(Editor’s note: This is the final of seven articles that explains the duties and responsibilities of personnel elected to fill the various county offices which are up for election in 2022)
While 2022 may seem a long way away , it is closer than you may think. All personnel running for county elected positions must file to run by December 17 of this year for the primary election on March 1, 2022, less than a year away.
Candidates will soon be posting yard signs and starting their campaign as to why they should be the one elected to fill a particular position. Now is the starting time for each of us to decide whom we want to make those decisions that affect us economically as well as potentially our value system.
The County Judge in a county the size of Rockwall is essentially the CEO of the county. He has no judicial duties and essentially is the administrative head of the county in conjunction with the Commissioners Court. He is the presiding officer of the Commissioners Court.
He also is the budget officer for the county responsible for the preparation of the county budget. He also, and this is a big responsibility now, is the head of emergency management in the county.
The County Judge is not required to be a lawyer, and in Rockwall County the Judge has no judicial responsibilities. For smaller counties that do not have a “Court-at-Law” established, the County Judge does preside over misdemeanor criminal and civil cases, probate cases and JP appeals. Rockwall County has two of these Court-at-Law, thus the County Judge has none of this responsibility.
The salary of the County Judge is $102,069 per year with a car and phone allowance of an additional $4,920. The Judge is also a participant in a very good county medical and retirement system.
The Judge is elected every four years. There are no special qualifications needed by an individual to run for Judge. After elected the individual must obtain 30 hours of continuing education and then 16 additional hours each year in office.
People have asked me how a judge can be removed from office. Title 3 of the Local Government Code, Chapter 87.001 outlines the narrow reasons for such an action. These reasons are: Incompetency, Official Misconduct, or Intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage. A District Judge can remove a County Judge for any of these reasons.
People have also asked me what it was like to be the County Judge and what were the pros and cons as well as what I tried to do as the Judge. To me, being the County Judge of Rockwall County was a great honor and a great experience. I had led men and women in both industry and the Army; but never in an elected position as a “politician.”
I must admit that when first elected, I really didn’t know very much about the job. As an example, on my very first day, I walked into my office early in the morning to hear a phone ringing. Since no one else was yet in, I answered the phone.
This lady asked me if I was the County Judge and when I replied yes, she said that she was told if she called me, I would bury her husband as they didn’t have any money. I had no idea what she was talking about so asked her to give me her number and I would call her back.
Of course, when the office very able assistant came in, she explained about indigent burial which the county provided. That just proved to me once again to rely upon the experts to solve some problems that I didn’t even know about!
I believe the County Judge sets the tone for the county officials and employees. I always wore a shirt, tie, and suit when in the office. We were a professional organization and I wanted people to see that on their first impression; not a cowboy or cheer leader type organization with people running all over the place and making all kinds of statements on Facebook rather than tending to the business of the county.
I tried to focus on the efficient running of the everyday county operations, but I wanted to really focus on the strategic view of what the county needed to be as we continued to grow and expand with more commerce and more population.
Getting the public involved with this planning was important to me. Plans that the citizens put together work a lot better than ones dictated by elected officials.
Each Judge elected selects his important issues. To me, a strategic focus is essential for a fast-growing county like Rockwall County. When I became Judge, we were just starting to come out of an economic recession; our population was about 50,000; neither Fate or Royse City even had a grocery store; McLendon-Chisholm was just a spot beside the road; and Heath and Rockwall were getting ready to start expanding.
Now our population is over 100,000 and headed quickly toward 250,000; all the towns and cities are becoming full blown municipal areas. We are on the cusp of becoming a large metropolitan county and we need to be prepared. That is where our emphasis is needed by our elected officials.
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County Judge and can be reached at 214-394-4033.