Ellis County Republicans and other local residents interested in the county’s upcoming election gathered Monday evening for a forum of the Republican Primary candidates for the upcoming March 8 election.
Sponsored by the Waxahachie Daily Light, KBEC 1390 Radio and the Ellis County Republican Women, the forum was held at the Waxahachie Civic Center.
“This is a chance for the voters to meet the candidates. This is not a debate – it is a chance for the candidates to meet the voters and describe their views,” said Ken Roberts, KBEC vice president and general manager.
The 19 candidates vying in contested races on hand were introduced according to their race: county clerk, county judge, commissioner Pct. 4, county treasurer, 40th District judge, county court at law No. 1 judge and justice of the peace Pct 4.
Each candidate was allowed an opening and closing statement and also answered three questions presented to them by Roberts and Daily Light Editor Neal White. The forum was broadcast live on KBEC Radio AM 1390.
The Daily Light will publish a special election section in the Sunday, Feb. 14 edition. In addition to biographical information, candidates in each of the races have been asked a series of questions. Their responses, published in their own words, will be included in the section.
County Clerk Race
The first candidate group to take to the podium was county clerk challenger Lucretia Gail Abbey and incumbent Cindy Polley.
Both said they want to bring Ellis County up to speed with computer technology.
“I want to bring Ellis County up to standards on the Internet and provide more public access to public records,” Abbey said.
“We need to support the needs of a growing county,” Polley said. “I want to look at innovative ways to improve the county’s records management.”
Listing their top goals, Polley responded, “Preserving the history of the county and records management through current and new data management technology.
“Bring Ellis County up to specification in terms of computer technology, better employee and public relation and improving document preservation,” were Abbey’s responses.
County Judge Race
County judge candidates, incumbent Carol Bush and challenger Kelly Jane Kovar, were asked what they see as key transportation issues facing the county.
“As the county grows, there will be a need for road and bridge repairs. The county commissioners need to share resources between the precincts to maximize tax dollars,” Kovar said, speaking out in opposition to the Loop 9 project.
Responding to the same question, Bush said, “Funding for roads is sorely lacking. The dollars are not there.” She continued, saying she and Commissioner Pct. 4 Ron Brown has worked to bring dollars to the area and has worked through legislators to bring much needed funds to the county.
Commenting on what the two see as their biggest challenge, Bush responded, “I have worked to streamline the county budget without any personnel cuts. I am working to keep the taxes low while experiencing growth throughout the county.”
Kovar replied she foresees her biggest challenge as dealing with the growing crime as the county grows.
“We need to be sure the sheriff department has the resources to meet the challenge,” she said.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Race
The three candidates vying for the Pct. 4 commissioner position presented their platform. In the race are incumbent Ron Brown and challengers Rodney Pat Ramsey and Homer Sandling.
In their opening comments, Brown cited his 19 years as commissioner as well as holding seats on several transportation boards and committees.
Ramsey, an attorney, responded that he maintains a conservative platform. “We need to prepare for the future of Ellis County,” he said.
Sandling described his experience as being a conservative as well as a local business owner. “I want to give back to the county,” he said.
The first question presented to the candidates was “What do you see as the pros and cons of a combined road and bridge division for the county?”
Brown and Ramsey agreed the combining of resources would be good for the county. “Combine resources to a centralized road and bridge department,” was Ramsey’s response.
“We can save money with the unit system, but it needs to be done gradually,” Brown said.
Sandlin told the group, “It sounds good, but the present system works.”
In closing comments, Ramsey said the county needs to get the budget under control and he would work for a controlled budget.
“I stand on my record,” Brown said. “It’s going to be tough in these next few years.”
Sandlin said his experience owning and running his business qualifies him for the position.
Ellis County Treasurer Race
Incumbent Judith Ann Burden and challenger Cheryl Rene Chambers are vying for the county treasurer’s job, with each saying there is a need for the office to remain a county position.
