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Interview with: Jon Lindsay
Interviews by Louis Marchiafava and
Unidentified Female Interviewer
Date: September 23, 1975
Archive Number: OH 104
LM: (00:28) I would like to begin the interview by a brief description of activities prior to entering politics, and then discuss to some extent the reasons why you became involved in politics.
JL: It would be hard for me to identify the reasons, because I’m not sure of those myself, but I was in the construction business prior to 1972, which is when I entered the legislative race. I think the biggest reason I got involved in that legislative race was—oh, I was involved in many civic activities in the northwest part of the county, and since it was a new district and new set of lines it just looked like something that might be interesting to play around with, and that’s probably the reason I did it, although I could not identify any particular reasons.
LM: Did anyone encourage you to get involved in it? Were there any motivations from perhaps other officials?
JL: No, not from any other officials. When I had talked briefly about it with my wife, she encouraged me, so my biggest encouragement came from my wife.
LM: What do you think is the major reason for your initial success?
JL: Of course, I wasn’t successful in that race. I won a primary run-off race, and that was really exciting, and that probably explained why I was interested in doing it again, even when I did lose the general election, but I lost it very nearly, so that didn’t discourage me. Had I been defeated overwhelmingly then I would have been discouraged at that point, but since it was so close it just seemed like I had to try one more time. When the 1974 races rolled around, I was seriously considering a race in the same area, and I was kind of battling back and forth between doing it as a Democrat again or changing parties at that point, which I had always thought I would, probably, do anyhow from the area that I was from. Someone suggested this race, and I was called in by the party chairman, and we talked about it, and evidently it didn’t take much to talk me into it, because I went ahead and did it.
I2: Once the decision was made, did you have a number of supporters that approached you for this position at that point?
JL: (3:31) No, not a whole lot. I think most people thought it was an exercise in futility, and they, kind of, sympathized with me and my stupidity for getting involved at that time, but I think as it went along we gained quite a few supporters, and by the time—say a month before the primary race, because I did have a primary race there—then many of the Republican traditional power makers, I guess, had joined in with almost all of them. That, of course, made it a very easy primary race then. Of course, we didn’t have any idea at that time what we were up against for November.
I2: How did this series of power makers, as you described them—was there any one or several—
JL: Oh, yeah. Certainly, Nancy Palm was the big one at that point in time. She is the one who came to me originally through another person to talk about this race. I remember being suspicious of the offer at the time thinking that it was to try to keep me out of the legislative race. I thought, well, this is, kind of, a guise to keep me out of the legislative race, and it may have been, because I’m still not sure today that it wasn’t, but it worked out if it was.
I2: Any other local people or local Republican leaders other than Mrs Palm?
JL: Oh, yes there were numerous ones. I can’t say that any one had anything near the influence that Nancy Palm had on it though—on my success. I think that they all together did, and I certainly realize that I could not have won that primary without her support, more than likely. Her active support, although in a primary race your party chairman doesn’t really get all that active, and I can’t say that she did get that active, but I think that she—and she did not get that active. I think what she did do was just letting it be known among her close friends that I was her choice, and they took it from there.
I2: What were your attitudes toward them in the final election, once you had had the primary under your belt, in terms of campaigning and issues that had to be dealt with?
JL: Well, I think we were very fortunate to be running against an incumbent that was rather unpopular countywide. He lost almost all of his strong support, and the support that he did have was, obviously, not the type of support that was really going to get out and work for him. We became quite encouraged in the race—oh, I’d say—by September, and really sincerely thought we had a chance of winning the race at that time. I think we were rather doubtful until then.
I2: What changed your attitude?
JL: (7:07) Well, just continually going around the county and finding that people—although they weren’t Republicans they were supporting somebody against this particular incumbent, and it was just repeatedly all over, so that was really what—and by the time October rolled around I was convinced we were going to win. I would have been very surprised had we not won, although it did seem to surprise a lot of people. I don’t think people were really watching the race that close at that point in time or at least as close as we certainly were. I just had the feeling that it was going our way at that time.
I2: What connection do you think the investigations by the grand jury had in—
JL: I think they helped, of course. I think they helped, but I still think we would have won without them, but maybe not by the same percentage. I think it would have been a very close race without those, but I think there was enough anti-incumbent feeling around the community for other reasons other than that.
LM: What were some of those reasons?
JL: He had been in for 16 years, and he’d met many, many people, and it seemed like he defended just a little group here and a little group there in his peculiar way—not returning any calls—and just simple little things like returning calls, and not letting them in to see him that I think contributed significantly to his defeat. I think a multitude of small things with individuals, and it was countywide. Plus, we had a very good conservative interest in the race, and looking back on the race—of course I’m trying to analyze it—it seemed like the conservative elements turned out to go in larger percentages than in the liberal areas, but we kind of thought that was the way it was going to be in that race anyhow, and that is how we planned our race.
