By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Williamson County Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long has drawn an opponent for the March 6 Republican primary in Liberty Hill resident Bart Turek.
Long is seeking her fourth term as commissioner, while Turek is running his first campaign for elected office. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Kasey Redus who does not have a primary opponent.
Both candidates feel they have been called to serve, but share different opinions on how responsive the commissioners court is to its constituents and how taxpayer monies are spent by the county.
The decision to seek a fourth term as commissioner was fairly easy for Long who said she has developed a life-long love of service.
“I love serving the community,” she said. “As a commissioner, you can serve in lots of different capacities and I feel like that’s what’s right for me. I feel like I’ve been effective in doing that and there’s some exciting things that we have going that I want to be a part of.”
Two issues come to mind immediately when Long considers current projects for the County, especially when talking about Liberty Hill.
“Some of the key things, particularly as it relates to Liberty Hill, continue to be transportation,” she said. “Building and maintaining the county roads is still one of our very core functions of county government and what we do.”
This includes current work with the City of Liberty Hill and Texas Department of Transportation to find a solution for the intersection of County Road 200 and State Highway 29.
Another exciting project in the works, according to Long, is the start of construction on phase 1 of River Ranch Park between Liberty Hill and Leander.
“That is going to be a jewel in Central Texas,” she said. “It is going to be an amazing opportunity for folks in Liberty Hill and the entire county to go enjoy a 1,000-acre park.”
Safety and quality of life are the two key issues Long believes voters are concerned about, and she said thanks to a look at current crime statistics and the current focus on law enforcement, residents are able to focus more on quality of life.
“Public safety is very important, but people feel safe,” Long said. “From 2011 to 2016, overall crime is down in Williamson County. The statistics show we are a safe community.”
She added she has always been a champion of law enforcement.
“When it came to making sure our sheriff’s deputies were at a fair wage I led the charge for that,” Long said. “Two years later I led the charge for corrections (officers) and trying to get them appropriate pay raises.”
Supporting law enforcement doesn’t mean always saying yes when it comes to budget requests, said Long.
“In light of all the departments we have to fund and all the county functions that we have to fund, you can’t have everything,” she said.
The future of Williamson County lies in its ability to attract employers, said Long, and she hopes to make that the centerpiece of her next term should she be re-elected.
“I’ve become a transportation expert, but we can never build enough roads or expand enough roads to really take care of driving people to Austin every day,” she said. “What we need to do is focus on expanding existing businesses and bringing new business in so that our residents don’t have to commute to Austin to go to work.”
Having an open door and communicating with constituents is how Long believes she can continue to help Williamson County grow and thrive.
“I want to continue to hear from people. I don’t know it all. I need to constantly have input from constituents and others,” she said. “I believe I have a reputation for listening to the constituents and understand what they have to say. Do we always agree? No. But if we stop listening then we become ineffective.
“Williamson County is a special place. That didn’t happen by accident. That happened because we have leaders in place both in the private sector and the public arena that care about and are invested in their community. That’s why I continue to do this, to help continue to make Williamson County the place people love living, learning, raising a family and worshipping.”
Choosing to challenge Long for the Pct. 2 Commissioner post is something Bart Turek feels the last three decades have been preparing him for.
Turek has lived in precinct two since 1985, working in law enforcement most of that time – much of it in the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department.
“I’ve watched this part of the county grow,” Turek said. “Going to work for the sheriff’s office in 1997, I got a taste of how the entire county was growing, but more so on this side of the interstate.”
Even when his time with the County ended, Turek felt his call to service was not over. He believes that there are disconnects between the commissioners court and voters as well as the court and other departments within the county that he can help address if elected.
“On this side of the world – the civilian world – I see just how separated the court is from the constituents,” Turek said. “I want to bring that back to the court, to where the focus of this court is yes, maintaining the integrity of this county, and running it to the best of our ability, but remembering you’re paying my salary. Why wouldn’t I want to work for you and make myself available to you?”
Beginning in 1997, Turek was involved in the process of changing many of the systems in place within the sheriff’s department.
“I got involved with the new CAD system, the new mobile field reporting, the new tracking system in the patrol cars and ambulances,” he said. “I got to work really closely with the financial side of that and got to see how the court itself would respond to necessities.”
That experience carried over into the Office of Emergency Management, where Turek was Deputy Coordinator. He saw what he said is tight control of the budget by the commissioners court.
“It was really like pulling teeth to get the purse strings released,” Turek said. “I really started seeing how much control the commissioners court had over other elected officials. It felt like you had to go beg and plead. It never made sense to me why we hire these folks to run these huge departments or these folks get elected, but you are going to tell them how to spend their money.”
While public safety is a key priority for Turek, he said open lines of communication and respect for the different department heads and elected officials are just as important.
“Do my concerns lie in the growth? Absolutely,” he said. “But with that being said we have to maintain the public safety aspect of it to stay ahead of the growth that is coming.
“I know how this county works, I know where we came from. I want the elected officials and the department heads of this county to know, they were chosen by the constituents for a reason. They’ve put their trust in them, so we are going to in turn, as a court, put our trust in them as well to run their slice of the world.”
For Turek, a new look at how taxes are used is needed.
“I’ve seen how the money has been spent. I have seen the nonsense, but then I’ve also seen the needs just be denied,” he said. “I’ve been telling folks I want to bring back common sense. It is taxpayer money. We’re elected to handle it, we’re elected to use it the best way we know how. You are electing me to be your voice on the commissioners court. I want to bring that back.”
Atwater vs. Lago Vista
In 1995, Turek was a police officer in Lago Vista and was the arresting officer in a traffic stop that gained national attention.
The case – Atwater vs. Lago Vista – went all the way to the Supreme Court, making Turek’s name a magnet for online searches.
“People ask me all the time,” he said. “Anyone who wants to talk to me about it can talk to me about it.”
The case, which came about as a result of a traffic stop in which Atwater was arrested by Turek, was settled in the Supreme Court when – in a 5-4 decision – the Court found Atwater’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by an arrest for not wearing a seatbelt.
Turek was never charged with a crime and no punitive action was taken against him professionally in connection to the suit, though he admits it was a tough four years for his family as the case made its way through the courts.
“The most disappointing thing about those four years of my life was that (Atwater’s) children were put out in front and I don’t know why,” he said.
While Turek said there were multiple charges connected to the stop, the one for not having the children wear their seatbelts was the one that gained national media attention.
At the time, he earned a bad reputation over the seatbelt issue, but believes the focus today on always wearing safety belts has proven he did the right thing.