Pat Chisolm-Miller stresses 22 years of experience in county government

Pat Chisolm-Miller, 59, of Waco, administrative assistant to McLennan County Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson, is a Democratic candidate vying to succeed Gibson upon his retirement in January 2019. Early voting for the Democratic primary election begins on Feb. 20 with Election Day on March 6.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Why do you want to serve as county commissioner?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} I gave it a lot of thought before I did decide because I did reach my retirement age on July 19 of last year. I said for a long time that I was going to retire when Commissioner Gibson retired. Then I started working closer with some of the cities and working closer with some of the issues, particularly with the city of Mart and their water infrastructure development. I started working on a project out at the precinct barn through the Texas Association of Counties. They did a survey and we had to do some facility upgrades. I just have an affinity for the citizens I work with and the people I have met and I just didn’t want to leave without finishing some of those things. Also, I kind of heard around who was interested in running and I thought, “Well, I’ve got 22 years of experience in county government, 22 years of experience in the commissioner’s office.” I didn’t want to go home with all that experience. I’m still young enough, still have some working years in me, so I decided to step forward and serve.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Has Commissioner Gibson given you any advice?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} He has. He has. It’s been a privilege to work with him. He’s a sharp, astute political mind. And he’s been really successful in his political career. He’s mentored me for 22 years and, when I decided I was going to run, he has continued to give me advice on campaign strategy.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Tell me two pieces of advice he’s given you.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} One, he said don’t forget the passion and the reason behind the passion in why you’re running, the people that you want to represent. Don’t forget what’s causing you to sign up and run for the office. And that’s true, because a lot can get lost. So I don’t want to lose sight of why I think it’s so important for me to continue in service to the constituents of Precinct 2. And then another was political strategies: He told me how to get out the vote.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} So how do you get out the vote?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} I’m going to keep that one!

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Fair enough. What do you think will be of most help to you from your background in the county commissioner’s office?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} Knowledge of the constituency. I know the people of Precinct 2. I’ve worked with the citizens in Riesel and I know them individually, by name and by project. I’ve worked with the constituents in Mart. I’ve worked with the constituents in Axtell, in Hallsburg. I have an affinity, I have a deep affection for them, for the issues, and their issues are as important to me as they are to them. I’ve got 22 years in county legislation [involving the Texas Legislature], so I’m very familiar with the statutes that govern county government. I have 22 years of attending mandatory classes, so the issues and projects that come up are pretty [familiar]. But I think my edge comes in my knowledge of the actual individuals in my precinct, having worked with them, having talked to them over a span of 22 years, having come in contact with their issues and concerns and worked with them .

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} What issues do you see as being the top two or three in coming years?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} I’m going to divide it urban and rural. On the rural side, we have just finished a geotechnical project. For a long time, we have said that there was something wrong with the foundation [in the soil] of Precinct 2 and [that this is] why we needed more money for our road and bridge department. We actually ran a test on that and found out what we thought was true. The soil is not as stabilized as it is in other parts of the county. In fact, they said it is really soft.

Precinct 2 has clay soil. The roads are wavy, sort of like you’re going on a roller coaster ride. We did a core test. I want to say they went about 15 feet down, but they went several layers down to get a good assessment of the foundation. What they came back with is that a firm foundation is needed, so they’re talking asphalt. When you talk about asphalt, you get costly. I think the court is going to need to have a thorough discussion on how we really want to address roads with that type of foundation. So I do see that as a pending issue as we start looking at bond projects, road and bridge projects, that we’re identifying for that road and bridge department. I know we have the project in Precinct 1 and the project in Precinct 4, but I think we’re going to have to have a serious discussion on how we stabilize the foundation in Precinct 2. Also, there have been some reinvestment zones developed like the one for the city of Lorena. I think the city of Mart is really primed for a project like that. One reason I was convinced to throw my name in the ring — I’m really excited about what that area is doing with the water infrastructure. You start building up your infrastructure, you’re going to start building up your population, you’re going to need housing. So I see a lot of development.

