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 McLennan County Commissioner Pat Miller for taking the time to visit with us.
The School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University compiled a publication entitled A Call to Serve. In its introduction it reads: “We are all public servants at some point in our lives; employees of government and not-for-profits, elected officials, members of boards and community organizations, volunteers, philanthropists, etc. Public service attracts a special kind of individual and is often based on a sense of duty or an intense inner commitment to a cause that extends beyond the pressures of the moment. Those who enter public service do so out of a desire to serve the public interest.”
After a lot of thought, prayer, and reflection on the past 22 years of my life, I met with a small group of family members and friends and weighed the options in front of me in light of the fact that my current supervisor, McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson, had decided to retire at the end of his term. His decision to retire meant that on Jan. 1, 2019, a new Commissioner would take office to represent a precinct I’d worked for and loved for over 20 years. I decided that I would embrace this change and take the giant step to become the next Commissioner for Precinct 2. Since 1995, I have received training and education in the responsibilities of a County Commissioner. I’d worked for the constituents of McLennan County for 22 years and now welcomed the opportunity to serve them as their County Commissioner. I ran for this office because I truly care about people and their quality of life.
Campaigning to be the next County Commissioner for Precinct 2 was a far cry from being the 10-year old little girl who traveled from Brooklyn, New York, to Waco, McLennan County, Texas, in the late 1960s. There’s a saying that goes like this: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Waco is my mom’s home. My mother, Arthur Lee Brown, was a 1946 graduate of A.J. Moore High School and a 1949 graduate of Jarvis Christian College. She met my dad, John Oliver Chisolm, when he was stationed at Fort Hood. My dad was a veteran of the Korean War. They were married in Waco and soon thereafter moved to Brooklyn. My sisters, Jocelyn and Teresa, and I were raised in New York but moved to Waco in 1969.
My mom, dad, and both sets of grandparents taught me to be politically and socially aware. I remember sitting on the floor with my sisters in front of the TV and watching Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, and watching the television coverage of the aftermath of the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. I remember today what my parents stressed then…how important it is to be consciously connected to world events.
Holding public office was not a dream for either one of my parents. However, they were engaged politically and voted faithfully. So, no one who knew me thought it strange when at 25 years of age I volunteered on Commissioner Lester Gibson’s campaign when he ran for the City Council District 1 seat. That was a transfixing experience. From that moment through today, I have learned to understand the awesome responsibility of listening to and speaking for your constituents and your community.
I announced my candidacy to run for McLennan County Commissioner on Oct. 2, 2017, filed for a place on the March 2018 primary ballot on Nov. 4, 2017, and started knocking on doors. I am truly blessed with a wonderful community. I have friendships that span over 50 years. It was friends and family who worked with me block walking and knocking on doors, putting out signs, making telephone calls, and organizing rides to the polls. My most loyal friend and the hardest worker was my beautiful husband, Robert. He would keep going even when I gave out. Being a state championship Little League coach, he did not know the meaning of fatigue. I have been a Sunday school teacher for almost 30 years; however, it was my deacon husband that would quote scripture and remind us that faith without works is dead. He would rally us back into action, and he continued to push us all the way to our victory on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. I understand the historical relevance of my election victory. I hope my placement on the McLennan County Commissioners Court, as the first woman elected to the court, is an encouraging and motivating factor for all young women in McLennan County.
IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
It is, and at times, it is more than I expected. Going into the job I knew that research of programs, statutes, issues, and concerns was pivotal for success. What I did not grasp is the amount of study a Commissioner undertakes on any given issue in order to adequately move forward in casting a vote as a member of the court or to have a discussion with a constituent.
This past spring/summer, I participated in my first budget adoption process as a County Commissioner. As a member of the Commissioners Court, I shared my opinions and insight on various budget requests from county departments to outside agencies. It was extremely fulfilling to advocate for and have the court agree to fund a program that assists homeless youths in our community, and increase the funding for senior ministries. I learned the importance of being able to articulate my philosophy and opinion. Some of our funding decisions were not unanimous, but in the end I feel that we as a court adopted a budget that will best serve our county for the new fiscal year.
