Trey Duhon does not mince words. He knows when he takes his seat Jan. 1 as Waller County judge that there is a great deal of work ahead, and much of it needs to be addressed quickly.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it—we have a lot of work to do. A lot," Duhon said. "I hope when it's all said and done, we'll have a Waller County people can be proud of. We are on the front line of growth in Texas. It's coming to Waller County, and I think that's going to give us enormous opportunities."
Duhon, a self-described conservative Republican, won the Nov. 4 election by an almost 3-to-1 margin to take over the job soon to be vacated by County Judge Glenn Beckendorff, who did not seek re-election.
Duhon grew up in Fort Bend County and practiced law there for 18 years before coming to Waller County. Once in there, he opened his own law practice and became involved in the county by serving as president of the Waller Area Chamber of Commerce for four years. He also served on the Waller County Economic Development Partnership and the Waller County Transportation Authority.
Growth is coming
Waller County is in the path of the residential and commercial boom spreading west of Houston, and Duhon said it is time to prepare for what is heading toward the county before it arrives.
"What you've seen in Waller County in the last 10 years is that we've been in a reactive posture: Something happens, and then we have to react to it," he said. "You look at anywhere they've been successful—Katy, Fort Bend County, Sugar Land—it's because somebody had the vision and they planned ahead," Duhon said.
"We need to start thinking of a strategic plan for the whole county. What do we want to look like 20 years from now, 40 years from now, or even five or 10 years from now?"
While the county cannot zone land specifically for residential or commercial property, Duhon said the county can steer construction toward areas by offering tax incentives and abatements. He also said it is time for the county to start thinking about designating green spaces for possible future parks and outdoor amenities.
Another priority for Duhon is upgrading the county's buildings and facilities. Citing a recent study commissioned by the county, Duhon said five county buildings are in dire need of renovation or must be rebuilt: Worst of all, he said, is the county jail—a metal building with a bottom that has "basically completely rusted away."
"Waller County could be looking at bonds," he said. "These are county buildings that you have to have. You can't transact business without a courthouse or without a jail."
Duhon also said the justice of the peace building in the south side of the county where the sheriff's office is housed is now too small to efficiently do the work that needs to be done.
Transparency in government
Duhon said one big issue that needs to be addressed to accomplish work on the county's facilities is to improve the transparency of the county government and better inform residents of what their elected leaders are doing and how they are spending tax dollars.
Some ways to do that, he said, are to broadcast Commissioners Court meetings online or make a video of the meeting available. He also hopes to improve the county website and use social media to spread information and interact with residents.
"There's been a lot of instances since I've been in Waller County where people feel like, right or wrong, that they have been kept in the dark," Duhon said. "It is my intention to make the necessary changes so that never again [will someone say], "I had no idea this was going on.' If somebody says that, it's because they haven't gone online or looked into it because the information is there."
Duhon will not be the only new face on the Commissioners Court when the new year starts. Russell Klecka, in Precinct 2, and Justin Beckendorff, in Precinct 4, both ran unopposed for commissioner seats and will join John Amsler and Jeron Barnett, who each were elected last year, on the court.
The total overhaul in the county's leadership in the past two years is not a bad thing, according to Duhon. He believes the county's residents are voting in a change for the better.
"There's a lot of work to be done, but I'm excited," Duhon said. "We're in good shape financially. We're going to have a court that has a lot of energy. I think we're going to be looking to streamline things; get more information to people; follow through on the things that we told people we were going to do to make Waller County a better place."
Waller County precincts
The Waller County Commissioners Court has seen a total overhaul in the last two years with two new commissioners elected in 2013 and two additional new commissioners and a new county judge elected in November.
County judge: Trey Duhon
Precinct 1 commissioner: John A. Amsler
Precinct 2 commissioner: Russell Klecka
Precinct 3 commissioner: Jeron Barnett
Precinct 4 commissioner: Justin Beckendorff