RuskCoCandidates2

Randy Gaut, candidate for Rusk County Pct. 1 Commissioner, listens to a moderator question during a Republican candidate forum Feb. 13. Candidate Shannon Thompson sits beside him.

Editors’ Note: The following is a continuation of an article printed Wednesday, Feb. 19, regarding the statements of candidates seeking elected office in Rusk County.

Pct. 1 Constable

Asked to describe the responsibilities of a Texas constable, the candidates, (Bob Mitchell, Michael Smith and Richard Stanley) offered their views on the daily duties of the role.

“The constable is an elected law enforcement officer. They have the same responsibilities and authority as any other law enforcement officer. A constable is also a bailiff for the J.P. court in the precinct. They’re also the chief civil process server that serves criminal warrants and conducts criminal investigations. They are a law enforcement officer capable of doing whatever you see any other uniformed officer do,” Stanley said.

The other candidates echoed his comments and added other responsibilities as well.

“We serve people and we serve the Justice of the Peace’s office to deal with each individual case that comes to us,” Mitchell said.

Smith added constables often have to work on other issues, including child support cases, while retaining their law enforcement role.

“It doesn’t change the fact that you assist on investigations and go on investigations and assist in any way possible,” Smith said.

Pct. 4 & 5 Constable

Candidates in the races for Pct. 4 Constable and Pct. 5 Constable took the stage together to answer questions from the moderator.

Bobby Armstrong and Parker Sweeney are seeking votes to replace outgoing Pct. 4 Constable David Guy.

Armstrong, a Laneville resident for more than 30 years, worked for the Laneville Fire Department for 18 years and said he was asked to run for the position of constable.

Sweeney is a fourth-generation Rusk County native, has nine years of law enforcement experience and has worked as a Security Forces Airman for the U.S. Air Force.

Pct. 5 Constable Jimmy Skinner is not seeking reelection and candidates Trey Hacker and Daniel McMillen are seeking his position.

Hacker is a lifelong resident of Rusk County has been a patrol deputy for Rusk County Sheriff’s Department for the last 23 years.

McMillen has lived in Rusk County for 13 years and is a third-generation law enforcement officer.

These candidates were asked how they can do their job most effectively, if elected, while working with other law enforcement officers, such as Rusk County Sheriff’s Office.

“The biggest part of it would be communication,” said Sweeney.

“The agencies (can communicate) together and share different intelligence that they have on different crimes in the area. The constable can also act as a force multiplier. It’s not always easy for the deputies to get everywhere in the county so the constable can increase the patrols with the assistance of the county.”

Hacker said networking with other law enforcement officers would be key to his strategy.

“Since I’m retired, I’ll be available at any given time. We’ll have to network. I’m life-long from here, I know lots of people and I’ll work closely hand-in-hand with the other departments because they get bigger resources, so that would be my plan,” Hacker said.

McMillen pledged his support to other county agencies.

“The other agencies in the precinct will have my full support. I will stand behind anyone that calls and asks for help and that is in any part of the county, down south, north, east or west, it doesn’t matter. Our sheriff’s department can’t be everywhere in this county. If I’m asked by the sheriff’s department or asked by anybody who lives in that precinct, we are Rusk County constables. We can go anywhere in this county we want to go,” McMillen said.

Armstrong echoed the calls for cooperation between Rusk County law enforcement agencies.

“The constable should stand right up there with the sheriff’s department so he can help them out. There’s no doubt about that. He can do anything that the sheriff’s department does. With the budgets of everybody, our sheriff’s department needs more help. They need the help. They need more patrols on the southwest end down there. This is something the people have been asking about through this whole ordeal. If we don’t work together, then we’ve got a problem,” he said.

Asked about the top priorities of the multifaceted constable position, the candidates offered their opinions on how they would set priorities on their first day in office, if elected.

Hacker’s response focused on his availability.

“I know my main focus is, I am retired, so I will be really available. I will meet with the J.P. (Jana Enloe) and ask her if there are any improvements, where do we need to tweak something? My main focus is to serve the people here and to do my job diligently,” Hacker said.

McMillen prioritized security, getting caught up with constable tasks and transparency with the public.

“My top three priorities when I come into office are, one, to help with the security that is in the JP courtroom right now. That is one of the concerns that (Enloe) has voiced since I discussed it with her. We need to update it, we need to add a little more to it. Number two, I’ll start with serving civil papers. We may be a smidge behind, we’re pretty well caught up, but there’s a few that need to be caught up on so let’s start working on that. Number three, is to make the office open to the public, to have the public come in and tell me what they want and what they expect,” he said.

Armstrong’s priority was school security.

“I will be working with the schools; Carlisle, Laneville schools. The constable that has been there has not been there for the schools. So I will be working with the schools, giving them security during the daytime, working their ball games at night. I know it’s going to be hard with two schools but that’s going to be part of it. I will be working with the sheriff’s department with everything I have, provided I can stay within my budget,” he said.

Sweeney offered several priorities to focus on if he is elected.

“Number one priority is going to be taking care of the court. That’s a constable’s job but also helping out with the thefts and burglaries which are related to the narcotics. Also, I’d like to be active in the schools. I’ve had training with several different school safety programs. I think those three would be the most important to start with,” he said.

