For the first time since she ran for the office, Denton County Judge Mary Horn has challengers in her bid for another term.
Corinth Mayor Paul Ruggiere and Highland Village attorney Sherman Swartz have thrown their hats into the ring to run for the county judge’s seat, creating a three-way battle for votes in the March 4 Republican primary election.
The county judge serves a four-year term with a current annual pay of $112,524, officials said. The position carries administrative powers including presiding over the five-member Commissioners Court, which has budgetary and administrative authority over county government operations.
Ruggiere and Swartz insist that new ideas are needed for the position, but Horn said she still has much work left to do for the county. Her top priorities include maintaining a low tax rate, encouraging commercial development to take the tax burden off homeowners and finding funds for the phase 2 expansion of Interstate 35E.
“I don’t want to change from the strong fiscal policies we have put in place,” Horn said. “I realize the job is never done. … I totally enjoy what I am doing. I have the energy for it. We have so many projects we have going, I’d like to see some of those things go to completion before I think of stepping down.”
Horn said she has been instrumental in working with county commissioners to put together bond elections in 2004 and 2008, and has worked to identify funds for $3 billion in road projects during her tenure as county judge. Continuing work on these partnerships is very important, Horn said.
The county judge’s post does not need a change in leadership, she said.
Horn says she doesn’t want to change the “AAA” bond rating that has saved the county money when it comes to borrowing money for bonds or change her position against tax abatements for businesses seeking to come to Denton County.
Ruggiere, 48, thinks eight years is long enough for any effective leader to accomplish goals. He says he would serve only two terms if elected as county judge.
“There’s always a new challenge or a new task to be done,” Ruggiere said. “But sometimes you need a fresh approach and new ideas to get it done right for the people of today. I think the people in this county are yearning for some positive, forward-thinking change in this leadership position.”
Ruggiere said his five years as mayor of Corinth have helped him in several ways — it has toughed his skin in making decisions that affect other peoples’ lives and has helped him hone his organizational and administrative skills. Ruggiere said it took him a few years to get things turned around and running up to his standard in Corinth.
Ruggiere said he wants to be sure the right kind of economic growth is coming to Denton County.
“On the organizational side, we need to make sure we are accomplishing our functions in the most efficient way as possible,” he said.
Ruggiere, who worked for the University of North Texas for 20 years in a department where he surveyed the opinions of people served by different state and local governments, said he has always been working with people to help them better improve their services. That experience would help him be a better county judge, he said.
“The most important thing is, you never think you have the best idea,” he said. “In a professional organization and in an entity that has a lot of stakeholders, the right decision usually comes from the full vetting of the discussion.
“I think it’s important to set the goals as the leader, to tap into the resources you have in employees and other stakeholders, so that whatever solution we arrive at is the best solution. You can build a consensus that a lot of people can get behind rather than trying to cram your idea down the throat of everyone else.”
Swartz, 55, a Highland Village attorney, says one of his top priorities is the growth of the business community and diversifying the tax base so that homeowners do not shoulder so much of the burden.
“All you have to do is look down the road and see other counties growing businesses and Denton County has not, and it needs to,” Swartz said in a recent interview. “I’d like to see four- and five-star restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues ... greater growth of business community to be able to provide better jobs and a higher standard of living.”
Swartz said he wants to hold down taxes, which have been slowly climbing the past few years.
“The taxes increase, but you’re not getting any more service than the day you did before, for the most part,” he said. “Valuations go up, you didn’t get any more service, but you got more taxes.”
Swartz, whose background includes handling business and transactional matters for Fortune 500 companies and both small and large businesses, said he is well-qualified to be the next county judge for Denton County.
If elected, he said one course of action would be to discuss the needs of county residents — from community, business and city leaders to the man and woman on the street.
“From that point, develop a direction of what everyone is looking for, what they feel they need,” he said. “How can we utilize what we have, how can we understand what we have, understand what [we] need? Once you understand what you need, you can develop a program to go get it.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.
REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES FOR DENTON COUNTY JUDGE
Occupation: Denton County judge
Prior political history: Ran for Denton County tax assessor/collector in 1992 and took office in 1993. Held that position until March 2002, when she won the Republican primary election for county judge; the Commissioners Court then appointed her in June 2002 to fill the post to replace Scott Armey. She was re-elected county judge in 2006 and 2010.
Background: Worked for Braniff International Airways for 17 years in various customer service and management positions. Owned and operated a small business from home, took office as tax assessor/collector in 1993. Has been county judge since June 2002. Volunteered for at least 10 years for Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, served on the Keep Denton Beautiful Committee for a number of years, and has volunteered as an election judge and election worker. Received Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award from Denton County Republican Party in 1988.
Top priorities for the office: Maintain a very low tax rate and continue the innovative thinking, frugal budgets and policies that keep our “AAA” bond rating and at the same time meet the necessities of the county; to work diligently to attain the necessary funding for transportation projects in Denton County.
Online: www.countyjudgemaryhorn.com, www.facebook.com/reelectjudgemaryhorn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupation: self-employed evaluation consultant, mayor of Corinth
Prior political history: Corinth City Council, 2006-09 (two terms, served three years; ran for mayor during second term). Mayor of Corinth, 2009 – present.
Background: Worked 20 years at the University of North Texas running the Survey Research Center, which partners with state and local governments to measure customer satisfaction with services. Resigned to run for Denton County judge. Denton County Transportation Authority, 2004-06. Delegate to Senate District 12 Republican Convention (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010). Delegate to Texas State Republican Convention (2004, 2006, 2010).
Top priorities for the office: Focus on future planning and reprioritize the use of county resources; encourage the right kind of growth in the county so we do not build in an increasing demand for county services without revenues to support that growth; work with developers and cities to make sure that growing areas can sustain themselves without putting additional tax burdens on the people of the county.
SHERMAN PAUL SWARTZ
Hometown: Highland Village
Prior political history: precinct chairman of Precinct 3005 in Highland Village
Background: Handled business and transactional matters for Fortune 500 companies and both small and large businesses; served as executive director emeritus of the National RFID Institute; member of the Pro Bono College of the Texas State Bar; committee member of the Denton County Storm Water Committee; provided free legal aid seminars for Denton County seniors and students at UNT and provided pro bono legal advice to Christian Community Action.
Top priorities for the office: Sharpen the pencil on spending by the county; broaden and diversify the tax base; lessen the tax burden on the taxpayer; examine the methods of taxation and valuation by all affected parties and seek to have the people who can help change the methods listen to our findings; encourage managed and responsible business growth; talk to businesses to see the things businesses want and need to consider and move into Denton County; encourage responsible business growth to help the county and ease the burden on taxpayers.
Online: www.shermanswartz.com, www.facebook.com/swartzforjudge