Ms. Ridgeway, the 33-year-old daughter of Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway and Richard Ridgeway, made the announcement after a dinner for about 20 invited guests, not including relatives.
The gathering was held at the home she shares with her husband, Steven Mays, and their two sons.
She is the first announced candidate for the judge’s post in the 2014 elections. Incumbent Dean Fowler, also a Republican, has not announced whether he will seek a fourth term.
After a brief speech announcing her candidacy, Ms. Ridgeway confronted several issues during a lengthy question-and-answer session, ranging from her views on taxes to her differences with Fowler.
“I do not believe that the members of this county can sustain further taxes. I can guarantee you that I will not (vote to) raise taxes,” she said, indicating she would rather let voters decide whether to approve bonds instead.
Ms. Ridgeway said she opposed a tax hike because many citizens are living on retirement checks, or struggling economically. She said the county did not need to financially “strain” persons working 60 to 80 hours weekly, and pledged to “look at” lowering taxes.
Concerning the county budget, she said it had “a lot of issues” and that “one of the major issues I’ve heard” is that when people go to county offices, they can’t get anything done.
For example, she said, her husband went three or four times to a Justice of the Peace office to pay a traffic ticket, but never found it open. In addition, she said, it took a friend of hers three days to get a county employee to call him back about a demolition permit.
She also said the county should neither increase or decrease its payroll until looking at the budget “as it stands,” and that research should be done on what caused the nearly $1 million projected shortfall which surfaced earlier this year.
“I don’t believe I am aware of how bad it is,” nor is the public, Ms. Ridgeway said.
She praised what she termed corrections in the budget which the County Commissioners Court has made, but declared they are “not enough to move forward.
“I believe in living within your means. I believe this county has not, historically,” she said. “I’m still unsure why Judge Fowler took out a loan (for the county some time ago).”
She also said she wondered why, before the current court members took office, there had “historically” been no open bid process on mineral interests on Upshur County-owned “school land” in Baylor and Throckmorton Counties. (Certain revenue from that acreage is distributed among school districts lying whollye or partly in Upshur County.)
She said she would suggest the schools hire a landman to establish what property the county owns in the Baylor/Throckmorton area.
Asked about the controversial issue of county employees’ retirement benefits, Ms. Ridgeway said she hadn’t reviewed that “in its entirety.” In addition, some information for indvidual workers is “privileged” by law, so “I can’t really comment whether it (the benefit level) is exorbitant” or disproportionally high compared to other counties, she said.
On another topic, responding to a question from Pct. 1 Constable Gene Dolle, the candidate said she wouldn’t favor reducing the number of Constables and Justices of the Peace in the county, because Upshur is approaching 50,000 population and the county’s geographic size is “huge.”
(Proposed legislation to let counties of Upshur’s size vote on whether to reduce the number of JPs and Constables recently died in a committee in the Texas House, but Dolle said the issue isn’t completely dead.)
On another matter, Ms. Ridgeway said she would vote on all issues before the court. Fowler rarely votes on issues except to break ties.
“Not voting is a choice Judge Fowler has made. I have no intention of making that choice,” she said, adding she didn’t plan “to avoid controversy.”
Asked about her other differences with Fowler, she said “one of my major issues” is “communication, transparency and keeping the county government working together instead of as a divided unit.”
Asked how she could improve relations between Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Commissioners, several of whom have complained privately and/or publicly about Betterton, she said she could “hold people accountable for what they are supposed to do” and that “accountability can be dealt with in budgets.”
She said the current four commissioners—Cole Hefner, Frank Berka, Mike Spencer and Paula Gentry—“have all worked very hard to try to hold people accountable.”
Ms. Ridgeway also addressed what her reply would be to anyone who complained that she hasn’t lived in the county long enough since she moved here only last February from the Houston area.
“I thoroughly expect that people will say that,” Ms. Ridgeway stated. But, she said, she believed it was good to have “young folks that are willing to serve” and “make some changes.”
During her brief address announcing her candidacy, she had said she and her husband moved to Upshur County “because we wanted a better life” for their two young sons. She said she and Mays wanted the boys to know “morality,” and she added that “Houston’s a whole other ball game” from Upshur County.
She noted that both her sons were born while she was both operating a business and atttending the South Texas School of Law in Houston, where she graduated in the upper portion of her class. She is actively involved in practicing civil law.
On other issues, the candidate said:
• The county needs to look at potential grants for infrastructure and law enforcement.
• She would, unlike Fowler, favor holding Commissioners Court meetings during evening hours. (The court now meets normally at 9 a.m.) Ms. Ridgeway said she favored it because many people work or attend school in the daytime.
• During a protracted discussion about messy yards and stray animals, the candidate said nuisance and abatement laws are “a big deal.” and that “when it looks like a methamphetamine dealer lives next door, it’s got to be cleaned up.”