Conversations with Candidates: Curtis Parrish for Lubbock County Judge
It is mid-term primary election season. One of the local races on the ballot is for county judge. Think of that position as the CEO of the county. They also handle several judicial matters. There are two Republican candidates vying for the seat, and they faced off before in 2018. For our “Conversations with Candidates” series, we invited both of the contenders to our studio for discussions about key issues in the community. We asked that each candidate focus on the issues and not on their opponent. Curtis Parrish is running for a second term as county judge.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Introduce yourself to us.
Curtis Parrish: Sure. I'm Judge Curtis Parrish. I've been your county judge in Lubbock County. I was elected in 2018, took office Jan. 1 2019. So I'm just a little over three years into my first term and now it's time for election again. I have served as your county judge, and I'm asking to continue to serve as your county judge.
My background is I'm an attorney. My practice focused on estate planning, which includes probates, and guardianships, which is the very thing that the county judge oversees. I've done a little over now 2,800 hearings since I've been your county judge, all dealing with probates and guardianships and mental health cases - very complex areas of law. And so as an experienced attorney, a graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law, it was very important to me to have that experience going in because this is the job of the Lubbock County Judge.
Prior to being an attorney, I worked in the Texas Legislature. I worked for Sen. Robert Duncan, I was his legislative aide. I also worked on the House side as a committee clerk for juvenile justice and family issues committee. Working in Austin during the legislative sessions, of course, and Lubbock is still my home during the non-legislative session parts. Even prior to that, I worked in media. I was the assistant news director at Channel 28 and at Channel 11. For about 16 years, I worked in media.
So my background is media, it’s legislative, it’s public service. So it was kind of a natural thing for me to progress into this job as county judge, bringing all of my skills and all of my experiences in working in our community and with our community and working with the counties outside of Lubbock County. The smaller counties. When I was with Sen. Duncan, one of my primary jobs was to be the liaison to the 51 counties. Because, if you understand county government, county government is basically an arm of the state. So the state legislature, they pass laws and then it's up to the counties to enact those laws. So we're a little bit different. In fact, I would say a lot different, than city government.
In city government, you have home rule, and then cities can decide within their boundaries. What their speed limits are, what their zoning is, who can live over here, how many apartments can you have on this site? How many single-family dwellings can you have on here? We don't have that in the county. And we are only governed by what the state tells us we can do. So we can't do anything unless we can find it in the statutes to allow us to do that.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Yeah, there are a lot of differences. I don’t know if everyone realizes that unless they do closely follow what’s going on in our local politics.
Curtis Parrish: But the three main pillars of county government are public safety. We have a sheriff’s department and our detention center. And within public safety, we also have our juvenile justice center, we have our volunteer fire departments. We work with UMC with our ambulance services. All of this is part of public safety. That’s one pillar.
Our second pillar is our roads and infrastructure. We look and make sure that our roads are good and able to travel on.
And then also, our court system, that's our third pillar. So really, everything that we do in the county is really to support those three pillars: our public safety, our roads and infrastructure and our courts.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Why are you running for re-election?
Curtis Parrish: I've been the judge now for a little over three years. Enjoyed the job.
You know, doing probates and guardianship sometimes is quite heartbreaking. But it's a real service. And I feel like I am a servant for the people. And you need a judge, Lubbock County needs a judge, that's compassionate. That's going to work and going to do the job, work hard, which I am.
I don't know, it's kind of trite. Sometimes you hear politicians say this, but I am really built for this job. When you look at my experience, my education, and then what I have done since I've been county judge, to be able to shepherd this county.
Here's just a really small example. When I took office in 2019, our guardianship programs here were in distress. We had a lot of issues with our guardianship. But between myself and my team, we've been able to turn that around. And so now, not only did we turn that around, but now we are the gold standard in the state of Texas in guardianship. I'm asked to speak all over the state to teach other counties how to best do guardianships. And I'm only able to do that because of the expertise that I bring to the office. And so I would like to continue doing that. I think we've got more to do. We've got to make sure that we are watching over our wards, we've got to make sure that we're watching over our estates. To make sure that you have an educated, experienced judge in the position of county judge.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: As I said at the top of this interview, I want this conversation to focus on what voters are thinking about as they head to the polls. One issue is the Lubbock County Expo Center. If re-elected, how will you see that project through fruition?
