Voices of County Government - Victoria County Commissioner Kevin Janak

County government officials are as diverse as the Texans who elect them, coming from every background imaginable. In this issue we talk with Lynn County Tax Assessor-Collector Donna Wilis

By County magazine

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How long have you been a county commissioner? 
Thirteen good, short years so far.

Prior to your election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office? 
I worked 12-hour shifts for an electrical power generation company, and I continued working there for some years in addition to serving as county commissioner until I retired from the electrical plant. While I’m no kind of politician, it occurred to me one day that being a county commissioner could be a very interesting job. I began talking about it with friends and family and our church family. I went onward from there to win two hotly contested elections in 2006. 

What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office?  
Working for years in a high-tech electrical plant, the different ways that the county used (and did not use) technology of various ages and stages was a surprise for me. With my experience in electrical generation, it was also surprising how much the county was paying in electrical bills, so I tackled that issue as one of my first cost-saving projects. I’ve created and overseen initiatives to help our county use electricity more efficiently, which has saved local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. I also led efforts to install new technology to document and control the costs of everyday county and precinct-level activities.  
What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced and what advice would you give your peers across the state that may face the same or similar challenges? 
As a county commissioner, it’s sometimes hard to not feel like you’re being pulled one way or another by people or agendas. For us near the Gulf Coast, dealing with hurricanes is always challenging, and Hurricane Harvey caused massive destruction across our county and region that we’re still working to recover from. My advice in facing challenges, particularly when high emotions or heavy politics are involved, is to stay true to yourself, God and the people you work for. While surprises may still arise, things will be all right in the end. Be polite and be persistent and treat everyone like a friend until they give you good reason to treat them otherwise.

Since taking office, what accomplishment are you most proud of? 
We’ve made a lot of progress, so it’s hard to name just one thing. After Hurricane Harvey smashed into us in 2017, I coordinated with two of the other commissioners in cleaning up countless tons of debris as we completed the largest debris pickup we’ve dealt with since Hurricane Carla roared through Victoria County in 1961. I’ve been deeply involved in efforts to improve fire protection and safety at our juvenile justice center, while ending the cycle of local taxpayers unnecessarily subsidizing the detention of juveniles from other counties. I was also chosen to represent counties across Texas in an initiative to improve the Texas Department of Transportation’s bridge replacement program. Our precinct has used this program to replace several outdated bridges at no cost to the county, as well as building 100 miles of county roads. I have been a voting member of the South Texas regional water planning group for 10 years, and since 2015, I’ve served on the executive committee for our water region, giving Victoria County a vital voice in ongoing decision-making about water issues.

What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of Victoria County to communicate what your office is doing and why? 
Victoria has a daily newspaper and a TV station, and it’s important to be up front in keeping the media and local residents informed about the when and why of what’s going on, particularly in the precinct. Facebook can be very useful in getting out day-to-day information about things like road issues and bridge closures and for keeping people regularly updated on the progress of precinct projects. It’s always vital to fully engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear, and to remember that the good Lord gave us two ears to listen and only one mouth to talk for good reason.

When you are not at work, what are you doing? Do you have any hobbies or something unique that you are interested in that may surprise your colleagues?  
I have a small family Brahman cattle ranching operation, and it takes a certain special desire to raise those “sweet tempered” Brahmans. I love spending time with family and my precious granddaughters, and I especially enjoy our dove hunting adventures together! 

What is your favorite thing about Victoria County?  
The people in Victoria County are some of the best you’ll meet anywhere, and visitors are often surprised by how people from many different backgrounds have come together here at the “crossroads of Texas” over the years to build a better life for themselves and for future generations.