This election cycle, two commissioner spots will be vacant as incumbents Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson and Democrat Precinct 2 Commissioner Devan Allen chose not to seek re-election. Republican County Judge B. Glen Whitley is also stepping aside after 26 years. He is a former commissioner, and his tenure as the county judge began in 2006.
All told, more than 69 years of experience is leaving the county following this election, and in another two years, Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes says he will not seek another term after 16 years on the court.
Democrat Roy Charles Brooks, who has been on the court since 2004, has not made a decision on whether he will seek another term in Precinct 1 in 2024, according to a spokesperson from his office on Sept. 16.
After the election on Nov. 8, the county leadership will be made up of three newcomers to the court and two veteran commissioners.
“It is time for another generation to come and take over, and they will have their way of doing things, and hopefully it is just as efficient and effective,” Whitley said.
The outgoing leadership is headlined by Johnson, who was first elected in 1986. The Precinct 4 commissioner is the longest-tenured commissioner to ever serve the county. The next longest tenure belongs to C.H. Wright, who served from 1951-1970, according to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court database.
The county has seen substantial growth in Johnson’s tenure, nearly doubling in size. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission said the estimated population the year Johnson joined the court was 1.08 million. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s population in July 2021 to be over 2.1 million.
Role of commissioners court
The commissioners court handles a multitude of roles, from setting the budget and tax rates to transportation projects as ex-officio road commissioners as well as overseeing public health and the sheriff’s office.
“Everyone thinks I hear cases because I’m called a judge,” said Whitley, who was previously the commissioner for Precinct 3 before Fickes replaced him. “We spent a lot of time trying to explain what the county does. COVID- brought [attention to] what [the court] was, what [it] influenced and [its] authority a lot more than four or five years before that.”
Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius has nearly 35 years of experience in his position and has worked with a multitude of commissioners in his tenure. As county administrator, Maenius oversees public health, transportation, human resources, and budget and risk management, among other areas. His staff works closely with commissioners court officials.
The last time the court had three new members at the same time was in 1949, according to the county website. In 1954, the state constitution was amended to create four-year terms for judges and commissioners with rotating election years for them. This is the first time since that change there have been this many open spots.
“We will lose a lot of institutional knowledge and a lot of experience,” Maenius said. “We will be gaining fresh ideas and a new type of leadership with new court members. The key is to be flexible, and be able to respond and support the new court members.”
General Election hopefuls
Of the three spots on the commissioners court up for grabs, voters from Colleyville, Grapevine and Southlake will only vote for one: the county judge.
That race pits Democrat Deborah Peoples against Republican Tim O’Hare for the right to become Tarrant County’s fifth county judge since 1975. O’Hare is a former mayor of Farmers Branch, while Peoples has twice run for mayor of Fort Worth.
This is the first election since 2007 that there is a contested election for the judge spot, as Whitley ran unopposed in the past three general election cycles, according to previous election results.
The commissioner races include a former commissioner running again in Republican Andy Nguyen, who was first elected in 2009 but lost to Allen in 2018 in Precinct 2. Nguyen will face Democrat Alisa Simmons in the Nov. 8 election.
Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, beat ‘Jody’ Johnson, J.D. Johnson’s son, to earn the Republican nomination in Precinct 4. He faces Democratic candidate Cedric Kanyinda.
Tarrant County Election Administrator Heider Garcia said he expects the turnout to be a mix of the past two election cycles. In 2018, overall turnout was 56%, but in 2020 it was 69%.
•“It may be 55%-60%, but I hope for 90%-100% turnout,” Garcia said.