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Meet the candidates for Brazos County commissioner, Precinct 4 - hear their stances

KRHD asks Timothy Delasandro (R) and Wanda Watson (D) the big questions
Posted at 11:24 AM, Oct 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-21 09:43:45-04

BRAZOS COUNTY, Texas — In the upcoming midterm elections, the race for Brazos County commissioner, Pct. 4 is the only contested commissioner’s race, with two contenders battling to fill the vacant seat that will be left by Irma Cauley.

First listed on the Brazos County election ballot is Republican candidate Timothy Delasandro. Delasandro says he has lived in Precinct 4 for at least ten years, serving as a registered nurse in the Bryan-College Station area for 30 years. He has not held public office, but says he has attended local government meetings across the years to advocate for projects and government decisions which he is passionate about.

Next listed on the ballot is Democratic candidate Wanda Watson. Watson has spent approximately 40 years living in Precinct 4. She’s served in leadership roles at Texas A&M’s School of Medicine, and with the Brazos County Democratic party; though like Delasandro, she has not held elected office.

KRHD asked each candidate the same series of questions regarding their political stances. Any statements made by candidates in these interviews have not been independently fact checked by KRHD at this time, and their validity should be thoughtfully considered by the readers.

Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES YOU SEE FACING PRECINCT 4?

TIMOTHY DELASANDRO: “The biggest issue right now that faces the county is property taxes, because evaluations have skyrocketed. And because of the growth coming into Brazos County, they’re going to continue to skyrocket. And so there’s an ongoing discussion about lowering the rate in Brazos County to match the evaluations. So I would be a proponent of no new revenue, keeping that tax rate set to our current growth.”

WANDA WATSON: "[The court] kind of talked about it – broadband. That was revealed during COVID, that people had to work from home and we realized in some parts of the county... so I’m glad they’re working towards addressing that issue. But I’m learning, it’s not just the county or state, it’s local [governments] and learning what can be funded, and how those funds can and cannot be comingled.

I was initially concerned and still am about the county being open and transparent. One of the things I learned from all of my block walking was that most folks don’t know – what does a commissioner do? And how does it impact my day-to-day life? [It’s about] explaining what the court does, and issues coming up that will impact Precinct 4 in particular and the county overall. How do we communicate that, to help them understand what we are doing. A lot of people want to know what’s in it for them. There may not be anything in it for them, but the broader goal is the wellbeing of the county overall.

Q: ARE THERE ANY INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS YOU’D LIKE TO SEE MADE IN PRECINCT 4?

DELASANDRO: “I-14 is coming. That was passed in the infrastructure bill. With I-14 we’re going to have Loop 214 around Brazos County, so that infrastructure is going to come. One of the things I’m opposed to is Proposition B for the county on the ballot, which would fund a $10 increase in your registration tags for the Regional Mobility Authority. In most other parts of the state, a Regional Mobility Authority is also known as the toll road authority. As far as infrastructure, I want to make sure that when that loop comes in, it’s not a toll road. Because I believe it’s important that all our county’s citizens be able to fully take advantage of the infrastructure and not be limited based on what you can afford.”

WATSON: "I don’t know enough. That is something I’m going to have to research, because I was trying to understand, for example, the new road projects. What are they, and are there any in Precinct 4, and how will that work? There is one, I believe it came up [today in court], about one between Hwy 47 and Hwy 21, and that interchange right there. They’re saying that needs to be improved. I’ve used that, but I’m not quite sure what that means right now. But I always want to know, so that means I’ll have to engage with the different departments that advise the commissioners, the court, on what they’re looking at in terms roads, in terms of other things like broadband – information that goes out to the community. I will engage those entities that report to the court to find out what that is.”

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY THE COUNTY HAS BEEN USING ITS BUDGET THE PAST FEW YEARS?

DELASANDRO: I think we should focus on our core services. And the core services for the commissioner’s courts are roads, courts, and law enforcement – our sheriff’s office and constable’s department. That’s where I think we should focus our spending. When we focus our spending, there’s more than ample budget to take care of things. For example, the commissioner’s court is voting for a medical examiner’s office right now. They just voted for that last week. An ME’s office is going to cost a lot of money, and my fear is it’s not going to have the return on investment that’s going to be worth that money. That’s one issue with money before the court, where I think money could be better spent on things that are more important to the county right now. That is our core services, and also things like mental health services. During the COVID pandemic, the only in-patient mental health facility in Brazos County shut down. And so I believe if we were going to spend that kind of money, it would be better spent on things like mental health.”

