Six seek top county spot


In an all-Republican race, five county residents from a wide variety of backgrounds are looking to wrest the County Judge position away from the incumbent.

As with all local races on the primary ballot, the person serving the next term could be decided in March, barring runoffs.

Early voting began Tuesday, and will continue through March 2.

David Culbreth Sr.

Currently the CEO of Commercial Fence Inc. in Pasadena, David Culbreth Sr. is looking to return the favor of service to a county that he said has been so good to him.

Culbreth said he never has been in politics; his experience encompasses cattle ranching, oil work with British Petroleum, and he even was a deputy constable in Galveston County for more than 18 years, all before

Born and raised in Madison County, Culbreth graduated Madisonville High School in 1968, and then graduated from Texas A&M in 1972.

"Mother and Dad lived their entire lives here; I went away, but came back home," he said. "I want to benefit the county with the things that I've learned and the experiences I've had. I want to do something meaningful for the county and myself. It's a necessity to continue to work as you get older, and the benefits of getting older is you learn some things, and I've always been successful."

As judge, Culbreth said he can bring efficiency to county operations.

"People are taxed and expect service, and honesty and integrity in the people they hire," he said. "If you can't bring that to the job, you need to find another job."

Efficiency is necessary, Culbreth said, because the county has a finite amount of funds to put toward its needs. While the funds are fairly well-managed right now, Culbreth said he thinks there may be some areas where funds can be reallocated to be beneficial.

"The Sheriff's Department takes up a full third of the budget, and while it's needed, I'd like to dig into the budget to see about improving the service the Sheriff's Department provides," he said. "Also, the roads need work, and while the commissioners do the best with what they have, there may be a way to improve that. I think there needs to be a real evaluation of the budget and county services."

Culbreth acknowledges the county judge has court duties, and said that community safety is the No. 1 job of any entity.

"You have to weigh punishment and rehabilitation and find a balance that actually works," he said. "As far as I know, that's being done, to a degree."

Culbreth said the different service areas of the county need to be looked at, and priorities set, which is done by the commissioners.

"I want to bring a more cohesively organized system to the county," he said. "As it sits now, it's fairly loose and it's not as cohesive a group as I'd like to see."

Tony Leago

For Tony Leago, his faith is the cornerstone of his life, and he weaves that into everything he does.

"I worship and attend First Baptist Church in Madisonville," he said. "I serve as a deacon there, and lead an adult Bible study on Sunday."

Leago and his wife of 53 years live in Midway, where he is serving his fourth year as mayor. Previously, he served two years on the Midway City Council.

While he was content in the way things were, Leago said running for County Judge was the furthest thing from his mind, but after several people approached him, he decided to put his hat in the ring because he wants to change some of the directions the county is headed.

"We've seen a lot of changes since we've lived here, but no changes in areas we thought were important," Leago said. "This is 2018, and you can come to Madison County and do anything you want with your property, with no repercussions. One of the things I'm committed to is the preservation of the lifestyle we've come to enjoy and are accustomed to. We owe that to our kids."

To make that happen, Leago said the county has to put in some fair zoning regulations to protect the people that have invested their lives into the county.

"I'd like there to be some certainty that some of the errors of the past won't resurface," he said. "We've had some unscrupulous developers in the county, and that can't happen again."

In addition to zoning, Leago said that the county's law enforcement be taken care of properly.

"II would like to see the great people in law enforcement that work night and day to protect us have all the resources they need to complete their task - manpower, equipment whatever it takes, because we rely on them," he said. "I believe we desperately need a juvenile detention facility in this county. We currently house them in other counties at an enormous expense."

He said there are three things he will focus on should he become judge - that the county residents' lifestyle is preserved, property rights are preserved, and property values are preserved.

"I feel strongly that we owe the next generation," he said. "We enjoy our freedoms, but we have to do things before we pass this on to the next generation."

C.E. McDaniel Jr.

Incumbent judge C.E. "Butch" McDaniel Jr. has plans to continue the work he started in his first term as county judge.

McDaniel has 40 years experience with Brown & Root, is a Vietnam veteran and is a 30-plus year resident of the county.

In his first term, he said he has kept an open-door policy, and pledges to continue to be fair and impartial, and conduct all county business with integrity.

"I would hope that people would say I was an efficient administrator, that I cooperated well with city and state officials in county matters, and that I was fair and impartial in my judicial efforts and that I treated everybody the same," he said.

There have been some developments in the county in his first term that have been praiseworthy, McDaniel said.

"The accomplishment I'm most proud of is securing a driver's license office for the county," he said. "We hadn't had it for years. It was brought to my attention by the people, and I decided to make that a priority. With a lot of perseverance and a little luck, we opened an office in September 2016."

McDaniel said he also has seen drastic improvements at the Sheriff's Department in the last several years, and offered praise to Sheriff Travis Neeley.

"We had gotten to the point where the jail was only half-full," he said. "Now, we're having to farm out prisoners because our jails are full, based on the work of the officers and judges."

Other projects McDaniel said benefited the county in his first term was District Clerk Rhonda Savage's efforts to begin providing passports; and the institution of an exploratory committee to either upgrade or build a new library.

"Another ongoing effort is to make repairs to the old J.R. Parten elementary school, to allow the AgriLife and Extension people a place to have supervised activities," McDaniel said.

'The juvenile probation officer, Jennifer long, with April Covington and Chadd Caperton and Leslie Lazenby, are planning to have supervised activities for the probation children and the extension programs," he said. "I'd like to continue with those activities"

One area of concern, McDaniel said, is that for the last two budget cycles, the county has passed deficit budgets; as the budget officer, McDaniel prepares the preliminary budget for the Commissioners' Court.