I2: Do you think the redistricting of the judge’s and justice of the peace’s areas in the county had anything to do with his defeat?
JL: Oh, I think it had a little bit to do with it. I think that offended and got a lot of attention in that area in the north. I think it helped him in some of the central southern districts, which probably was enough to offset what had hurt him in the north. I don’t think the rest of the county was paying that much attention to it. I think the only real big interest areas were the areas that benefited and those areas that got hurt, and they probably balanced one another out. Like I said, the rest of the county just didn’t pay that close of attention to that particular issue.
LM: You made an interesting comment, you said that the kind of support he had was not likely to show up at the polls, what did you mean by that?
JL: (10:40) Well, a lot of the minority votes, of course, did not come to the polls. The liberal areas did not have the interesting races to bring them to the polls in the general election, whereas the conservatives did, and therefore, I think that it was the other races along with mine that helped me at the same time, because I think the liberals just didn’t have that much interest in a particular candidate. Had Sissy Farenthal been on the ballot then I think I would have been in trouble or if Barbara Jordan had had a substantial opponent that was getting a lot of attention and all that then I would have been in trouble there too, but there wasn’t anything like that.
I2: You mention that this was really part of your campaign—
JL: Well, we had analyzed it that way, which is one of the reasons we had gotten in the race, because we could see it coming as far back as January.
I2: Later on towards the end of the campaign, at one time you appeared before the commissioner of the court and asked for a response from Judge Elliot about the questions reporting gratuity and influence peddling by Elliot, and the Judge’s response was, “You and your dirty tricks organizations have been trying to get me down for years. It is regretful that you have brought to commissioner’s court your smut and mudslide show coached and directed by this fellow over here on the right,” and at that point he must have pointed to Commissioner Eckles and called him, “The Mr Segrete of this area.” What was your reaction to that remark?
JL: I wasn’t at all surprised. I think I expected something like it, of course, I was at the podium to get attention, and it was a political thing, and we both recognize it. I’m not sure the press recognized it, and we weren’t pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. I think his comments were not unexpected. I think they worked to our benefit though. He’d been better off to not say anything, but that was the nature of the man.
I2: Shortly after that, after you were elected, there was a call for the judge’s resignation, what was the purpose of your calling for his resignation at that point, knowing that you would take office in January?
JL: I don’t recall making that—after the election?
I2: Well, November 6 the day of the election.
JL: (14:14) I don’t recall getting involved with him after the election at all. I know after I had won the election I stayed away from him entirely. I’m trying to let the whole issue die, at least that was my intention, now you may have picked up something that was just before—
I2: Well, the newspaper had a separate item describing a call for the judge’s resignation and attributed to you.
JL: Attributed to me? I will have to go back into my archives to figure out what that was all about then. That might have been a statement that I had put up before the election, and it didn’t get picked up until then or something.
I2: That’s possible, because it was carried on the same day.
JL: I know immediately after the election I tried not to say anything.
LM: That’s probably what happened.
I2: Shortly after that there was some discussion in the court about office space for the incoming county judge.
JL: Yes, we had talked to a couple of the commissioners just about finding some location up here that we could operate out of. We knew there was a lot of things that needed to be done to get us ready to move in, and the feeling, as I recall, especially out of this office was, so what, you can’t have it. As I recall, I think I even carried with the court, but Commissioner Bass was kind enough to let us have one of his offices up front.
I2: Do you want to move into the judgeship area now? (talking to the other interviewer)
LM: Yes. You won on a conservative ticket, and I’ve completed enough interviews by now to know that there are different shades of conservatism and liberalism. I was wondering, perhaps, if you might not take a few moments now to briefly outline how you describe yourself when you say you’re a conservative, and what precisely do you mean by that in political terms?
JL: Well, I’m a physical conservative—I hope I am, and the way I understand it I am, but I’m not sure what a conservative is. I’m sure that some real far-right conservatives would say I’m an ultra-liberal in some areas. I try to be objective in the way that I place my votes out there and get the facts before I make a big decision. I got a lot of severe criticism for voting for any tax increase for the hospital issue, for example, on one hand, and on the other hand I got criticized for not letting them have the full amount. I guess I was in the swing vote position on that one, so in some people’s eyes I was a conservative and in other’s I was a liberal. So, what’s a conservative? I don’t know.
LM: (17:40) Well, perhaps, we can define it this way, what were your goals when you first took office? What ideas did you have concerning government and the financial situation?