Pct. 1 Commissioner

Three candidates are aiming for election to the Pct. 1 seat on the Rusk County Commissioners Court: Shannon Thompson, Randy Gaut and Will Hale.

They also took the stage to field questions and give the audience a sense of their positions.

Thompson, a third-generation Rusk County resident, said his goal as a commissioner would be to make Rusk County more attractive to young people seeking rewarding careers.

“The people of this county are our greatest asset. Without people, we have nothing. I’ve owned a small dirt construction business for over 20 years and with my education and experience, I feel like I’m the best man for the job.”

Gaut, a fifth-generation resident of Rusk County is currently employed full-time as a heavy equipment operator and has operated Gaut Contractors for over 23 years.

“I was referred to as the most honest man in the oilfield,” he said.

“As commissioner, I will work just as hard with the same business mindset and one hundred percent devotion for the taxpayer. My experience working with county commissioners, work conservation boards and Texas DOT in many parts of Texas sets me apart from my opponents.”

Hale, son of current county commissioner Bill Hale, grew up on his family’s ranch in Rusk County and has worked in the ranching business before returning to Rusk County, where he has worked as an outside salesman in the oilfield for 14 years.

“I have learned that, to become a successful salesman in the oilfield, you have to be available to your customers. My customer service and my availability is second-to-none. I believe this has prepared me for becoming your next Pct. 1 commissioner. Availability to the people of Pct. 1 and the people of Rusk County is a key part of being a commissioner,” Hale said, adding his cell phone number would be available to anyone wanting to reach him about county business.

The candidates all agreed that, if elected commissioner, they would be frequently asked by county residents about the state of roads in the precinct.

Their first question asked how they would handle the problem of road upkeep in the precinct.

“I think we explore new ideas and ways to fix the roads. We’ve been doing the same roads the same way for a long time. With the small budget that we have for the roads, we can fix five, maybe 10 miles a year. Well, there’s over 150 miles (of roads) in our precinct. Where do you start? We’ve got to come up with a different way to fix the roads. I believe with the technology and the equipment now, we can find another way to make it stretch and get more bang for the buck,” Thompson said.

Gaut’s response called on his construction experience.

“Looking back in our previous budgets, in 2018, we had $148,000 allocated for road oil and seal coat. I believe we used just less than $52,000 of that. We have just less than 200 miles of road in the precinct and in those 200 miles, you have to evaluate which (roads) need it the worst and I don’t think there are any new techniques to building a road. I’ve been building them most of my life and you have to get the water off of it, you have to have a crown and get good positive drainage and that will get your roads back in shape,” Gaut said.

Hale said he would focus on the most-used roads in the precinct.

“With the road situation, we have a certain budget we can use and we have to use that budget wisely to fix which roads we can throughout that year. There will be the ones that are traveled the most, the ones that have the most damage, the ones that have the most oifield traffic…we can also go to those oilfield companies and ask them to help us with the roads so we don’t have to use so much of our budget. The more people that live on that road, that’s going to be the top priority roads,” he said.

Rusk County Sheriff

Johnwayne Valdez, Jeff Price, Jesse Stewart and Nathan Parker are all seeking votes for election as Rusk County Sheriff. Price is the incumbent.

Among other questions, the candidates were asked what they considered the top crime in the area, which they would address, if elected.

“This county, like every county, has a major drug problem,” Valdez said. He has served in law enforcement roles in Houston, Nacogdoches and on drug task forces in East Texas.

“No one has ever denied that. I’ve devoted my entire career to fighting drugs. I was the first task force agent in the state of Texas to be granted a wiretap. I’ve done every kind of narcotics investigation there. Pro-activity is what is going to slow this down. None of us up here is ever going to tell you that we’re going to stop it because you know you can’t. My proactive approach is getting out in these communities, making traffic stops. If they see us, they’re not going to be coming through here with their drugs.”

Sheriff Price agreed that drugs are a major problem in the county.

“Everything relates back to (drugs). Theft, burglary, it all goes back to drugs. We work drug cases regularly. I’ve got officers on the streets making traffic stops at night and in the daytime out on the county roads. We’re taking a lot of drugs off the street. I work with the police department. We have monthly meetings with them where we discuss investigations that both agencies are doing,” Price said, noting the sheriff’s office has worked with police departments in the area to create a task force against illegal drugs.

Stewart zeroed in on meth as the biggest drug problem for Rusk County.

“I would say the number one drug would be methamphetamine here in Rusk County. We’ve got a major meth problem and along with that comes theft. For that to stop, you’re going to have to have deputies that are making traffic stops. You don’t have to write tickets or write a warning, just make a traffic stop. Most of the time it will be a warning or a citation issue but you may find that meth or find somebody with a warrant and take them to jail. Pro-activity will be one of my top priorities, making sure the deputies are out there in the rural areas of the county,” Stewart said.

Parker advocated cooperating with other law enforcement officers to combat drugs, as well as going beyond arrests to combat the problem.

“The constables, they see and know the people in the county than a deputy might or an investigator might,” Parker said of other officers.

(I would) join forces with all agencies in fighting this problem. Also, we could put in place the kind of programs for families that have to deal with a family member that is on drugs and they don’t know what else to do…implementing some kind of program to help family members take a step further.”

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