"I want to do everything to prevent (deficit budgets)," he said. "I want to present a positive budget for the county, and do everything we can to keep the tax rate the same."

McDaniel said that as judge, he will continue making efforts to secure grants from Brazos Valley Council of Governments for improvement in county projects.

Andre Dean

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Andre Dean, a Madison County native, has a few plans in mind should he become County Judge.

First and foremost, Dean said, is that he will lead a unified county effort to derail the Japanese Bullet Train.

"It is a certain boondoggle of non-ridership that will unquestionably go bankrupt and be bailed out by taxpayers," he said. "We stand together with elected leaders (the Madison County Judge must lead this fight as the sole County Executive!) leading the fight and stopping the Japanese land grab and the train."

Also at the top of the list is the County Courthouse, which is in desperate need of some work, Dean said.

"We need to place a beautiful, lighted President James Madison painting in the Courthouse within six months, paid for with 100 percent private donations from loving citizens," he said. "Then add a full life-sized bronze statue of the Father of the American Constitution (which revolutionized the entire world), and show all who visit how 'America's shortest president' can in reality be a giant of a man."

The statue would be paid for by a five-year plan of pure community fundraising by church and civic groups, without a single dime of county tax dollars spent, he said.

Following that, Dean said he would develop a 10-Year plan for beautification of our "ugly Courthouse, one that does it without raising taxes.

"Houstonia, in October 2013, wrote an online story entitled 'Five of the Ugliest Courthouses in Texas', and (Madison County) was No. 2 on a list of 254 county seats," he said. "We can easily put together an architectural plan to facelift our terribly ugly municipal seat and make it beautiful just, like we facelifted Madisonville High School (not by adding huge new facilities; but by fixing the ugly."

Dean said that with a 10-year plan, the county can get an architect plan finalized, tax dollars set aside each year, state and federal grant monies sought, and a clean up of all existing taxes legally owed the county - that and the continuation of fundraising.

"Good financial management and great vision and determination from our elected officials and County Judge, and we can make our County Seat a little beauty," he said.

Dean prides himself on being a fifth-generation Madison County resident, as well as 27-year veteran of the Army and a former Army Ranger. He also sports a master's degree in Public Policy.

Douglas Holly

Douglas Holly is a licensed attorney, a CPA, has 20-plus years working in the finance area for various corporations, and 25-plus years working as a lawyer. Most recently, he was the finance director for the City of Madisonville for two years, but resigned to pursue this position.

Holly believes there are some things he can do for Madison County to make improvements.

"I'd like to work with the Economic Development Corporation to try to get new businesses in town to provide more employment," he said. "I intend to work with neighboring counties and the Madisonville community to stop the high-speed rail, and I'd like to expand the county's library services, especially in the computer area, for the benefit of the residents."

Holly said that the most necessary, and most obvious thing that requires attention is roads.

"I'd like to develop a plan that on a consistent basis we're repairing roads and improving the quality of the roads," he said.

Other items on his agenda is to work with communities to help reduce crime and drug abuse within the county.

"I'm a volunteer in the ASK program, and we tutor kindergarten through second-grade students in math and teach the Golden Rule, and I think if we reach the kids young enough, that will provide more guidance so they don't fall into drugs and crime," he said.

In addition, Holly said he would like the city and county to work more closely together on issues that benefit the both groups, and do it with the blessing of the residents.

"I want to hear from people. I want the community to come in and give me their ideas," he said. "More community involvement in county processes. After a term, I would hope people would see I'm a good judge and I worked hard for the community."

Norann McDonnell

Local business owner and rancher Norann McDonnell decided to run for County Judge because she saw there was a need for leadership, and that opportunities were being missed in working with all the cities that make up Madison County.

"As a resident of the county, I feel we need to work together and establish plan for growth that is both sensible as well as measurable," she said.

McDonnell said that working at her ranch and managing a bed & breakfast has given her and understanding of the challenges that both ranchers and small business owners face.

In addition to those qualifications, McDonnell said she has a bachelor's degree in journalism, with emphasis on business and communication, from University of North Texas in Denton. Also, since community service always has been important, she has been involved with numerous fundraising and philanthropic organizations.

"Having managed budgets for large industries and marketing firms, I feel that I have the experience necessary to be the 'Chief Financial Officer' for the county," she said. "Also, I worked for an attorney to put myself through college, which gave me insight into both criminal and civil law."

McDonnell said to her goals as County Judge are to provide a unified front for the county in working with the commissioners.

"I think it is extremely important for the city and the county officials to work in conjunction for the greater good of Madison County, particularly in the area of EMS/firefighting, jail services and in creating opportunities for high-school students to gain work experience through internships or summer employment," she said.

"If I were to be elected, after four years, I would hope that people would not only notice the positive changes I've brought to the county, but also feel confident that the county is headed in the right direction with improvements being made in the area of safety, economic growth and opportunities," McDonnell said.

The position of judge requires a person to be committed to bettering the community, McDonnell said - putting the needs of others before yours and to making people's lives better.

"That is the job and that is my goal," she said. "I am hard-working, determined and not a quitter. I finish what I start."

McDonnell is working with Texans Against High Speed Rail because helping neighbors is part of community responsibility.

"We need to be inclusive of all the cities that make up the county and working with the commissioners and other community leaders for the benefit of the county is a priority for me," she said. "If we are united, then the county becomes stronger.

"I personally feel this is the best place to live," McDonnell said. "Not only do I love this county, but I care about its future. It would be an honor to represent the residents of Madison County."