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Two candidates are running in the Republican Primary for County Commissioner of Precinct 4. They are the incumbent county commissioner for Precinct 4, Keith Mitchell, of Blossom, and former Lamar County Sheriff Billy Joe “B.J.” McCoy of Powderly.
Early voting is under way at the County Courthouse Annex at 231 Lamar Ave., and will continue weekdays through Friday, Feb. 28.
There is no one seeking the race in the Democratic Primary, so whoever wins the GOP Primary on March 4 will be the commissioner for the next four years, beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
Both Mitchell and McCoy spoke at the GOP Candidate Forum sponsored by the Republican Party of Lamar County on Feb. 6 in the district courtroom of the county courthouse.
Each gave an opening statement, and both were given up to two minutes to respond to two questions submitted to them in advance.
Following are their responses at the candidate forum:
KEITH MITCHELL, 54, 1025 County Road 44750, Blossom – I was elected to the Precinct 4 commissioner seat, effective Jan. 1, 2011. My home has been here in Lamar County for the past 54 years.
I married Rebecca Ballard 26 years ago. We have three daughters, and we raised our family in the northeast part of Lamar County, and all of our kids are gone and away, and I have an opportunity to devote my time to the job of commissioner.
My past service has been in the public service. I worked for the Texas Department of Transportation for almost 30 years. I have exposure to a lot of different things, and I am also a volunteer fireman with the East Post Oak Voluntary Fire Department.
I have a commitment that I want to make things better. I want to try to improve the world that we’re handing down to the next generation, and I want to do that here where I live, where I see kids going to school and where I see families going to worship.
I want to try to make things better and make Lamar County shine from within — not from Christmas lights but from a good spirit. I appreciate the opportunity to make myself available, and I’d appreciate your vote.
BILLY JOE “B.J.” MCCOY, 59, 2221 Farm Road 2648, Powderly – I’m Billy Joe McCoy — a lot of you know of me as B.J. I have four children, seven grandchildren.
I have roots in Lamar County through my great-grandfather, who moved from Tennessee to Lamar County, who ran the ferry out on the river from what I understand, and then a mule shed barn or some kind of work, blacksmith shop.
I’m a professional public servant. I’ve been a public servant ever since I was 16 years of age. In high school, during a break I went to work for the City of Irving, in the sanitation department the first year. The second year, during the school break, I went to work for the water and sewer department. Then, after I graduated, I went back to Irving and went to work for the police department for 10 years.
After 10 years, I completed my public service work and came to Lamar County, back in 1983. I became a deputy sheriff and after two months I was promoted to detective. And after 10 years of deputy sheriff’s work, I became the sheriff for 20 years.
I worked hard through those 20 years as sheriff. I had the largest budget of any county elected official, including the commissioners court. And every year I returned money that was not spent. Several years, that was two or three hundred thousand dollars. So I know how to maintain a budget.
If i am elected, I would work for a freeze on taxes for people in Lamar County who are 65 or older.
QUESTION 1: The Texas Transportation Code, Chapter 252, Subchapter D. Titled “County Road Department System” (also known as the Unit Road System) provides an alternative to the current system used in Lamar County. The Unit Road System has been described as a more cost-effective system as it consolidates equipment and personnel. It defines a county-wide road system in which the commissioners remain the policy-making body responsible to the citizens plus an executive officer that is either a road engineer or a road administrator. While this executive officer reports to the commissioner’s court, he or she would manage the efficient and economical construction and maintenance of the county roads plus all personnel, equipment and supplies involved with such efforts concerning the roads. If elected or re-elected to the position of Lamar County Commissioner, would you be in favor of allowing the citizens of Lamar County to adopt this system? If not, what are your objections and would you otherwise propose or object to the consolidation and sharing of equipment, supplies and personnel used in the construction and maintenance of the county roads?
B.J. MCCOY – As for as the unit system, I can’t tell you whether I’m in favor for it or whatever.
I would need more information about that particular system to make a rational decision that would support a financial savings, or effectiveness.
I just don’t have those facts and figures and all that to make a decision. But what I will do is conduct a feasibility study, and contact these other counties that have this in place concerning what the pros and cons are.
