Patricia Chisolm-Miller said she is running for the Precinct 2 seat on the McLennan County Commissioners Court as her own person, but that did not stop questions during a candidate forum Monday about sitting Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson’s attendance record.
Chisolm-Miller has worked as Gibson’s administrative assistant for 22 years.
The McLennan County Democratic Party hosted a candidate forum in the Precinct 2 town of Mart on Monday for Chisolm-Miller and Norman Manning, the two Democrats vying for the Precinct 2 county seat, and Marianne Arnold and Chris Miller, the two Democrats vying for the Texas House of Representatives District 12 seat.
Early voting for the March 6 primaries ends Friday.
Moderator Mary Mann gave each candidate a few minutes to speak before opening the floor for visitors to ask the candidates questions.
The discussion quickly turned away from Chisolm-Miller’s campaign points to Gibson, who is retiring when his term ends Dec. 31, after 28 years on the court.
Gibson has missed the past 17 county commissioner meetings. He last attended a commissioners court meeting Sept. 19. There are no attendance requirements for McLennan County commissioners, who make $96,284 a year.
Mann asked how much authority Chisolm-Miller has in her position.
Chisolm-Miller said she does not have final decision-making authority, and that Gibson is still in contact with his department and making final decisions.
Mann asked if commissioners have a legal requirement to attend meetings.
“No there’s not, but it’s so interesting that in this case it’s become an issue,” Chisolm-Miller said.
She said Gibson is not the first elected official with a scant attendance record, referencing former county commissioners and justices of the peace.
“He is in constant contact with his department,” Chisolm-Miller said.
“I would hope so, and I would like him to be at the meetings,” Mann responded.
McLennan County Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Duty chimed in to remind participants Gibson is not up for re-election.
Manning, Chisolm-Miller’s opponent in the Democratic primary, emphasized the experience he has gained serving nine years on the Waco Independent School District board, working for more than 16 years in the corporate world and serving eight years in the military.
Manning has also filed for re-election on the school board. If elected as commissioner and re-elected as a school trustee, he will resign from the school board, he has said. Manning said he will focus on dust control during construction across Precinct 2, have an open-door policy, and will work full time as a commissioner.
A member of the audience asked Chisolm-Miller how many of her proposals for Mart come from Gibson and how many are her own.
Chisolm-Miller reiterated she is her own candidate. She said her 22 years of experience make her the only candidate who would be ready on her first day in office to represent Precinct 2, which includes east Waco, Mart, Axtell and Riesel, among other areas.
Precinct 2 has 19 employees, a $916,000 personnel budget, an operations budget of about $1.9 million and an equipment fleet valued at $3.9 million, she said. She is the only candidate with hands-on knowledge of legislation that affects the county, she said.
Three Republicans — Donis “D.L.” Wilson, Gina Ford, and Vernon Davis — are also vying for the Precinct 2 county commissioner seat.
Also at the forum, Texas House of Representatives District 12 candidates Marianne Arnold and Chris Miller discussed how similar their campaigns have been.
They will go head-to-head in the March 6 primary for a chance to face state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, in November. Kacal represents about a third of McLennan County and is running unopposed in the primary.
Miller is an investigator with the Daniel Stark Law Firm and a Baylor University graduate, and Arnold is retired after more than 20 years as an accountant, followed by 18 years as a plant-tissue researcher at Texas A&M University.
Arnold touched on the poor condition of Mart’s roads. She said the Texas Legislature has neglected roads across the state.
“There just aren’t enough grants available for small towns like this to upgrade,” she said.
Arnold also stressed the need for the state to fully fund schools and make health care affordable and accessible.
“If you keep sending the same people back to the Legislature, you’re going to have the same results,” Arnold said.
Miller focused on the need for state education reform and criminal justice reform. He also said it will be important to stop any kind of bill regulating the use of bathrooms by transgender people.
Rich school districts in areas with high property values raise enormous amounts of money, while poorer districts struggle to supply books, Miller said.
Both Arnold and Miller support the legalization of marijuana.