Donis "D.L." Willson

Donis “D.L.” Wilson

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Donis “D.L.” Wilson, 53, of Mart, newly retired after a long career in law enforcement including serving with the Texas Department of Public Safety, is a Republican candidate for McLennan County Precinct 2 commissioner. Early voting in the Republican primary election begins on Feb. 20 with Election Day on March 6.

Q    You worked with the Texas Department of Public Safety. How many years?

A     Twenty-one years.

Q    Was that all in this area?

A     Yes.

Q    And you retired last year?

A     November 30.

Q    Has the adjustment been tough?

A     This is so crazy with what’s going on with this process [campaigning] that I haven’t had time to rest.

Q    How was it serving with the DPS?

A     I started my career as a surveyor. I went to TSTC at the civil engineering technology school out there and went to work for private surveyors. Then I went to the Texas Department of Transportation and I loved that. I loved surveying, road design, bridge repair . . .

Q    Wasn’t George Washington a surveyor?

A     Yeah, he was. All the Texas Rangers were, too. I tried to become a Texas Ranger a few times. It’s hard to get in there. It’s very elite. There are 135 Rangers right now. When I went into the highway patrol, I got to continue [these skills in] crash investigation — I’m good at math and things like that, forensic mapping, we do scale diagrams, which is surveying — so I’ve really surveyed my entire career. So it’s a great deal.

Q    How does surveying complement highway patrol work?

A     We do the scale diagrams. We have a total station just like a surveyor would have and we’re going to shoot coordinates of all the skid marks, all the debris [after an accident], so it’s kind of neat that I didn’t lose my skill set. Drug interdiction — I was excellent at that. I was able to knock down a lot of drugs coming through this area. [Interstate 35] is the biggest drug corridor in the nation, coming from Laredo to Chicago. And I’ve been a member of the accident reconstruction team for all those years. Of course, we had budgets to deal with. We had our own budgets. And I became a public information officer about six years ago, started dealing with the media.

Q    What’s it like dealing with the media? Tell us what we get right and what we get wrong.

A     This community is fantastic. During the West explosion [in 2013], there was media parachuting out of airplanes to get there. I don’t know where they were coming from — they were there in just a split second. It’s a little bit of a different culture for all the big markets. The way y’all treat us around here, we all work together. We all have a mission. What I like about the media is I’m going to help you do what you need to do, and you’re going to help me when the time comes — looking for a bad guy, things like that, a child abductor — you’re going to help us out tremendously. It all works as a good team, and that’s what I really like about McLennan County and the media in this area.

Q    What’s one thing people don’t realize about law enforcement, about what’s happening in terms of crime?

A     I was a reserve deputy sheriff here for a few years, then I worked at the jail for a year and a half, so I learned a lot about criminals. Any young law enforcement officer needs to go work in the jail because that’s where you learn your people skills. To me, drugs are the biggest problem that we have right now. A gentleman or a lady — they’re not going to break into a house and steal your TV to go buy diapers for their children. They’re going to go sell that TV to buy drugs. If we had a better mental health system and drug system to stop drugs in McLennan County, it would help us out tremendously, for all of Texas. That’s where we started the circle of robbing, stealing and doing drugs. And I see that every day on the roads, up and down the highways.

Q    So you have great law enforcement experience. Why would you be great on the county commissioners court?

A     I’m here for the people. I’ve served the people of McLennan County for 30 years total. I’ve always been here in McLennan County. I know what we need. I have traveled down every road in McLennan County. I know how good the roads are, how bad the roads are. My platform is roads, roads and roads. We have to have the infrastructure to bring people into our community. We don’t want people in Precinct 2 leaving or not coming to Precinct 2 because the roads are so bad. We’re going to get out and help revise the road system and try to get some help for those poor conditions.

Q    Why are the roads so awful in Precinct 2?

