Cedar Hill City Council Member Wade Emmert is a candidate for Dallas County Judge. In this interview, he discusses his background, his personal life, and the motivations that led him to seek the office.
Q: TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF PERSONALLY.
A: I was born and raised in Midland, Texas. I met my wife at Abilene Christian University. We married after graduation and moved to Waco where I attended Baylor Law School and she was an elementary school teacher. After law school, we moved back to her home town of Cedar Hill. We have been married almost 17 years. We have two kids, both boys ages 6 and 10. I’m a practicing attorney and she is a school teacher. We are active in our church and community.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSIONAL AND POLITICAL WORK EXPERIENCE?
A: I’m an attorney by training. I graduated from Baylor Law School in 1995 and started with Burford & Ryburn. I didn’t know this at the time, but B&R is one of the oldest law firms in Dallas. I’m now one of the managing partners and focus my practice on litigation.
I’ve been in public service for almost a decade. I first got involved in 2000. My wife and I had just had our first child the year before and I had an overwhelming desire to get involved with my community. We decided that southern Dallas County was going to be our long-term home and I wanted to be involved.
My first role was as a member of the Cedar Hill Economic Development Corporation. I asked a lot of questions and worked hard. The first two years were formative years. By the third year, I had developed some expertise and, more importantly, the respect of those with whom I served. They chose me to serve as President in 2003.
In 2003, Cedar Hill was at a crossroads. The city quickly was outgrowing its infrastructure. We needed a new City Hall, a bigger library, and improved transportation. I was asked to Chair a bond election campaign. As it turned out, it was the most successful campaign in our history. The city was able to issue $60 million dollars in bonds, all without raising taxes. It was a huge catalyst for Cedar Hill and
contributed to our current success.
In 2004, I won a seat on the City Council. From that point forward, I have worked diligently to represent the citizens of Cedar Hill. Even with my background in economic development, there was a learning curve. As before, I asked a lot of questions and worked hard and quickly developed a reputation for fostering innovative solutions to the various problems cities face. After six years, I have never lost the passion for public service.
It became obvious to me early on that Cedar Hill will not succeed or fail alone. The destinies of the Best Southwest cities – Cedar Hill, Duncanville, DeSoto and Lancaster – are intertwined. In 2004, I was chosen as a Director of the Best Southwest Partnership. In doing so, I met and developed relationships with Mayors and Council members from our neighboring cities. It reinforced in me the importance of regionalism in southern Dallas County.
I am honored to be the Chair-Elect for the Best Southwest Partnership and the Chair in 2010. I believe it is the direct result of the commitment I made to southern Dallas County a decade ago.
Q: DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME THE POLITICAL BUG BIT YOU?
A: I was on the Student Council in high school, and in law school I served as Vice President of our class for a year, but I never really wanted to be in politics. Even when I started getting involved in my community, all I wanted was to help shape the growth of Cedar Hill. Looking back on the past 9 years, I can say they have been some of the most rewarding years of my life.
A couple of years ago, I started considering a run for Dallas County Judge. It wasn’t because of the political bug. Rather, I thought I could do a better job than the current County Judge. Based on the support I’ve received, it looks like quite a few other people do too!
Q: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN.
A: I’m a SCUBA Divemaster with specialized certifications for cave diving. It’s been a few years, but I love to dive in caves. There is just something about being in a place very few people have ever been. It’s not uncommon for us to squeeze through small crevices as we explore the caves. It’s hard to explain the beauty of God’s creation.
I’m also something of a technology wonk. I love computers and gadgets. As a result, I am my family’s and friends personal I.T. department! I suppose I appreciate innovation.
Q: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO ENTER INTO THE RACE FOR DALLAS COUNTY JUDGE?
A: I’ve had opportunities to serve in other elected positions, but I see the biggest need in county government. Out of the 254 counties in Texas, Dallas County is special. It is the second most populous county in Texas, the ninth most populous county in the nation, and the DFW Metroplex has the 12th largest metropolitan economy in the world.
My background in business, law, and public service qualifies me to take on the challenges Dallas County faces. Many local elected officials throughout Dallas County agree. I have been endorsed by Mayors and Council members in Cedar Hill, Duncanville, DeSoto, Lancaster, and many other Dallas County cities.
The stakes are too high to entrust the job to a newcomer. The County Judge position is too important to leave to on-the-job training. Dallas County deserves a County Judge with experience on the issues.
Q: IS THERE A PAST POLITICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT THAT YOU BELIEVE IS INDICATIVE OF THE WORK YOU WOULD DO AS COUNTY JUDGE?
A: I’ve spent the better part of a decade in public service. As I look back over by years of experience, I can see how it translates to Dallas County. I have always been one to find innovative solutions to problems.
