County Judge ruffles feathers with annual review
Wood County Judge Lucy Hebron’s self-entitled “review” has created a backlash from several county officials and department heads.
Hebron began by telling the crowded courtroom she “just wanted to fill everybody in on what the office of county judge has been doing over this last year and if you will excuse me, I am going to read this.” And with that she began her “review” which lasted over 13 minutes.
“I was sworn in Jan 1, 2019 and came to work on Jan. 2 to an office with no furniture and no staff. Ten days earlier commissioners advised me they were hiring a court coordinator I have planned on using as their commissioner’s court new secretary to a new staff position and office they created at a cost to taxpayer’s of $79,367. I started my judicial duties with 1,600 carryover cases from the previous judge. The judicial duties of the county judge include criminal, civil, probate, mental competency matters and juvenile cases,” Hebron explained.
Former Wood County Judge Bryan Jeanes responded to the statement. “My only comment would be that any case backlog of that size was unknown to me, my court administrator, my court clerks, my court prosecutor and anyone else who was associated with my court reporting statistics. First and foremost, I have to comment on her description of her first two days. I heard her state that she was sworn in on January 1st and on January 2nd she arrived to her office and found no support staff and an empty office devoid of furniture. She failed to mention that I and my support staff had reached out to her several times after her March primary win to offer our support during the transition,” Jeanes commented. “In the nine months from her primary success and her taking office, she came and spoke to me twice and my support staff once. She showed no interest in learning anything from me and made no move to solicit my support staff for their interest in remaining in the office. I offered to share my knowledge of any and all areas of experience and received no interest whatsoever. She also never inquired about the office furniture in my office. All furniture in my office came in when I came in and was all my personal furniture. If she had bothered to ask even once, I would have been more than willing to leave it for her but no such request ever came. She walked into the same empty office I got when I came into office. Apart from all of that, Lucy came in to a wonderful situation of complete support of her Commissioners Court to take the helm of Wood County and she blew it! Wood County is facing a turning point election between those that have Wood County’s best interest at heart and those that would take Wood County in another direction.”
Hebron got an outside evaluation from Austin. “I invited the Office of Court Administration from Austin to evaluate Wood County Court as a starting point. This evaluation of time standards, disposition rates and general court procedures resulted in the court consultant’s findings that this court was quote ‘an underperforming court’ and I quote directly. They garnered Wood County a rating in the bottom five percent of 254 county courts in Texas,” Hebron asserted.
“Not only is delayed justice unfair, it is expensive to taxpayers. Inefficiencies, delays, taking longer to handle cases in the recommended time standards result in wasted time and a waste of taxpayer money through repeated hearings, delays, failures to prosecute and other issues this court faced.
“After hiring excellent and dedicated staff in my office in my second month we began to tackle the numbers with which we were faced following recommendations given by the Office of Court Administration. Through the coordinated efforts of our office, our criminal clerk in the county clerk’s office and staff in the DA’s office, we have been able to cut the pending cases in the county court by half in the last 12 months. I have also made economic development a priority during my campaign. As you are aware I made substantial changes in that area.”
Former Wood County Economic Development Commission interim chair and interim executive director Neal Duncan said, “Judge Hebron has really taken her job, her whole job as judge, seriously. Not just part of it, but in respect to economic development she is interested in bringing serious people together to effect long term positive change,” Duncan affirmed.
Hebron talked about some of the things she has done to bring people together. “I have hosted breakfasts, lunches, brunches, a conference for local attorneys, a pastor appreciation luncheon, a lunch and learn series for our county department heads and other events to engender good will and promote teamwork and to have some fun along the way. That includes celebratory events like National Taco Day and I arranged for an ice cream sandwich food truck to visit the courthouse, a courthouse Christmas clothing drive for the Rainbow Room, a Christmas office decorating contest, an open house for the courthouse annex and just last week I hosted a judicial roundtable for 17 county judges in north and east Texas. I am Wood County’s biggest cheerleader.”
Hebron talked about evaluating offices and departments. “Finally, year one has been a busy process meeting with department heads. That process consisted of evaluating departments followed by extensive guidance and planning to help department heads into professional, financial and legal compliance. Of those we have three outstanding departments delivering exceptional and professional services to those they serve,” Hebron said. “I’m going to give a shout out publicly our emergency management, our veteran’s service office and our indigent health care office. These offices are professional, they are transparent, they follow best practices, they utilize technology and they provide citizens with exceptional service.”
