Q&A: Robert Hebert talks about his time as Fort Bend County Judge, why he ran for office and his advice to KP George

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On Nov. 6, Robert Hebert lost reelection for Fort Bend County Judge, a position he has held since 2003, to Democratic challenger and Fort Bend ISD board trustee KP George.

As County Judge, Hebert presided over Commissioners Court, which oversees the County’s nearly 3,000 employees and its $373.5 million budget for the county’s 770,000 residents. Hebert said he was officially vacating on Dec. 26 to give George an opportunity to set up his office. Here, he tells Community Impact Newspaper about his time in office, gives advice to George in his new role and tells us about his favorite job.

You’ve led Fort Bend County for 16 years: what would you say is your most successful achievement?
I know we have solved a lot of problems, and [I] think we are leaving the county in a little bit better shape than when we started. When Jones Creek Ranch came on the market, a fully developed park, I was able to rise private funding in less than 10 days to fund the entire purchase of that park, which led the county to be able to put money into fixing it up and modernizing it. Now the county has a 115-acre park to serve the community into the foreseeable future.

I am also proud of being a part of the passing of the five bond elections put up. We never had a bond issue fail, and I am proud of that. We built some critical facilities, including the new justice center which ended the confusion in our county by putting all of the courts into one building. There will be other buildings down the road, but they will be adjacent to that complex. We’ve also put up a lot of facilities out in the county so citizens don’t have to drive to Richmond to do business with the county clerk or tax assessor.

What was your most challenging issue, and how did you deal with it?
Harvey was far and away the most physically and emotionally challenging event because it was such a long-duration disaster. We’ve also had challenges on this courthouse when the state refused to give us the grant we anticipated, and we had this courthouse abandoned. I take pride in being able to find the funding to make up the state’s share of the program so we could get this thing renovated. Sadly, we did it without the help of our state, but proudly we did it, and it is a beautiful building.

Why did you decide to run for office?
I didn’t decide to run for office, really. In December of 2001, [then County]Judge Jim Adolphus filed for re-election, and I had already endorsed him as I had when he ran the first time. Afterward, he suffered a major heart attack, and a group of citizens came to me and asked me if I would run. I thought about it, and the deadline to run was Dec. 31.

I called Jim, who was still recovering in the hospital and asked him if he wanted to continue to run, I would not, but if he didn’t think he could serve four more years, I will file. He told me he would think about it. He called me the next day, asked me to come to the hospital and told me then he was going to step down if I filed. Three days before I filed, I had no idea I was going to do it. Sixteen years later, I am the longest running judge in the county.

I am proud of that achievement, surviving for 16 years. I like to tell people I am opposed to term limits because I say that the voters can throw out the rascals anytime they got tired of them. I ran five times, won four times, and the fifth time, I was one of the rascals that got thrown out. It happens.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I am a voracious reader. I read about 12-15 books per month. I read on the Internet now because I was constantly boxing up books and giving them to the library. I have given hundreds of books to the library. I have read all my life. I don’t get much into novels unless they are well-received, but I read about history and a lot of books on government. I like to know what is going on in principles of government. And history because of the saying, “If you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it.”

Aside from county judge, what were some of one of your favorite jobs?
One of the most rewarding [jobs]was running ECO Resources Inc., a company I founded. Starting and building a successful company like that has tremendous rewards. I sold it to a public company, and it continues to thrive over in Sugar Land. Many of the people I have trained are now in leadership positions in the water industry in Houston. I take pride in the success they have had. From a public service standpoint, the eight years I spent working with the City of Arcola, getting them out of bankruptcy as a temporary receiver was very rewarding because we paid off a lot of debt, and I left him with $500,000 in the bank, and they have stayed solvent and functioning as a city since then.

Reflecting on your years of service, what advice would you give to KP George?
I will actually vacate on Dec. 26 to allow him the week to set his office up to be ready Jan. 2. Hopefully he will be prepared—you can’t be fully prepared for the role of county judge, but you can be better prepared. I hope he succeeds. I want him to succeed. He will do it differently, but there are other ways to get it done. If he doesn’t succeed then the county suffers, and I don’t want that to happen.

My advice is simple: Never surprise your commissioners. Work with them before you bring things up for vote. Allow them to bring things up for vote that impact their precinct. Do not attempt to tell them how to represent the people who elected them. They have a different job than the judge, and you don’t want to get crosswise with your court. Most of my time we had two Democrats and two Republicans, but we all worked together, and I understood their role and they understood their role.

What are you most looking forward to doing when you are no longer in office?
The thing I found most difficult to get rid of is to wake up in the middle of the night thinking of a project and realizing the decision won’t be made until the next year. Those things are not in my control, so I am looking forward to the freedom from worrying about things that I can’t fully address myself.

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Christine Hall
Christine Hall joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2018, and covers Missouri City and Fort Bend ISD. She previously reported on health care innovation for the Texas Medical Center and held various news roles at the Houston Business Journal.
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