The amount of time spent serving on boards and committees was another surprise. Many of my board meetings occur during the traditional working hours; however, some require meeting after hours to accommodate the public and the schedules of volunteers. As a matter of fact, these meetings have proven to be the most fulfilling. One of my appointments is to the Board of Directors of the Mildred Dulaney Foundation. Mrs. Dulaney was a librarian for years in one of the smaller rural communities in my precinct. Upon her passing, she placed money in trust funds to be distributed to worthwhile projects in her town. The board has approved funding to assist the school district, the city, and many non-profits in the town.
I also did not realize the amount of time a County Commissioner spends speaking in public, especially to mentoring and leadership groups. I count it a privilege to interact with the up-and-coming future generation of McLennan County leaders.
I also supervise one of the four road and bridge departments in our county, Road & Bridge Precinct 2. I have 19 full-time crewmen and a Prisoner Utilization Program crew (McPUP). Our department has 212 miles of road and 34 bridges that we maintain. In fact, we have the second-highest number of bridges in our county. In the past, my responsibilities to the road and bridge part of our department have been relegated to budgetary/personnel matters. As County Commissioner, my road and bridge responsibilities have expanded.
I am also responsible for determining construction projects and the construction equipment we will purchase for the department. However, I am blessed to have a road foreman (Ronnie Roddy) who has over 20 years of experience in road building and construction equipment. His recommendations are sound and trustworthy. Although the maintenance supervision side of the job is new to me, with a proficient road foreman, I am confident that we are and will continue to offer quality road building and maintenance services to the people of Precinct 2.
Added to my responsibilities of road and bridge maintenance is the fact that I also have several major projects launching in my precinct. Doris “Dorie” Miller is an international World War II hero who also happens to be a native of Waco. I serve on the steering committee overseeing the financing of a Doris Miller Memorial. An organization in the city of Waco, Cultural Arts of Waco, has been tapped to lead this effort and created the Doris Miller Memorial Committee. The committee has raised over 85 percent of the project costs to date. To cap off the fundraising, Pastor Carlton Stimpson and Doreen Ravenscroft and the other members of the memorial committee held a Gospel Explosion Concert. It was exciting to be part of an event that brought more national gospel artists into our county at one time than ever before. The dedication of the memorial took place on the eve of Pearl Harbor Day in December 2019.
A wind farm is being built on the county boundary of McLennan and Limestone counties. The multimillion-dollar project’s location in McLennan County will be in Precinct 2. The project will place 10 to 11 wind turbines in McLennan County spanning 7,887 acres. The start-up agreements and financial incentive documents were challenging, but I relished the learning experience. With the assistance from the engineer’s office, our department is prepared to assist the developers when needed. For McLennan County, this is a $30 million dollar project which will bring substantial financial benefits to the county as well as the area’s local school district.
Another project is a $17.5 million dollar water infrastructure project. The city of Mart has received federal funding to upgrade approximately 4.5 miles of water lines, install a new booster pump station and ground-level storage tank, and upgrade the water treatment plant. In an effort to help the city stretch their funding dollars in the most proficient way possible, the county is going to lend assistance in the road repair portion of their project.
Each workday begins differently depending on the day’s schedule. However, most mornings begin with a staff meeting with my administrative assistant and road foreman. My assistant, Latrunda Reed, briefs me on all appointments that need to be scheduled or confirmed, and we resolve or address all office correspondence, inquiries or requests, administrative projects, and issues. We also concentrate on all administrative business relative to the road and bridge functions. Then it’s off to inspect project sites. Site visits include any maintenance locations, construction sites, and any sites where our road and bridge team may be partnering with other entities. One of our site visits includes an Off-System Bridge Project. Off-System Bridge Projects are partnerships between the county and the state. These are county bridges that the state considers essential enough to public traffic to financially assist the county in their rehabilitation. I try to visit all of the projects for which we have partners (i.e. the state or private vendor) weekly. After assessing those sites, I ride to our construction sites, and finally I drive to the areas where we are performing maintenance, such as trimming trees or shredding. During site visits I have the opportunity to speak with road personnel one-on-one. I receive feedback on the condition of the equipment, which helps me ensure proficiency. Sometimes, it’s just a short break to give me news about how their children are doing in school or to share their excitement about buying a new house.
