therefore, it requires intensive planning to implement a well-orchestrated system.

Additionally, some members of the community will have to adjust their mindset and methods of expressing their concerns and need regarding roads, drainage and maintenance.

It will require public buy-in of the concept that decisions are made from the vantage point of the “big picture”. It becomes the entire county versus four different “backyards”. In order for a revamped maintenance and operations program to be successful, it must have the support of the community.

QUESTION 6: Would you be in favor or against a proposal to bring road and bridge work under a single county department?

ANSWER: If there were consensus to bring road and bridge under a single department, I would support the notion and would envision it operating most effectively under the purview of the engineering department.

That is the obvious choice considering the technical expertise, from drainage to bridge building, that particular department routinely extends to the precincts.

QUESTION 7: What do you see as the biggest budgetary challenge currently facing Ellis County and, as county judge, how would you address that issue?

ANSWER: The biggest budgetary challenge facing the county is the economy. The economic landscape is grim. Raising taxes is not a viable option; therefore, streamlining is critical to ride out the cycle.

As County Judge, I will continue to address that issue as I have done in the past, which is to scrutinize our budget for waste and explore alternative funding sources wherever possible.

QUESTION 8: If you could have a wish list of three items to change Ellis County government, what would they be and why?

ANSWER: My first wish would be for more money and resources to provide more services to the public. However, raising taxes is not something I want to do nor is it something that I perceive the public asking me to do.

So, we will continue streamlining where possible while maximizing the services we can provide within our current means.

My second wish would be to have more money to respond to the dictates of the federal government or a means of decreasing federal government’s involvement and impact on Ellis County by having the option of refusing unfunded government mandates.

Unfortunately the federal government is the problem and has saddled us with financial burdens that strain our resources. Take, for example, Ellis County being grouped with Dallas and designated by the EPA as a nonattainment area.

That alone has consequences across a broad county spectrum ranging from the effects on local industry and in turn, our local economy, to transportation dollars being withheld for necessary infrastructure improvements.

My third wish would be that a larger segment of the public would engage in local government. If more people were educated about the structure and operation of county government, along with its inherent powers and limitations, the result could be greater participation in addressing some of its challenges.

QUESTION 9: As administrator of one of the largest employers in Ellis County, what do you see as the challenges facing human resources and your thoughts on addressing those challenges?

ANSWER: We must meet the challenge of providing for our workforce within the resources that we currently have available; and, this means that we must find ways to improve our bottom line.

It is my plan to establish a cooperative return to work program, with input and buy-in from all the elected officials, not just the Commissioners’ Court, to augment our employee health and safety initiative. In January, I went to Austin to meet with The Texas Association of Counties to negotiate our annual Workers Compensation contribution. When our carrier learned of this commitment, they responded with a reduction in premiums of over $150,000 for the year 2010.

In addition, I am working closely with our department heads and with other elected officials to address the needs and challenges within their offices and to help them identify and implement solutions.

QUESTION 10: How is illegal dumping in Ellis County being addressed now, and as a county judge, what are your thoughts on how it can be improved?

ANSWER: Under our current system, the Sheriff’s Office investigates approximately 75-100 cases of illegal dumping yearly and our Fire Investigator’s Office handles between 100-120 cases a year. Helpful to the effective monitoring of the problem is increased community involvement. The public can assist us in our efforts to keep Ellis County clean by maintaining awareness and notifying the proper authorities regarding illegal dumping infractions.

I have discussed this issue with the Fire Investigator’s Office. It is our goal to educate the public about our county-sponsored dump days, and provide information regarding whom to call should they wish assistance with proper waste disposal questions.

QUESTION 11: Are you current on your personal and business taxes?

ANSWER: Yes

QUESTION 12: Have you personally had criminal and/or civil legal issues (this does not include any litigation as a public official) and if so, how were those resolved?

ANSWER: No

QUESTION 13: What do you see as the key transportation issues facing Ellis County and what is your vision at this time for addressing those issues? (Please elaborate on your vision to improve the county’s infrastructure needs).

ANSWER: Funding, funding, and funding. Unquestionably we have transportation needs. As County Judge I wish we had unlimited resources to meet those needs; however, from the Interstate to our county roads, we can only do as much as the available dollars allow us to do.

Funding is in short supply across the board. Federal dollars are scarce. They trickle to the State and are allocated outside the scope of our control. I am a board member of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition (DRMC), which is the policy making board for regional transportation issues and Commissioner Brown sits on the Regional Transportation Committee (RTC) which is the voting arm of the DRMC. Together we represent Ellis County and maintain a presence among Dallas and Fort Worth transportation leaders and express our transportation needs and concerns to our legislators.

Recently, with the help of Representative Jim Pitts, we were able to secure $25 million for improvements to a stretch of I-35 for Ellis County. Commissioner Brown and I also met in Austin with Representative Pitts and Deirdre Delisi, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission to discuss future funding for Ellis County. My vision is to stay engaged at the regional level and to continue working with our county planner, Commissioner Brown and our legislators to address our ever-evolving transportation needs.

