Many elected officials get a little time to ease into their office…but that’s not always the case.
In 1988, two weeks after Penny Redington was elected county judge of Ellis County, the United States Department of Energy announced plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive national laboratory for the study of high-energy physics, in Ellis County. The project, which would take eight years to complete, was expected to cost $11 billion, employ hundreds of workers, and bring esteemed scientists, including nobel laureates, to live and work in the area.
“I worked hard to help integrate this huge undertaking into our county in a way that would be beneficial and not detrimental to our quality of life,” Redington said. “There were many varied challenges during this process.”
Ellis County was given comprehensive planning and zoning authority to efficiently manage the growth that was expected.
“We explored economic development programs, workforce training, disaster management, and many other opportunities and needs in order to maximize the benefits that were to come with the Super Collider,” she said.
Sadly, Congress decided the venture would be “too expensive” and terminated the project when it was about two-thirds complete.
“I spent my last year in office working to minimize for our county the negative economic effects of losing the Super Collider project,” Redington said.
She initially ran for office to fill a vacancy left by the sudden resignation of the county judge. Throughout her tenure, Ellis County completed the construction of a $14 million jail, moved from a seniority-driven to a market-based salary schedule, and launched the restoration of the county’s historic 1895 courthouse.
“Our commissioners court accomplished all of this and much more…and we did it without a tax increase in most of those years,” said Redington, who was the first female elected county judge in Ellis County, serving 1988 to 1994.
“All my life, I have firmly believed that we are all equal and that we should be judged by our character and ability, not by factors beyond our control such as race or gender,” she said. Redington was eventually elected to a second term by a comfortable margin.
A licensed attorney, Redington continued her involvement in county government as a partner with Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan, Kever & McDaniel, L.L.P., of Austin, where she practiced in the areas of public law and governmental relations. She later became the federal and state legislative liaison for the Texas Association of Counties, and from there accepted her current position as executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils (TARC).
While county judge, Redington served on numerous boards and commissions addressing economic, community development, criminal justice, education and transportation issues.
Redington learned early on how to successfully stretch herself and wear many hats at once, known today as “multitasking.” As a child growing up on a farm in Milam County, she balanced school with riding horses, helping with the cattle, and participating in 4-H activities, showing calves, sheep, pigs and chickens. At the same time, she cultivated a love for art, literature, history and architecture.
Years later her interests broadened to the study of law. After her youngest child started kindergarten, Redington pursued and earned her juris doctorate at Southern Methodist University Law School.
“It was difficult attending classes full time, commuting two hours a day, and taking care of my three children, but it was something I really wanted to do,” she said. Her children, Rachel, Towne and John, enjoyed hearing about their mother’s studies.
“After I would describe a case to them, the kids would pretend they were judges and enter a judgment,” she said. “Sometimes their ‘punishments’ were rather novel!” In fact, her youngest, John, is now an attorney in Cameron. Rachel has worked at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and Towne has a background in communications.
“I am very proud of them and their accomplishments,” she said.
Redington is continuing to successfully juggle a variety of roles. Along with leading TARC, she is a current member of the Culver Educational Foundation Board of Trustees and the Preservation Texas Board of Directors.
Throughout her career in county government, Redington has maintained a simple philosophy: “I knew if I worked hard and did my job, things would work out well.” And indeed they have.
McMullen County Judge Linda Lee Henry
Every now and then during commissioners court meetings, McMullen County Judge Linda Lee Henry jumps out of her chair and runs out the door. It doesn’t mean she’s angry, and it doesn’t mean she’s late for something else. It means something may be on fire.
When it comes to wearing many hats, Henry is another bona fide expert. Along with serving as McMullen County judge, Henry is a volunteer firefighter, a rancher and a pilot. In fact, one of her favorite memories is taking her father flying for the first time.
“His excitement at seeing the ranch and cattle from the air was wonderful,” Henry said.
When she’s not at commissioners court, responding to an emergency, flying a plane, or working on the ranch, Henry may be found delivering Meals on Wheels or attending meetings at De-Go-La Resource Conservation and Development Inc., the Coastal Bend Council of Governments, where Henry serves as second chairperson, the local MHMR, the McMullen County Juvenile Board, or the Texas Workforce Commission.
Born and raised in McMullen County, Henry attended college in Kingsville and Uvalde. She married and moved away, raising her three daughters, Amy, a flight attendant, Raney, a dental assistant, and Shaney, an art teacher, in Brazosport. Henry eventually realized “there is no place like home” and returned to McMullen County, where her grandparents had settled more than 100 years ago. In fact, their legacy helped inspire her to run for public office.
With hard work and determination, Henry’s grandparents had successfully reared a large family, raising cattle through the good years and barely surviving during the hard, dry years.
“I believe because of all the stories told, I felt a responsibility to try to do my part to help our county to strive and survive to be the best that we can be,” said Henry, who took office as county judge in 1999.
According to Henry, several of the challenges faced by McMullen County are related to its population, listed as 856 in the latest Texas Almanac. For example, it is difficult for the county to follow the same rules and regulations as larger counties.
“It would be the same problem if we expected the larger counties to be run like our county,” Henry said. “We all have very different problems. Sometimes, the shoe just doesn’t fit!”
One particular dilemma pertains to keeping health care providers. The county had one doctor who stayed for a couple of years; thankfully, another doctor is now in the process of setting up practice.
The county’s recent successes include a new fire department building that will house the sheriff’s office.
“I cannot take all of the credit for our accomplishments,” she said, “which are an example of the community working together to make our county a special place to live.”
Henry said that her ranching experience has given her insight and logic that she applies to her role as county judge. For instance, during good years, extra money can be used to make improvements. During bad years (dry weather), it’s time to cut back on spending and work hard “to keep your head above water.”
“It is only logical to run county government in the same way,” Henry said. McMullen County has minerals that bring in tax money during the good years.
“When mineral revenue decreases, it’s time to cut back on our spending,” she continued. “This type of logic seems to work on just about everything in life.”
Julie Anderson, Editor