Every so often, County Progress asks our distinguished Judges and Commissioners to allow us a glimpse into their public lives, giving us a fresh appreciation for the myriad of roles and responsibilities they shoulder every day. Our thanks to Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin for taking the time to visit with us.
I am a lifelong resident of Jones County. My parents lived in Noodle, Texas, when I was born, and our family moved to Anson during Christmas when I was in the second grade. I went on to graduate from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and returned to Jones County to continue farming with my father. I married the love of my life, Rhonda, and this year we will celebrate our 35th anniversary. We have three grown children who live in Abilene: a daughter who is a physical therapist, a daughter who is a graphic designer, and our son who is a police officer. We also have two grandchildren and two “granddogs.”
I grew up in a generation where kids worked. I have been driving a tractor since elementary school. When I went to college, my desire was to earn a degree in case farming was not successful. Fortunately with the assistance of my parents and my wife, who helped us make a living, I was able to return to the farm and Jones County.
During this period, I had many opportunities to become involved in several organizations including First Baptist Church, Jones County Farm Bureau, California Creek Soil and Water Conservation District, and the inaugural class of the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership Program (TALL I) offered by the Extension Service. My involvement in the Farm Bureau and the TALL leadership program spurred my interest in the political process. With regard to policy development, I learned how an issue can involve multiple interest groups, and that any policy that may be narrowly defined can have an unintended consequence on other people or their industries. I began to actively explore the opportunity to become more involved by attending the Jones County Commissioners Court meetings two years before taking office. I began my first term of office in January 2003, and it has been an interesting 14 years.
IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
Only God knows what tomorrow holds, so 14 years of experience have clearly demonstrated that it is more than I expected. I did not expect to see someone in my office asking where to go to get a divorce three days after watching the justice of the peace perform his marriage on the day I first took the oath of office, or receive a phone call from an inmate’s mother asking the county to pay for a circumcision while her son was in the jail! This position has been a humbling experience.
The training received for newly elected officials (including learning how easily you can go to prison) and the readily available wisdom of other elected officials, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, general counsel Jim Allison, and the Texas Association of Counties all serve as an awakening for the family of county government. The broad range of issues is beyond what I understand and what the public understands of the role of county government.
I recently was at a meeting, and during lunch I was asked what I do as a County Judge. After describing my role, the people at the table said they had no idea that a County Judge did those things. Mental health issues rise to the top of the unexpected for me. The desperation of the family members and the lack of available assistance is heart wrenching; if assistance is available, it is only short term. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a mental health issue have a permanent solution.
The only thing typical is that the day starts at 8 a.m. and ends 24 hours later. It is sometimes difficult to find the time to schedule a phone call for mental health or hear from a citizen at church, the grocery store or cotton gin all within an 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday time frame. The variety of responsibilities and events prevents a routine from being established on a daily basis. There are seasonal responsibilities such as the budget or a legislative session, but you never know who is going to walk thru the door or what the next phone call is about, and that is what makes this job interesting. The last 18 months have been spent coordinating with County Commissioners, FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to address repairs of weather-related road damage that prompted three federal disaster declarations.
County Progress printed The Many Hats of a County Judge by then-Andrews County Judge Gary Gaston several years ago that truly represents a typical day in the office, and I would encourage you to read it!
Promoting and preserving the great opportunities that exist in rural Texas is one of my greatest challenges. This is a great place to live and raise a family. I don’t want to live in a place that while sitting in traffic on a daily basis, people say, “Why would anyone live here?” But just like our urban neighbors, we have to provide solutions on issues regarding jobs, families, crime, water, transportation, education and healthcare by partnering and participating with other faith-based, private, charitable and government agencies. Representatives of a rural area have to have a seat at the table to guide policies and standards that will cover all of these major areas. We have to become involved and engaged in the process of providing for the next generation and to provide them the opportunity to remain in this area that we call home. We have to participate in the legislative process of informing members of the Texas Legislature of how proposed laws or regulations from state agencies impact our citizens. I am again grateful for the work that the elected officials associations and Jim Allison do to educate legislators, but they cannot do it alone. The next legislative session is about to begin, and all county officials have to become more involved than ever to protect and preserve what is in the best interest of our residents.
FAVORITE PART OF BEING A JUDGE:
Seeing the dedication and desire to serve the citizens of Jones County by county officials and employees is a favorite part of my job, along with knowing that other counties experience that same devotion to serve and protect the citizens of this great state. It is truly a labor of love and an honor to serve in these positions, and hopefully we are mentoring and passing on to the next generation a better place than we found it. A city manager friend often kiddingly introduces me as “one of the top 254 County Judges in Texas,” but seriously, serving with an entire family of county officials is something that will bless you.