Presidio County Commissioner Precinct 4 candidate questionnaires

Candidates for Presidio County Commissioner Precinct 4 weigh in ahead of early voting's start on February 14

DAVID BEEBE (D)

  • Tell us about yourself. What experience will you bring to this role?

I bring my experience as a three-term Marfa City Council member (2008-2014), a small business owner, seven years working in the courthouse and 10 years of regular attendance at county commissioners court meetings. I am aware of the county’s financial structure and operations. I am experienced in the budget process.

  • What are some of the primary concerns of citizens in your precinct and how do you plan to address those concerns? 

I believe people in my precinct feel that county leadership lacks discipline and direction. Often decisions are made from a purely reactive and, at times, defensive standpoint. I believe the citizens would like to see more effort on the part of commissioners to educate themselves on county operations and be proactive about taking better care of the facilities and employees of the county while serving the citizens more effectively and efficiently. I pledge to work hard to not only educate myself fully about issues affecting the county, but to also communicate more fully with constituents about county operations than has been done in the past. 

  • The county has faced a number of natural disasters over the past few years — a pandemic, winter storms, wildfires and flooding. How can the county be better prepared for future emergency events?

The county has, at times, been good about training department heads and elected officials about disaster readiness thanks to the efforts of Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke. However, the county does not require leaders to take the training and, therefore, not everyone has. This can lead to communication issues, which can be devastatingly dangerous in a crisis situation. I have advocated to the county judge to appoint a PIO [Public Information Office], which has not happened.

The county judge is also the statutory head of emergency management and currently that office has no web presence outside of the Presidio County website, which is rarely updated in a timely fashion. The county needs to prioritize the upkeep of the website and pay a person (who is always available) to work on it. Also, a person designated as the county’s PIO is a must, and it should not be the county judge. During disasters the county judge is often either on the front lines or holding meetings with first responders and unable to immediately communicate with the public. This is a reality that the current county judge refuses to address. The Sheriff’s Office does a better job through their Facebook page than anyone else within county leadership. The commissioners court should address this if the county judge will not.

  • What will you prioritize in terms of the county budget? How can the county’s tax dollars be best utilized? 

The purpose of the county budget process is to predict financial income and outflow and allocate funds accordingly. The county has not met its goal of “not dipping into reserve funds” in the last few years. The county auditor, Patty Roach, has the best grasp on the county’s financial condition. She has some long-term goals for financial security that are actually coming fairly close to being met. The commissioners court doesn’t currently seem to fully understand these goals, but does strive to embrace them. This is not currently a problem only because I believe the auditor truly does have the county’s best interests at heart. If, however, the county lost Patty Roach it’s possible that the next auditor may have different objectives and then there could be a serious issue. It’s important for the full commissioners court to understand the short-term and long-term goals of the county. I would strive to bring more of that information into the conversation during the budget process. It’s also imperative that the county come up with a written, modifiable but comprehensive, plan to address long-term maintenance of facilities the county owns and operates, e.g.— what to do about/with the Old Jail building and the “county archives” it contains? The courthouse itself has serious continuous issues with the HVAC system and the elevator. The list goes on, but with a model for regular care and replacement of assets, the county can be in a more predictable, reliable and inexpensive situation than the current one. 

Back to the question: I would prioritize creating short-term and long-term models for the fiscal and infrastructure goals of the county. I would also prioritize trying to make the county the best place to work by having working equipment and systems that promote productive outcomes and safety.

 

FRANKY “BUDDY” KNIGHT (D)

  • Tell us about yourself. What experience will you bring to this role?

To the good people of Presidio County: I am Frank (Buddy) Knight and I am seeking reelection for Commissioner Pct. 4. I am a native of Marfa, grew up and was educated here, graduating from Marfa ISD. I received a Bachelor of Science from Sul Ross State University in industrial technology with a minor in education. For 19 years I taught metal trades, engineering drafting, and computer aided drafting. Since 1990 I have operated a successful part-time metal fabrication/welding business that later became full time. I understand the need for fiscal responsibility.

A few years ago, a gentleman asked me if I was a Democrat or Republican. My answer was: neither, I don’t like any of them. To be honest, if I fall into a slot it would have to be Independent. Make no mistake: I can take a stand on an issue I believe is right. Having said that, I am willing to listen to all sides, an idea we seem to be rapidly losing in this country. This race, as with all political races, comes down to core beliefs. I believe the actions of the court should be honorable, with integrity and obviously within the law. This did not happen with Sanchez v. Presidio County. I will always work to stop things like this from ever happening again.

Most importantly, I am a Constitutionalist. I believe in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for all people. This is the bottom line that all governments should adhere to. Presidio County and Marfa are my lifelong home, and I will do anything I can to keep them in the best shape possible. I have served for two terms and have always tried to give my best.

  • What are some of the primary concerns of citizens in your precinct and how do you plan to address those concerns? 

The concerns of my constituents are as varied as the people in the county. Anything from potholes in a county road to a gate not being locked at county park. Not to trivialize these concerns, most people care about keeping government costs down while the county provides the services it is required to. They care about the safety and health of them and their families. Are the roads maintained well enough to get goods to the market, to get a person to a doctor or hospital if necessary?

