By MARY RAINWATER
Current Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Westley is leaving that position of 15 years behind to pursue a different public office as the next Anderson County Judge.
As Justice of the Peace, Westley has seen to the disposal of over 28,000 cases and brought in revenue for the State of Texas and Anderson County of $3.7 million.
His current responsibilities include presiding over Class C misdemeanor criminal trials — both bench and jury, performing magistrate duties like setting bail, fines, etc. and doing inquests in cases of unknown or unnatural causes of death.
The roles of a county judge are similar, Westley said, with the only difference being that the county judge hears Class A and B misdemeanor cases and serves as the county's main financial officer, giving direction as to how the county will proceed financially.
Westley decided to run for Anderson County Judge after seeing some changes he felt were needed in the areas of security, budget spending, employee salaries, economic growth and more.
“The security issues of Anderson County are not being addressed properly,” Westley said. “There are things that have occurred in neighboring counties that we as a county need to work to prevent in our own county. We have ignored the wake-up call.”
Regarding budget issues, Westley said that, if elected, he has plans to reduce county judge conference expenses, to create a standardized employee pay scale, and to take care of the county's priority groups — employees, citizens, volunteer fire department and local veterans.
“They need to provide better support to VFDs, who provide medical assistance, work accident scenes as well as putting out residential and grass fires for our residents,” he said. “Our veterans need better access to filing claims and medical services. Because of what they have done for us, we owe it to them to care for their needs as well.
“When it comes to citizens — they want to feel safe and secure in their homes; employees, too, want to feel secure in their place of employment.”
Regarding the county judge's expenses, Westley called them “excessive,” proposing a $6,000 cut to the travel budget and a $5,000 cut to the conference budget.
“Each year as JP, I have exceed my training requirements and do so at a fraction of the cost of the county judge,” he said. “I also think that the county needs to standardize the employee pay scale with step increases to pay someone when they come in with prior experience.
“I have found that when working with people, that if you take care of the people doing the work, they will take care of everything else.”
What he calls one of the county's biggest upcoming issues, Westley said, is an expected loss of revenue from oil and gas production.
“I want to offset that by bringing in new businesses,” he explained. “There are major employers here today that were not here 50 years ago, and in the next 25 to 30 years, we could even have different major employers.
“I want to continue to bring industry businesses in and continue the quality of life we have,” he added. “We have both land and water available, not many areas have that combination.”
In addition to his aforementioned duties as a justice of the peace, Westley also hears cases of failure to attend school for school districts in Anderson County — an area that he considers his “niche.”
“Each of the JP have areas of concern, and working with the students is mine,” he said. “I enjoy working with the kids and seeing them succeed.
“In the past 15 years, I have been invited to schools to work with students in school, visit with them and talk to them about attendance.”
He also has worked with the Every 15 Minutes program, a youth drinking and driving awareness program that involves a mock accident scene.
“I have a vested interest in that, as I often have to go to accident scenes where drunk driving has been a factor,” he said. “I would much rather participate in that program than go to the scene of an actual crash.”
Westley began his first term as JP on Jan. 1, 1999 — the first republican county official elected. Prior to that he worked 15 years for the prison system, was a reserve officer for the Palestine Police Department and served one term on the Palestine City Council.
He sits on the Anderson County Bail Bond Board, is part of the Anderson County Child Fatality Review Team and is a member of three Justice Court associations.
Westley is married and has five children and five grandchildren.
He will face incumbent Republican candidate Robert Johnston on the March 4 Primary Election ballot.
For questions, comments or to pick up signs call Westley at 903-729-3995.