The city of Kerrville and Kerr County will face significant leadership changes, but there will also be an air of familiarity.
Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly and Pct. 4 Commissioner Don Harris are both up for re-election, but neither will face a challenger in the Republican Primary or a challenge from a Democrat. The real battle will be among five Republicans running for Precinct 2. Those candidates are Sonya Hooten, Jack Pratt, John Sheffield, Rich Paces and Stan Kubenka.
However, the most critical questions about Kerr County's future lie within the power structure of Kerrville. Those questions include land use, water use and job development. Mayor Bill Blackburn will not seek a third term, leading to a succession battle. Judy Eychner said she is considering giving up her seat as Place 3 council member to pursue the mayorship.
If Eychner doesn't run for mayor, she will run for a third and final term for Place 3. Brenda Hughes said she would run for re-election for her Place 4 seat. Both Hughes and Eychner won by wide margins in 2020. Who will challenge? That's to be determined.
The pursuit of a City Council race will also be decidedly more partisan, with the Texas Republican Party vowing to be more engaged in municipal and school board races across the state. During the 2021 municipal election, candidate Mary Ellen Summerlin, a Democrat, faced attacks for many reasons — almost none having to do with the city's governance. The Lead learned that some Republicans who backed Summerlin were censured or kicked out of GOP organizations.
But the real question for the Kerrville City Council remains around the ability to get along. Place 1 Councilman Roman Garcia, bolstered by ardent supporters, has proven to be a provocateur when challenging city staff and fellow council members. It has not always been comfortable to watch. On two occasions, Garcia has accused the city of illegal conduct. The first instance drew City Attorney Mike Hayes into an off-the-record argument about elections during a meeting break. Garcia later complained about the legality of an agenda change, forcing usually quiet City Secretary Shelley McElhannon to defend herself from the accusation of illegal conduct. In another episode, Garcia read two letters accusing the City Council of illegal behavior into the record.
Garcia, however, has mastered the city's procedures and charter, keeping city staff on their toes to handle his questions. That element as a watchdog is essential. However, the delivery through sometimes petty behavior has drawn the ire of his fellow council members. Toward the end of the year, Place 4 Councilwoman Brenda Hughes complained about Garcia's redlining of City Council procedures, describing it as excessive.
As the City Council considers major projects in 2022, including floating a bond to construct a new public safety building, Kerrville will need Garcia's procedural insight, inquisitiveness, and collaboration to move these projects forward.
At the county level, the commissioner's court faces development pressures in Precinct 2 — both commercially and residentially. That makes the race here to succeed Moser critical.
Precinct 2, which encompasses all of Center Point and Camp Verde, faces significant development challenges in 2022. When Pct. 2 Commissioner Tom Moser resigned his position over the summer, Kelly opted to replace him with veteran real estate broker and appraiser Beck Gipson rather than one of the five running for the open seat. Kelly said he needed Gipson's expertise regarding the county's pressing development issues. True to his word to Kelly, Gipson did not run for the Pct. 2 seat.
Now, as far as the contenders go, it's a race of similar values — Christian conservatives who want small government, focus on public safety, etc. Very little seems to separate them from positions. So, endorsements are going to matter, and Hooten is already out of the gate quickly, with former Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer standing behind his former administrative assistant. Hooten was also honored by current Kerr County Sheriff Larry Leitha for outstanding service to the sheriff's office.
- Hooten worked in the Center Point Independent School District for 28 years before joining the sheriff's office.
- Pratt is a former Kerrville mayor who describes himself as one of America's premier motivational speakers. Pratt won his first term as mayor in 2012 and won a second term two years later.
- Paces worked in oil and gas for 36 years, including nearly 20 overseas. Paces now lives in Center Point, where he's a volunteer firefighter.
- Kubenka is a former president of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority. Kubenka served on Kerrville's First United Methodist Church board, including a term as president.
- Sheffield is the owner of the Ingram Grocers and was one of those waged in a lengthy legal battle with the city of Ingram over sewer hookups.