On the local level, I envision our current road inventory and assessment program providing us with accurate information from which to develop the most efficient and cost effective methods of maintaining our county roads. Good stewardship begins with good information.

QUESTION 14: What is your experience in administrating a major budget?

ANSWER: As County Judge, I am already administering our annual multi-million dollar budget successfully. I began last April by conducting informal budget hearings with each and every department. Needs were assessed, prioritized and addressed. Every department was asked to take a hard look at its expenses and reduce its budget by 10 percent, my own office included.

The end result was presenting a balanced budget to the Commissioners Court for approval which DID NOT require raising taxes, laying off personnel or reducing services.

Ellis County is in the enviable position of being able to boast that accomplishment in an economic climate that defeated many other counties and cities. That being said, there is no room to rest on laurels and conservative stewardship is the only way to ensure that we weather less than optimal economic cycles. Just this past week, my office began making preparations to start our budget process again.

The emphasis will continue to be streamlining to stay lean because Ellis County is a business. Every line item will be scrutinized from staples, postage, legal fees, post mortem and indigent burial fees, bonds, dues, to contracts and leases. Other elected officials and department heads will come in once again to dialogue about needs and exploring other potential resources beyond the county budget such as grant opportunities. The scope of a budget this size is enormous.

The community benefits from a County Judge with experience and a successful track record for saving the county money. As a case in point, when the County’s carrier increased our Workers Compensation contribution for 2010, I made a beeline to Austin to discuss the increase. Ultimately, I was pleased to negotiate a $150,000 reduction in our premium.

QUESTION 15: Ellis County has several partnerships with non-profits. Please discuss the pros and cons of these partnerships and how you feel these partnerships should be expanded or decreased.

ANSWER: Traditionally, Ellis County has supported various community groups such as CASA, the Historical Commission, Emergency Services, Gingerbread House, and Meals on Wheels. The support is indicative of a commitment to assisting with important community needs.

The benefit is obvious, and while it would be optimal to have unlimited resources to expand contributions to these worthy non-profit organizations, the reality is that the budget cannot support expansion without taxes being raised. Raising taxes is not a viable option with overburdened taxpayers. Given the current economic conditions, it is incumbent on the county to be a responsible steward as it allocates funds.

QUESTION 16: Discuss your thoughts on indigent health care and what the county could or should do to address this issue.

ANSWER: Chapter 61 of the Texas Health and Safety Code establishes the county indigent health care program for counties throughout the state. You will hear people say that the county is required to spend eight percent of the general revenue tax levy on indigent health care; but, this statute in fact only says that in order to apply for assistance from the state the county must first have spent that amount.

Here in Ellis County, we have a great indigent health care program that has partnered with Hope Clinic since 2005. This arrangement brought the program’s expenditures down because it moved basic health care for chronic conditions out of the emergency room, where it is most expensive, and into the doctor’s office setting where it is instead most effective. At the same time, the partnership allowed Hope Clinic to expand its outreach into the community and to provide health care to many, many people who would not qualify financially for the county’s program and would otherwise not have access to health care at all.

Our program has established procedures that are designed to prevent fraud, also; so, we spend your tax dollars in providing the care to those who are truly indigent and not to those who would apply fraudulently.

QUESTION 17: Tell us why you feel you are the best person for this position.

ANSWER:  I have a proven track record.

During my tenure, the Court has balanced the budget with no tax increase and without laying- off personnel or reducing services to the public, a blessing in light of the difficult economic climate. I have had the privilege of overseeing our $53 million dollar courts and administration building projects in Waxahachie and Ennis, which, I am proud to report, are running on time and on budget. I was pleased to negotiate a $150,000 reduction in our workers’ compensation annual contribution; and, I continue to work with the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition and our legislators regarding transportation issues and funding for our sections of Interstate-35 and other projects.

In the days ahead, as the county faces the challenges that are spurred by the state of the economy and the inevitability of growth and change, I feel a sense of obligation to continue the work that we, as a court and a team, have begun.

The key to successful county government is keeping taxes low, streamlining our operations and supporting our law enforcement. Having been in the trenches and gaining ground, I am prepared and would be honored to continue serving as your county judge.

QUESTION 18: As an administrator of one of the county’s largest employers, what changes would you like to make to improve morale and retention of county employees?

ANSWER: We are very fortunate in that we do not have a retention problem. This year, at our employee appreciation dinner, we recognized 29 employees with five years of service; 19 employees with 10 years of service; eight employees with 15 years of service; and four employees with 20 years of service.

This tells me that we are doing something right; but, I really believe that morale is improved when performance expectations are clearly delineated and forward thinking is encouraged. I make regular contact with our departments and personnel because being engaged allows me to make an informed assessment of our county morale. I encourage a culture of respect.

 I care about the people who get the job done for Ellis County. They are critical team players. Good morale fosters better productivity which translates ultimately into better customer service to the public..