Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley will inaugurate an annual State of the County report to residents at a Nov. 17 luncheon at the downtown Omni Fort Worth Hotel.
Elected in 2006, Whitley will outline the county’s operations and involvement in a wide range of challenges affecting one of the United States’ fastest-growing counties where population has increased from about 860,000 in 1980 to around 1.8 million.
Home to 41 municipalities, Tarrant County has more towns and cities within its borders than any county in Texas. Whitley’s report will address regional collaboration and cooperation needed to improve quality of life on many fronts, including transportation, air quality and county services.
Presented by Tarrant Area Chambers of Commerce, the State of the County event originated with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, which annually hosts the Fort Worth Mayor’s State of the City address.
Whitley shared some thoughts in advance in an e-interview with the Chamberletter.
Q: How would you summarize the state of Tarrant County?
A: Tarrant County is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. It is a great place to live and raise a family. Housing is affordable, jobs are available and the schools are good, so we have great opportunities here.
The Tarrant County government is financially strong and fiscally responsible. But, it is essential that we protect our superior quality of life.
Q: What are some of the most important differences in 21st- century Tarrant County government than 20 or 30 years ago?
A: The greatest difference is in population growth and development in Tarrant County and its 41 cities.
Collaboration within the county and in the region has saved taxpayer dollars. We have been able to meet the challenge of efficiently providing services to our citizens without raising taxes. Our sub-courthouse system makes it easy for Tarrant County residents to conduct their business. Our well-run courts and jail help to protect public safety and our county clerk provides easy access to information.
Q: What is Tarrant County’s most important role in addressing transportation needs?
A: We have some of the most congested roads in the state. We need better ways to travel quickly across North Texas or we risk diminishing our quality of life and the economic vitality of our region.
Texas and the federal government have not fixed the transportation problem. Locally, we can’t ignore it. In May of 2006, for the first time, Tarrant County voters passed a bond measure with $200 million to help our cities build roads, $20 million of which is set aside to help fund roadway improvements and safety-related projects in connection with passenger rail. Passenger rail, street and highway improvements and working toward sustainable communities are the keys to unlocking gridlock.
Q: What are Tarrant County’s most important roles as a steward of local quality of life?
A: Tarrant County must keep pace with population increases. We are in the heart of the DFW Metroplex, the fourth largest urban area in the nation, and the region is expected to continue its dramatic growth. Demographers suggest we could have 2.2 million people living in the county within 20 years. It will take a big effort, and it will take regional collaboration and cooperation to improve transportation, air quality and provide the services our citizens expect us to provide.
The development of innovative initiatives like Tarrant Cares, the internet-based Network of Care that allows residents of our community to become aware of community services and programs available to them, is a great way to raise awareness about access to healthcare and to promote a healthy lifestyle. The popular website launched this March (www.Tarrant.tx.networkofcare.org ) already has about 1.6 million hits and is truly a 21st-century idea. We are up to the challenge the future holds.
Q: Why is there more reason these days for residents to understand county government?
A: Our citizens need to know that county government works, and works for them. We are the front door for many government services that folks receive. They need to know and appreciate how county government affects their daily lives. Far too often, county efforts go unnoticed.
Counties are the record keepers of history. We build roads and operate courts, sheriff’s departments and jails. We protect the public health, provide some social services and run a county hospital with a network of clinics. Together, taxpayers and local governments share this responsibility.
Q: Describe “a day in the life” of a county judge in a county with such a large urban population. How do you balance needs and what types of issues do you deal with?
A: Every day is different. Some mornings I start with a breakfast meeting. During the day, I often meet with constituents or officials and go to public meetings. I am into solving problems and creating opportunities, often working with Commissioners Court colleagues, other elected officials and Tarrant County department heads.
Some days I deal with The Workforce Board and job-creation issues. Other days I go to the Regional Transportation Council, where important transportation improvements are funded. I often attend evening events for different cities, chambers of commerce or local agencies and nonprofits. I do enjoy giving talks about the importance of county government and how efficient and effective it is. This has been an exciting and gratifying five years and it has been a real honor to serve as Tarrant County Judge.