A former Waco councilman will challenge McLennan County Judge Scott Felton for the top elected county post, touting a background in community collaboration and a desire to push operations into the 21st Century.
Rick Allen, 64, of Waco, filed Friday with the McLennan County Democratic Party to run in November against Felton, a Republican retired banker.
No Republican candidates have filed to run against Felton in the March primary.
Monday is the deadline for candidates to file.
Felton, 73, of Hallsburg, has never faced a challenger in the five years he’s held the seat. He was first appointed to the position.
McLennan County deserves someone willing to move the county into the 21st Century, said Allen, a case manager at the Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop and chief operating officer at the Colcord House Bed and Breakfast. Allen, who describes himself as a leader and not a boss, said he’s played an active role in local organizations over the years and watched how the city has progressed, while the county only has tunnel vision for roads and bridges.
A county judge should take a more proactive role in the community, leading discussions in collaboration and cooperation between cities, nonprofits and other countywide organizations, Allen said, adding that bankers like Felton aren’t known for that kind of work.
The last contested race for the county judge seat was in November 2010, when Republican and then-incumbent Jim Lewis faced Democratic challenger Ralph Cooper. There were 53,896 people who voted in that race out of the 126,638 registered voters. Neither candidate faced a challenger in the March 2010 primary.
Felton was appointed by county commissioners to the position in September 2012 to replace Lewis, who retired. Felton was selected from a pool of 18 applicants, and at the time said he had no desire to seek election in 2014. He later changed his mind and ran unopposed in 2014.
Allen served two years on the Waco City Council representing District 4. A believer in term limits, Allen said, serving the community is not a political job but a public service position. Over the years, Allen said, he’s served on the Sanger Heights Neighborhood Association, Prosper Waco, the Waco Habitat for Humanity, the Community Race Relations Coalition, and the Waco Friends of Peace/Climate, among others.
Allen said during his years of social work he’s always been the person who brings people together and sees himself as an innovator and change maker.
“What I bring is a long history of working with multiple organizations on multiple levels,” said Allen, who has lived in the county 36 years. “To use an old surfing saying, I’d rather be riding the wave than be behind the wave.”
Both candidates believe it is in the county’s best interest to move to a unit road system, versus the current precinct-based system. Felton pitched the idea last year and has continued to pursue a path toward consolidating county road and bridge departments. The move would put oversight of the road and bridge departments under an employee, rather than a commissioner.
With news the county has spent more than $570,000 in overtime for the Sheriff’s Office during the first trial related to the May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout, Allen said he has concerns with how the county planned to cover related costs moving forward.
Felton, meanwhile, said he’s enjoyed his work on the court over the years and has several ongoing projects — a few of which he initiated — that he’d like to see through to fruition.
Felton said he wants to continue working with the city of Waco to promote economic development to help increase the tax base. He said he primarily wants to focus on industrial growth, which allows that sector to pay a larger burden of property tax, rather than homeowners. Felton also cited the proposed overhaul of the Extraco Events Center, which will be funded through the venue tax approved by voters earlier this year. There is a lot of work to be done between now and when ground is broken for the first time, he said.
“We were able to convince the community that it was a good thing. That’s why we won it by 67 percent approval rate on the proposition,” he said.
Felton said he’s worked hard to bring the county into a good financial situation.
“When I first came on the court, our financial condition — due to lots of reasons — was not in the best state. We worked hard with the help of some of the commissioners to get us back on track,” Felton said. “We spent a considerable amount of effort on cutting expenses.”
Felton said the county had to raise taxes to help get the financial situation back on the right path, but have since reduced the rate twice. The county now also has a strong bond rating, an important thing as it relates to selling bonds for future road work, he said.
Felton said another matter of high interest for him is continued work with local law enforcement agencies, cities and community groups to help improve outcomes for those with mental health issues.
Felton said he’s also worked hard to ensure the century-old courthouse has kept its historic integrity, all while trying to address the more than 350 Americans with Disabilities Act violations passed down from the U.S. Department of Justice. The ADA violations were outlined in a settlement agreement between the county and the Department of Justice. The county has addressed a little more than half of the violations at a cost of almost $660,000.
“We haven’t had to borrow any money to do it,” Felton said. “Being in good financial shape helps us absorb those costs without going to the taxpayers.”