There was a flip side. “Unfortunately we have some departments which are out of compliance regarding professional, financial and legal guidelines. This all translates to legal and financial liability, to decade’s old procedures, lack of job descriptions, inefficient or non-use of technology, lack of training, bureaucratic inefficiencies, a lack of professionalism and a lack of transparency, all of which translates into a waste of taxpayer money. These noted deficiencies cost the taxpayer money.”
Wood County Clerk Kelly Robinson took offense to some of Hebron’s statements. “When we got in the courtroom and saw all the supporters of Lucy I knew something was up. Lucy proceeded to read off a speech about her first year in office which pretty much left out everybody who helped her through her first year. I don’t know what her intentions were, but I know it upset a lot of people in the courtroom and people who work for the county. Some of her statements were not true. I just hope the people who were in court that day don’t believe everything she said because not all of it was true. Taco Tuesday is not going to fix our problems. Some of the things she mentioned like child welfare and Rainbow Room, well, she didn’t do any of that,” Price declared. “We worked with juvenile probation and Rainbow Room for Wood County Child Welfare Board. It was a group effort and Lucy did not do it. She talked about everything she tried to do to draw all the offices together, but she finished her speech with a lot ‘I did this and I did that’ and there is no way she could have done all that without the DA’s office which assisted her in getting our court dockets rolling. As far as her performance in the court, well she didn’t even know where to begin. I am appalled that our County Judge could stand before the public and give herself so much praise knowing that if my office and other employees/departments of the county had not assisted her heavily in her first year of office she would have been in big trouble. Shame on you Judge Lucy Hebron! Your actions proved to me your true thoughts of this county that I love and those who are dedicated to serving the citizens of Wood County!”
Elections Administrator Laura Wise also spoke out. “I thought what she said was disrespectful and very unprofessional, and I don’t think any of us deserved that. We all work hard and we work a lot of hours. We are doing it for the county. In the past she has called me unprofessional, she’s called me defiant, she said I was unrealistic and called me insubordinate. I have answered every question and every email she ever sent to me including an email one time asking her if we could find a way to work together and I never got a response,” Wise commented. “Our commissioners do a fantastic job for the county. They are always fair even when it might not be the popular decision. I’ve always worked well with the commissioners. I feel heavy-hearted. It’s hard to keep fighting, but I keep fighting for the good people. I would for the citizens of Wood County. I don’t know how she can call herself a team player after she did what she did to all of us at commissioner’s court.”
Head Juvenile Probation Officer Melanie Whitehurst said Hebron was supportive of her office. “‘I will say this about Judge Lucy and that is she is vested when it comes to juveniles we serve. She always gives me her feedback when I ask her. That is my board, the county judge and the district judge. We had to make a lot of changes in this department whenever I first came on board in June,” Whitehurst said. “She has been nothing but supportive when it comes to ideas we have about helping kids and being pro active. She’s been a part of my fifth grade program. Honestly she has been a world of good for juveniles in this county we serve. She is very supportive of my department and what we are trying to do.”
County Treasurer Becky Burford gave her thoughts on the events. “It is truly disappointing and heartbreaking to publically hear of internal friction or finding fault with certain department heads when a lead county official declared it openly at the latest commissioner’s court meeting. Wood County has maintained a long-standing reputation that Wood County takes business serious in all areas of responsibilities and service. I’m proud to say Wood County is hard at work for our citizens everyday and every department and all day for some departments,” Burford responded. “My take-away from this instance is it is essential Wood County officials continue to operate with the highest respect for each other’s role and reap from all the hard work done by all departments and officials on behalf of our citizens. By doing so, Wood County will move toward being our best by focusing and handling difficult issues rather than creating difficult issues.”
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jerry Gaskill had this to add to the conversation. “Any one of us on the commissioner’s court could have put it on that agenda to acknowledge ourself and tell what all we have done. We could sit up there and talk all day long about the good things we have done for the county and the money we have saved the taxpayers,” Gaskill said. “But you know, we get paid to do our job, so why would we sit up there and pat ourselves on the back? We also would sit up there and say what we want about other people with no research.”
Hebron made a motion to acknowledge her review, but no commissioner would second the motion. They moved to the next agenda item without further acknowledgment.