By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – A full house packed the into the county courtroom of the Palo Pinto County Courthouse, Tuesday night, for an open question-and-answer forum with Republican candidates in contested Palo Pinto County races.
Palo Pinto County Republican Party Chair Barbara Upham mediated the event that featured all seven GOP candidates for County Judge, County Clerk and District Clerk.
In the County Judge race, incumbent David Nicklas squared off against former Precinct 4 Commissioner Earnest Pecachek. Next up, incumbent Janie Glover fielded questions with opponent Stacie Frye in the race for District Clerk. Finally, the largest race was saved for last, as County Clerk candidates Debbie Murray, Jessica Wright and incumbent Janette Green took the podium.
All questions were submitted, in writing, prior to the event and candidates were given three minutes for an opening statement, two minutes to answer each question and another three minutes for a closing statement.
The County Judge race led off the evening with Nicklas seeking re-election against Pecachek in a courtroom very familiar to both men. In his opening and closing statements, Nicklas referenced his deep-rooted family history in Palo Pinto County and touted his track record as County Judge, saying “We’ve moved a long way in my last three years.”
Nicklas stressed the importance of continuing to manage the county budget and fund organizations outside of the courthouse, such as Meals on Wheels, children’s advocacy groups, libraries and the Mineral Wells Senior Center. He also touched on issues regarding county employees and their importance and their impact on the budget.
“The most important asset the county has are its employees, but they are also the most expensive,” he said. “Every elected official needs to seriously consider how their offices are staffed.”
Pecachek touted his previous experience with the Palo Pinto County Commissioners Court prior to retirement as Precinct 4 Commissioner for eight years.
“We went through a lot of trials and tribulations and accomplished a lot,” he said of his time as a commissioner.
In asking for the crowd’s support in the upcoming primary election, Pecachek promised that he would “give everything his utmost” if he is elected.
Among the questions posed to the potential judges was one regarding the value of the county’s workforce and employee benefits. Nicklas said – although employee benefits were slightly lowered recently due to budget constraints – the county’s workforce is “well-trained, knowledgeable, very competent and provide some of the best service available.” Pecachek echoed Nicklas’ statement, saying “Ditto. There are some darn good employees over here.” He added that salaries and benefits have come a long way since he first served in a county office.
Both candidates also expressed their desire to continue to fund county first responders as much as possible.
Their final question was in reference to the most important job of the County Judge. Both candidates said there is not just one answer.
“We have to distribute taxes based on what we need,” Pecachek said.
“We have to work as a team to take care of customers’ needs. I just hope I can do what’s necessary. I would be only one-fifth of the commissioners court; it takes all five.”
“What’s most important is what you’re there for that day,” Nicklas said. “We are the stewards of the tax money you give us. We want to be fiscally responsible and fund departments as needed so they can do what you require.”
Current District Clerk Janie Glover took the stand next along with opponent and current Mineral Wells Code Enforcement Secretary Stacie Frye.
Glover – who is running for her fourth consecutive term as District Clerk – made her experience her calling card. She referenced not only her 11 years in Palo Pinto, but also the progress her office has seen since she was first elected, as they just completed their first successful electronic filing.
In her closing comments, Glover again stressed her proven track record and the significance of her “great staff” that “makes me look good” and she appreciates “more than they’ll ever know.” She said she enjoys her job and providing the best possible customer service while providing leadership, integrity and professionalism.
In contrast to Glover, Frye said she hopes to bring a fresh, modern perspective to the office. She is no stranger to the District Clerk’s office, serving eight years as a clerk, including seven under Glover. She said she would love to work in the office again and have the “opportunity to make a difference.”
One key question brought up to these women was how they would motivate their employees to provide the best customer service possible. Both candidates harkened back to the golden rule, saying that if they treat their employees and customers with respect, their employees will follow their lead and do the same.
The three-candidate race for County Clerk made up the finale for the evening as incumbent Janette Green, Jessica Wright and Debbie Murray split time answering eight questions – one more than had been asked of the previous four candidates in two races combined.
First to the podium was Murray, who detailed a lifetime in Palo Pinto County as well as her experience working for the Palo Pinto County Appraisal District for 12 years in the 1970’s and ‘80s. She spoke of her customer service experience both working in retail for most of her life and currently as a sales manager for a PVC company. In her closing statement she said she wants to show her leadership and commitment by being challenged and “there for the people of Palo Pinto County everyday.”
Wright – a loan assistant at First Financial Bank in Mineral Wells and 13-year veteran of the banking industry – said she has always wanted to hold a public office. She said she strives to better herself and be more involved in the community. As she has throughout her campaign, she continued to preach the importance of customer service and that people have a positive experience in the clerk’s office. In her closing statement, she said she wants to bring “accuracy, accountability, availability and advice” to the position.
Unlike her opponents, Green leaned heavily on her experience. Although she is vying for her second term, Green has almost seven years of total experience in the office. Like her fellow incumbents, Green stressed how much progress her office has seen in the past three years and how many obstacles they have overcome. Under Green’s leadership, the clerk’s office is now scanning all records, improving their archives and going “greener” than ever before by transitioning into a primarily digital office.
All three candidates spoke of the importance of continuing education requirements that allows the County Clerk to stay abreast of ever-changing laws. They also answered a question about motivating employees, similar to the District Clerk candidates.
Questions were posed about filing fees and e-filing. Green said that county employees can file public records for free as well as certain state positions. She added that there is now a public access computer in her office for people to access e-filed civil cases and criminal appeals.
Wright answered both questions opposite to her incumbent opponent, saying that everyone could not utilize e-filing and that no one should be exempt from filing fees.
Murray admitted she did not know the answer to either question about filing fees, but said she believes it is good that county employees don’t have to pay fees and that e-filing is an asset to the county.
Perhaps the most pertinent question posed to these candidates was “What makes you qualified for this job?”
Wright said that her 13 years of banking experience has allowed her to work closely with the County Clerk’s office and become familiar with filings. She said she has received extensive training in customer service and knows “how to treat people with dignity, honor and respect.” She concluded saying that every job needs on the job training and she is willing to learn and learn quickly.
Murray said her experience in customer service as well as at the appraisal district makes her most qualified. She said she enjoys a challenge and working with the public.
Green, again, referenced her extensive experience as County Clerk in addition to over 30 years of customer service. She went on to say her office has a combined 150 years of customer experience.
“If you come into the office or call the office, you’ll always get the best service possible,” she said. “Customer service is not a question, it’s a constant.”
Early voting has already begun and runs through Feb. 28. Polls open for regular voting on March 4.