Judge Baker to run for office again

Courtesy Judge Joel Baker

County Judge Joel Baker announced Thursday he will seek a third term and said he wants to build on past successes and work to make Smith County a model for the state.

Baker, 45, said he initially ran for the position to return civility to commissioners court. He said the five-member court's working relationship has transformed into one of respectful agreement and disagreement.

"We've been able to develop relationships here within county leadership and with community leaders," he said. "I think people feel we are working in the right direction, that we're working in what we believe is the best interest of the county and the people who live and work here."

Baker said relationship building spawned much of the county's recent success, including investing around $10 million in its facilities without taking on debt. The phased in "pay-go" projects have renovated and constructed several buildings, including the sheriff's administration building, the probation and election department offices and several renovation projects within the courthouse.

He said many facilities had been neglected for decades and that the improvement projects were something employees and residents can take pride in and appreciate.

Passage of the $35 million jail bond, which will add 384 beds and includes the rearranging of the jail system facilities, addressed a major need after different plans failed in 2006, 2007 and 2008, he said.

"After what we all went through, to see (the jail addition) rising from the ground is really amazing," he said. "It all ties in together with the vision of having a centralized campus and now we have facilities that will last the community decades."

Baker said there is still much work to be done.

He said the county is in strong financial ground but must address infrastructure needs in preparation for continued growth. Baker said the county must find ways to cut costs and create new revenue to address its needs.

Baker said he's proud the county has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, but it makes addressing needs difficult. He expects the court will hire a road engineer, which he says will help identify, plan for and prioritize needs.

"Transportation is going to be a big need we have to address," he said. "It's the key to growth and commerce and the quality of life in this community."

Baker said it would take a proven, experienced leader to navigate the county through difficult decisions. He said county government is the closest to the people and he would continue to work for limited, transparent government.

He said constituent support has been overwhelming. He reported fundraising efforts since February have netted more than $90,000 for his campaign so far.

"The thing that drives me is improving county facilities and services while working with other officials to create an environment that is attractive to employers, businesses and families, whether in Lindale, Bullard, Troup or Tyler," he said. "We do the best we can to promote our community because it is a great place."





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