JL: One of my major goals has been and still is to try to have commissioner’s court operate in a degree with dignity without a bunch of hassling going on, which it what it has a reputation for. Then, of course, I hope to be able to produce or influence some better efficiency in county government starting right here in my own office, as far as that goes, which is the only area I have that much direction over—of course, you understand county government. There are five people operating as one head, so whatever we do has to take a majority of three to get it done, but I think that efficiency and dignity are two of the main goals.
LM: Do you have any ideas on how to increase efficiency?
JL: Well, I didn’t have a whole lot before I came in—I’ll be quite candid with you. I probably didn’t understand county government as well as I was telling everybody, but I’ve gotten a real education since the first of January, and we are working on several things now that I think we’re going to try to implement during this budget session this next time. I hope that we can give a little more authority to department heads, for example, and let them run their departments the way they see fit rather than the way the commissioner’s court has been doing it and dictating in a lot of areas, and then if they don’t do according to the way we would like them to then they would have to answer to us, but at least give them the authority that they sometimes don’t have.
LM: When you experience sitting in the court and doing the daily business of the court, have you found that there are factions in the court or certain members that always seem to vote together on certain issues and so on?
JL: Well, of course, it depends on the issue, but generally there are, yes. Again, it depends on the type of an issue that it is, and if you tell me what type of an issue we’re talking about I could 90 percent of the time tell you how the vote is going to be, I would think.
LM: Those that lean toward a metropolitan-type of government or consolidation.
JL: (21:08) That vote would probably be about 4:1 against it, the way I would see it.
LM: Do certain members try to—how do the other commissioners attempt to influence your position?
JL: There’s not a whole lot of influence peddling on the court. I think there may have been a little try early in my term or in this term with the commissioners, but I think that we’ve all learned, generally, how the other guy is thinking somewhat, and I think we’ve all found that it is kind of useless to go out and influence too much, but there always is some, but it’s not a significant thing. Not enough to get a definite 3:2 vote on every issue, in other words.
LM: When you first assumed your duties, was there an attempt to try to put through programs that other commissioners may have thought they could get through due to your inexperience on the court?
JL: Oh, yeah. They tried to take over my office, as a matter of fact.
LM: Can you discuss that a little further? The type of programs they tried to steamroll?
JL: I think one of the big things they tried to steamroll through here was a procedural thing whereby everything comes through a brand new executive department—I guess is the best way to explain it—kind of going around the county judge entirely, and I opposed that quite vigorously, and I think I’ve won that battle at least for the time being. I think there was the feeling that I let some of the other members of court run my office for me for awhile, and quite frankly, it’s caused some hard feelings between a couple of us too, and it remains today, which I think is general knowledge.
LM: Well, the reports of political observers and the observations that they made were that Commissioner Eckles had hoped that he could influence your position or stand on various issues.
JL: That’s true, and that’s why I think we have some hard feelings between the two of us when he found out he couldn’t and I found out that he was going to continue to try.
LM: It still exists today?
JL: I think it does, somewhat, but not as bad as it was, but it’s still there.
LM: (24:28) What are the issues where you both differ so much?
JL: Well, who is going to be the county judge is, basically, it. I think he would like to be the county judge and be a commissioner at the same time, but—anyhow that’s really—it’s not that big of a deal. I get carried away on that, but I’m not sure how Commissioner Eckles feels, but I was upset for a while and I’m getting over it pretty good now.
LM: Did he support you—
JL: Yes, he did support me. He was a contributing influence in the campaign, and there is no question about that. I owe him a great deal for that. I think had I not had his support it would have been much more difficult. I think that he kept the fires burning up here on the court in such a way that he kept the news media reporting so that the opponent wasn’t really able to get away from the fishing of the court. Of course, all these things don’t make—it’s not all general knowledge—this is something that is not really used right away, is it? (audio ends 26:18)
(audio starts back up 26:19)
LM: I think you were talking about some of the differences between you and Commissioner Eckles before we stopped the machine.
JL: I think we got a personality conflict, probably, that is the biggest thing between the commissioner and myself. I mentioned that I thought he initially tried to influence me so much that he could control my office, and that might be because our personalities are a little different, primarily. He seems to be the type of individual that needs to be out in the front of everything, and I guess as far as commissioner’s court goes then that would be putting that personality in conflict with the county judge regardless of who that might be, which probably is one of the big reasons he had such conflict with the incumbent. I mean the previous incumbent.
LM: You mentioned that you want to institute some changes in the type of administrative executive department, and wanted to create a new relationship within the executive department?
JL: Yeah, I kind of lost track of what all the details were, but it was establishing an executive department, so to speak, that would be headed up by two people that were presently on court that, I guess, he thought he had some influence over—not on court, but in county government. I don’t think it was well thought out, because really in many ways they would have handed over a lot of their own authority, as far as individual commissioners go. Although, they were diluting just about everything the county judge did, but any control on the agenda they—it would almost be a county manager type thing or city manager, but not quite to that extent. You wouldn’t get out and run the precincts, for example, but you would pretty well run the courthouse. I did oppose that, and did go to the extent of letting a few people that I thought were influential with him know how I felt. I think they put a little pressure on him to withdrawal his support for that position, because it was dropped.
LM: (30:00) Were there any other basic differences of that type or nature?
JL: Well, it’s a continual thing. It’s a bunch of little things, you might say, as far as the differences between him and me. Then again, I think it’s mostly personality conflict.
LM: You’ve mentioned that several times, and it appears it played a prominent roll in your relationship, and I was wondering, do you suppose that in his initial support of you that he thought he could assert his influence through you?
JL: Oh, I think in his initial support of me he didn’t think that I had a chance of winning, and really I didn’t. I think he was just as surprised as anybody when the final tabulation was made. I think he was expecting—well, I think he was seeing a shift in the make up of the court that he would have with Bill Elliot still on as courthouse county judge, but he, of course, by then knew—or pretty well knew—well, he did know because primaries were over, and there was no general election in the other commissioner’s race, so he knew that Commissioner Brave would not be here, and that Fontino would be a friend to him, and so he knew he had two votes, and on a lot of issues he knew that he could depend on one of two other sources depending on the issue. So he would wield a great deal of influence on court, even with Elliot still in office, and I think he had this more in mind then he did my actual win at the time.
I2: So, in a sense, you’re saying that really he was campaigning more against—
JL: Oh, he definitely campaigned against group Brave. He was quite active in Brave’s race in the primary, because that was in the primary race. In the general election, of course, Fontino did not have an opponent, so that race was won and over with in June. So Eckles involvement in my race then later on and late in summer—like I said, he knew that he had control—I don’t mean control, but he had a great deal of influence over one vote, and depending on the issue he thought he had some influence, in one way or another, over either of the other two depending on the issue, but he couldn’t depend on the other two, of course, all the time, but I think if he played his cards just right he could influence some of them. So, it put him in a pretty good—or he figured—it put him in a pretty good position, and I would agree with him, and I can understand the logic at the time.
LM: (33:41) Has he obtained a great deal of support from Commissioner Fontino?
JL: Yes, he has. Commissioner Fontino supports Bob quite a bit. Although, I do think that Commissioner Fontino influences Commissioner Eckles just about as much, so in other words what I’m saying is that I think Fontino is definitely his own man. It’s not a matter of—because some people have said that Fontino does everything Eckles says, and I don’t think that’s true. I think that they do influence one another, but they generally go along together on most issues, not all issues, but most.
LM: I’m glad you pointed that out, because some of the comments that we hear incur exactly that that Commissioner Fontino is following in the footsteps of—
JL: I don’t think he is. I think if the true facts were known that you would find that Commissioner Fontino is coming out ahead in a lot of things as far as any negotiations between the two of them. I think Fontino is very astute in negotiating for his position, and I respect him for it. I think he is doing a good job at it. I mean, he may not always be right, but I think he’s—and generally, he’s not taking an unreasonable approach to things, in other words.
I2: Could you give us an example of that, sort of, exchanging of influence?
JL: Well, I think that selection of our two county judges is a good example. Fontino, a long time ago had made up his mind on who he wanted to see as one of those county judges, and he got in a position where he was definitely going to get that one for sure. He had Bob’s commitment on it, and then it came to the point of me trying to get a Republican appointed as a county judge, and then he got my commitment on it, and we did trade out there, so we could guarantee it. Both Bob and I were under tremendous pressure from many, many Republicans to get a Republican candidate for criminal judge, and so when we realized we had that kind of pressure on us, we negotiated with Fontino, so we traded out there. I think Fontino saw this coming a long time ago, and got his man in there. He was going to have it last January, if it came to that even though the space wasn’t available until recently. I think that is a good example, and I think he read the paper well, and then got what he thought he needed.
LM: How do you think the differences between yourself and commissioner Eckles influenced each of your campaigns?
JL: (37:13) I don’t know. I take a policy to stay out of other campaigns. I don’t know what—of course, Bob does get involved, or at least he has gotten involved in those two races. I don’t know if he’s going to get involved in any others or not—talking about Fontino’s and my race. I don’t know that it will have any effect that depends on him. I wouldn’t get involved in his race unless he just pushed me into it, and he would have to push awfully hard to get me involved.
LM: Do you have any questions in this area? (speaking to the other interviewer)
I2: Just perhaps a few more questions about possible differences. Was there a difference over the resigning of Mr Campbell in January?
JL: No. You mean when we let him go.
I2: Right, but there was controversy—
JL: There wasn’t any controversy—I can’t remember what the vote was. I’m not sure if Commissioner Bass supported Campbell or not. I don’t recall. I’m fairly sure that Commissioner Lyons did not, and of course the rest of us did not. Do you have a record of how that vote went?
I2: No, but from what I understand—from the information we were able to get—that the vote was in closed session first or something of that sort, and then—
JL: Well, if someone really had a strong feeling they would vote the same way, I think.
I2: I believe it was 4:1.
JL: I couldn’t tell you.
I2: Let’s see. What about Gus Taylor, the personnel director?
JL: He’s still on the board, of course.
I2: Same differences though as to the type of affirmative action program that he’s pressing for?
JL: (39:38) I don’t think Gus Taylor is doing anything on the thing. I think he made the initial moves and held the hearings that he was supposed to hold out there, and I think he’s taking all that stuff and he’s filing it in a drawer, and unless we push him for it he’s not going to do anything with it. I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth out of our personnel director, in other words, but that is a political situation that I think most of us are afraid to get into, because evidently he had a lot of black support—black organizational support. I think his situation is just going to die on the vine. If he decides to move on then it would be his decision rather than the courts. I don’t think he’s doing anything.
LM: There has been one issue that involves you with the—use the word loosely—liberal member of the court, Commissioner Bass, I think Mr Taylor has received Bass’ support in the past?
JL: I think so.
LM: How has this placed you in your relationship with Commissioner Bass, are there many differences there?
JL: I think I understand Commissioner Bass’ position, and I think Commissioner Bass is very straightforward and I think that he—well, I respect him for his position on it, and I think regardless of whether—I’m not sure that Bass thinks that Taylor is not qualified or qualified. I think that even if Commissioner Bass agreed with me that he would be in the position where he could not support a removal of Taylor at this time with his election coming up. I’m not sure that Bass does not agree with me, in fact, because it’s obvious there is nothing happening in that department.
LM: Removing Taylor from the picture and just looking at it as a position as a county personnel director, does the county need one? In the past most of the department heads—
JL: No, I really don’t it does. I think we get along very well without one. I think that is probably one of the reasons Taylor is not doing a whole lot, because the department heads are still finding their own employees, and of course, a lot of the department heads are elected officials themselves, and being an elected official they go out and hire their own people, and they hire the people who supported them in their campaigns. They’re not about to go to somebody else to get a position filled by possibly somebody that opposed them. I think this is, certainly, true of all the big departments, so that doesn’t leave very much, and we don’t have any control over who these people hire and fire anyhow. You’re talking about another elected official, so no I don’t think there is a place for a personnel director in county government.
LM: (44:02) There are some—either Taylor’s supporters or supporters of having such a position—that maintain that without such a director each department would develop into a little political kingdom, and they won’t be very effective in administrating the affairs of the county, how would you reply to that?
JL: Well, having a personnel director wouldn’t stop that at all. It would have no influence on changing that up in any way. I just mentioned that these elected officials are going to hire the people they want to hire regardless of what Taylor says. So, although Gus Taylor is the personnel director, he doesn’t do the hiring all he does is send people for interviews. I would imagine that his hiring rate out of the personnel department’s recommendations or interviews have been very small.
I2: Well, I just have a question along that line. What kind of control do you have as county judge, in terms of getting these other department heads to do what you want to do?
JL: If they are department heads and not elected officials then we do have quite a bit of control on them. We have the power to fire them, but most of your major department heads are elected officials, and we have no control over another elected official, except through the budget process, and last year we did try to control some of the things that the sheriff was doing. We were unsuccessful with that, although we tried.
I2: Well I understand that there were more constables at one point at the precinct level, but how was that unsuccessful?
JL: Well, that was a separate thing from the sheriff.
I2: I was thinking in terms of the efforts to appoint constables and increase the total number of constables, in terms of diluting power strength, would you call that successful or unsuccessful, in terms of some control over law enforcement?
JL: I think it has been partially successful. We haven’t really proven yet how effective it’s going to be. I think they are just now getting on full strength, and where they have all the equipment and materials that they need to operate. I don’t know yet. I’m not able to tell you how effective these people are being in the areas. I think it’s a good theory to have law enforcement people that live in the community and are identified in the community on a regular basis. It depends on the elected constable as to how he uses these people as to how successful it’s going to be. If the constable uses them just for his political benefit then I think we failed in our effort, but if he allows these deputies to go out and write warrants and speeding tickets then I think they will be effective, and I think they’ll be felt in the community. That depends, again, on another elected official that we don’t have much control over. If it’s not working I feel like we are going to pull those people back then, and I think in two years we’ll be able to tell.
I2: (48:29) We were talking about the budgetary control over elected officials, and you had mentioned something about not quite being as successful as you had hoped with Sheriff Heard, what did you mean by that?
JL: Well, what we tried to do in that particular case was to take him out of the civil paper serving business, and we deleted all of those type of people, and he had about 37 or 39—I can’t remember—and tried to encourage him to put those people—and then we did establish jail personnel and new patrol people—the jail personnel because one of the court’s judgments was to provide more jailers out there and more guards, so we established something like 16 new positions out there. So, what he did—the sheriff—rather than doing away with his paper servers, he just used those new positions for jail guards and patrol people and let those people do the paper serving, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. He let them continue, and they had this bracket or job description as a guard at the jail, but they were serving papers downtown rather than a constable, which we thought a constable should do that. So, you can see we didn’t have that much control over it that area, and it’s true of any department. We can give them a position, but what he has that individual do may not be what the position is set up for, and we have no control. If he was not an elected official then of course we could fire him for doing it, but you don’t fire the sheriff.
I2: You mentioned something about some hopes that you had for the new budget that you will be in control of now or partial control, what are those expectations?
JL: Oh, I don’t know how successful they’re going to be. I would like to see us instead of making all the decisions as to how many and what kind of people are going to be in a department, I would like to see the commissioner’s court take a stand and just say, “Mr Department head, you’ve got so much money to spend, and this is the figure we’re giving you to operate under. You organize your department with that amount of money the way you want to, but these are the things we expect out of you,” and give him that authority rather than us trying to dictate. I think in the case of the sheriff, we can do that. We can put a stipulation in there that none of them be used for civil paper servers, but the rest of them he can distribute out the way he wants to, and other departments. That’s what I would like to see happen. I’m not sure that is going to be the case though. I think this just makes better management or a better management principle than the way we’ve been doing it. Because now they spend enough time to get that knowledgeable about each department and what its actual needs are. We all know that every department in the county comes in with requests for an excess of the actual needs. This is historical or it seems to be anyhow.
I2: (52:34) How is the situation going with the commissioners dividing up the departments, in terms of control?
JL: I think that is working fairly well, because it does get the commissioner involved in a department a little closer than he ordinarily would be, and he doesn’t have time to get involved in each department, but he does have time to get involved in two or three departments. So that he can then in turn keep the rest of the court informed as to what is happening a little bit better. We would rely more on him then on the department head.
LM: I’d like to turn our attention for a few moments to the root of all evil, which is money, and specifically, your financing of the county government, what sort of situation was the county in financially when you took office?
JL: Well, the county is in good financial shape. In one way it’s in good financial shape. Our tax base is fairly low, and is adequate for most things as it stands right now. I think that if we are going to be faced with a lot of court changes—additional courts and maybe more jail facilities that we think we need—then I think we are going to be in bad shape as far as our tax rate as it stands right now. Harris County and the Houston area, in general, is in a very enviable position as far as when you have a major community like we’ve got and their bonds are still rated triple A by both rating services then you realize you’re in pretty good shape. As far as balancing the budget, it’s going to be very difficult—the operating budget—I think we can do it with the present tax structure.
LM: You mentioned in the beginning of the interview that you were conservative in regards to financial matters, do you feel that—well, first of all, how would you describe your conservative policies regarding finances?
JL: I want to make sure that we’re getting a dollar’s value out of a dollar spent regardless of what area it’s in, whether it is library services or pollution control or whatever. I think we’ve got a lot of deadwood in the county government, and I think we need to sort it out. There are a lot of wasted expenditures.
LM: (55:59) Any particular examples?
JL: None that I would like to talk about.
LM: Oh, these are persons that we know?
JL: Yeah, there are, maybe, a couple of positions that I’m in doubt about. We are doing some studies right now, as a matter of fact, on a few things that should have a bearing on our budget hearings, and I don’t really know what those studies are going to prove yet. We may have some suspicions that we’re not getting our money’s worth out of a couple departments, but it’s going to be very difficult to prove.
LM: Is there any particular department that you think needs to have some attention given to it, in this regard?
JL: Oh, we made a change in pollution control recently, and I think we were having a problem there. I think the new director there is taking hold, and we’ll wait to see what happens there, and how his budget will be affected. That is a significant budget. I think—well, I don’t have any other particular answer right now.
LM: There was a report not long ago that came out that an enormous amount of money was needed for the county jail, and if that’s correct, and that amount of money is needed it seems like taxes will have to be increased, because the money has to come from somewhere. What are your plans in that area?
