How long have you been a county commissioner?
I have been county commissioner 10 years and eight months. I was elected in November 2010 and sworn into office in January 2011.
Before you won election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office?
I served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps and 10 years in the Air Force Reserve. I was a police officer for the Corpus Christi Police Department for 10 years. During that time, I earned my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in psychology and counseling. I then worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, working for the U.S. federal court system and Federal Bureau of Prisons for 21 years. I retired as chief of security and background investigations and came back home. I ran for justice of the peace and was elected. After nine years, I retired and decided to run for county commissioner. I decided to run for county commissioner because I wanted to make a difference countywide.
What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced and what advice would you give your peers across the state who may face similar challenges?
The most difficult challenge is the budget process, especially when a tax increase is necessary to support the services needed to run efficient county government, including unfunded mandates. A challenge is the ability to offer competitive salaries to keep competent and experienced professionals. Nobody wants a tax increase. My advice is don’t make any promises you can’t keep, and do what you say you are going to do even if it’s unpopular. Be truthful and transparent in all county dealings. We might not always agree, but still be respectful to each other and have the greater interest, not for ourselves, but for our citizens.
What accomplishment are you most proud of since taking office?
When I first took office, my precinct had the most rural communities in the county. Most of our veterans were unable to attend veterans ceremonies held in Corpus Christi, so my first project was to create a veterans memorial park in each of my precinct communities. Three county parks located in Agua Dulce, Banquete and Bishop now include a Veterans Memorial Courtyard with a veterans memorial monument, flagpoles and benches made possible through a collaborative effort from county and private donations. Amistad Veterans Memorial Park in Bishop is the largest of the three parks. The memorial wall is hand-painted by local artist Jeremy Flores. It's a place to honor the service of military personnel and veterans, an enduring symbol of our gratitude and commitment to honor their service.
I am also proud of providing a living wage increase for employees under the poverty level.
What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of Nueces County to communicate what your office is doing and why?
Host town hall meetings, health fairs offering immunizations, vaccines and school physicals at our local school districts, including inviting other vendors to share information that benefit the community. Attend Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings and provide backpacks with school supplies to students. We get to visit with the residents and share information on what we as a county are doing. It also gives them an opportunity to ask questions.
My office prepares a yearly newsletter on what projects have been completed, and it includes precinct and county news. Information is also available on our county website. My office has an open-door policy. No appointment is needed and I return calls as soon as possible.
You spearheaded the effort to bring IRT Colonias into Nueces County. Can you discuss what the program is and how it helps the communities in your county?
It stands for Innovative Readiness Training, a Department of Defense military training opportunity that delivers joint training opportunities to increase deployment readiness. At the same time, the military assists in rural areas and colonias, providing key services in health care, construction, transportation and cybersecurity.
This year, Nueces County partnered with the military and Texas A&M University Colonias Program with three missions this summer: civil, engineering and medical.
Do you have any hobbies or something unique that you are interested in that may surprise your colleagues?
I’m the founder of the Joe A. Gonzalez (JAG) Education Is Your Freedom GED Scholarship Program. I created this scholarship program 16 years ago when I was a justice of the peace because of the dropout rate in our community. This program was mainly created for GED graduates or those students needing that second opportunity to return to college or trade school. It started with awarding five college scholarships, and now more than 100 college scholarships are awarded each year. This is mainly thanks to our community sponsors and donors who support our program. To date, this program has awarded more than 1,950 college scholarships for a total of $1.4 million. For more information about this program, visit the website at http:/jageducationisourfreedom.com/.
I am a Texas licensed professional counselor (LPC) and certified LPC supervisor, supervising interns earning their Texas licenses, as well as parent and family therapist, a grief counselor, and I am certified in domestic violence and mental health.
I enjoy playing racquetball, hunting and riding my big green tractor.
What is your favorite thing about Nueces County?
Nueces County is home for me. I was born and raised here. It’s not too large or too small. I like that it’s a coastal community with lots of things to do. We have a great community college, Del Mar College and one university, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Just a few miles away, in our neighboring county, Kleberg, is Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
A colonia, Spanish for community or neighborhood, is a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads and safe and sanitary housing, according to the Texas secretary of state.
Nueces County partnered with the federal government this year to bring Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), which trains military personnel and uses their manpower to bring services to colonias in the following areas:
Civil: Military personnel went door to door to rural subdivisions obtaining demographic information, helping Nueces County apply for federal and state grants to bring potable water and other needed services to those areas.
Engineering: The program also funds road rehabilitation and maintenance, a cost savings to Nueces County of $4 million to $5 million.
Medical: Medical, vision, dental and pharmacy services are provided at no cost to colonia residents. In Nueces County, five rural sites were set up, touching approximately 2,600 lives. Some residents had not seen a dentist or medical physician in years nor owned prescription eyeglasses. The Lions Club provided more than 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses. Dental services consisted of cleanings, fillings and extractions. No-cost veterinarian services were provided for an estimated 1,200 small animals, including vaccinations, spaying and neutering. Joining our efforts were 26 community partners, including the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Del Mar College dental program and Texas A&M Irma Rangel College of Pharmacy.