Regardless of Tuesday’s election results, the Bell County Commissioners Court is in for a big shake-up.
There will be at least one new commissioner with Republican Bobby Whitson, who will represent Precinct 2 starting in January.
The other commissioner seat that is still contested is for Precinct 4. Republican incumbent John Fisher is hoping for a fifth and final term while Democrat John Driver aims to unseat him.
If Fisher comes up short on Election Day, that means the Commissioners Court would lose a combined 60 years of experience. Whitson defeated 24-year incumbent Commissioner Tim Brown in the GOP primary earlier this year, and Bell County Judge Jon Burrows is retiring after 20 years at the helm of the court.
Two men are hoping to replace Burrows. Republican David Blackburn is the sole name on the ballot for the county’s top elected position, but former Killeen Councilman Ernest Wilkerson is mounting a write-in candidacy.
As the primaries proved, anything is possible during election season.
Precinct 4 commissioner
Fisher, 61, is in a tough race against Driver, 64. While the two men share the same first name, they have distinctly different views on county issues.
Driver is emphasizing family and economic development in his effort to be the first Democrat elected to the Commissioners Court in 20 years.
“If I’m looking at Belton, Temple they’re bringing a whole lot of different industries out that way. Why can’t some of those be here in Killeen?” Driver said in September.
Spurring economic development in Killeen, Driver said, would allow the city to become less dependent on Fort Hood. A more diverse economy means a better place for families to live, he said.
Fisher said the best way to ignite economic development is create a business-friendly environment in Bell County. That means, he said, keeping taxes low and partnering with cities on endeavors, such as setting up Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones.
The commissioner said that what is beneficial to the economy of Temple or Killeen is good for the entire county.
“It’s not our position as a court to bring specific economic development to any city. That’s what the city (economic development corporation) is there for, and that’s what they do,” Fisher said.
Even the two men’s pitches for why voters should cast their ballot for them are stark.
“Because I am for the people,” Driver said, when asked why a resident should vote for him. “I listen to what the people want.”
Fisher stressed three points: His fight to preserve southwest Bell County’s water rights; helping to bring Texas A&M University-Central Texas to Killeen; and ensuring rural constituents’ issues were addressed. And that, he said, is why voters should send him back to the Commissioners Court for a final four-year term.
“I’ve got a proven track record that I stand strong on,” the commissioner said. “He has a lot of promises that are merely promises. I will stand on my record any day of the week.”
Whoever wins Tuesday will serve a four-year term and earn an annual salary of $76,008.
Bell County judge
For months, it appeared that Blackburn, 61, would go unchallenged for Bell County judge. Then, in August, Wilkerson entered the race as a write-in candidate.
Blackburn — the former city manager of Temple and Killeen as well as the recent Temple Economic Development Corp. president — is focused on being ready to serve as the county’s new leader in January.
“I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing since September of last year, which is primarily getting out and about, meeting people, trying to understand what their concerns are and how I can be effective and helpful in that regard,” Blackburn said.
Wilkerson, a minor disciplinary officer at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Alfred D. Hughes Unit in Gatesville, wanted to give voters a choice.
“I’m trying to make sure the voters of Bell County are sure they have an option and have someone who is going to be fair, independent and someone who is going to be accountable and accessible,” said Wilkerson, who challenged Fisher for commissioner in 2010.
Managing the county’s growth is a concern for both men.
Wilkerson wants the county to explore a more progressive and proactive way of managing growth.
“We’ll grow in spite of our self, but we want to have planned growth. We want to make sure we have proper infrastructure, proper water treatment,” Wilkerson said. “We need to make sure when everyone else around Bell County is struggling that we’re not having those issues.”
For Blackburn, this is not a new subject after running two cities and an entity that aimed to ignite development. Transportation will be a top priority for the Republican.
“I think the county could maybe play an enhanced role in developing that transportation network to make sure (the interstates) and county roads are at the level they need to be maintained to make sure goods, services and people are flowing efficiently across,” Blackburn said.
Like the commissioners’ seats, the county judge serves for a four-year term, and earns an annual salary of $154,057.