James “Barry” Barnett says his business and military background give him the tools needed to enter public service as Precinct 2 Smith County commissioner.
Barnett, 50, of Troup, is challenging incumbent Cary Nix for the position and stopped by the Tyler Morning Telegraph to discuss why he should take the position.
He is a 16-year U.S. Air Force veteran, who served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Barnett also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Arp.
Barnett owns East Texas Jet Support LLC, an aviation management company, which oversees maintenance for a local charter company at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport.
Being a county commissioner is “something I want to do. I feel like I’m the right person at the right time,” he said. “I don’t think Nix has done enough for Precinct 2.”
Barnett said roads are falling into serious disrepair and need to be addressed. He said commissioners cut the Road and Bridge Department too much in 2011, when court members approved a budget that cut its budget 37 percent and more than a dozen positions.
Commissioners should produce an analysis of county roads to determine the cost and scope of work necessary to address future infrastructure needs. He said the court should hire a civil engineer to implement the road plan.
Barnett said the county should do more to enforce overweight trucks but that oil and gas production, logging and salt water trucks will continue to degrade roads. He expressed concern about revenue generating plans court members were considering, including the Transportation Reinvestment Zone around Toll 49, which would direct rising appraisals toward county roads, and a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone, which was offered by the state to receive more than $400,000.
Barnett said he is concerned about the financial details regarding the Toll 49 reinvestment zone and the 20 percent match that would be required to receive the state funding for energy-related road damages.
He said he would like to see the county use private contractors to rebuild roadways, which would free up employees for other road-related tasks.
Barnett said he would like to see a veterans’ court implemented to help struggling vets with substance-abuse problems and avoid jail time because of actions related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
Barnett said the county should hire a fleet manager to maintain its vehicles, from county dump trucks to deputy cruisers. He said the program would mirror that of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
ESD No. 2
Barnett said his role as a volunteer fire fighter in Arp kept him aware of some of the problems facing the 11 departments within Emergency Services District No. 2. He said commissioners ducked their responsibility by pushing legislators to introduce and pass legislation to make board members elected positions for the two Emergency Services Districts.
He said the court should have maintained oversight and let board members and departments work through the difficulties.
Barnett said he would work to “reduce the tax burden and provide crucial services.” However, he offered little insight into his plan to pay for improvements to county roads or providing additional services for veterans and the elderly.
He said he would not have voted to approve the cuts to Road and Bridge in 2011, which would have meant a higher property tax increase. Barnett has said it may take a tax increase to implement a county road plan and that “all options” should be considered with regard to paying for improvements.