A     We have bad soil out there, but it’s also past management. It’s knowledge. It’s having skilled people in position to take care of those roadways. The unit road system [under discussion by the commissioners court] takes the politics out of roadways. Now you’re going to have a county engineer that’s going to sign off for these roads. What’s good about it for all of McLennan County — that county engineer is going to decide that this road, this bridge, this structure needs to be fixed first because it’s the most dangerous for the public. I’ve got tons of people coming up to me and saying, “Our school buses can’t even go down these roads.” That’s pretty sad.

Q    What’s the problem with the soil out there?

A     They did some samples up and down the roadway like at Battle Lake Road. Think about Battle Lake Road — that was a 1920s highway system. Also, Elk Road that goes through downtown Elk and goes all the way to Mexia — that was a 1920s-style roadway system. The Old Marlin Highway is an old system. They’ve piled asphalt, patches on top of this base, and it can’t hold it, so it’s failing. You’re going to have to really spend some money to come in there, get some more soil samples, take some technology out there to fix these roads properly and not have to go back every couple of years and try to patch the roads.

Q    So there may be some legitimacy to a bigger budget for county roads in a particular precinct such as Precinct 2?

A     Oh, sure. In the Crawford-Valley Mills area, it’s all rock-based underneath it, so they can maintain their roads a little easier than Precinct 2. But now the county engineer [under a unit road system], instead of its being political regarding more money for Precinct 2 or Precinct 1, now the county engineer can spread this around. And the good thing for Precinct 2 is the roads are so horrible, it’s probably going to get a little more love because the roads need repairing over there because of the soil and because of the neglect they’ve had over the years.

Q    Getting back to the unit road system, some folks running for this position suggest they want to talk to the road crews first. Some say having the current system maintains a certain accountability that a county commissioner has to his or her constituents. Others believe you get a more uniform work product through a unit road system, which has been used in some counties and not in others. What about the accountability factor? Do you feel that you might be less accountable if you gave this whole thing to some road superintendent?

A     No, because there’s going to be a county engineer, and he’s going to have to go through the county commissioners. So all four and the county judge will have to be in cooperation to make sure which county roads are going to be fixed first. The buck’s still going to stop with the county commissioner. I feel that in my heart. We’re going to be hiring the county engineer, so he’s got to come through us. There’s 18 employees in Precinct 2 and I have talked to almost every one of them. I’ve talked to them about this situation. And they do want better training, better equipment. The chip-seal machine we have out there — it’s a ’60s model and breaks down on a regular basis. Now [under a unit road system] we’d have one unit that did that for the whole county [under a staff] that will be trained properly to take care of it. It could be Precinct 2 employees, it could be Precinct 4 employees, and they’d be a cohesive group to take care of that road.

Q     You mentioned roads, but is there a larger reason for you to get into county government?

A     I know the job entails a whole lot — tax bases, economic growth, the river. I really want to develop the river. We’re really missing the boat when it comes to the river. The river now is fixed — the water stays where it needs to stay and it’s an exciting time for Waco. Magnolia [Market at the Silos] brings 30,000 people a week to Waco. Waco right now is the happening place to be. I want to be a part of that. And I do share the vision of the senior leadership of the commissioners court now. Lowering taxes. They’ve been lowering taxes every year since 2013. The appraisal district’s going up, but once you lower those taxes, that’s still money going into taxpayers’ pockets. I’m a simple man. I’ve got honesty, integrity, transparency. I want to make sure that money is spent properly and the right way.

Q    County Commissioner Ben Perry has a background as a Waco police officer . What advice has he given you?

A     People say it’s a stressful job. At least it can be stressful. Well, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had knives thrown at me. I’ve had urine thrown on me. I don’t think county commissioner is going to be stressful for that part of it. It’s all about the caring. I’m like a sheepdog. I like to watch over the people. I want to help the people and make sure I make the right decisions for them. I could retire. I’ve got excellent retirement. I’ve got insurance until I pass away. I don’t need this job, but I’ve had people come to me and ask me, “We need representation for Precinct 2.” Mart, Axtell, Riesel, Hallsburg and downtown Waco, Elm Street and the economic development down in this area. In 1985, if we walked down Austin Avenue, it would probably just be me and you. Times are changing.

Interview condensed and edited for clarity and space.