Chico Mayor J.D. Clark has announced he will run for the office of county judge in next year’s March primary.
In a press release from the Wise County Republican Party Monday, Clark said, “As a mayor, I have shown myself to be a leader who is willing to create a lean yet effective budget, cut property tax rates, seek out innovative solutions for our problems and upgrade our water, sewer and street infrastructure. I’m ready to take those skills and that experience and put them to work for all of Wise County.”
The 27-year-old is serving his third term as mayor and is also a high school history teacher in Bowie. If elected county judge, that would become his full-time job.
“I made a decision a long time ago that I was just going to be open to answering callings when they came up,” he said. “But I’ve always known I wanted to affect positive change somehow.”
His interest in civic service began when he was just a teen, and it has only blossomed since then – leading him from the newsroom to City Hall and on to the classroom. He hopes his next stop is the county courthouse.
“I wanted to start writing for the (Bridgeport Index and Chico Texan) because I was about to start my senior year of high school, and I wanted to know more about my community and how it worked,” he said. “As a 17-year-old kid, I got assigned to cover city council, commissioners court and the school board. I quickly realized that that’s where the change happens around here.
“We talk a lot and worry a lot about what happens at the state and federal level, as we should, but every day we are affected by what happens with the city council, commissioners court and school board.”
While Clark reported on these meetings, he also began writing opinion columns about the issues he was covering and said he was approached by business leaders and other civic-minded people about running for Chico City Council.
He was first elected in 2006 at age 20 and was elected mayor pro-tem in 2008. In 2009, Clark was elected mayor of his city.
“I’ve tried to be more than just a mayor who shows up at city council,” he said. “I usually go (to City Hall) four days a week after school, and in the summer, I’m there all the time. … I’ve tried not to just maintain Chico, but to make Chico better.”
Clark said as mayor he’s cut unnecessary administrative spending by 30 percent, lowered property tax rates, consistently provided balanced budgets and clean audits and reformed purchasing policies to protect tax dollars. Chico has also seen major street, water and sewer improvements under his leadership, and Clark orchestrated repurposing former school buildings to create a new city hall, community center, recreation center, park and municipal court.
He said he’s also worked to expand economic development programs and established a citywide reading iniative and code of ethics for council members.
The mayor said various business and community leaders, as well as some elected officials, learned about his efforts in Chico and had approached him about running for county judge. It wasn’t something he’d previously considered, but upon further contemplation, he realized it was much like his current post as mayor.
“I just thought, ‘This is exactly what you love doing in Chico, but it’s for the whole county, and you’d get to do it all the time,’” he said. “People here think ‘judge’ is a black robe, and we have to let people know that’s not what it is. (The county judge) presides over commissioners court and writes the budget …”
Clark said since opening up to the idea, he’s been on a “listening tour” visiting with people active in the community as well as county department heads to see how the departments work and the issues faced by each.
“I heard from people that they’re hungry for some active, hands-on leadership,” he said. “We all see this growth continuing to come in terms of increased population, increased oil and gas activity, which we need and want, … but we also value our Wise County roots and our history.
“In Chico, I’ve shown that I have respect for the past, and I love our past. But I also want us to do better, and people are wanting to see some vision …We’ve got a lot of really great organizations in Wise County and a lot of really great people. We’re rich in human resources, and we need to be unified in what we’re working toward for Wise County.”
Clark said he feels like his accomplishments in Chico can translate to a bigger stage, and he feels he can be effective in county government.
In the Republican Party press release, he said, “I am running so that I can offer a common sense budget, long-term county water planning, countywide economic development, efficient facility improvements and increased transparency and public participation in our local government.”
Clark said when he presents a budget, he wants voters to know that it’s the most efficient budget he can give them. He said he always does the best with the revenues on hand, and if revenues drop, he’s not afraid to make cuts as long as they don’t negatively affect county services or way of life.
He would also like to see the county work more closely with city economic development directors to encourage business growth across all of Wise County.
“Once we get them in the county, it benefits all of us,” he said. “We need to be an environment that not only brings in new businesses, but also encourages current businesses to grow.”
As county judge, Clark said he would also take the lead in water planning. He would like to see Wise County develop a long-term water plan that addresses surface water and groundwater.
“We can’t expect someone else to ride in on a white horse and say here’s all the water you need,” he said. “We need to protect what we have. We can’t expect the state to take care of our water … the state may make money available at some point, but they’re not going to come do it for us.”
Clark said county facilities are also important to him, and he believes there are ways to be more innovative with current buildings. He also wants to focus on ethics and transparency, bringing to light the good work done by county employees.
“I don’t want the only discussions about ethics to be when a scandal comes up,” he said. “I want it to be an ongoing discussion about what we expect and how great our county officials are. … I think in the day-to-day business of it all, we forget to pay attention to the people who do a really good job.”
Clark also hopes to make county budget information more citizen-friendly and would like to host monthly or bi-monthly informal gatherings where citizens can visit with him about issues of concern.
“I really want to bring our county government to the people more instead of expecting them to come to us,” he said. “We want Wise County people working, so of course, it’s hard to make Monday morning meetings. So I’m going to make myself available in a more casual, comfortable setting, and they can tell me what they like, what they don’t like.”
Republican Party Chairman Allen Williamson said in the press release that although he doesn’t endorse candidates, he believes Clark is a good candidate for county judge.
“I’ve known J.D. for a long time and watched him do great things in Chico,” he said. “I’m happy that he’s decided to throw his hat in the ring for a countywide position.”
Clark, who turns 28 later this month, is a lifelong resident of Wise County. In addition to his public service on Chico City Council, Clark is also a volunteer firefighter, serves on the Chico Economic Development Corp. board of directors and is joining the Wise County Domestic Violence Task Force board this month. Earlier this year he was certified in 21st century leadership through a Harvard University course.
He will graduate with his master’s degree from Midwestern State University in December, and he received his bachelor’s degree in 2008 from the University of North Texas. He said his “age gives (him) an energy that the office and county needs.
“I think people are ready for a fresh perspective in Wise County but also one that comes with a proven track record with leadership and results,” he said.
Clark reminds voters that they have elected other young county officials who have proven to be effective.
“I think what Wise County voters are looking for is not a birth date, but leadership, vision and strong principles,” he said. “That’s what they want to see in a candidate.”
To learn more about Clark’s candidacy, visit www.votejdclark.com.