Ms. Ridgeway, an attorney, is seeking the Republican nomination against incumbent Dean Fowler, who is running for renomination for a fourth term in the March 4 GOP primary. She spoke to about 25 supporters.
Fowler has said he decided to run for reelection after all four County Commissioners asked him to, and Ms. Ridgeway singled out not only him, but some unnamed Commissioners, for criticism in her talk.
Declaring that “the issue that most concerns me” is taxes, she said some Commissioners had stated during their campaigns they wouldn’t raise them. Although “your tax bill will go up” from their actions, these Commissioners told a newspaper “they did not raise taxes,” Ms. Ridgeway said.
“I don’t find that to be transparent,” the candidate said.
In addition, the county borrowed $1.5 million several years ago for infrastructure, but no department directly involving infrastructure received those funds, and “I don’t consider that transparency,” either, she said.
Citing that “mystery loan,” and a budget crisis which arose last year when “nobody knows why that happened,” Ms. Ridgeway said “it appears that we just have more and more questions.”
She said the public has a right to “direct answers,” but “that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“People are breaking their commitments. . .They’re not being honest,” Ms. Ridgeway alleged. Declaring that she didn’t believe in raising taxes, she maintained that “the taxpayer in Upshur County pays enough.”
She additionally said she wanted an “honest answer” to “where does the money go,” and that the county hasn’t had elected representatives who have made things work.
For example, Ms. Ridgeway said, departments which generate revenue aren’t being permitted to. And the county needs to “eliminate the fat” in its budget, she added.
(During the question-and-answer portion of her 61-minute presentation, a representative of The Mirror asked the candidate which departments supposedly weren’t being allowed to generate revenue. She said “I will not specifically answer that,” but added that several employees had privately approached Commissioners Court, and that they had been unable to get “resources.”)
Asked how she would increase transparency, Ms. Ridgeway said she would put county contracts, the county bidding process, and unsealed bids online, and that she would put more public records on the county website.
She also said county business should be in the newspaper.
“Instead of being worried about what’s in the newspaper, let’s worry about what’s not in the newspaper,” Ms. Ridgeway said.
On another issue, taxes, Ms. Ridgeway expressed opposition to a tax hike, but said the county needed to build revenue, and indicated she wanted to do so by attracting industry, as well as what she called a “voluntary tax.”
That would entail such actions as raising fees for filing lawsuits, and raising fees for departments needing revenue, she said.
As for business, she said Upshur County had refused to give tax breaks which other counties would accept. Noting she favored a “temporary tax deferment” for businesses, she said that with no firms in the county, the tax burden falls on the individual taxpayer.
Ms. Ridgeway also said she favored “zero-sum budgeting” for the county because now, each department annually asks for more money “without explaining where the previous money went.”
“With zero-sum budgeting, we cut expenses before we raise costs,” she added. She also said the county can reduce expenses by increasing every employee’s productivity.
The candidate also expressed support for considering “merit raises” for employees, and considering pay raises for the Sheriff’s Office.
She said that office is considered a “training ground” where the county pays to train officers who only stay 4-6 months before they can move to another county’s Sheriff’s Department for higher pay. It is not beneficial to have many new officers who are inexperienced, she said.
Concerning another point, Ms. Ridgeway said county departments have no job descriptions, and that the Commissioners Court “often has no idea” what happens in offices due to a lack of communication with them.
While acknowledging there has been improvement in the county government, “we are still lacking a great deal of communication, outreach,” she charged.
The candidate said she had moved from Houston to Upshur County with her husband, Steven Mayes, and their two children in February for a “better life” for the children and to be closer to her family. (She was introduced by her mother, Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway.)
Upon attending some Commissioners Court meetings and “seeing how things were done,” she said, she felt the county “needed to make a change.”
“At least one person on the Commissioners Court does not vote,” she said (a reference to Fowler’s practice of usually abstaining from all but tie-breaking votes). “Your public officials should vote so you can hold them accountable for their beliefs.”.
She also complained that holding meetings at 9 a.m., as the court normally does, makes it difficult for taxpayers to participate in them. If they are excluded, she said, officials don’t know what they want.
Never mentioning his name during her presentation, Ms. Ridgeway also criticized Fowler for appointing attorneys for too many people whom she said shouldn’t have court-appointed lawyers.
“There’s a joke that Upshur County is a “baby-daddy court’ because everybody gets a lawyer,” she said. Ms. Ridgeway said that if someone posts bond, but is still permitted a “county-paid-for counsel, that’s a real problem. . .What lawyers call that is feeding at the trough.”
She said someone shouldn’t receive a court-appointed lawyer “if they have any resources available.”
Before expressing her views on issues, Ms. Ridgeway detailed her work and educational background. Prior to becoming an attorney in the firm of Boates and Ridgeway, she said she worked for businesses “generating revenue and cutting costs.”
She began a guardianship business after tracking down a homeless aunt who was schizophrenic on the streets of Houston, she said, and became a private professional guardian. She said she also attended Texas State University and graduated at the top of her class at South Texas School of Law in Houston.