By Joyce May
Killeen Daily Herald
GATESVILLE – The new year brings with it three fresh faces on the Coryell County Commissioners' Court, and all express a desire to get right to work.
County officials elected in November will be sworn into office during a 9 a.m. ceremony today in the 52nd District courtroom before District Judge Phillip Zeigler.
Among those to take office are County Judge-elect Riley Simpson, Precinct 2 Commissioner-elect Daren Moore and Precinct 4 Commissioner-elect Elizabeth Taylor.
Simpson, a Republican who defeated longtime incumbent John Hull, plans to go to work immediately to fulfill his campaign promise to make the county court an active trial court and to take more responsibility for the misdemeanor caseload.
He already has two preliminary hearings scheduled for mid-January.
The county court has the jurisdiction to try cases such as driving while intoxicated, assaults causing bodily injury and many other Class A and B misdemeanors.
Another immediate action for Simpson is the revamping of the commissioners' court agenda because some have complained that it is too vague.
"One of my goals is to be sure that the people in the county are aware of what is going on with their county government," Simpson said. "I take it that it is the responsibility of the county government to inform the citizens rather than have the citizens fumble around to try and find out what is going on with the county government."
He said he is determined to ensure that everyone who is interested in what is going on at the county level will be informed in a clear manner as to what issues are coming before commissioners' court and any possible action that may be taken during a meeting.
Simpson said he has been gathering fax numbers for points of contact within the county – from city councils to water supply boards – and plans to fax commissioners court agendas to them all.
"I think the people will appreciate that. The notion is that we have cities, but we also have communities that are unincorporated around the county and almost every meeting we have issues that take up those cities and communities," he said. "I want to make sure that all cities and communities have advance notice of what issues the county will take up at every meeting."
He said he plans to have the agendas posted about a day earlier than has been the custom.
The new judge also is looking into a public address system which is connected directly into a recording system for use at meetings much like other entities such as the Copperas Cove City Council use.
Nothing has been budgeted and Simpson said he has talked to County Auditor Ben Roberts, who indicated that if it is not too expensive, funds may be available for the purchase.
Once the clerical concerns have been addressed, Simpson said he wants to turn his attention to other major concerns for the county, including the need for more office space.
One alternative he proposes is to construct offices inside the old Powell Auto Supply building in Gatesville sufficient to meet the needs of the county attorney and possibly the commissioners court.
The county currently leases a space for the county attorney's office for $750, and commissioners hold court in a cramped room in the basement of the Coryell County Courthouse where visitors must maneuver around a large pillar to view proceedings.
"This would depend on an architectural evaluation of suitability structurally of the area now vacant in the rear of the building," Simpson said. "It is possible to install an elevator adjacent to the rear of the building that would allow an entire second level of the whole building to be utilized by the county."
He said currently only the ground floor in the front two-thirds of the building is being utilized.
Another issue Simpson said must soon be resolved is the need for additional space for the housing of county inmates.
"Currently a private jail plan is being evaluated and in addition, the county should explore the possibility of constructing its own addition," he said. "In either event, the jail proposal will involve substantial long-term interests of the county both in terms of financial liability and in suitable housing for the inmates."
Simpson said his overall goal is to utilize all of the county's resources, including volunteer sources, to function for the benefit of the entire county because he believes in his saying that Coryell County is as Texas as it gets.'"
"...we have people who do so many different things here and are from so many different places, but we share values that unite us, and those values are self-reliance, accountability and patriotism. We like to be able to support ourselves and not be dictated to by government at any level," he said. "From the shop owner in Evant to the cowboy in Jonesboro to the farmer in Oglesby and the banker in Gatesville and the soldier in Copperas Cove, we can all be proud of our neighbors."
Taylor, a Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Kyle Pruitt for the Precinct 4 commissioner position.
"Right now I have got a lot of homework to do on the projects they have started rolling which would be the prison and the 9-1-1 centralization. I've got to dive in pretty quick," she said.
A business owner and farm and ranch operator, Taylor currently lives in Jonesboro and said she is excited about going to work for Coryell County to do what she can to make it a better place for everyone.
She resigned from the Jonesboro school board effective Jan. 1.
"The one sad thing for me in taking this new office is that I have to resign from this position on the school board," Taylor said. "I love working with the administration in Jonesboro, and it will be sad to let that go although I do plan to stay very in-volved in the school and help wherever I can."
Moore, former mayor of Gatesville, defeated small-business owner David Wallace in the Republican primary in April to succeed Precinct 2 Commissioner Cliff Price.
"I've just been trying to get abreast of all the issues that are out there and the challenges that are facing the county in the coming years," Moore said. "I am excited about getting to work and trying to do something positive for the county."
Moore said that although he will continue his work at Gatesville Funeral Home, he also will be putting his energy into his role as commissioner and will be available full-time for the citizens.
"I am willing to devote as much time as needed to the county," he said.
He also cited the need for additional research on issues such as a private prison and a centralized 9-1-1 dispatch center.
"Those are the major things that I see that the county is going to be facing in the very near future," he said. "I've got a lot more research to do on those things – and I think the whole court does – before we come to a decision on that. I am looking forward to the challenge and am just ready to get to work."
Moore said he also strongly desires to strengthen communication between all entities within the county.
Commissioners' court now shifts to a GOP majority with Republicans Simpson, Taylor and Precinct 1 Commissioner Jack Wall.
Others needing to be sworn in include County Clerk Barbara Simpson, Justices of the Peace John Guinn, Bill Price, Larry McDonald and Jimmy Wood, County Court-at-Law Judge Susan Stephens, District Clerk Janice Gray, County Treasurer Donna Medford and Tax Assessor-Collector Justin Carothers.
Contact Joyce May at email@example.com