Both Republican candidates for Williamson County judge emphasize how much their experience with government would help them improve the county.
Frank Leffingwell, a Round Rock City Council member and tax lawyer, is running against Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell in the Republican primary March 6. The winner will face Democrat Blane Conklin in the November election.
Both Leffingwell and Gravell spoke last week at a forum in Round Rock hosted by the Republican Women of Williamson County.
Leffingwell, 51, said that as an attorney he has almost 25 years of experience “arguing and fighting for people against an oppressive federal tax system.”
“That’s a big part of why I’m involved in this race,” he said. “I want to do what I can to keep taxes low in Williamson County.”
Both his past service on Round Rock’s Planning and Zoning Commission and his current role as president of the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority have given him an ability to find consensus on difficult issues, he said.
Leffingwell, who has been on the City Council since 2015, also has touted his work representing the city on the Capital Area Council of Governments, where he said he has focused on public safety.
During the campaign, Leffingwell has said that public safety is his top priority for the county and that he wants to reduce response times and invest in equipment, training and technology for law enforcement. Another priority is dealing with the growth in the county without placing the burden on taxpayers, he said.
At the forum, Gravell said that during his almost five years as the Precinct 3 justice of the peace, his court has handled 68,349 cases; collected almost $11 million in court costs, fines and fees; and received national and state awards for improving collections and innovative use of technology.
Gravell, 53, said he was appointed to the Texas Judicial Council in 2015 to help set policy, direction and administration for the judicial branch, as well as being selected judge of the year in 2017 by the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association.
He said public safety would be a top priority if he is elected.
‘The safety and security of our community is paramount to me,” Gravell said. “I want to make sure public safety is our No. 1 issue in Williamson County.”
Gravell said he wanted to work on expanding the number of justice of the peace courts and district courts in the county because of the area’s growth. He also said he wanted to work on adding revenue by increasing growth in the county to help reduce its debt.
Gravell has said during the campaign that he wants to lower property taxes to “offset skyrocketing property appraisals” and improve the county’s infrastructure and mobility plan “to keep Williamson County moving.”
During the campaign, both candidates have traded accusations.
Leffingwell said in December that Gravell had wasted taxpayer money by staying at a South Austin hotel for a conference and going to conferences in Reno, Nev., and Deer Valley, Utah.
County records show that Gravell did not bill the county for his stay at the South Austin hotel. Gravell said he was nominated to attend the National Judicial College in Reno and said the training seminar that he and other county officials attended in Deer Valley taught them how to implement technology that will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Gravell has accused Leffingwell of being a liberal, saying Leffingwell has a record of raising taxes “year after year.”
Leffingwell responded that since he was elected to the Round Rock City Council in 2015, the council has approved a 1.5 cent tax increase to cover the cost of operating two fire stations, a new fire chief, a public safety facility, new police officers and firefighters, and street repairs.
More recently, Leffingwell has said that Gravell, who spent 22 years as a youth pastor, once gave a sermon that is on YouTube accusing Dell Inc. of mistreating employees and having no objective other than profit. Leffingwell said Dell is “one of our most important corporate citizens and job creators in Williamson County.”
Leffingwell also said Gravell testified against the state’s mission to move Texas Department of Public Safety officers to the border area at a legislative committee hearing in September 2016, saying he wanted to end it because of a “perceived loss of revenue” to his court.
Gravell said last week that he had no response to either of those accusations.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
Bill Gravell, 53, is serving his first term as Precinct 3 justice of the peace. He spent 22 years as a youth pastor and the past eight years as pastor of Sonterra Fellowship in Jarrell. Gravell, the son of a truck driver, grew up in Round Rock. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.
Civic participation: Chairman of the Hutto Economic Development Corp. board, vice chairman of the Williamson County Bail Bond Board, member of the River Rock Bible Church board in Georgetown, past president of the Central Texas Justices of the Peace and Constables Association, past chairman of the legislative committee of the Justices of the Peace and Constablse Association, and past vice chairman of the Williamson Museum.
Frank Leffingwell, 51, is serving his second term on the Round Rock City Council. He has practiced tax law for 25 years and owned his own practice since 2008. Leffingwell, the son of former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, grew up in Round Rock and earned his law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.
Civic participation: Founding member of the Round Rock Police Foundation; past president of CHASCO YMCA, Family Eldercare and the Round Rock Rotary Club; former board member of the Greater Williamson County YMCA, Seton Williamson Foundation and St. David’s Rock Round Medical Center; board member for the Round Rock/Austin Baylor Scott & White Medical Center and the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation.
About the job
The county judge presides over the Commissioners Court, which makes the spending decisions for the county, has various administrative duties and serves as head of emergency management. The county judge makes $117,794.82 a year.