Voters will choose a new Precinct 2 county commissioner in November for the first time in almost 30 years.

Democrat Lester Gibson is not seeking re-election to his longtime role representing the precinct that includes East Waco, parts of downtown Waco and the eastern corner of the county.

Three Republicans and two Democrats are vying for the seat, and many of the candidates say Precinct 2 residents feel underrepresented and divided. Early voting for the Republican and Democratic primary elections starts Tuesday and continues through March 2.

Democrats Patricia Chisolm-Miller and Norman Manning will face off in March, and Republicans Donis “D.L.” Wilson, Gina Ford, and Vernon Davis each aim to get more than 50 percent of the vote in March to move on to the November general election.

The race will also ensure the first new commissioner on the five-member court in six years. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones became the newest commissioner in January 2013, after being elected the previous November.

Gibson, a veteran and lifelong civil rights advocate, is the commissioners court’s only black member and its only Democratic member. He was also the first black commissioner elected in the county.

About 15 percent of the 6,263 votes cast in Gibson’s last election, in 2014, came from East Waco residents, who make up the precinct’s biggest voting bloc. Gibson won with 57 percent of the vote, compared to Republican Tony Abad’s 40 percent and Libertarian Stephen S. Carter’s 3 percent.

Of the 935 votes from East Waco, 94 percent went to Gibson.

Democratic primary

Chisolm-Miller said her work as Gibson’s administrative assistant for more than two decades has given her extensive knowledge and experience in court dealings, including working with the budget, managing personnel and watching projects come to fruition. Chisolm-Miller, 58, said while she agrees with Gibson on many of his decisions over the years, she may have handled some situations differently. The Waco resident said she will be her own person and has plans to champion the court taking on a more humanitarian role in the community.

The county needs to dedicate more of its budget to care for elderly residents, crime victims and veterans, among others, she said.

The court’s almost sole interaction with the Veterans Services department is the monthly report it receives, and commissioners have not changed the $10,000 funding amount for Senior Ministries in years, she said.

The court is doing an excellent job with the county’s courts and law enforcement, but there is not a voice on the court drawing attention to the vulnerable, she said.

“If we have enough money for Twin Peaks, we have enough money to feed our senior citizens,” she said.

Chisolm-Miller said she also wants to make sure the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corporation is used for its original purpose, which is to address underemployment and unemployment.

“I think the time has come for a woman to be on that court,” she said.

Manning is vying to represent Precinct 2, but he has also filed for re-election as a Waco Independent School District trustee, a role he has filled for nine years. The U.S. Army veteran and Eagle Scout said he will step down as a school board trustee if he is re-elected in May and then elected as a commissioner in November.

Manning, 68, said he is the only candidate who has worked in Precinct 2. Manning worked in the precinct’s road and bridge department for about three years until about four years ago, when he ran against Gibson. The Waco resident said he also has more than 16 years of management experience.

“The combination of that makes me one the best-qualified people in the race,” he said.

Manning said he would start his work as commissioner by evaluating personnel and equipment in the road and bridge department to ensure efficient operations and use of best practices. He said those elements were lacking during his time working for the department.

Manning said he is also interested in looking into how to add covered bus shelters throughout the county.

Republican primary

If none of the three Republican primary candidates get more than 50 percent of the vote, the winner would be decided in a runoff May 22 between the top two performers on March 6.

Ford, 44, said she has 11 years of small business ownership experience, which, among other things, gave her experience in budgeting, payroll, personnel and technology. Ford, now a project manager for Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic, said her seven years of nonprofit experience have taught her to work with county government and local municipalities. The experience has taught her about how local government works and the budget constraints elected officials often face, she said.

“Precinct 2 has always had strong community involvement,” Ford said. “Commissioner Gibson was a champion for making sure residents’ needs were listened to and at least tried to solve and help them. I want to make sure that community involvement is still going to be there and still going to be paramount.”

Ford said working in Waco and living in the rural part of the county gives her the best of both worlds as she sees the needs and issues of both sides of the county.

Davis, 59, said the biggest complaint he has heard is increased property taxes.

While county commissioners have decreased the tax rate each of the past two years, property appraisals have increased, Davis said. Commissioners should do more to decrease taxes further to offset the higher property values, he said.

Davis, a real estate investor, insurance adjuster and rancher, said his lifetime experiences make him the best candidate. He said he is a businessman who has handled budgets and made sound investments over the years. Davis, of Waco, said he is not running for a “retirement check.” He said he would limit himself to two terms if elected.

Davis said he would also help unify the precinct and strengthen relationships between the commissioners court and the rest of the county, school districts and organizations.

“Mart feels like they’ve been left out for years and they feel excluded, and there are other communities that feel the same way. I think it’s time to build a more cohesive neighborhood in our own backyard,” Davis said. “Building those coalitions, that’s in my heart.”

Davis said he would immediately dive into applying for federal money for infrastructure improvements and flood control.

Wilson, 53, said he has heard residents on the campaign trail complain their area was purposely neglected by Gibson because they didn’t vote for him. Many of the rural areas of Precinct 2 have felt left behind, he said.

“I’m going to work for all of McLennan County Precinct 2, not just a certain area,” said Wilson, who recently retired as a sergeant for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The Mart resident said his years with DPS have made him all too familiar with the poor road conditions in the precinct. Some blame the road problems on the soil in that area, but the real issue is years of bad maintenance, Wilson said.

Wilson said he has almost a decade of experience with roadway design, bridge inspection, and roadway safety. A surveyor by trade, he knows road systems, Wilson said. Through that work he has worked alongside multiple chambers of commerce, city leaders and communities, he said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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