Standing Room Only
In October 2017, Milam County Judge Dave Barkemeyer shared exciting news with a packed crowd gathered in a county courtroom. Some 80 people filled available seats while others leaned against the walls and lined up behind the Judge in the hallway so they could hear him.
“The interest in the community was overwhelming, and the response from the media was great that day as well as the following days,” the Judge recalled. “We even got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, we had a Japanese station come over and interview us, we had a really good article in the Houston Chronicle, etc.”
The big news: Milam County submitted a proposal inviting Amazon to locate a second headquarters on all or part of more than 33,000 acres on sale by Alcoa, known as Sandow Ranch.
Barkemeyer went on to share the assets Milam County has to offer Amazon including an ideal location within 60 miles of 2 million-plus people and two research universities.
Yes, the effort may be a long shot, the Judge acknowledged, with about 200 more entities pitching proposals.
“But you don’t know until you try,” Barkemeyer told the crowd.
As of press time, the county had not yet heard back from Amazon, “but we’re still hopeful,” the Judge stated.
How did the meeting draw such a crowd? Of course, the lure of a popular company was a factor. But as important, Barkemeyer has developed a relationship with local media outlets that promote and cover such events. In addition, the Judge has made communication a cornerstone of his leadership approach, reaching out in multiple ways to make sure his taxpayers know the “who, what, when, where, why” of Milam County government.
Barkemeyer took office on Jan. 1, 2011, and he is retiring at the conclusion of this term. County Progress asked the Judge to share his approach to keeping his constituency informed:
CP: What are the tools you use to communicate with your constituency?
Judge Barkemeyer: Most successful have been the weekly articles in the three local papers, Cameron, Rockdale and Thorndale, followed by the weekly radio programs, Cameron and Rockdale stations. Our website is probably next, followed by weekly Commissioners Court meetings in which I make monthly financial updates. Departments also make reports during the Commissioners Court meetings, not that many citizens attend, but the newspaper and radio station reporters are always there and report the contents to the public, and minutes and PowerPoint information is on the website.
I make budget proposal presentations in six or seven places out in the community each year during budget planning time in late August and/or early September in Cameron, Rockdale, Milano, Buckholts, Thorndale and Gause. I make my presentations in the evenings so that the public can come and see how we’re spending the money and what we’re planning for the following year; they can comment and ask questions. I also make a video of this budget presentation and post it on the website for the year. I make presentations at Lions and Rotary Club meetings; I am a member of these clubs and chambers of commerce and attend their meetings and other gatherings around the county on a regular basis throughout the year to be available to people one-on-one to discuss issues and answer questions.
CP: What prompted you to begin writing columns for the local newspaper, and how long have you been doing so?
Judge Barkemeyer: I was writing articles for the Cameron paper when I was mayor and just continued the practice when I became Judge, and the other papers picked up the column and the radio station asked me to do a weekly program. I have been doing it for all seven years on a weekly basis. But I’ve become lax lately and have been skipping some. My excuse is to give the candidates a chance to tell them what they’re going to do when they replace me.
CP: What parameters do you use to decide what content is posted on the Milam County website?
Judge Barkemeyer: I try to keep it to business only, budgets, financial reports, departmental policies, new programs, burn bans, ordinances, forms, and need-to-know info. No politics.
I certainly will encourage my successor to continue the effort to have open, transparent communication with the community and to make efforts to try to promote the understanding of county government.