WATSON: "Honest answer: I don’t know enough. I don’t know enough to know all that the county does, and I’m learning how sometimes the money that they receive is restricted funds. If anybody has ever done budgets, sometimes they are truly only limited by what the money has been designated for. So even if I think they should take money for one thing and go do blah blah blah, by law they are bound by how that money should be spent. So I can’t speak to ‘oh I think they should do XYZ.’ I think like the rest of the citizens looking at this, I thought ‘Why aren’t they doing these things?’ I’m learning now within the scope of what they’re allowed to do, they’re restricted.”

Q: IT LOOKS AS THOUGH THE COUNTY MAY ENTER THE NEXT FISCAL YEAR WITH A NO-NEW-REVENUE PROPERTY TAX RATE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? WHAT WOULD YOU PREFER THE PROPERTY TAX RATE BE?

DELASANDRO: “No-new-revenue isn’t ‘no new revenue.’ It’s no new revenue for the average taxpayer. All the construction and building that adds to the tax base constitutes to be added with no new revenue. For example, this year no-new-revenue brings in $3.5 million more than last year. The idea is, that’s where we get our increase, is from the ongoing infrastructure builds in Brazos County, which are going to grow. Brazos County is a growing county. It’s only going to grow. So with no new revenue, we can grow our budget enough to meet our needs.”

WATSON: Compromise and collaboration are not bad words. So if we ever have a disagreement about what the tax rate should be, I think we should all come together at the table and find a middle point, because we have to be able to fund the operation of the county. People have a certain expectation of government, so therefore you have to fund it. I understand that. So I don’t agree with the total [no-new-revenue] rate. I’m just going to say it. No new taxes, I don’t agree with that. But, I believe if you come to the table, I believe [the commissioners] could have come together and worked out what would have been an agreeable rate that would allow the county to function. Because citizens expect the county to take care of the roads and bridges, traffic overflow, things like that. How do you do that? You have to pay for it.

Beyond that I would say there are county employees that serve us well. And so you never want to impact that, the infrastructure of the operation of the county. So I don’t agree with no new taxes. What would be a good compromise, I don’t know, but there should be a compromise.”

Q: COULD YOU EVER SEE YOURSELF SITTING OUT OF A COMMISSIONER’S COURT MEETING LIKE STEVE ALDRICH AND RUSS FORD HAVE DONE IN PROTEST?

DELASANDRO: “If necessary. I mean, I’m an advocate for the taxpayers of Brazos County. If you’re a senior on a fixed income, that reduction in rate is very meaningful. And that’s a very powerful thing for our citizens here. We’re talking about what’s very important to Precinct 4, because Pct. 4 is a swing vote on this. So if the commissioner for Pct. 4 was voting for no-new-revenue, we wouldn’t be in a 3-2 vote for this. And so, I think you’re going to see Pct. 4 be the swing vote going forward on property taxes. I think the people of Brazos County have a real choice here with Pct. 4.”

WATSON: Nope, nope, nope. I’d be elected, and I’m being paid to come and represent. That means I have to come and make the tough decisions. That means if a vote is being taken, it’s like what they say when growing up – you win some, you lose some. You’re not going to always get what you want. Therefore, how do I operate within the scope of the overall wellbeing, not only of Precinct 4, but of the county in particular?

Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE AT THIS TIME? ARE THERE ANY CHANGES WITHIN OR REGARDING THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE?

DELASANDRO: “The sheriff’s office has been chronically on the lower sides of the budgets when compared to other police departments in Brazos County, and I think we need to come up and start to match their peers in Brazos County. And that’s why I say we should focus on our core services.”

WATSON: "I have a general overview of what the sheriff’s doing. I have found the sheriff, personally, to be very accessible. He seems to be very direct and honest with me. I know that law enforcement has a really tough job. So, within what I understand, as much as I’ve been able to tell, even through comments from other citizens, he has operated fairly and been accessible. Therefore I don’t want to speak on that right now because I don’t know enough, but my interaction directly with the sheriff has been a good experience. He’s been very honest with me, and I know if I have some concerns I can go to him.

… It is my understanding that as Brazos County is growing, that they need more resources in order for them to be able to operate, we want them to serve and protect. So if they need more resources like more [deputies] or whatever, it probably should happen.”

Q: EVEN THOUGH A LARGE PORTION OF TEXAS A&M’S CAMPUS IS NOT IN PRECINCT 4, WE’VE SEEN THAT YOUR VOTE [PCT. 4] ON THE ISSUE OF EARLY POLLING LOCATIONS MATTERS VERY MUCH. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE POLLING SITUATION, AND HOW WOULD YOU VOTE ON HAVING EARLY VOTING AT THE MEMORIAL STUDENT CENTER.

