As the March 1 primaries draw near, voters will have a packed ballot to sort through. County leadership includes 69 local officials elected to serve Tarrant County residents. They are united by the common thread of the commissioners court, which oversees each office.
County Administrator G.K. Maenius describes the county government structure as silos.
“Each one of the elected officials are responsible for the activities that are specifically prescribed by the legislature,” he said. “So in order to move the county forward, they have to work in coordination (and) in conjunction with each other.”
To help you make an informed decision at the polls, the Fort Worth Report explains the roles of each of the county elected officials.
County Commissioners Court
The Texas Constitution requires commissioners courts to have one county judge and four county commissioners. The county judge is elected in a countywide race and serves for four years. Each commissioner represents a precinct. They are elected within their precinct and represent their constituents and the county as a whole. Commissioners also serve for four years. There are no term limits for these positions.
The Tarrant County Commissioners Court has a hands-on role in the everyday activities of the county. The Commissioners Court collaborates with other county elected officials to carry out county business and can make appointments to any open office. Commissioners can also issue bonds for construction and renovating facilities, buying land and purchasing equipment. Commissioners are responsible for the management of debt incurred by the sale of bonds.
The judge and commissioners have a wide variety of responsibilities from adopting the county budget and tax rate to awarding contracts and managing county facilities. The state constitution also designates county commissioners as road commissioners; they are the only elected officials in Texas that hold two offices. In that role, they manage the maintenance and construction of roads in unincorporated areas of their precinct.
To help accomplish the Commissioners Court’s goals, the court hires county staff to support day-to-day activities. G.K. Maenius became county administrator in 1988 and maintains the role today.
“I report directly to the Commissioners Court,” Maenius said. “We probably have 15 or 20 different departments that report to me. So on a day-to-day basis, I supervise those departments and any major decisions that are made.”
The Commissioners Court also makes appointments to boards and commissions that run county businesses. This includes the 11-member Tarrant County Hospital District Board of Managers and 10-member My Health My Resources of Tarrant County Board of Trustees.
“One big thing is that the Commissioners Court has budgetary authority over all the departments,” Maenius said. “Therefore the Commissioners Court can tell each department how many employees you can have and how much money you have to spend on an annual basis.”
The Commissioners Court sets the boundaries for their own precincts every 10 years. Devan Allen currently represents Precinct 2, and J.D. Johnson serves as Precinct 4 Commissioner. Both of their terms end in 2022 and neither is running for re-election. Precinct 1 and 3 County Commissioners are Roy Charles Brooks and Gary Fickes; their terms expire in 2024.
County judges preside over the commissioners court. They are the chief executive officer of the county and their responsibilities are mostly administrative. In Tarrant County and other large counties, the county judge typically doesn’t have any judicial responsibilities.
The county judge is also responsible for leading emergency management, a job that has become more visible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When an emergency is declared, the county judge becomes head of the Emergency Management Department and is responsible for coordinating local, county, state and federal resources. They can also declare a local emergency for a period of seven days.
The county judge is responsible for issuing things like liquor licenses. He also sits on the County Election Commission and Board. That entity is responsible for appointing the county election administrator.
County Tax Assessor-Collector
County tax assessor-collectors are tasked to assess and collect taxes on property in the county. They are elected to a four-year term. The office employs 186 staff.
The position is responsible for delinquency notification, deferred payment collection, and initiating action for the seizure of property for unpaid tax bills.
The office also licenses and titles all vehicles in Texas and collects beer, wine, and liquor licensing fees. The current Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess was elected in 2020 and will not be up for re-election until 2024.
The district attorney is a criminal attorney prosecuting misdemeanor and felony offenses. In Tarrant County and other counties, residents elect someone to serve as both a criminal district attorney and county attorney. A criminal district attorney is a state office while a county attorney is a county office. The criminal district attorney is also a civil attorney that represents the county in civil matters and offers legal advice to elected officials and departments.