JL: Well, first of all, I’m going to oppose spending that kind of money, because it’s my opinion that we don’t have to spend that kind of money on a jail facility. We’ve got a bond issue to be voted on this Saturday that will provide $15 million if it passes, and right now I’m sure it’s going to pass. I think that $15 million—give or take a couple of million dollars—will take care of the problem as far as the jail facilities go. You’re right, there are some people saying we need to spend a whole lot more, as much as $74 million, but I disagree with that. I think that is a way-far-out statement, and I’ll oppose spending that kind of money.
I2: What other reforms dealing with prisoners and rehabilitation or pre-trial release programs do you think affect—given the financial situation at the county jail—in terms of what has to be done to improve the situation per the court order?
JL: There are two solutions to the problem, and we agree that, first of all, there is a problem is the jail system. It’s overcrowded, so there are two things you can do. You can either thin out the prisoners or build a bigger jail. I think it’s a combination of the two that we’re going to do. We’re going to build a little bigger jail, and remodel what we’ve got with this $15 million, but I think the other things we’re going to do is better our pre-trial release agencies, and streamline and better coordinate our court system, so people get through the courts faster and don’t stay in jail so long. That’s basically it. We are moving in that direction rather rapidly right now.
LM: (60:28) Do you see other areas where we’re increasing revenues for the county?
JL: No, the only place we can go for revenue is just from the ad valorem tax, and any way to increase that would force me to increase taxes.
I2: Will the bond issue free up any federal revenue sharing funds that had been used this year for the general revenue?
JL: Well, no because I think we’d used those federal revenue sharing funds unless the jail bond issue fails, of course, then we’d probably use federal revenue sharing funds in that, but we’ll use those federal revenue sharing funds in the same general area we were going to in the first place, which is probably things like park developments and capital improvement programs of one nature or another.
I2: What’s the attention given to federal services in your budget? What high ambitions would you have for next year, in terms of where to put that money?
JL: Well, of course there are needs in almost every area, and there is no question about that. I think what –of course the county doesn’t really put that much into social services, most of the money that is used in this area comes from a state or federal level. Our child welfare department budget—I think all we put in last year was a little over a million dollars of county money. The rest of their budget came from state level, and the same thing is true of MHMR and all their programs. So, I can see us increasing our share into those funds, because we already have in MHMR, but not a real significant amount. I think most of it will be coming out of state as it always has. Better than two thirds of it comes from state. I would think—of course even then we have separate boards that administer to these areas like a Child Welfare Board, Health Board, Juvenile Probation Board, and all these separate boards that pretty well run those things. I think—or my own feeling is more toward the children or the young adult problems then a strictly welfare-type give away type-thing on the county level.
I2: (63:58) You’d be willing then to actually increase the amount of money for juvenile services and that area?
JL: We just have to look at the program. I wouldn’t do it for all of them. I think there are some that are not effective.
I2: Which do you think are not as effective as they could be?
JL: Oh, I can’t remember all there names, because there are so many of them. I think some of them are almost a complete rip off for somebody. Of course, we’re not putting any county money in to this project up near Waverly, but we sponsor it, and I think that is beginning to be a rip off up there. I think that maybe there needs to be some coordination and cooperation in these areas.
I2: I’d like to ask you some questions about the county’s relationship to the city itself, in terms of cooperation differences. How do you see your role as a county judge in terms of overlapping jurisdictions and that sort of thing?
JL: Well, there are very few things that we overlap in. I can only name three or four offhand. There is very little money expended where we’re overlapping. Most of our money—47 percent of our money—out of the general fund goes to the administration of justice, and of course there is no duplication of all on the city’s part. We’ve got some that might be duplicated like the library system, but we’re serving a different area than the city library system. If you’re going to talk about consolidating that then it’s going to cause a whole lot of problems, if you do that. We’re already cooperating pretty fully on our tax assessing departments—tax evaluation department—so if you did consolidate those you would have about the same number of people anyhow. We have good cooperation between the city of Houston and Harris County. For example, on our bond issue we coordinated a lot of our activities with what the city of Houston and other cities will be doing.
LM: Do you have meetings with officials of the surrounding cities?
JL: Not on a regular basis, but we do meet quite frequently and we talk quite frequently. I have a call here from one of the mayors.
LM: What about the smaller towns, because I’ve heard complaints from people that they are not getting their share of the county’s services or road maintenance, for example? They feel that Houston and Pasadena have a better relationship with the county because they’re large and have more influence. How do you see the role of the smaller cities to your position?
JL: (67:47) Well, I haven’t heard that, because I think the smaller cities will get more out of the county than the bigger cities are percentage-wise, because in some of these communities we do work out some kind of arrangement where we can do some of their road maintenance work for them. They pay some of it back. I don’t think it’s that big of a problem.
