Val Verde County Judge Laura Allen
*“Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Edmund Burke, 1774
When I first sat down to write this article, I pondered “A week in the life of…,” and it occurred to me that what it really meant to me was “My life in a week…” Being County Judge in Val Verde County is my life second only to my family. My father served in the U.S. Air Force, and my family moved to the area when I was 4 years old. I love Val Verde County and all that it has to offer.
I wish I could say that local government was a lifelong dream, but it was not. My first love was the justice system, and attending law school was my goal from a very young age. When my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I became her caregiver and companion and put my dreams on hold at the age of 18. I was very fortunate to share her final years with her. Her passing was devastating to me, but it invoked a desire in me to make her proud. I aspired to become a woman of strength and conviction like she was.
My route to County Judge could be linked back to love of the justice system and working as a dispatcher for the Del Rio Police Department. From that position, I became a legal secretary at the U.S. Attorney’s office and obtained an associate’s degree in paralegal sciences. I left my job with the U.S. Attorney’s office to stay home with my children. During that time, I heard many citizens complain about Commissioners Court. My curiosity led to two years of attending Commissioners Court meetings. The incumbent for Precinct 3 was a family friend. He was going to retire and he encouraged me to run for his position. With his help I threw my hat in the ring and worked relentlessly. I was elected and thrilled to be able to serve. I held that position for only one term. I made many changes to the precinct and devoted my time to serving the county in every way possible. My foreman hoped to be Commissioner, and I hoped to become Judge. I did not seek re-election but supported my foreman in his election. He won and is still serving on the Commissioners Court after 10 years.
In 2006, I made my bid for County Judge and lost to the incumbent. I decided that it was time to complete my education. It was a great deal of work, but in 2010 my family and I flew to Phoenix, and I received my bachelor’s degree in psychology at the fall commencement at the University of Phoenix. Before I could plan on whether to complete my master’s or find a job, I was asked to run for County Judge again. With my family’s blessing and encouragement, I entered the race in 2010. On Jan. 1, 2011, I was sworn in as the first female County Judge elected in Val Verde County. On that same day I swore my mother in as Justice of the Peace, and history was made. Life was very promising. My husband had retired from the Texas Rangers and planned on working the family ranch, our children were almost grown, and I had a new career. We have had some changes in our family, but with their support I have been able to devote whatever time is necessary to my job. I’m on the ballot for the general election this year and look forward to the citizens of my county allowing me to serve them another four years.
IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
Having been a Commissioner, I was familiar with the job, but I never expected to have a wildfire (possibly the largest in county history) within a few months of taking office. I have become a huge advocate of emergency management. Val Verde County is approximately 3,200 square miles, and the logistics in preparedness are sometimes a true challenge.
The County Court aspect of the job has been very rewarding. Probate was not an area of interest for me when I got my paralegal degree. With the advice, patience and knowledge of my fellow County Judges, it has become an interesting aspect of my responsibilities. I am grateful to the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and the Texas Association of Counties for all the efforts that are made to provide us educational opportunities and speakers who are willing to mentor. I have read so many codes, and if I wasn’t quite sure I understood correctly, I always had someone to call.
The one thing that always surprises me is that I never know what my day will bring. Keeping a schedule is always helpful, but it has to be flexible enough to allow for the last-minute meetings, the constituent that comes in and needs to talk about a problem, or the hundreds of emails that all deserve and demand immediate attention. I learn something new every day, and I’m always grateful for that.
Typical day is somewhat of a misnomer; nothing is “typical” in my days or those of most other County Judges I talk to. My days usually start between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., which allows me time to catch up with my husband and talk about all the things going on in our days. Since I have taken office, we have gained custody of our three grandchildren who are now ages 6, 4, and 2.5. They definitely keep us hopping! My husband has put aside working on the family ranch to be a stay-at-home dad.
Some days I leave home before everyone wakes up, and some days I stay home a little longer to share the mornings with the family. I leave my house and go straight to the courthouse if there are no pending meetings or other events. Once at the courthouse, it’s usually hitting the ground running. I believe in a literal open door, and any of the employees or elected officials are welcome in my office anytime they need my assistance. Official employee or constituent, I drop everything to address them unless I am working on a do-or-die deadline.
On a typical day I can host a group of school children at the courthouse, meet with a department head, conduct a mental health commitment, hold a hearing, and perform a wide variety of administrative tasks. We have Commissioners Court on the second Monday of the month, and I try to hold County Court on Tuesdays and Thursdays as my schedule allows.
My days can end as early as 2 p.m. or as late as 10 p.m. I always try to be home, if only for a few minutes to see my family at dinnertime. If I have an evening engagement, I try to make it after I have seen my family because it keeps me grounded to their lives. I have been asked to define my hobbies before, and I used to struggle with that question. Now I simply see that my family is better than any hobby I could have. I do like to do minor home repairs when time allows because I enjoy working with my hands.
There are many challenges in the life of a County Judge, and every day brings something new. I find that making time to address the needs of all county employees, constituents, and elected officials is a true logistical feat. I enjoy every aspect of my job and find anything difficult to be an opportunity to learn.
It would be an untrue statement to say that there are no challenges for a County Judge. The challenges for me are mostly time related. I am limited by 24 hours in the day and seven days in the week. I would like to be able to spend more time out visiting different areas of my county, but with approximately 3,200 square miles, people mostly see me when there is an emergency or a project in the works.
The only other challenge I see for myself is public perception of elected officials. I find that some people view a politician as someone to distrust. Having the time to sit down with people and let them see a real person rather than a politician is rewarding to me. I have earned the faith and trust of many people by just being real.
There are many facets of my job that I enjoy immensely. Interacting with people and finding solutions to issues we face is extremely important to me. I am always humbled and appreciative to be able to help our local veterans. Assuring people that their county will be there for them during emergencies is a goal I have enjoyed promoting through Emergency Management. Overall, I find the most joy in helping others by whatever means the position of County Judge allows me. Receiving a letter or call of thanks always makes me feel my goals are firmly correct and I have been able to affect a positive change on someone’s life. The appreciative comments I receive from others are the driving force that allow me to continue through every day that I am given the honor of being the Val Verde County Judge.
*Given to Laura Allen by a constituent before she was elected County Commissioner. She has carried it with her for more than 10 years as a reminder of her duty.