Longtime Ector County Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons will face off against two fellow Republicans in March’s primary election.
Political newcomers Billy Tripp, 68, a local businessman, and Ryan Patton, a 36-year-old healthcare administrator, will go up against Simmons, who first took office in January 1999.
Since there are no Democrats running, there is a chance the top vote getter will win the job. However, with three candidates, there is the possibility of a runoff between the top two candidates following the primary.
Tripp, whose family has been in Odessa since the turn of the last century, graduated from Odessa High School and has a bachelor of business administration from Texas A&M.
Although he currently runs a residential and commercial construction company, Tripp said he’s worked in earth construction in the oilfield, been involved in oil and gas production, operated a furniture business and worked as a controller for a couple of companies. He’s also spent time farming and ranching with his dad in McCamey.
“My account background might be beneficial for county business and my experience in construction would be applicable in my job title, in the commissioner’s position, with roads, bridges and dirt construction, building construction,” Tripp said.
He’s thought about running for office in the past, but the timing was never right until now, he said.
“I’m kind of slowing down in the construction business, but I’m energetic and think I have a lot to offer the community,” Tripp said. “I can give it, I won’t say 100% of my time, but I can give it the majority of my time. I want it to be my primary focus rather than a secondary obligation like some of them do.”
In terms of priorities, the married father of two said law enforcement and roads are at the top of his list.
“I know some things need attention. I know you’re aware our courthouse is falling down. We need to address that, see what it’s going to take to renovate it as opposed to going in and tearing it down…but you can’t get into that until you know the details. It’s in bad shape and that is something we’re going to have to deal with,” Tripp said.
As for his opponents, Tripp said he refuses to sling any mud.
“I’ve never been in politics before and I’m not interested in partisan politics. I don’t want it to be that kind of a race. I think I have something to offer,” Tripp said. “I just feel I have a lot of energy and have something to offer the county.”
Patton is another Odessa native. The Odessa High School grad obtained his associate’s degree in general studies and his bachelor’s degree in business administration from American Intercontinental University. He also has a master’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University, Shreveport.
For the past seven years Patton has worked for the Stewart Medical Group running operations for roughly 50 healthcare providers and 30 clinics, including Odessa Regional Medical Center and Scenic Mountain Medical Centers.
When he was in his early teens, Patton said he began to work for his mother, Lois, who did medical billing and consultation work for physicians. He’d spend hours on the phone verifying patients’ insurance and working to get physicians paid.
“As I got older and had more time in it I started actually taking on clients and billing out claims and processing the claims for physicians,” Patton said.
After obtaining his associate’s degree, Patton continued to work, opting not to pursue his bachelor’s degree immediately. However, at the age of 23 he was diagnosed with Nephroblastoma, a kidney cancer. After having his kidney removed and while going through chemotherapy, he decided to go back to school.
He started out as a political science major at college, but quickly found out it wasn’t for him.
“I thought ‘What do you want to do? And well, you’ve been doing health care and medical stuff for six, seven years now, you could stick with that and you don’t hate it, you actually kind of enjoy it and you love digging and fixing things and work for doctors, and so I said ‘Let’s just stick with that and run with that’ and I feel like I’ve been pretty successful in doing so,” Patton said.
The former Boy Scout realized early on he loves serving others and has been involved in several nonprofits and the Young Professionals’ group. Pursuing public office is an obvious next step for him, he said.
He is a firm believer that local officials should be the ones making decisions that impact local residents.
“The COVID situation has had a lot of federal input. The state is constantly, right now, fighting the current administration on the different mandates we’ve seen pushed out,” Patton said. “Being in health care I’m all about protecting yourself and your family and doing what’s right for you, but that has to be your decision. As an American, we should be able to make those decisions. The mandates from the federal government are, I think, an overreach into our day-to-day lives. If the local officials want to look at some of those things then those local people should have those conversations and make those decisions, they shouldn’t be mandated.”
Although the married father of a 5-year-old boy concedes he leads a busy life, Patton said he believes he’s got the time and energy to serve the community.
He has some definite ideas on what issues he’d like to tackle if elected.
“Initially we have to get a plan together. We have to have a vision for what we’re going to do five, 10, 15 years down the road with our infrastructure,” Patton said. “We have facilities in place right now that are in dire need of some level of support. Our current leadership has allowed that situation to get to where it’s at and right now we’re just kind of ignoring it.”