A typical day may also include board meetings in the day, committee/foundation meetings at night, or town hall meetings. Our county also meets with the city council of our county seat for what is called the City & County Intergovernmental Meeting. It is in these meetings where discussions occur that directly impact the urban core of my precinct. Reports are given to the Commissioners Court and the city council by transit system personnel, non-profit groups, and county and city staff. Also discussed in this meeting from time to time has been our Venue Project. The Venue Project is a massive construction overhaul of our fair and expo facility which includes property designated for use by the city of Waco and the Waco Independent School District. The Venue Project is a $32 million dollar investment which should yield solid economic benefits for Waco and McLennan County. Although these meetings are posted, we do not vote in these meetings. Any issues that warrant an official action by the county are posted on an official Commissioners Court agenda and addressed in our official forum.
The urban core of my precinct includes parts of the cities of Bellmead and Northcrest, and parts of North, South, and East Waco. East Waco has a high minority population, and the area is experiencing a surge in development. A typical day of mine may also include evening meetings, since three hotels have broken ground for construction in the area along with new small businesses coming into the area’s business district.
I am thankful for the 20-plus years of experience I have in county budgeting, but I would say that my appointment to the McLennan County Investment Committee has been the biggest challenge I have encountered. Yet, it is one of my most valued responsibilities. If I were to pick one thing that has truly broadened my capacity to learn and comprehend, it would be this appointment. The committee consists of the county auditor, who provides financial data, the county treasurer, who brings to the committee a myriad of knowledge as it pertains to wealth management, and the county judge, a former bank executive, who provides direction relative to investment strategies. As I develop a more astute understanding of the philosophies of investment strategies and wealth management, I am confident I will offer sound vision for capital projects and long-range financial planning for the county. This year our county jail doubled in size as we absorbed management of our previously private-run jail, the Jack Harwell Facility. The court was charged with financing new personnel and equipment, facility modifications, and programs to address recidivism and mental health issues. Understanding the “when, how, and why” of the county’s revenue flow through the lens of our short-term and long-term investments was extremely beneficial for me. I look forward to participating in discussions relative to our space and facility needs and developing a consistent strategy for funding discretionary requests.
The construction of a new Precinct 2 Road & Bridge Building at our maintenance yard is another challenge fast approaching. This year, the Commissioners Court has approved the construction of a new precinct office for our road and bridge personnel. However, one of the challenges to this construction project is the subsurface at the proposed construction site. A geotechnical engineering company has provided test results from bore samples, and we are moving ahead with specs and plans designed by our architect. The precinct yard sits on 9.2 acres. Our new building is estimated to be 3,000 square feet. Although my precinct is the last precinct to update its facility, it will comparable to the other precinct offices. If all goes according to plan, we should break ground on the new building this spring.
FAVORITE PART OF BEING A COUNTY COMMISSIONER:
Being a County Commissioner is my all-time favorite job! I enjoy all aspects of this position. However, if I need to identify a favorite part, I would say a favorite and fulfilling part of this job is to see positive, productive programs in the community as a result of my contributory action. Being a part of Commissioner Gibson’s office for over 20 years, I know the benefit of scheduled, consistent interaction with the constituents. In January of 2020, we, meaning myself along with our justice of the peace, constable, and city council representative, will bring back the Community Leadership Luncheon. Over the years, I have seen this forum’s impact in developing informed community volunteers and leaders. The purpose of the luncheon is to provide networking opportunities to existing and aspiring business owners and provide one-on-one dialogue between the community and key, influential individuals in our city and county, such as mayors, school board representatives, school superintendents, and our state and federal elected officials. A resurgence of this program will only serve for the greater good of our area. I am excited to be a part of bringing this program back to the community.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, our Commissioners Court approved funding this year for a program that meets the needs of homeless youths in our area. The program is an after-school center, open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. where young people can use computers, do homework, wash clothes, shower, and eat a family-style dinner. They also take part in educational programming, talk with case managers, and access counseling services. However, when the center closes, where do these young people go? As part of a coordinated national effort to end youth homelessness, program administrators are planning to set up host homes where youths can stay for several months or possibly the remainder of the school year.
Waco-area programs addressing youth homelessness got a considerable shot in the arm when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $2.23 million grant to the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition. The grant, one of two given in the state, is part of $75 million awarded in HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which supports a variety of approaches aimed at providing housing of some sort to those 25 and younger. This year, this program was added to the list of outside agencies that the county will fund. I believe that local partners along with dedicated, capable staffing played a factor in helping this program secure additional funding including the HUD Grant. Being a part of the positive growth and change in my county is truly my favorite part of this job!