Then I think i will be able to make a legitimate answer to that question.
KEITH MITCHELL – Let me begin by saying that answering yes or no to this question, in this short time frame tonight, does not provide this audience proper information and background into this method of road management.
I hope and recommend that first the citizens read the Texas Transportation Code Chapter 252 — read that and the subchapters therein. If the citizens understand how that would effect this county, then pursue the course of action according to a code that brings this to a county-wide vote.
I do not recommend hastily jumping into this without researching the details. Out of 254 counties in Texas, 60 counties are under this unit system of management. There have been other counties that have gotten into this and they decided, “Hey, this ain’t gonna work.” And then they changed back.
To answer the question as a candidate, my answer is I am in favor of letting the people vote on it if they go thru the correct validation process. Those advocating for this need to know that there is a large number of rural property owners in this county.
If and when this goes to the ballot, those advocating for it need to be prepared for opposition.
Changing to this unit system method requires adding another layer of management to county government. If this goes to a vote and it passes, I do respect the vote of the people.
QUESTION 2: In recent years, the escalating cost of healthcare for county employees and their dependants has become a major point of contention in county budget he arings. There have been numerous discussions and proposals to contain these rising expenditures. If elected or re-elected to the position of Lamar County Commissioner, what will be your resolution to this concern and would it include shifting any of the burden to the Affordable Care Act, which is just another pocket of the taxpayer?
KEITH MITCHELL – There are two concerns listed in the question. One has to do with health insurance, and the other has to do with the rising costs of health care.
On the health care issue, I think the county should promote healthy living. It’s a proven cost-reduction method for employees, and certain insurance coverage will offer better rates and lower prices.
With that, each adult is responsible for his or her personal health. Health care can be affordable. Instead of drinking soda pops, drink juice or milk. You know, we need to promote being healthy. Instead of a person purchasing tobacco or alcohol, buy fruit and vegetables.
You know, sickness and aging doesn’t have to be so expensive if you take better care of yourself. This does not fix the problem, but it is a beginning point for the employees.
On the health Insurance part of this, anytime the state or the U.S. government steps into the free market arena and manipulates taxes or regulates the supply and demand of services or products, the cost goes up.
On shifting the dollar burden to the Affordable Care Act, at this time I have little faith in the ability of the federal government’s Affordable Care Act to make any recommendations. What I personally resolve to do is promote and advocate for healthy living, and that will lower rates for health insurance.
B.J. MCCOY – Well, this has been a topic on the agenda of commissioners for several years. Some in the commissioners court would have you believe that insurance coverage blows the budget out of proportion. Some just didn’t want to put forth the effort of trying to get reasonable coverage.
We kept the same coverage for many years. Finally, last year, they went to accrual coverage through TACS, the Texas Association of Counties, and that lowered our costs quite a bit.
The commissioners court also told the employees, “Hey, y’all are going to pay a part.” So it’s not the county paying the whole coverage. The county is about 65 percent, the employees and dependents pay about 35 percent. So the employees are paying their part.
I’m kind of compassionate about it because if you say, “Hey, we’re taking away your insurance. You’re not covered,” that’s going to be pretty dramatic for those folks like my deputy, that had a baby that needed a kidney. And he had comp time and vacation time, and he donated one of his kidneys.
There’s other ways to pay for insurance., and that’s cutting costs. For instance, two or three commissioners work inmates out in the precincts. They’re getting more things done and taking a load off of the other two employees that they can do other things. You’re getting more bang for your buck.
As far as the other, I call it like it is — Obamacare. Look who adopted it. Look who wrote it up. But who read it? And who passed it? Most people think it’s going to be the failure of this country. And a lot of people think it’s gonna be like a bailout. For the insurance companies.
So, there’s a way of withholding this insurance for the county employees. When they were hired, that was part of the benefit package.
And one more thing, it’s a phase-out system. Your employees were hired at a certain date, employees will be offered insurance, and then you say, “Hey, you got to find insurance for your dependents, and we’ll eventually phase that out, and it will save some money for the county.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra