Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes is a people person. He’s worked with, or for, the people of Cleburne County his whole life and would like to continue doing so.
Holmes began serving Cleburne County as a young man. Just three years after graduating Quitman High School in 1974, he became a deputy sheriff; and by 1984 he was elected sheriff of Cleburne County.
Holmes held the position of Cleburne County Sheriff for six years, but by 1990 he chose to return to his roots and dedicate himself to his family and family-owned business enterprises. For the next twenty-three years Holmes worked on the farm north of Quitman where they raised cattle and horses, did some trucking, operated a feed store, and ran the cattle auction with his sons. Then in 2012 he put his hat in the ring to run for Cleburne County Judge.
Wanting to be sure he was making the right choice to return to public office, Holmes said it took him eight years to make up his mind. Knowing the word “politics” sometimes “puts a nasty taste in your mouth,” Holmes said he wasn’t sure he was ready to get back into politics when a friend told him, “Don’t consider it coming back into politics, consider it coming back into public service…..because that’s what you do.”
Having taken his first office as county judge in 2013, Holmes is completing his sixth year year in the position. In the past, the county judge position has been a two-year term, but beginning with this election the position will be a four-year term.
Holmes believes the change will be beneficial to the office. He explained that with a two-year term, the office-holder spends the first year learning the job and the second year is spent campaigning for re-election. If the candidate is re-elected the third year should be easier, but then the fourth year is spent campaigning again. Holmes feels the new four-year term will make the job easier for the person holding the position, but also believes “it should make people look at their candidate a little harder,” knowing they will hold the office for four years.
The judge reported that the county was $2 million in debt when he first took office. At that time, the county courthouse was still being paid for and the oil and gas companies were beginning to move out of the area. Holmes said he worked closely with the quorum court to keep the budget down and they were able to pay off the new court building a little early, saving the county some money. Continuing to watch the budget, he said we’re now about 8% above what we had last year and have approximately $700,000 set aside for capital projects if needed.
Holmes acknowledged that there are problems that need to be addressed. Each project must be evaluated to determine its urgency and the best way to solve the problem with the resources available to us. Some current issues are the downtown parking situation, the county jail is out of compliance, vacant businesses in the downtown area, and drainage problems.
Holmes said when he was first elected as the county judge he met with downtown business owners and spoke to them about reinvesting in the downtown area to draw new businesses. Today you can see renovated storefronts along Main Street as business owners work to improve the appearance of store facades.
As for the jail, it was built in 1979. Over the years, federal laws have changed and rules have changed. Despite some remodeling and expansion in 2005, the jail is out of compliance on some issues. Most issues are dependent upon fluctuating variables, such as the number of prisoners on hand at any one time, or the need to segregate prisoners based on their age or severity of the offense. Holmes said they are meeting with two consultants for ideas of what it will take to get our facilities closer to compliance and whether remodeling will suffice or if it will, hopefully not, required building a new jail, which could potentially cost between $8-10 million.
Another problem for the downtown area is the limited parking areas. Right now the choices are pull-in parking down one of the side streets or parallel parking along Main Street. The parking debate has been a topic of discussion on social media, as people have expressed a fear of being hit as they get in or out of their car along Main Street or having a door ripped off as they open it. Holmes agreed that parking is an issue and deters people from wanting to shop downtown, which goes against the goals of the downtown renovation.
Perhaps the parking crisis will be addressed when a new street overlay is completed. Holmes said the city is due to receive a new street overlay, but the severe drainage problem must be taken care of before that is done; after all, if the overlay was completed first it would have to be cut to lay drainage pipes. Judge Holmes reported that at this time CWB Engineers is putting together a plan to take care of the drainage problem. He said, “It takes a lot of money….and time” and not everyone will care about the project because it doesn’t affect them.
On the upside, Holmes reported that Saint Jeans is needing workers and that Defiance, out on the bypass, has more jobs than they can find people for. He said they’re offering incentives to get people to come work for them and are looking at possibly expanding.
As for the future, Holmes recognizes that many people move here because of our way of life. He said realtors have told him they haven’t had this many people looking to move here since 2005, just wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of bigger cities. However, “we all want progress. How do you balance that?” He recognizes the importance of maintaining a “growing economy while keeping the ‘Southern charm’ that folks come here for.” It’s important to keep jobs and have something to offer the youth and young people who don’t leave town to go off to college. The judge knows that “maintaining a balance [between staying a small hometown and economic growth] is a struggle.”
One advantage to being the county judge in a small town is being able to meet your constituents and the people who actually work for you. Holmes said he typically gets up between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning to begin thinking about what the county needs and how it can be gotten. In his first year as the county judge, he began meeting with the workers at the county shop between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning. The workers said no county judge had ever started their day with them. Holmes has now been going there every morning for the past six years.
In regards to the employees, Holmes said, “What a good group of county employees I’ve been fortunate to have.” If there’s inclement weather, the judge is out checking the roads. Holmes said the road crews have never complained about being called out because they know he’s there with them, just as the office workers don’t hesitate to work when asked. He said he knows they’ll have his back because he’s there for them.
All-in-all, Judge Holmes says he has no political agenda. Besides being married to his wife, Jo, for 44 years and working with his sons at the auction barn on an occasional Monday afternoon, the judge just enjoys serving the people of Cleburne County; he especially has a soft spot for senior citizens and children. Despite some comments about him not being a “full-time” judge because of helping with the family business once in awhile, Holmes says he always makes sure his civic responsibilities come first.