Q And the urban side?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} On the urban side, even though it’s discretionary spending, I think economic development is crucial. The cities and state and counties — if they adopt a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage, then all the businesses in that area have to adopt that wage. I don’t say go that far, but I think we should start having a conversation on our living wage in McLennan County. We should give people who work for a living a living wage. And I think we have to partner it with business expansion [and economic development]. I was doing a little research on Texas. We’re like second out of 50 states in best states for business. We’re No. 1 in economic climate. But we’re No. 22 in median household income. We need to find a way to bridge that. If we give people a living wage, if the wages are good, if we’re competitive with other states, we’ll get quality workers in the state and then we’ll be able to provide workers for the businesses that we’re also attracting.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} What does a Democrat represent to you?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} I think we have more independents than we imagine. They may still go under a Democrat label, they may go under a Republican label. They may be a little of both. I think the difference between Republicans and Democrats might be the balance I’m going to bring to the court. I think Democrats are worker-focused. I think Democrats are proponents of individuals who have not historically had a voice at the seat of power. I think Democrats advocate for policies for the poverty-stricken. I’m not saying Republicans don’t, but I’m saying that’s my passion. When I look at the responsibilities of the commissioners court, 133 statutory responsibilities are about public health. In fact, the highest number of statutory authorities that fall under our responsibilities are for public health — programs such as the Waco/McLennan County Public Health Department run for us, programs our health services provide . By contrast, 97 are for road and bridge.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} You’re talking about at the county level?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} For county government.

So, if that’s the case, I would like to see more conversations on preventive health for that population. We have programs in place if they show up at an emergency room, if they show up at a hospital, but we don’t really talk a lot about preventive health care for that population. And I would like to see more conversations about that. I would like to see more conversations on a drug and alcohol program. I’d like to see more conversation on our veterans’ services program to address maybe our veterans’ homeless population. There are a lot of issues that the court has been charged with. I see a lot of talk about economic development and we have a lot of talk about the courts and law enforcement. I just want to bring a balance.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Are you happy with some of the projects the economic development funds are going toward or do you have some reservations?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} I’m pleased with the Tax Increment Financing program and Waco/McLennan County Economic Development Corporation program. We need better education about them. I don’t think education on the Tax Increment Financing fund is getting out to everyone in McLennan County and that’s why I’d be a proponent of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce collaborating with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and African-American Chamber of Commerce so we’d have a wider breadth in getting that information out. And the same for the Waco/McLennan County Economic Development Corporation. We need to educate citizens on these programs so they’ll know they exist, especially when it comes to small-business opportunities.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Is there room for movement on the topic of the unit road system?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} We could go to a road administrator or county engineer unit system at this time. The superintendent system is a simple majority vote of the court. My personal philosophy is I think when you have a system and the commissioner is in charge of the delivery [rather than a road superintendent or county engineer], it makes the commissioner directly accountable to the voter. You don’t get an added layer of bureaucracy with another employee. I’m not saying that they won’t be efficient and proficient and excellent, but that does add a layer to the bureaucracy. Because [under such a system] you could call me and ask me for something and I’m going to put you over to that gentleman because I’m not solely responsible for that anymore. But [the current] commissioner system makes me accountable. When you call me and tell me something is wrong with your road, I’ve got to fix it. I’ve got to fix that problem, and that’s why I like the delivery system of the road commissioner, because it holds him accountable to the voters, the people who put him in office.

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #c00;”}Q{/strong} Is it fair to say you are partially responsible for Commissioner Gibson’s record in recent years?

{strong style=”font-size: 2em; color: #000;”}A{/strong} Commissioner Gibson is his own man. He develops his own policies and stands on his own convictions. I have respected and, to a large extent, agreed with his position on various issues in the 22 years we have been together. But I’m my own separate person. I’m going to come with my own leadership vision. I have a unique situation in that I come with the experience and the education that come with 22 years in this environment. But those have not been my final decisions on things the past 22 years. He is his own person and his own man. I think my experience, my education and also my learning from his decisions have helped shape my leadership vision, but I think it will be unique to me.

Interview condensed and edited for space and clarity.