Q&A: G.K. Maenius, Tarrant County's longtime county administrator, on the year ahead

G.K. Maenius has been the Tarrant County administrator since January 1988. (Courtesy Tarrant County)
G.K. Maenius has been the Tarrant County administrator since January 1988. (Courtesy Tarrant County)

G.K. Maenius has been the Tarrant County administrator since January 1988. (Courtesy Tarrant County)

Since 1990, the population of Tarrant County has grown by 80%—from 1.17 million residents to 2.11 million residents in the 2020 census—and G.K. Maenius has been Tarrant County Administrator through it all. The county administrator is appointed by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court and serves as the county's Chief Administration Officer.

Maenius will continue to oversee the county’s roughly 4,000 employees and various departments in 2022 and sat down with Community Impact Newspaper to discuss challenges and opportunities for Tarrant County in the year ahead.

What are some things you are excited about for Tarrant County in 2022?

So, let's talk about transportation. First, the voters approved $400 million in transportation bonds that we worked with our cities on that. We're probably going to be selling debt in March so we can begin those projects and we've already been talking with the cities to get everybody geared up to do them—and so, I think you're going to see a real growth in road construction, which is always good because of our growing population. I think there's going to be some infrastructure stuff that may be coming out, also, that the cities can participate in. ...

Normally, we have focused on the unincorporated areas and also those smaller towns and cities ... but I believe that with the monies that we have and the partnerships we’ve developed, you're going to really see the county stepping up and really provide not only funding, but also some strategic leadership in addressing long term needs of the entire community of Tarrant County—not just the unincorporated [areas] or the smaller cities.

Will economic development continue to be a focus of the county in 2022?

Absolutely. In fact, we partner every day with the chambers of commerce and the municipalities, in working economic development deals. We've got an economic development staff that’s located in our office here—and it's not just a matter of bringing new business in, but it's also the expansion of existing businesses. We work very aggressively with [Tarrant County College] because the key to bringing in new businesses and expansion is to have a trained workforce. TCC is a leader not only in Tarrant County, but across the state, in workforce development. So we are heavily engaged with those individuals on a daily basis. ... We just have got to have a strong workforce and we have to have incentives that we can offer simply to be competitive with other areas of the country or the state.

With everything going on, what is the county’s fiscal outlook like for the coming year?

I think as far as revenues and things such as that, I think we're going to be in really good shape. We're going to continue to decrease our tax rate. We've done a pretty good job over the last eight or 10 years and we continue to drive that tax rate down. Unfortunately, I think some people are going to see an increase in the value of their homes, and so we try to offset that with decreases in tax rates. That'll be something that we continually go through.

What are some other issues you anticipate the county focusing on?

We're looking at housing, we're looking at employment-related issues. We're looking at infrastructure in our buildings and how to make sure that we have the type of buildings that can support the growth that we're gonna see in the county and the demand for services. ...

I think we're going to see a rapid movement of a lot more activity in both the criminal and civil courts—and that's a big deal for us, because we have 20 criminal courts and we have 10 civil courts and we have like six family courts. They're going to get back into full operations and so we'll be working off those backlogs.

This is an election year and, already, we know that we will have a new county judge, two new commissioners on the court and a new district attorney due to four retirements. Is this an unusual situation as far as anticipated turnover in countywide elected offices?

I think that since I've been working with the county, I've had about four, maybe five different courts where you had some change. I've seen it where we've had at least two members of the court roll off the court and had two new members come on board. The changing of the county judge is a little bit different. I think that Judge [Glen] Whitley has been county judge for 20 or close to 20 years now and Judge [Tommy Joe] Vandergriff was there for 16 years before that. You don't really have that big of a change that often in the county judge roles, so it is a little bit unique. I think everyone is, you know, somewhat anxious about how that's going to work, but I think that we're gonna be just fine—we welcome new members of the court in all the time. ... It's something that happens, and we're going to go ahead and just work through that and it's going to be okay.

On Tarrant County's COVID-19 & public health outlook

How big of a factor do you anticipate COVID-19 continuing to be for county leadership this year?

We're right now in a flood of need for testing for COVID-19 ... and so we need to make sure that our organization is ready to stand up to those types of challenges. I think everybody thought that 2021 would be the end of the coronavirus and we know now that it's not going to be the end—we don't know 2022 is going to be the end, so we have to stay flexible and have enough capacity to meet the needs. I will tell you that the demand on services, as relates to the coronavirus, has grown substantially even over these last six weeks because of the new variant. ... At the same time, we need to make sure that our organization as a whole, we need to take care of our employees—make sure that their mental and physical health are good. They're the real backbone as to provision of services. So that's going to be critically important.

What role do funding and infrastructure play in the COVID-19 response?

We’ve already received about, I’d guess, $204 million of that [ARPA] money and we’re going to see $204 [million] come in in May. ... I think we're going to be really focusing on things such as improving the structure of our public health department. We have a good public health department in normal times. Unfortunately, the last two and a half years have not been normal times—so, we have the ability to strengthen our public health department. They're doing a good job now, but they're stressed. If we can improve that, that's going to benefit everyone in this county for many years to come. ... We're also looking forward to the hospital district [JPS Health Network] had that $800 million bond package that we ran for them and was approved by the voters. Wer'e going to see some buildings go up .. and some expenditure and selling of debt there. So you're going to see a real strong emphasis on community health and that kind of fits hand in glove with the issues we talked about with the public health department.
By Steven Ryzewski
Steven Ryzewski is the editor for Community Impact Newspaper's Grapevine-Colleyville-Southlake and Keller-Roanoke-Northeast Fort Worth editions. Before joining Community Impact in 2021, he worked in hyperlocal journalism for nine years in Central Florida as an editor, sports editor and correspondent.