The question is what I am going to do to relieve these concerns. The answer is I will work to the best of my ability to maintain a balanced budget, working to keep money in the right department so it can do the most good. 

  • The county has faced a number of natural disasters over the past few years — a pandemic, winter storms, wildfires and flooding. How can the county be better prepared for future emergency events?

I was in office during the Rock House Fire. It was a wakeup call. Since that time, the county has worked with the emergency management coordinator for financing for a better and larger fire station, putting $50,000.00 in its budget to help with the building this fiscal year. We provide an area at the airport for a firefight aviation operation and are working to provide better water sources and a system for firefighting from the airport. The emergency management coordinator and I have discussed getting a SEAT base operation at the airport and are hoping to move forward with the state. We have also set aside county property for a new emergency management center when we find the financing.

What I call the “Big Freeze” last year was a true eye opener. Since that time, the county now has two large generators to provide electricity if needed and an electrical connection with a building at the school. We can at least provide a place for people to stay warm and cook a meal if necessary. Most importantly, it is a location for people who need electricity for an oxygen machine, or any type of breathing apparatus, to go.

Moving forward I don’t think it’s enough, but we are on the right track. I believe the county should put more into emergency services. At least one more building that can be connected to for electricity would be a good start.

Dealing with COVID has been an ugly animal, as we all know, particularly hard on county judges with some of it falling to commissioners. Moving forward, counties need to continue to push the state and federal entities for more tests and more vaccines. Provide a place if necessary for testing or vaccine clinics. We also need to help our medical professionals and our first responders any way we can.

  • What will you prioritize in terms of the county budget? How can the county’s tax dollars be best utilized? 

The county is required by law to provide certain services and they are reflected in the budget. Most tax monies are already earmarked for certain operations. Unfunded mandates by the state also eat away at tax monies. It’s that little bit that is not [earmarked] we can work with. Each year at the beginning of the budget process I think of all the things I would like to see done, and when we finally balance the budget there is little left.

Emergency services need to be better funded. I would like to see a road and bridge facility in the north end of the county so we could better maintain our equipment and make it last longer. We are going to have to find a way to maintain our buildings better. The courthouse roof needs repair, and the elevator needs to be updated. Record retention and storage needs to be dealt with.

The most critical thing we will deal with in the next few years is emergency medical services in the county. We are not the only county dealing with this. You hear it at every training session you attend. I have been talking to Judge Schuster in Pecos County and Judge Evans in Jeff Davis County about district-wide emergency medical care. There is always power in numbers. If the counties and cities in a geographic area can come together and pool their resources, I believe this would give us a much stronger base for emergency healthcare.

It is only in the talking stage, but the idea needs exploring. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I will work hard for Presidio County and its people to make it a better place to live and work.

 

GAREY WILLBANKS (R)

  • Tell us about yourself. What experience will you bring to this role? 

I’m not a politician, so I don’t have experience in that regard. I’m 61 years old with a business background that began in a family business and later with several entrepreneurial ventures. I also have board and committee experience with a few nonprofits. This is the experience that I will rely on as I administer the business of Presidio County. I believe in the concept of public service and believe that anyone either elected or employed by public entities has a single purpose: to “serve” the interest of those constituents who employ them.

  • What are some of the primary concerns of citizens in your precinct and how do you plan to address those concerns?

The people of our county mostly want and deserve a commissioner that will listen, a commissioner that brings integrity, wisdom and good judgment when making the decisions that affect them and the spending of their tax dollars. They are rightfully concerned that the county budget is used in a way that serves our community, the individuals and families who live and work here.

  • The county has faced a number of natural disasters over the past few years — a pandemic, winter storms, wildfires and flooding. How can the county be better prepared for future emergency events? 

The county has for the most part done a reasonable job of dealing with difficult disasters of the past several years. The nature of a disaster is that no two are alike, which makes planning difficult. Preparing requires your leaders to develop a foundation of trust and collaboration among officials and relevant agencies as well as trust and connection with the community. The best answer to preparedness is to elect competent “leaders.” Leaders who can engage a crisis with calm common sense, good judgment and transparency. Leaders who have or can earn the confidence of the stakeholders and the community before a crisis begins.  

  • What will you prioritize in terms of the county budget? How can the county’s tax dollars be best utilized? 

The answer is: I don’t know.

My commitment is: I will figure it out.

I believe that all too often our elected officials don’t have the courage to say “I don’t know,” which often prevents them from taking the time and doing the hard work required to find the best answers to difficult issues. How the commissioners spend your money is a big deal and deserves a well-thought-out set of priorities.

For now, you should know that I believe that the major responsibilities of Presidio County government include: providing public safety and justice; holding fair elections at every level of government, maintaining county and state records; building and maintaining roads, bridges, and the county airport; providing emergency management services; providing health and safety services; collecting property taxes for the county and other taxing entities; issuing vehicle registration and transfers; registering voters; and may support or provide other public services such as libraries, parks, economic development and programs that add to the quality of life for local residents.

It is the commissioner’s obligation to spend your money on these duties wisely, intelligently and with transparency.