Take, for example, the new Government Center in Cedar Hill which houses City Hall, the Cedar Hill I.S.D. administrative offices and the Police Department. By combining all three buildings, we were able to save the citizens of Cedar Hill millions of dollars. It wasn’t easy, and more than a few times I thought our efforts would break down, but it is an example of what good government can be.
From my legal training, to my experience in economic development, to my time as a City Councilman, I have developed the experience to confront the challenges Dallas County faces. Equally as important, I have developed a reputation of working with people across city boundaries and party lines. I have been immensely honored to represent the citizens of Cedar Hill. Public service done right is a noble calling. I’m looking forward to taking the knowledge I’ve gained at the municipal level to the county level.
Q: IT SEEMS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE COUNTY JUDGE AND THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS HAS BEEN CONTENTIOUS LATELY. HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THINGS?
A: When I go to the Commissioners Court each Tuesday, I see a bank of video cameras just waiting to record the next big argument. On the one hand, the discussion can be healthy, but often times the way it happens and the rhetoric involved is not healthy.
I think each Commissioner also does a good job representing their individual districts. While they do have Dallas County’s interest in mind, they are elected to be advocates for their individual districts. Sometimes, emotions can run high.
Part of the problem is that there is no leadership from the County Judge. He is the presiding officer of the Court and should run the meeting in a way that maintains the demeanor of the Court. But before the meeting even starts, he should work with the Commissioners to address the main concerns they have over the issues. Too much contentiousness on the Court is a reflection of a lack of leadership by the Judge.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF THE ROLE OF THE COUNTY JUDGE AND COUNTY GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE?
A: I see my role as County Judge to help Commissioners represent their districts while, at the same time, looking out for the interests of the County as a region. Some people aren’t even aware there is a county-level government. They know about our state government, with the Governor and the Legislature, and they know about municipal government with Mayors and City Councils. But they don’t realize there is a level in between. So it comes as no surprise that some don’t know what the County Judge does or why it is such an important role.
The Judge is the top administrative official for the county, somewhat like the Governor is for the state or Mayor is for a city. And it that regard, the County Judge runs the Commissioners Court meetings and helps county government run efficiently.
On the other hand, the Commissioners Court is not a legislative body, so we don’t create laws or pass ordinances. The only authority a county has is that which the Legislature has specifically given. But it is a lot of responsibility to provide county-level services like the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Emergency Services, and Health & Human Services, to name a few.
From a philosophical perspective, the County Judge should be the chief advocate for county issues. When the Legislature is in session, the Judge should be there to help good laws get passed and bad laws fail. He should have a long-term vision for the County and work to get buy-in from the citizens and other elected officials.
Q: WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU WOULD CHANGE AS COUNTY JUDGE?
A: Dallas County faces a number of challenges in the short-term and long-term. Among them:
As County Judge, I will work to keep transportation dollars in Dallas County rather than losing them to surrounding counties and elsewhere across the state. I will work with area elected officials, transportation boards like the Regional Transportation Coalition, and advocacy groups like the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition to build consensus and coalitions to address our transportation challenges.
I also will maintain effective liaisons with key legislators and state agencies to identify funding opportunities. Quality mobility affects everyone. It is time we had an effective leader looking out for
the needs of Dallas County.
Dallas County must encourage economic development in southern Dallas County to infuse dollars into the economy, create much needed jobs and increase the tax base for our southern cities. The 6,000 acre Dallas Logistics Hub in southern sector represents an incredible opportunity for us and we must continue to be a strong advocate on its behalf and provide a favorable climate for business to succeed.
As County Judge, I’ll work to offset on-road sources of pollution by stepping-up efforts to remove non-compliant vehicles from our streets and highways and invest in alternate forms of transportation that decrease overall emissions.
Dallas County should adopt comprehensive new environmental policies. We lag behind many cities and counties who already have made a commitment to environmentally friendly policies. We should maintain a vehicle fleet that is as fuel efficient as possible, and routinely study large county buildings to see if their systems are operating efficiently.
Just like the rest of the state, Dallas County is facing difficult economic times. We must make tough decisions and be prudent with the taxpayers’ money. As County Judge, I would continue the 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts from every department. I would implement a thorough review of all programs within each department so we can eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending. We should task staff to aggressively pursue state and federal grants for programs in lieu of county tax dollars and find innovative opportunities for public-private partnerships.
Q: DO YOU THINK THE CITY AND COUNTY SHOULD WORK TOGETHER MORE, OR IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO WORKING SEPARATELY?
A: The County works quite closely with cities, often times administering state or federal programs that benefit cities. That’s why my experience as a City Council member translates so well to the responsibilities of the County Judge.
For more information about Wade Emmert, visit www.WadeEmmert.com