DELASANDRO: “Precinct 4 is West Campus, Southgate, the area along Holleman and Marion Pugh. And a lot of the off-campus college students live in Pct 4. I don’t know why they removed the voting location to start with. They’ve admitted it’s a mistake, and having admitted it’s a mistake, they didn’t fix it for this cycle. I would be a vote in favor of fixing it this cycle... I don’t know why they haven’t fixed it this cycle.”

WATSON: "Voter suppression is a major issue, not only in Brazos County, but nationwide. I will never support the closure of any polling site that could restrict voting. I’ve had it almost happen for me as a candidate, the impact of a closed polling site could have affected the outcome of a race. And so I do not support that. I think that’s a question of the commissioner taking a different look at how they’re selected, what information is presented to them when they need to approve polling sites. If it impacts folks having access, no. In fact, we need to have as many polling sites as possible for early voting if that means we’ll have a better turnout.

[To clarify: Would you re-establish the MSC?] Absolutely. Absolutely, definitively yes.

Q: COMMISSIONERS HAVE TO CONSULT ATTORNEYS AND OTHER LOCAL EXPERTS WHEN CONDUCTING COURT AND MAKING DECISIONS. THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS AWARE OF DEADLINES OR CODES. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU UNDERSTAND THE LAW, AND THE WAY LOCAL GOVERNMENT WORKS IN A WAY THAT YOU FEEL CONFIDENT IN WHAT YOU’RE VOTING ON?

DELASANDRO: “I do, but being a commissioner is a fulltime job, and it should be. When you sit here at commissioner’s court, you’re seeing 20 minutes of vote taking and several agenda items. But for the commissioners, those items should be something that the commissioners have pulled apart and looked at all the relevant laws and all the issues before they come to court. And that takes a lot more than 20 minutes. It’s why we pay our commissioners a fulltime salary. Because it is a fulltime job. And if elected, it would be a full-time job for me... and that’s why, so you have the time to dive into each of the items on the agenda, is to see what the law is and ask the right questions. So even if you’re not an expert on the law. The commissioner’s court has a lawyer who is a legal authority we can turn to. The problem is, some of these questions have come out too late. Those questions need to be asked prior to the meeting.”

WATSON: “When Commissioner Irma Cauley informed us that she was not running [again], I had one of those ‘I can do that’ moments, without looking at what all the job initially entailed I have since learned a lot. And that’s partly why I have been coming to as many commissioners courts as possible, so I can kind of get a feel for the job, and hopefully as I own that I’m going to win, when I’m on the court I start with at least a fundamental understanding of what the job entails and what the commissioners are responsible for...

… You can’t know it all. It’s a learning process. There are things being brought before the court that you have got to do your background, as much as you can. It’s almost like learning how to do a new software program. You may fundamentally understand it, but the nuances when you’re not the expert... you bring in those experts within what those agencies and departments the commissioners are responsible for. You have an IT person, an HR person, so you rely on them to keep you informed about the laws, rules, policies and procedures that impact how the county works. Like the election administrator – that person liaisons with the secretary of state, and that person needs to bring that information back to the court so that hopefully they can make an informed decision within the scope of whatever the issues are...

… I’ve learned that for certain reasons, commissioners are not allowed to – I'm used to being able to come to the table where all of the stakeholders, administrators, directors all can sit in a room and talk about the issue. The court is not allowed to do that. You have to take the information that is provided to you, read it as best you can, make a decision. You can probably talk to the departments and managers that will impact to get clarification, but [commissioners] are not allowed to come and sort of have a pre-discussion to have a pre-decision.”

Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING THAT YOU’D SAY WOULD SET YOU APART AS A CANDIDATE?

DELASANDRO: "I would focus on our core services and the growth that’s going on in Brazos County, which is going to happen in Precinct 4, and so it’s a great time to live in Brazos County. We have Interstate-14 and the RELLIS campus is coming. All of that is in Pct. 4. And there’s going to be phenomenal growth. The decisions we make today are going to impact how that growth happens and rolls out over the county over the next several decades. That’s why I believe right now is a critical time to be making front-end decisions which will affect the growth of Brazos County for decades to come.”

WATSON: "We all come from different life experiences, educational and professional backgrounds. Within the scope of who we are, we make those decisions. I start first from integrity. I believe in compromise, collaboration, and service. I decided to run to serve the county, Precinct 4 in particular. And so within the scope of who I am, I will bring that part to the table. I’ve gotten to know the commissioners and think they’re very fine people. They make decisions based on who they are, where they come from, and what they know. Some of them have been on the court for awhile, so they know more information than me. But I start from being a woman of principle who has chosen to get into this arena for service.”