The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

February 21, 2014

Election Q&A: Johnston, Westley vie for Anderson County Judge

Staff Reports
Palestine Herald-Press


Name: Robert Johnston

Age: 54

Occupation: County Judge

Education: Associates Degree from Henderson County Junior College, attended Texas Tech University and The University of Texas at Tyler.


Name: James W. Westley

Age: 59

Occupation: Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4

Education: Four years of college


Q: What are your qualifications for the job?


I am the current County Judge serving my first term. I am a lifelong resident of Anderson County and I know the problems rural counties face. Since my election, I have been elected as an officer on the board of East Texas Council of Governments and the North and East Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association. Serving on these boards allows me better access to legislators in Austin to help protect the rights of rural counties. I am currently attending the V.G. Young Leadership Academy for Commissioners Court members, a part of the Texas A&M system.


I have been an elected trial court judge in Anderson County for the past 15 years with experience in presiding over civil and criminal trials. I have worked within my budget and accomplished the duties of my office while exceeding the judicial educational requirements each year. I have an insider’s view of issues the county faces both internally and externally. I understand the needs of law enforcement as well as the public’s necessity to feel safe. The taxpayers deserve an administration that will make the best decisions, efficiently, while increasing the quality of services provided.


Q: What do you believe are the most critical issues facing Anderson County?


The continuing rise in the number of people involved with drugs, both illegal and prescription drug abuse is the most critical issue we’re facing. Drug use is the root cause of many crimes in the county including but not limited to retail theft, burglary, assault causing family violence and most Child Protective Service cases. Another major issue arising from the drug use is mental health problems. Our local emergency room is a revolving door for mental health patients, largely at the county’s expense. I will continue to look for ways to put additional law enforcement on the streets to combat this problem.


The County will need to overcome the loss of revenue due to the depleting oil and gas reserves. The collection of taxes, fines and fees are the ways the county funds its operation. To prevent increasing taxes we must increase jobs through attracting viable new businesses, or expansion of existing businesses, and do a better job of collecting the funds owed to the county. We must work with the PEDC, Chamber of Commerce and cities to attract viable businesses which will increase the tax base. The implementation of a warrant officer to enforce the judgments can help provide additional revenue.


Q: What can be done to enhance economic development in Anderson County?


I ran the first time with the promise of pursuing economic development and have been very successful in that task. I have formed strategic relationships with the City of Palestine and PEDC to form a strong team with the knowledge required to bring large companies to Anderson County. My relationships with our legislators and TxDOT have made our team even stronger. Serving on the various boards has taught me where to go for help that is needed to put presentations together for prospective companies. My continued service as County Judge will keep this team together working for the residents of Anderson County.


Anderson County possesses sufficient land and water resources needed by businesses. With the expansion to Highways 155 and 79 we are able to handle increased traffic flow which is vital to growth. These qualities must be presented to businesses we would like to have move into the area. We have to balance the job increase with the impact on our county as a whole. We should be willing to use existing incentives coupled with our unique landscape and resources to entice companies who share our values to invest in our communities within the county.


Q: What changes/improvements would you make if elected/re-elected for the next term?


When re-elected, I will continue to strengthen my relationships with our legislators and other agencies that are involved with economic development. I will continue my work for the veterans by increasing our staff in the Veterans Service Office. I will work with all elected officials to keep our budget balanced. I will continue my work with the auditor’s office to put more financial records online. We have solved many transparencies and will continue to make our records more easily available to the public. I am dedicated to enlarging our drug task force unit and will continue to look for funds to accomplish this goal.


Our current budget has areas of improvement with regards to priorities. I will reduce the travel and education allowances for the County Judge. Going to unnecessary conferences is a waste of the taxpayer’s money which can be applied elsewhere. Increasing funding to the volunteer fire departments and increasing security are priorities as well as improving the pay structure for employees. We must improve access to veteran services and develop incentives to reward and retain the great employees we have that make our county operate and keep us safe.