LM: Have there been any cutbacks in road maintenance with the cities?
JL: No, not that I know of, of course, the road things are being run by the commissioner through their road camps, and a lot of those things work out without my knowledge.
I2: You mentioned efficiency earlier as a goal in your administration, how is efficiency working to a better improvement of the roads countywide? What are some ways, perhaps, that you think you could influence—
JL: Well, I don’t think there is a whole lot we can do with our road maintenance crews to make them more efficient. I think they are operating pretty efficient now. You just have to go fill up the chuck holes, and I think the biggest thing we can do—and we are doing—is rebuild some of them so they don’t take so much maintenance work. That is the reason for this bond Saturday—one of the reasons—to rebuild some of these roads so we have first class roads that don’t take a lot of maintenance. We’ll use that maintenance money other places.
I2: When it comes down to the basic nitty-gritty decisions of whose road gets fixed, how does the court go about actually deciding that?
JL: You mean a maintenance problem like them out there in the field?
LM: Either that or road construction.
JL: The bond issue—let’s take the bond issue, because that’s what would be decided on the court level. We will take the county engineer’s recommendations, and he has many of them that need facilities. We’ll decide roughly about what kind of money we’re going to have on the bond election for each precinct, and then the commissioner in that precinct will make the priority choices within his precinct.
LM: (70:31) There was talk awhile back of consolidating all the road construction, in other words, each commissioner would not be responsible any longer for his area. The total needs would be evaluated, and then construction authorized on that basis, and one of the criticisms of this was not really from an economic standpoint or for efficiency, but that it would make roads such a political influence for each of the individual commissioners, how much political patronage is based on this individual right of the commissioner to decide who gets what done and what way it gets done?
JL Oh, I’m sure there is a fair amount of it out there, but I still think they’re operating the most efficient method that they’ve got. I think it is more efficient than having one director supervising the entire road system. I think our present system is better, in other words. I think that we’ve got an elected official who is responsible for those roads out there, and if you had somebody that was appointed or hired then the citizens wouldn’t have that much input as to what is being done in the community. I think there is value in having an elected official responsible. Plus, I just think it is more efficient, because if you had—well, it wouldn’t be more efficient if we just had too much road equipment, but it doesn’t matter what part of the county you’re in, because we don’t have quite enough, so they’re all working. There is not any of them just out there goofing off. There’s enough work to take care of all of them. As far as the money goes, we distribute that by road miles anyhow. We don’t distribute it by precinct.
I2: There had been some discussion earlier about—on a totally different subject—about the county judge’s position in presiding over probate cases, and you succeeded in turning over much of the burden to other justices, Do you still feel the same about that?
JL: Yes, I do. I think—I just don’t think a county judge has time to do probate work, and then do the job that he should be doing in administrative areas at the same time. There is just no way.
I2: Do you foresee handling any in the future?
JL: One. That one.
JL: It’s a nasty one, and the other probate judges don’t want it. It was in the files when we got here, and they refuse to take it. So, I’m going to handle one.
I2: You’re going to be the hatchet man.
JL: That’s right.
I2: (73:58) Were they closely connected with the—
JL: I don’t know what their reasons are—the other probate judges. I don’t know what their reasons are. So, I’m going to handle that one anyhow.
LM: Do you have any more questions?
I2: No I don’t think so.
LM: We’ve taken up quite a bit of your time. I would like to close with just one general question, perhaps, I should ask you this after you’ve been in office over 10 years, but from your experiences now working in the county government, which direction do you see county government taking or this county government in the future? It seems like increasing need rising from greater urbanization is putting a strain on resources, what is the future of county government?
JL: Well, in Harris County, way on down the road, I would assume that government’s role—at least on the commissioner’s level—is going to be diluted, because those roles will be taken over by some incorporated area. Of course, that is the majority of their work, so at that time there may a change, but I think that it is so far down the road that it certainly won’t be within the time I’m in office, because there is an awful lot of unincorporated area in Harris County. It’s more than 1200 square miles out of a county that is only 1700 miles to start with. I don’t see any significant changes in the near-term, but I would assume that there are some down the road.
LM: Are there any areas that we have left out in the interview that you would like to talk about or include in the interview?
I2: Any thoughts that you would like to leave to future historians coming back and reviewing the tape about Jon Lindsay?
JL: I don’t doubt that anybody will ever look that tape up.
LM: You’d be surprised. Well, on behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I certainly want to thank you for the generous time you’ve donated to the interview, and we do appreciate it.
JL: Well, I appreciate you coming by, and I was a little surprised that you were even interested in getting anything at this time.
(audio ends 77:11)