While asked by a representative of The Mirror if he would run again, Spencer said, “The answer right now—yes. My plans are yes.”
Seated at a table with 10 persons who attended the Libertarians’ monthly meeting at the Buckeye Country Cafe, Spencer outlined what he believes the County Commissioners Court has accomplished during his first term.
While acknowledging the court has raised taxes more than once, he noted it also had cut $1.2 million from the budget in the past two and a half years; that it had outsourced Information Technology services, thus saving money; and that it had lowered the cost of medical care for jail prisoners.
In addition, he said, the court outsourced insurance, cut the county’s match for employee retirement from 2-1 to 1-1, and has begun saving $50,000 annually by using inmates to clean buildings rather than a janitorial service.
As for the tax hikes, Spencer said the court was told it had about $1.8 million in reserves, only to have an outside audit reveal it was actually $73,000 in “the hole.”
“They were robbing Peter to pay Paul,” the commissioner said. However, he said, new County Auditor Brandy Lee “is hammering down now,” being “tough” in “cleaning up” matters, Spencer said.
As for county finances overall, “What we’ve got to do is learn to say no” and spend no more than needed to run the county, Spencer asserted.
“We could be a little top-heavy in the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. In addition, Spencer said he favored reducing the county’s number of Constables and Justices of the Peace if the state legislature authorizes it. (Currently, the county has four of each.)
A bill which would have allowed county voters to decide on that died in the last regular session of the legislature.
Spencer said that by cutting the number of JPs and Constables from four each to two each, the county could pay the remaining officeholders more, making them “full-timers” who would provide “better service.”
But the commissioner also said the Road and Bridge Dept. needs more funding because its budget is probably the same as it was in 2002, “and fuel has doubled.”
When Libertarian Sherri Little asked why she sees one or two cars from the Sheriff’s Office whenever she passes a precinct Road and Bridge barn, Spencer said officers service their cars and get fuel there.
Upshur County Libertarian Chairman Vance Lowry, himself a veteran, praised the all-Republican Commissioners Court for abolishing the office of Veterans Service Officer, saying the post was a “travesty.” (The office was eliminated as a money-saving measure when only a handful of veterans were utilizing it.)
Spencer replied that Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka is “wanting to revive” the office, but “I told him no.” Spencer said he told Berka there were other parties who could perform its services.
(Berka told The Mirror Wednesday he is trying to arrange for a Veterans Service Officer to come in weekly or twice monthly in order to “get our local veterans in a position they don’t need to travel” to receive help. He said there is not enough demand for services to have a full-time officer here again, but “I’m trying to help our veterans.”)
On another matter, Spencer addressed the change he voted to make in the county’s Information Technology services. The only other candidate to announce for Spencer’s office as of Thursday morning is Karmen Kelley, who was the county’s Information Technology officer when Spencer and other commissioners voted to outsource her job to a computer technology firm.
“I didn’t fire her. I relocated her,” Spencer said, referring to the fact the court had offered to reassign Mrs. Kelley to maintenance. The 35-year county employee instead resigned months ago before recently being employed by the County Treasurer’s Office.
Spencer said the county was paying Mrs. Kelley and her assistant a combined total of about $78,000 yearly, counting benefits, and that their work had been outsourced for $48,600 yearly. He said the change had worked out well, citing numerous improvements to the county’s computer operations.
At one point, Lowry told Spencer the quality of commissioners is “so much better” than it was 6-8 years ago, and Spencer replied the current court is a “good group.”
When he specifically mentioned that first-year Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry is “good,” Lowry replied, “I thought she would be completely in the tank for county employees,” but she hasn’t. Spencer replied that Mrs. Gentry “saw the other side.”
Ms. Little said the court is “200 percent better” than it was four years ago, and Spencer said it will “only get better.”
Asked why County Judge Dean Fowler’s salary has not been cut when commissioners’ salaries were reduced by about $10,000 yearly, Spencer said it was because Fowler’s “duties have not changed.” (By contrast, commissioners were once directly responsible for Road and Bridge operations, which are now under the control of a county Road Administrator.)
Besides hearing Spencer, who is the third county commissioner to informally speak to a Libertarian meeting in recent months, the local Libertarians offered opinions on various national and local issues.
Lowry said the party is taking no stance in the Nov. 5 Gilmer ISD bond issue election, although it believes in”privatization of education, separation of school and state.” However, Libertarian Criss Bartley, a Gilmer High School teacher, said she thought the district was making “a pretty good case” for a new high school, which is the centerpiece of the bond issue package.
She said the current school’s main building doesn’t meet safety codes.
On another issue, the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government, Lowry said, “I’m enjoying the shutdown except I don’t think it’s shut down enough.”
He objected to “non-essential” workers being furloughed with pay.
Asked Ms. Little, “If they’re non-essential, why are we paying them in the first place?”
Lowry and Libertarian Allen Weatherford said they favored Congress not supporting the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) and letting the shutdown continue through Oct. 17.
But Ms. Bartley said the shutdown “is nothing but a power struggle” and “we need to fire them all (politicians involved in the dispute).”
Concerning an upcoming issue, Congress’s decision on whether to raise the national debt ceiling, Lowry, a former Republican, predicted the GOP will soon “cave” and approve that.
But he and Libertarian Billy Joe Roberts praised conservative GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
“If he ain’t a Libertarian, I’ll kiss your foot,” said Roberts, who said he tried to call Cruz’s office to thank him for his work.
Lowry said that when a Republican is “principled” like Cruz, “even his own party turns against him.” The Libertarian chairman said that if all Republicans were like Cruz, U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and former Congressman Ron Paul, “there wouldn’t be a Libertarian Party.”
As for local politics, Weatherford said an unidentified woman had told him on the phone Monday night that she will run for county office as a Libertarian, and that she wanted to announce her candidacy at the Libertarians’ next meeting.