Curtis Parrish: Let me tell you where we're at. I'm gonna have to start with how we got here. The voters voted to increase the HOT, which is the hotel occupancy tax, to increase that by 2% to pay for or to partially pay for this multipurpose expo venue. That was done in November of 2018, which coincidentally or maybe not coincidentally, was the same day I was elected. So I was not part of the process and getting that particular ballot initiative to the voters. It was something that I inherited. After the vote was made, we went to our bond council and said, “OK, so how much money now can Lubbock County put into this venue?” Based on the collection, the 2% collection, we were looking at an approximately $30 million bond. That was in November of 2018, or, we'll just say January of 2019, a $30 million bond.
This is a public-private partnership. So the public part of this was $30 million. They told us and the voters that it was a $55 million arena and that the private part would make up that difference in fundraising, etc. So the county has $30 million, the private corporation has $25 million. We bring our monies together, and we build a $55 million arena.
Since that time, since the vote, the price tag for this has ballooned now to $120 plus million dollars. Well, Lubbock County still has $30 million to give to the project. But now we have to look to the private folks to raise $90 million. Because see, Lubbock cannot put any more money into this project. This was what the voters decided - 2% off the HOT and that's it. So we have $30 million to contribute to this, I've got $30 million, honestly, ready to go. We could go tomorrow, and get our bond folks the paperwork to get together and we can get that money ready to go.
As soon as the private folks get their money together, then we can build and we'll be ready to go. And I'm anxious for that. We’re really encouraging them, “go out and raise money.” I know that since November of ‘18, we've had COVID. We've had other issues that have prevented them from going to raise that full amount. But it's time.
But the bottom line is Lubbock County has $30 million to contribute to this. So we are depending on the private part of our public-private partnership to raise the additional money.
*Read more about the Lubbock County Expo Center here
Sarah Self-Walbrick: There have also been concerns about last year's switch in court system software. We'll link to our reporting on that online. But what's the latest on those issues, and as county judge running for a second term, what are your solutions for solving them?
Curtis Parrish: Tyler Technologies and the software package - that was purchased prior to me taking office, it was done by the previous administration. So what we've been doing over the past, almost two years now, is working on the conversion, moving our legacy data, the data, the over 10 million points of data that we have in Lubbock County, moving that from our old software, into the new Tyler software.
And I will tell you, that the conversion has gone extremely well. It is working tremendously. The software is… it's the Cadillac of software. Municipalities and counties and other folks all over the nation use the software and use it very well. What we found when we did our conversion, though, was we ran into one particular issue. Just one. And that was the issue of expunged cases.
So as you know, if a judge orders a case to be expunged, that means it's deleted. And judges have the right to do that, these are expunged cases. They do these all the time. So in the software, it is supposed to be deleted. However, in the old software, it wasn't. It was just hidden, wasn't deleted. So when it came time to convert all of those points of data into our new software, all of those expunged cases came into the new software and were exposed. So once we found out that we had an issue that we were able to see in the public portal, able to see expunged non-disclosed data, I shut it down. Because, one, is the liability to the county would be almost unimaginable. Plus, also, believe it or not, Sarah, it is a criminal offense to negligently expose expunged data. So we shut down the portal. I put the DA’s office and the IT department to work to go back through and scrub every single point of data. We were finding expunged cases from back in 2004 that were being exposed because they were not expunged in the old system. They were just hidden. So we're going through that process right now. I received an update last week that we're almost through. Now, you tell me what almost means. But as soon as the DA’s office and the IT department tell me that it's clear, we will open up that public portal. To allow, then, people to sit at home or sit in their office and search the data. Right now the data is available. You can come down to the courthouse. Everybody's still able to do their job. They're just not able to do it remotely. That's the only difference, are that criminal attorneys, criminal defense attorneys and other folks want to search for the records from the comfort of their own office or the comfort of their home. They do not have the ability to do that until we turn on that public portal.
But overall, globally, this software conversion is going remarkably well. Our Sheriff's Department, they're loving it. They're loving the ease and the access to criminal records while they're out on patrol. And that just gives them more information. It's safer for them. Before they roll up onto a scene they already know who's in the room. Who's there? What are the old crimes maybe that have happened? And so they have access to that because of the new software, all the way through to even our appellate court system. So it's integrated and it's working very well. I'm very proud of the job that we're doing in the conversion. We do have that one, just that one little piece. But we'll get that fixed. But that's the piece that people are up in arms about. But overall, Sarah, I am very proud of the work that that has been done in getting this software conversion.
*A note for clarification: While the software issue is being resolved, a recent EverythingLubbock.com report found there are still stakeholders who have issues with the system.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: Along those same lines. We've heard a lot about rising crime lately. What are your plans to combat that?
Curtis Parrish: I know that a lot’s been said about open borders and drug cartels and those types of things. We're always concerned about that. We fully fund the Texas Anti-Gang Task Force. It's a conglomeration of county, our sheriff's department, our city police, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) office, federal, state, all of these agencies come together and fight crime through our gangs as one. It's a great program and it's worth supporting. And we've seen some fruits, we've seen some benefits from this.
But if you look at the crime rate in Lubbock, the thing that really troubles me the most is our juvenile crimes. You know, we hear about the shootings at the mall - all juveniles. We hear about some of these arrests from gangs. Most of them are juveniles. And these are homegrown. These are not kids that are coming up from Mexico committing these crimes. These are homegrown Lubbock kids, who have escalated juvenile crime to a point of aggravated assault, assault with deadly weapons, violent sexual assaults and gang activities are happening in our juveniles. So we need to get our juvenile crime under control. I believe if we can do that. We can really affect the safety of the people of Lubbock County.
So to that end, I've been working very closely with our juvenile justice system. William Carter, who is the director of the Juvenile Justice Center, he and I are working very close together. We're in the planning stages of building a state-of-the-art education center out of the juvenile justice detention center. Now, I'll tell you, education is just one key. It's not the key. And it's not the panacea. And it's not the cure-all. But I do believe education is a key to keeping juvenile offenders from becoming adult offenders. And that's the goal.
Our juvenile detention center, it's not just for kids who got caught smoking in the back of the school. These are violent offenders. And we've got to show them that there is a way out of that. And we show that through education. When I talk state of the art I'm talking about, even in trades. Some kids just aren't made for college, maybe we can get them into trade schools. And so teaching them at that high school level, about something, giving us something in a future other than gangbang other than being a hoodlum. Giving them some kind of hope. If we can do that, then we can change not only the life of that juvenile, but certainly change the life in Lubbock in our health and safety.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: And lastly, why should voters cast their ballot in your favor?
Curtis Parrish: I have served very remarkably and admirably as the county judge, and I'm doing 100% of the job of county judge. Again, 70% the majority of the job is judicial. You know, if you look at the counties that are the size of Lubbock, we're all attorneys, because we have to do both jobs, both judicial and administrative. And this is an area of law that's very complicated. You can't just pawn the job off on somebody else. This is the job of the Lubbock County Judge. There are administrative duties, but mostly there are judicial duties. And so I feel like I am uniquely qualified. With my education and experience, have been doing the job. We take care of public safety. That is job one. We've added approximately $10.5 million additionally into our Sheriff's Department. And we've asked the people of Lubbock County to come walk along beside us. We did that in November, and they did overwhelmingly.
So I believe that I am in a unique position to shepherd and lead this county, not only in the administrative part, but certainly in the judicial part. I would very much ask the people of Lubbock County to vote for me so that I can keep serving you as your Lubbock County Judge.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at email@example.com. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support local nonprofit journalism. Thanks for donating today.