Candidates Make Their Cases At Forum
By ADAM RUSSELL
Candidates for Smith County sheriff and Precinct 3 county commissioner continued to state their respective cases for election at a forum hosted by the Smith County/Tyler League of Women Voters Monday night.
More than 50 people attended the debate featuring two of the four candidates for sheriff and four candidates for Precinct 3 county commissioner.
Political observers, residents and elected officials have said the sheriff's election will be one of the most highly contested and important local races in decades. The four candidates are Chris Green, Larry Smith, Bobby Garmon and Donn Rust.
Green and Smith attended and were first to debate, but Garmon and Rust did not attend due to prior commitments. Green and Smith answered questions about their qualifications to become sheriff and vision to lead the office if elected.
Green, 50, a 20-year retired Texas Parks and Wildlife law enforcement officer, said he will focus on providing more patrol deputies for unincorporated areas of the county by thinning administrative positions.
"People need to know that when they call (the sheriff's office) that we will show up in a timely manner and that when you do arrive on scene you do your job effectively," he said.
Smith, 54, said his 34-year law enforcement experience beginning in the Gregg County Sheriff's Office and as a federal agent have given him a range of training and ideas he can implement as sheriff. He said taxpayers should expect better service and will under his leadership.
"Taxpayers aren't getting what they are paying for," he said.
Smith said he could improve patrols by shifting schedules to allow more deputies and investigators to cover unincorporated areas of the county without adding expenses or personnel. Green said he would eliminate some administrative positions to add patrol deputies. Both men called response times in unincorporated areas unacceptable.
Green focused on his business background and education and how it would apply to his role as the executive officer of the administration. Smith said he has studied the past six fiscal budgets seeking savings.
He said he could save 42 cents a day, more than $100,000 annually, by changing contracts with the jail's food service provider. Green said he would work with judges to reduce the number of non-violent offenders with health problems inside the jail to save tax dollars.
Both men said they would aggressively address drug use and sales in the county, saying they are the common denominator in most crimes.
Sheriff J.B. Smith has served in the position for 36 years and will step down at the end of his term on Dec. 31. Candidates are jockeying for Republican support in a crowded field. The election likely will be decided in the upcoming primary because all announced candidates are running as Republicans.
In the debate between Precinct 3 candidates, incumbent Terry Phillips defended his time in office against challengers Jimmy Hawley, Ronnie Pilcher and Ed Watts, who said they can use their respective experience to better serve residents.
Watts, 68, a small business owner and former Lindale school board member, said his education and his experience running multiple businesses over the past 40 years makes him the best choice for voters.
"Phillips has done a good job, but I pray I can do better," he said.
Watts said he would focus on finding savings and efficiencies for taxpayers.
Pilcher, 45, of Winona, is a real estate investor and manager, and said he became interested in the race after attending commissioners court meetings for the past year-and-a-half. He said he has concerns about the court's direction on its insurance fund and county road maintenance.
"I would like to address our employees' concerns, work to balance the budget and find more money for roads," he said.
Hawley, 46, a dirt-moving and sanitation business owner, said his 20 years of business experience and understanding the struggles and sacrifice that owners face as employers will give him the ability to make correct decisions for taxpayers and county employees.
He also said he would improve the commissioner's presence among Precinct 3 constituents.
"There are challenges and we need to maximize the dollars coming in," he said.
Phillips, 55, a real estate investor and manager, said he delivered on his campaign promises and is the proven conservative among the four.
"I have worked through the toughest budgets this county has faced," he said. "We cut $6 million from the budget. I have made the tough decisions."
The three challengers said they believe they can do a better job than Phillips. Phillips defended his conservative record and said he has delivered on every promise that got him elected.
Hawley said the commissioner was seeking another term to become "fully vested in the retirement system." Phillips denied the claim and said if he was doing the job for the money or benefits that he would have accepted the 2007 court approved pay increases, equaling around $48,000 since he was elected.