San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 28th, 2010
Three questions for Sumter, Barton

022810bartonsumterHays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, left, and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, right, at a recent meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Almost from the moment they each won election to the Hays County Commissioners Court in November 2006, Hays County Judge Liz Sumter of Wimberley and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton of Kyle have eschewed unity among Democrats and illustrated differences between the eastern and western portions of Hays County.

Now, their battle for the Democratic nomination is coming to a head with the primary election on March 2. San Marcos Local News recently sat with Barton and Sumter to ask each three questions.

San Marcos Local News: Why are you running for county judge?

Barton: I don’t take running against a fellow Democrat and incumbent lightly. I’ve been around long enough to know that any race against an incumbent’s tough, and I’m a dedicated enough Democrat to have a prejudice against running against a fellow Democrat. But there are differences in style and substance that need to be aired. And I think that’s healthy. We saw that in the presidential race in 2008 for the Democratic (Party), it can make the party and the platforms and the candidates themselves stronger in the end. I think it’s true in our case, as well. There are some pretty sincere differences that almost anybody who’s been to commissioners court can see, in style and substance, philosophy and management.

Sumter: I think there are a lot of things we achieved this first three years — and we still, obviously, have one more year to go. But I think there are still a lot of other things that need to get finished. We’ve made a lot of headway in opening up government, making it transparent, providing information on the Internet so folks can see what we’re doing long before we take the vote. If you can’t make it to commissioners court, you can at least send an email or pick up the phone before the vote is taken. We’ve never had that opportunity in this county before. You always had to come to commissioners court to be heard. We want to continue opening that door to folks who can’t get here. They should have access and input to their government. That’s one of the reasons I want to stay. But, also, there are a number of other issues. A lot of infrastructure issues that we have. We’ve started making headway on them, and I’d sure like to see it through, in terms of parks, roads, buildings — all of those things — and figure out how to do it within the economy that we have, that we’re facing today.

SMLN: What are some pressing issues Hays county faces?

Sumter: I think our biggest one is going to be budgeting. I think with the economy changing the way it is, and all the infrastructure programs we’ve got on the ground, and the services we provide, we have got to find a way to move forward, but not in such a way that we are going to continue to raise taxes. In this economy, you just can’t do that. I do have one more budget cycle, whether I’m elected again or not, and I certainly will be submitting a budget that doesn’t raise taxes.

Barton: For me, there’s four or five issues that I think are critical. We ought to be creating jobs and prosperity, and there’s differences between Judge Sumter and I on those issues and how we’ve voted. We ought to be planning for the growth that is going to come, whether we like it or not, so that we try and manage and channel that growth and insure that Hays County grows with grace rather than grows willy-nilly. Thus, we can preserve some of the character that’s made it such a unique place, and that’s made my family want to stay here for seven generations. Third, that we preserve our water resources and things like the San Marcos River, where I’ve swam in 12 months a year. And, finally, we need to be building bridges across the county and uniting people and trying to build a consensus for a common vision for Hays County. And, frankly, I think the Judge has been divisive, particularly in San Marcos, but also across the county. I think it’s going to be hard to repair bridges she’s burned at this point. Finally, you might say there’s some questions of judgment. I don’t think it makes her a bad person, but there have been some notable, serious lapses in judgment that have cost the county opportunity and cost taxpayers a lot of money.

SMLN: You and your opponent have taken opposing stances regarding economic incentives to US Foodservice. The court’s discussion regarding incentives to Grifols were conducted in closed executive session. How are those two instances indicative of your different views regarding economic development?

Barton: The judge walked out of court rather than vote to support the Grifols project here in San Marcos, one of the real notable achievements, something she clearly had reservations about, had objections to, but didn’t want to be on the record about, I think, from my perspective, and left in the middle of the meeting rather than vote on the Grifols issue. US Foods would be another example, where she was the only member of the court that voted against the US Foods agreement that would (bring) average wage jobs greater than $50,000 into Hays County. I think she just sees things differently. I think there are people who wish the county wasn’t growing, and, yet, every major demographer, every state agency, every economist who’s looked at this area, says we’re going to grow, because we’re in the midst of huge macroeconomic forces here. We’re between two giant engines, Austin and San Antonio, in one of the most delightful and special places to live in the North American continent. If we’re going to be a sustainable community, we’ve also got to have decent jobs for people who graduate from Texas State University. If we want to address healthcare — I don’t know how to fix that at the national level, but I know at the local level, good jobs that pay good benefits give people healthcare. We can’t solve all the nations’ economic woes, but we can take aggressive action here at home to support the infrastructure that allows businesses to grow and jobs to be created.

Sumter: Grifols I wasn’t here to vote on, so (Barton) is guessing as to how I would have voted, and he’s guessing wrong. I do ask critical questions in executive session, I ask critical questions out on the dais. I think it’s my job to ask the hard questions. That doesn’t mean that I’m for or against something because I ask a hard question. It’s my job to do that, and it’s my job to assess whether or not us giving up our tax dollars, our revenue, is really going to produce something for our citizens as a whole. And so I do ask very critical questions. I’m still unhappy that this county doesn’t have an economic development policy in which it can judge projects objectively to those goals that we all agree upon. We do have an economic development policy, and the one that we have is very vague and was only written because the only way we can give up taxes is to have a policy in place by law. And so, we meet the letter of the law, but we truly do not know, and do not have a policy in the county that gives us the ability to objectively look at each project and measure it. And that has always bothered me, and that is something we need to fix desperately. I did vote against US Foods. I don’t believe US Foods’ claims are true. After investigation and after the hard questions being asked, their claims of $59,000 median job income for folks here is a false claim. Them saying they’re going to bring us a whole lot of jobs is not true. They’re located in South Austin. Pretty much everybody who has a job with them is likely to relocate right to Hays County with them. After my assessment of US Foods, after knowing that it’s a $19 billion company asking a $10 billion county — or, valued at $10 billion — for that kind of handout, it didn’t make any kind of sense. And I said ‘no’ to that. Grifols, I would have said ‘yes’ to, in all likelihood.

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