Judge position heads for May runoff

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Since neither candidate managed to garner 50.1 percent of the vote in the February primary election, a runoff will be required for several county races.

On the local level, only Republicans had filed; however, on the state level, there will be a Democratic runoff for governor.

For the County Judge position, incumbent C.E. McDaniel faces off with Midway Mayor Tony Leago. The two were separated by only 134 votes in the previous race.

Tony Leago

Tony Leago, who received 452 votes in the primary, wants to make a change that geared toward growth.

“If you don’t improve your environment, or have a plan for the future, you’ll lose ground,” he said. “We’re at a point where we need to move forward. You need identifiable, quantifiable and attainable goals, and you need to move toward them every day.”

One area that Leago feels really needs attention is land use, and would like to develop a fair program for land use that walks a balance between residential growth and agricultural uses.

“We have got to create an environment that will be conducive to the right kind of developers to come here to put in housing and industry,” he said. “We don’t have that mechanism right now. It’s hard to get a commercial employer or a manufacturing facility to come here if there is no housing. Either we do that, or resolve ourselves to being a bedroom community with a somewhat static tax base.”

Leago said he wants to see improvement in all aspects of county business.

“What can we do with a combined effort to improve the county over the next four years?” he asked.

In order to find answers, Leago said he has assembled people from all walks of life with the intention of determining the direction of the county.

“I do this because, should I prevail, I am a public servant, and serve the people who charged me with the duty,” he said. “I see myself as an instrument of change driven by the desires of the community.”

Leago pointed to some unfunded mandates coming down from the state that need attention, such as a requirement for the jail to have an on-site nurse — the Sandra Bland Act.

“We will need to bring our jail into compliance, and we can’t kick that problem down the road,” he said. “If the state takes us over, we won’t like that.”

Leago said the judicial system as a whole could be streamlined to be much more effective.

“One thing I would like to do is evaluate the fee structures, and see if they are in line with neighboring counties,” he said.

Road also are a priority, and Leago said he would like to see a master plan for roads in the county.

“I would like to see some common practices in roadwork throughout the county, determined by the commissioners and put in place countywide,” he said. “This also would focus on high-use roads, which would mean constructing them to be more durable and longer-lasting.”

Along with roadwork, Leago said he would like to see smart fiscal management, and to make sure that each dime that is spent is justified so the people of this county get their full benefit. Not only are there county management duties, but the position does carry judicial responsibilities. Leago said he has reached out to former County Judge Art Henson, who agreed to act as a tutor.

“One thing I’m curious about is whether we can process people through the system more efficiently,” he said. “Is there a method we can employ or some minor tweaks to improve the system? It could lead to a better revenue stream, or surely make the process more economical.”

Leago feels that an efficiently operating county would be a boon for economic development, and advocates working with the city of Madisonville to attract new businesses. He cautioned, though, that the Economic Development Council, which would be at the forefront of this, needs the resources to operate properly to be the focal point in this endeavor. This in turn would help the county, as the tax base at this time is pretty static.

“The county needs to develop its tax base to improve the services it offers,” he said. “It’s a system that feeds itself — but it has to have a controlling mechanism and there has to be a vision.

“If you don’t improve your environment, or have a plan for the future, you’ll lose ground,” he said. “We’re at a point where we need to move forward. You need identifiable, quantifiable and attainable goals, and you need to move toward them every day.”

Butch McDaniel

Incumbent Judge C.E. “Butch” McDaniel, who received 586 votes, want to see some projects through to the end.

“We’ve got a few things working right now,” he said. “We’re working with the insurance company to repair damages to county buildings that happened during recent rains — at the J.R. Parten Elementary School and the courthouse and annex.”

McDaniel also said he would like to expand or improve the county library, which is more of a long-range project; but he did say there are some initiatives that include county liability that need some attention sooiner.

One such project involves the expansion of Highway 21 from the Navasota River to Madisonville.

“TxDOT advised me that the county will be liable for 10 percent of the cost of right of way purchase,” McDaniel said. “Since the cost of the project is estimated to be $125 million, and the purchase of right of way will be about $13 million, the county liability will be about $1.3 million.”

While there are some provisions to pay that out over time, McDaniel question whether Madison County could be considered a disadvantaged county, which would mean the county’s portion would be waived.

“However, we at this time don’t qualify,” he said.

McDaniel also said the county will have to deal with the Sandra Bland Act.

“We will have some people to talk to in order to satisfy the Jail Commission and the new regulations,” McDaniel said. “That goes into effect in September, and requires access to a nurse 24 hours a day. We’re looking for solutions to that.”

Judicially, McDaniel said that the court operates efficiently, both with civil and criminal cases.

County judges adjudicate Class A and B misdemeanors, and civil cases up to $10,000. Lesser cases are handled by the Justices of the Peace, and larger ones are handled in District Court.

On his wish list, McDaniel said he would like to see some sort of event facility in the county. He also said that there needs to be more activities for the young people in the county.

“My platform remains the same — be accessible with an open-door policy, provide fair and impartial treatment, and to conduct the county’s business honestly,” he said.

Both candidates believe the proposed high-speed rail is a disaster in the making for Madison County.

McDaniel said that the railway is the No. 1 topic of discussion around the county, and is of major concern to people that live west of I-45.

Tax benefits from the railroad will be offset by losses in agriculture, as well as the tax base, he said.

“All of the rural counties between Houston and Dallas have issued the same proclamations and resolutions,” he said. “Realistically, though, the Federal Railroad Administration and Texas Central don’t care, and what we say don’t mean a hill of beans. What will matter is this will be tied up in courts.”

Leago said it will negatively impact the whole county.

“It will cause a high-pitch screech, it will require a wide swath of land, and the land they don’t condemn or use for construction will be worthless,” he said. “If I owned land nearby, I would go to the Appraisal District and plead for relief, and that also will affect the tax base. It’s a boondoggle.”

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