I voted AGAINST the road bond last year, but I voted FOR the road bond this year. Two words will tell you why – Judge Sumter.After the first road bond failed last year, there was a rush by some county and city elected officials to pressure the Commissioners Court to immediately move forward on the roads, even though the voters had said NO. The Court could have done that, but it would have meant that the Court was taking on debt without the approval of the voters. Despite the pressure, Judge Sumter, stood tall and firm in her decision AGAINST taking on debt without the approval of the people.
In the process, the Judge drew some loud and, at times, rather ugly criticism. For example, some people criticized the Judge’s leadership style, saying that a real leader would do whatever was necessary, even if it meant taking on substantial debt without citizen approval. In the face of criticism like that, Judge Sumter valued the voice of the voters. We had said NO and she stood by us. She took the road less traveled; she worked toward building consensus among citizens.
In some quarters, the criticism began to take on the character of a mythical war. Some critics tried to divide the county into eastern and western interests – calling residents in the western part of Hays county zealots and no growthers. Once again, Judge Sumter said no – that was not true. She told the citizens that she believed in a united county and the value of programs that benefit all areas of the county. She took the road less traveled; she stood up for us, even in the face of near constant criticism from her peers. Equally important, she set out upon a positive path.
Sumter urged the formation of a Transportation Advisory Committee so any future road bond package would be subject to the watchful eyes of citizen volunteers. When some of her peers criticized her for that, Sumter stood with the citizens on the Advisory Committee. Committee members drove roads, talked with their neighbors, attended endless meetings and ultimately made their recommendations to the Court. All of the recommendations were accepted and so it was that this year’s road bond package started to take shape. Finally, but still before the package went to the voters, a Bond Committee was formed. Judge Sumter selected a well-respected businessman from the corridor, Chuck Nash, as her appointee to chair the Committee. The Committee continued to talk with citizens about roads and safety issues. When the bond package finally went to a vote a few weeks ago, the results were clear. The road bond package passed with a strong margin.
In the end, Sumter was right. Her faith in citizens and the process of consensus building paid off. When some around her were in a panic about losing TxDOT’s money, she provided calm, knowledgeable leadership. She didn’t panic and she didn’t fold under the criticism. She simply stayed on course, working toward re-crafting the road bond package by listening to what citizens were saying. She believed that citizens from all over the county should be heard, and she persisted in opening government to everyone. She believed that building consensus among citizens would go a long way toward voter approval the second time around. On all counts, Judge Sumter was right.
by Venice Brown
San Marcos, TX