The district attorney’s office is the largest law firm in Tarrant County, employing a staff of over 300. The district attorney may also assist the attorney general’s office in enforcing the rules of state agencies and work with law enforcement to investigate criminal cases. The district attorney serves a four-year term, and District Attorney Sharen Wilson is set to leave office next year after announcing she will not seek another term.
Three Democrats and three Republicans are running to take Wilson’s place. Tiffany Burks, Albert John Roberts and Lawrence Meyers are running in the Democratic primary. Mollee Westfall, Phil Sorrells and Matt Krause are running in the Republican primary.
The county clerk keeps the records for Tarrant County. They are also the clerk of the Commissioners Court. They are responsible for keeping track of property in the county and court proceedings. The county clerk is elected every four years.
The public can submit documents with the county clerk and they will file and record them on the date and time they are presented. The clerk is allowed to collect fees for services provided to the public; that money is turned over to the county treasury.
The county clerk provides access to public records online at no cost including property records (e.g. land and property attached to land), commissioners court records, foreclosure notices, vital records (e.g. birth, death and marriage certificates), civil court case indexes.
The district clerk manages the business operations of courts around the county. The office collects and records court fees and fines from the various civil, criminal and family courts. The office also produces court documents like civil citations, criminal warrants, criminal judgments and sentences.
The district clerk is elected every four years. The Tarrant County District Clerk, Thomas Wilder, is up for re-election in 2022. Five other candidates have registered to run for the job, including Republican Larry Mike, who is challenging Wilder in the primary.
The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer for the county. The sheriff’s office has the largest share of the county’s criminal justice budget. The office is responsible for running the county jails, coordinating with other law enforcement agencies and providing technical expertise to municipal police departments.
The bulk of the sheriff’s budget goes toward operating and staffing county jails. The sheriff has countywide jurisdiction but focuses on law enforcement in unincorporated areas. The Sheriff is elected to a four-year term. Tarrant County’s Sheriff is Bill E. Waybourn and his term expires in 2024.
“Most importantly with the sheriff is that he maintains the county jail, and our county jail holds over 4,000 inmates a day,” Maenius said.
District and county judges
There are 42 elected judges across Tarrant County excluding the justices of the peace. The court system contains civil, criminal, family, juvenile, and probate courts.
Judges typically serve terms of 4 to 6 years.
Justice of the Peace
The justice of the peace is the presiding officer over the justice court. The justice of the peace has jurisdiction over minor misdemeanor offenses, a variety of civil processes and arrest and search warrants.
There are eight Justice Courts in Tarrant County, and they are elected to a four-year term by the voters in their precinct. You can also be married under the justice of the peace.
All justice of the peace terms expire in 2022.
In Precinct 3 Willam P. “Bill” Brandt is running for re-election unopposed.
In Precinct 4 Republican Christopher “Chris” Gregory is running for re-election. Retired veteran Rodney Lee is running against Gregory, it is unclear from Lee’s campaign materials what party he is affiliated with.
In Precinct 5 Democrat Sergio L. DeLeon is running for election unopposed.
In Precinct 6 Republican Jason Charbonnet is running for election unopposed.
In Precinct 8 Democrat Lisa R. Woodard is running for re-election. Stephanie Wilson is registered to run against Woodward but no information about her campaign is available online.
Constables are peace officers that are elected by precinct to serve in the justice of the peace courts. They can patrol and perform investigations but their main job is serving subpoenas and other papers. Constables are elected every four years and will be up for election in 2024
The constables are:
Precinct 1: Republican Dale Clark
Precinct 2: Democrat Robert McGinty
Precinct 3: Republican Darrell Huffman
Precinct 4: Joe D. “Jody” Johnson, who is running for precinct 4 commissioner
Precinct 5: Democrat Pedro “Pete” Munoz
Precinct 6: Republican Jon H. Siegel
Precinct 7: Democrat Sandra Lee
Precinct 8: Democrat Michael R. Campbell
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.