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 Bandera County Commissioner Bruce Eliker for taking the time to visit with us.
I was born and raised in Texas. I have always lived here except for my father’s time on active duty with the Air Force and my time on active duty with the Air Force. I was born in Corpus Christi in the mid-1940s. My mother lived in Rockport with her parents. At that time, my father was still stationed in Europe during World War II, serving as a fighter pilot in Italy. After the war, we moved around to several places with my dad before my parents’ separation in 1951. It was then that my mother and three siblings moved back to Rockport, Texas, where my grandparents owned and operated the Sea Gull Cottages. I started first grade in Rockport before moving to San Antonio in 1952. San Antonio is where I completed elementary school, junior high, and high school in the Alamo Heights School District.
Shortly after high school, I took a trip to California for a short time, and it was at that time my mother called to tell me I had received a letter from the president of the United States. If you were male in those years, you knew what that letter was all about. I was ordered to report to my draft board #9 back in San Antonio, and my president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, ordered me to enter the Army. Well, with my dad having been Air Force, I decided that was where I wanted to go. I talked with an Air Force recruiter a few days before I was to report to my draft board, and I entered the U.S. Air Force.
I enlisted and was bussed to Lackland Air Force Base in December 1965. After basic training, I was bussed to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, to go through electronic tech school. After almost 10 months of tech school, I was transferred to my first duty assignment at Opheim Air Force Station, Montana, where I repaired and performed maintenance on the FPS-26A height finder radar equipment. After almost two years, I was transferred to Blaine Air Force Station, Washington. Both duty stations were on the Canadian border, and every winter was very cold. In 1969, the Air Force was having some early outs due to the Vietnam War winding down. It seemed all my possible reassignments were all in cold country, and I had already served three years of semi-remote tours in cold duty stations. I did not want to go another four years being cold all the time, so I decided to exit the military and leave my aircraft and early warning radar repair career field behind.
It was at that time I came back to Bandera, Texas, where I had been living after high school. Bandera was still small, and job opportunities were few and far between; however, I did learn that the Texas Highway Department was looking for an individual in general maintenance. I applied for that position and was fortunate to receive it, which led to a 34-year career in highway maintenance and supervision. Starting off as a general laborer and sometimes dump truck driver, it was not too long before I was running some of the minor equipment. The Texas Highway Department was always good about training, and I was given many opportunities to advance.
In late 1971, the 433rd Military Airlift Wing in San Antonio contacted me to ask if I would be interested in signing up for one year in the U.S. Air Force Reserves; that time would complete my six-year military obligation. I thought it over and decided, why not? That decision gave me a career in the Air Force that provided me with many opportunities. I started off in the airborne radar repair section and spent time in the radio repair section for the first few years. I caught the eye of several people in the maintenance operations office and was asked if I would like to transfer to the quality assurance and quality control office as an inspector of our airplanes’ avionics equipment. I was also asked to rate airmen preforming their technical duties. The aircraft I worked on were C-124s and C-130s, and later the C-5s. Annual two-week tours took me all over the world, and I almost hated to retire after 26 years of service as an E7 Master Sergeant. I had been to some European countries. While stationed in Panama a couple of times, we made a lot of embassy runs to countries in South America. I also went on a 30-day NATO exercise to England and then spent two weeks in Turkey, just to name a few of my experiences.
I was still working for the Texas Highway Department, which was renamed as the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation in 1975, and renamed again to the Texas Department of Transportation in 1991. I was making progress, working my way up the ladder and always looking for advancement. I had many good supervisors with many opportunities. As I moved up in the department, I started running more equipment and later became their finish blade operator in the Bandera Maintenance Section. I heard there was a heavy equipment operator position opening in the San Antonio District 15 Equipment Shop, and I applied for and was offered the position. I ran all kinds of heavy equipment including their 40-ton crane. After four years, I applied for the assistant maintenance section supervisor position back in the Bandera Maintenance Section, and again I was promoted. I really felt blessed to move back to Bandera County where I have always felt at home.
Four years later, I applied for my boss’s position and was selected and promoted to maintenance section supervisor in TxDOT’s Bandera Maintenance Section. This gave me many leadership opportunities and a chance to make a difference. Thinking this was my last job position with TxDOT, the supervisor in the Boerne office in Kendall County decided to retire, and I decided to apply. There were many who applied for the position, but again I pulled it off and presented myself as the best person for the job. That position required supervising all of the maintenance and maintenance contracts covering all the state highways located in Kendall County, with portions of Kerr, Comal, and Bexar county highways. I have always believed that honesty and a good work ethic helped me to progress throughout my careers.
I was sworn in as Bandera County Commissioner on Jan. 1, 2005, and served through Dec. 31, 2012. I took office once again on Jan. 1, 2017. I won my 2020 Republican primary election, and I do not have an opponent in the general election.
I want to thank my family for all of their love and support throughout all I’ve accomplished. This includes Roma, my wife of 23 years; oldest daughter Cassandra; and middle daughter Nicole and husband Kevin, who all live in Texas. Last but not least, I want to thank our Polish daughter, Ewelina, husband Adam, and granddaughter Emilka, who live in Strzelce Opolskie, Poland. Thank you all so very much.
IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED:
In many ways, yes. In other ways, no. Because of my work with TxDOT and my close relationships with so many different Commissioners and Judges in so many counties over the years, I had a good feel for many of the issues that they dealt with. With TxDOT, I had to prepare a budget every year for the many maintenance needs, employees, salaries, and contract costs required to operate for the next fiscal year. I also had been working for the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office as their chief reserve deputy since 1984. I retired from TxDOT in August 2003 and decided to run for County Commissioner.
The county position helps give me another perspective on department policies, procedures, and personnel actions in our county government. I felt there were issues, especially with our county road maintenance, where my experience could be my strongest asset to bring to Commissioners Court. But I never realized just how hard it would be to initiate change…and it always takes that majority vote.
Typical day? No such thing, although I would bet ours are more typical than most Commissioners. One thing that’s missing is I have no work crews except for one employee at our compactor and recycling station in Pipe Creek. This is because we do not use a Precinct Road System. Our county is serviced by the Unit Road System, also referred to as the Consolidated or Unified Road System.
I work from home, or wherever I am at the time the call comes in, 24-7. My phone is my lifeline to communicate with my constituents, along with emails. I try my best to handle all complaints and issues as soon as I can to clear my calendar for the next round. All road & bridge complaints are handled well by our road & bridge supervisor, John Andrade, and we have a great working relationship. If he has issues and/or needs guidance, he always knows he can contact me to discuss the issue. With our unit system, all of the County Commissioners have assigned liaison duties with appointed department heads to give direction as needed. If things cannot be resolved, then the issue will be brought before the full Commissioners Court.
My assigned liaison duties are to the Bandera County Road & Bridge Department, the Bandera County Engineering Department, and our contracted Convention and Visitors Bureau office (CVB) that handles our HOT tax advertising funds to bring overnight visitors to our county.
Because of my freedom, I have been allowed to teach a few days each month through the local technical assistance program (LTAP) that is funded by TxDOT. The program at this time is administered by the University of Texas at Arlington. They offer many classes in many different areas to cities and counties free of charge. At this time, I’m teaching Work Zone Traffic Control, and I qualify flaggers, who receive certification after completion of the class with a score of 70 or higher. The certifications are good for three years. I have taught the Bandera County Road & Bridge Department many times over the years to help reduce the liability employees could cause for the county or themselves by not being certified. This also protects the work crews by providing proper work zone traffic control and warns the drivers of upcoming workers and equipment that may be in their way.
BANDERA COUNTY ROADS:
I feel the unit system works well in our county. The taxpayers have experienced increased productivity with the ability to reduce some capital assets and building maintenance due to a main centralized location and one satellite location on the west end of Bandera County. In 2005, when I took office, of the 254 counties there were approximately 64 counties that had opted to use the unit road system. Our road & bridge department has five road crews that take care of the roads and ditches. One right of way crew takes care of the patching, brush control, signage, and right of way cleanup. Two mechanics work on vehicle maintenance. This covers the whole county with regard to routine maintenance of our roads and equipment. If we have isolated problems in one area, we can move crews around to provide additional manpower and equipment as needed. One of our biggest issues at this time for our road & bridge department is the manpower shortages on our road crews. We had five openings for some time, but we finally filled one a few weeks ago. The unit system surely is not for everyone, but it does work for us.
Like most rural counties adjoining a large metro county like Bexar County and the greater San Antonio area, we have grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades. Our challenges include new subdivisions, more commuters, and the lack of sufficient tax money to handle the growth and continue to maintain a good fund balance for the next inevitable flood that can and will come to the Texas Hill Country.
Office space, I feel, is our biggest challenge at this time. In 2006, we started by putting a new roof on the courthouse and made repairs to the upstairs county courtroom. Our first big project was a new jail and justice center. The old one was robbing us of money we could have been using elsewhere. It would house the sheriff’s office, jail, district clerk’s office and district court, emergency management, 9-1-1 coordinator, rural addressing, and the computer department. We were very blessed to pass our bond the first time it went to the voters. We opened on a good schedule, and it has been serving the county well for 10 years now. We also went for a new road & bridge facility on the same property as the jail/justice center with both completed in 2010. In 2015, we built a new animal control shelter behind the jail/justice center. We are in the process of opening our new EMS central location facility, which should take place by the end of summer 2020. We are also planning a new visitors center located at the old courthouse and jail property dating back to the late 1800s. Our next big project we are contemplating is to build a two-story, single unit structure to house many of our county satellite services that are scattered all around Bandera. At this time, they are located in old structures with lots of needs and lack of space to house our increasing workloads and records management. We truly have growing pains, and I know with the can-do attitude of our Commissioners Court, we CAN get it done. I believe this is an excellent way to provide a good working environment for all of our employees and elected officials as well as provide a more central location for our customers.
FAVORITE PART OF BEING A COUNTY COMMISSIONER:
As a member of Commissioners Court, we have a duty to provide services to our county citizens whether they are taxpayers or not. It’s all about customer service to the citizens of our county while focusing on the good and bad issues that confront us daily in our own precincts. I have always enjoyed being a problem-solver, and I try to handle problems or complaints as soon as they are brought to my attention. Sad thing is, many times, it is not something we as Commissioners can do or resolve; however, I will always do my best to take care of people or find out who can help them out with the issue they have at that time. Being a good steward of the county coffer gives me great satisfaction at the end of the day, and I can go to bed at night feeling I have done my best to serve the citizens of Bandera County.