Voices of County Government - Hon. Margaret Sawyer

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 the McCulloch County Justice of the Peace?

I was appointed in April 2013 to fill the unexpired term of Judge Bill Robinett. I am in my sixth year. 

Prior to your election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office?
Previously, I worked for over 20 years for the state of Texas with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (CPS). I just woke up one morning and heard of Judge Robinett’s early retirement on the radio and told my husband, “I think I could do a good job as Justice of the Peace.” He turned around and said, “I know you can.” I was traveling more than 2,000 miles a month, and I wanted to quit traveling out of the county but continue to help others. 

What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office? 
I think the biggest surprise of how a small county operates versus a large state agency logistically works was very eye-opening. In regards to staff training, technology support, budgeting and human resources, everything is different in a smaller workplace. As an elected official, I had to become very knowledgeable in each role and wear many hats.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced, and what advice would you give your peers across the state that may face the same or similar challenges?
The most difficult challenge for me has been that there are just not enough hours in the day to complete some job tasks. There are days when an immediate issue comes up that needs attention right then, and then when I return to the office where none of the tasks I wanted to complete get addressed — they just have to wait till the next day. There is never a dull moment in the daily life of a JP office. We are always very busy.

I really believe that as long as you continue to enjoy serving others, treat everyone with respect and dignity, and be accountable to your constituents and co-workers, then life in the workplace will be productive and enjoyable. We all have tough decisions to make, but at the end of the day, you need to feel calm about how things will look the next day.

Since taking office, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
I think it is not just my accomplishment but my whole department’s accomplishment. Staff continues to offer feedback and suggestions about the day-to-day operations that are effective or those that are not. We have set yearly goals for the office, as well as individual goals. Everyone continues to attend more training. We work on building a successful office every day through successes and failures.

What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of McCulloch County to communicate what your office is doing and why?
As high-tech as the world has become about social media and technology, it seems like the best two sources for immediate dissemination of information in our small town are the local radio station, KNEL AM/FM, and the local newspaper, The Brady Standard-Herald. The radio station broadcasts jury duty cancellations and weather closures quickly and efficiently. The paper has a Facebook page that also gets out immediate livestream information on emergency management issues. Both are very traditional but still the most effective way to let residents know what is going on concerning our office.

When you’re not at work, what are you doing? Do you have any hobbies or something unique that you’re interested in that may surprise your colleagues?
I tell everyone that I am an awesome golfer, gardener and guitar player when in reality, I am just average. But I have been known to use my entire off days doing any one of those three things. All of those things bring a smile to my face. My unique interest is that I very badly want to be a skilled welder. I have purchased every item that is available to help me advance my skills. I have welding helmets, glasses, tables, clamps, vests, gloves, etc., but every time a little spark heads in my direction, I still scream like a girl!

What is your favorite thing about McCulloch County?
 My favorite thing about McCulloch County is the genuine hometown feel. People pull together to provide help. People always come together in sincerity and it is powerful. The community is small enough that we still all know each other’s faults, talents, children, and have no fear in expressing our love for family.