Roberts noted a reduction in the duties of the position and posed the question, “What role do you see the treasurer’s office having in the county’s future?”
“I hope the office would remain for checks and balance to the county auditor’s office,” Burden said.
Chambers answered by saying she can be a team player with the other county offices. She also said she would like see investments move back under the treasurer’s office and for the treasurer’s office to have more involvement on the county’s financial team.
Regarding goals and enhancement for the county, Burden wants to improve payables systems to vendors.
“First, every single bank statement is to be reconciled by a deadline,” Chambers said, adding, “There needs to be steps to cut down fraud.”
The next group included the candidates for 40th District judge, a seat held by Gene Knize, who chose not to seek re-election. Vying for the party nomination are Bob Carroll, Cindy Ermatinger, Dan Gus and Ron Wilkinson.
Each described his or her experience in law and judicial positions held.
“The outcome of the cases heard in the county have an impact on the county,” was Carroll’s opening comments.
Gus focused more on the efficiency of the court, saying, “We need help in our district court system. We need to streamline how the court operates.”
Wilkinson described his background in both military law and civil law. “I served for the defense and the prosecution as well as presiding as a JAG in many criminal trials,” he said.
Discussing her experience in the judicial system, Ermatinger said, “I can go in and be the judge on the first day.”
During the question and answer session the group was asked if the county’s courts should continue to specialize or if all cases be allocated among all the courts having jurisdiction.
Ermatinger said specialization promotes efficiency, ensures judges have knowledge of the subject matter and provides consistency in rulings. It would be her preference, but said she could work either as a specialized court or one where all cases were allocated.
“I would like to see a movement to assign cases to all courts that have jurisdiction,” Carroll said. “The current system has worked well for a number of years, but we need to see what options we have.”
“The courts we have need to hear all cases. We need to maximize what we have and end specialization,” Gus said.
Wilkinson responded to the question by saying, “I respectfully disagree with my colleagues. The system works as is. The court clearance record shows an efficient record.”
Asked about jury nullification, all of the candidates responded they were opposed.
Court at Law Race
Court at Law No. 1 candidates Jim Chapman and incumbent Greg Wilhelm were the next to address to audience.
In his opening comments, Chapman said, “We have an opportunity to save tax dollars while improving justice in the court.”
Wilhelm was in opposition, saying, “Streamlining and justice are not the same.”
Asked what changes they would make, both stressed the protection of children’s rights.
“Streamlining child protection cases is a must. These must get cleared quickly. I believe in protecting children’s rights,” Chapman said.
“I have made several changes to improve the function of the court,” Wilhelm said, listing those.
Both said cases involving children and the juvenile system need to work efficiently to lessen the chance of the youth returning through the criminal system.
Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Race
The final group of candidates to speak were those seeking the justice of the peace Pct. 4 office: Steven Burnett, Steven Egan, Victoria Massey and William Vansyckle.
“I started several social programs including the food pantry,” Massey said, saying she understands the position’s requirements and is a believer in the rights of citizens.
Vansyckle cited his 32 years experience working within the legal community and owning his own investigation service.
Egan, a Midlothian police officer, cited his 29 years in law enforcement as well as working with judges and justice of the peace as qualifying him for the job.
“I am an attorney in Midlothian and I have the ability to try law cases,” Burnett said of his experience.
All three were asked if they understood the demands of the office and did they plan on operating the position as a full time job. All four responded yes.
“I will operate as a full time JP. This is a full-time position,” Vansyckle said. “My investigation company will be retired.”
Burnett said the same of his law practice: “I will close my office and no longer practice and put full attention to the job.”
Egan had a similar response, saying, “Yes, I will have no other commitments and will retire from the police department.”
“I will have it as a full-time position to maintain the integrity of the position,” Massey said.
All of the candidates said they would make no immediate changes while complimenting incumbent Linda Sibley – who chose not to seek re-election – on her performance and organization of the office.