Specifically, Patton said he’s talking about the courthouse, library and roads.
“I was happy to see they finally did some work at the Gardendale park and they’re slowly doing the others as well, but how long did it take before they got rid of that rusty equipment? How long are we going to let the courthouse continue to have sewage seeping from the ceiling?” Patton asked. “I’m not saying we’ve got to get in and we’ve got to replace that courthouse tomorrow, but I think we need to have a plan for what we’re going to do. Right now there’s no vision coming out of our current court.”
He’d also like to make sure the county is seeking any and all available grants. He personally would like the county to evaluate the health department and improve transparency with constituents.
“Being in health care I think we need to evaluate the health department. We need to look back at our reaction to the pandemic and we need to see how we can plug in the healthcare system through Medical Center and our private partners with ORMC and see how we can bring the three entities together,” Patton said. “I feel like we need to do a better job of taking care of the health of our citizens. There can be a lot done there.”
Patton said he was disappointed the county opted to hire a consultant to explore ways to spend American Recovery Plan Act funds because it meant missing a deadline that would’ve allowed the county to be reimbursed by FEMA for those funds.
“I think it’s interesting that we have to get a consultant to tell us how to spend the money. I think that we should have a lot of smart minds employed today, within our county, that should be able to guide us,” Patton said. “I’m not in all of those executive meetings to know what they’re being told about this consulting firm, but I feel like we should be able to make some decisions on our own and not have to waste money on that.”
If elected, Patton said he would be highly visible in the community and accessible.
“Greg has been in that seat for 22 years and you don’t see him unless it’s an election year,” Patton said. “I’ve personally emailed Greg and never received a response. I know others who have tried to reach out for one reason or another and never received a response. I think if you’re elected into this position you should be accessible to a degree so your people can get a hold of you, whether it be for something good, bad or ugly.”
Patton also said he’s persistent and wouldn’t allow disagreements derail communications. He pointed to recent disagreements between the hospital district, city and county.
“I feel like I’m an individual who’s going to come back and say ‘Hey, we need to get together and we really need to figure this out, whether there be hard feelings or not, we’ve got to move forward and do the right thing for the community,’” Patton said. “Growing up gay I had to grow a thicker skin and realize it’s not about me always. I’ve got to be able to look past the past, show back up and be available and continue pushing those conversations to take place.”
Optimistic and honest are other adjectives he’d use to describe himself, Patton said.
“I am honest to a fault at times but it’s because I don’t feel I need to hide anything. I’m the gay kid who grew up in West Texas who wants to help the community,” Patton said. “I have voted Democrat in the past. I’ve voted Republican in the past. I’ve never voted straight ticket by any means. I feel like there are good and bad on both sides and I know that people are going to harp on my records as far as primary elections, but I’m OK with that. I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy who wants to do the right thing for the community.”
Simmons, a Grand Prairie native, is gearing up for his seventh election. The President of Security Bank said he wants to continue working for the citizens of Ector County.
“Having been there and learned the system and learned how county government operates, I just feel like I have a vested interest in trying to continue to maintain the progress I feel we’ve made over the last several terms,” Simmons said.
Although he knows it sounds like a cliché, Simmons said he thinks he represents everybody within Ector County.
“I think my legacy is I’m more of a…I don’t know if populist is the right word, but I represent the taxpayer. I don’t feel like my job is to protect and grow the government, it’s to protect and listen to the voters and the taxpayers,” Simmons said. “The main thing is I do have a lengthy track record and I’ve been very consistent in my voting habits over the years. I do try to put the taxpayer first.”
Simmons compared the county to the United Way. Both entities do a lot of good things with their funding, but they also both receive more requests than they can accommodate.
“So, when the court is asked to do something, usually the first thing I try to figure out is how is it going to impact the taxpayer? There are a lot of people, sick people, on Social Security, people on fixed incomes and it’s never a great time to pass on costs to the taxpayers,” Simmons said.
He’s proud that over the years the county has begun to take on more and more economic development.
“When I first took office the county had never participated in an economic development project with the city or the chamber and that was one of the areas that I really thought at the time was a real shortfall for the county government,” Simmons said. “We’ve done 30-40 significant projects now over the terms I’ve been there. That’s something I want to continue with.”
At the top of that list is Nacero’s $7-billion natural gas-to-gasoline plant that will soon be built in Penwell, he said. At the time the commissioners approved the plan, it was the largest economic development project in the State of Texas, he said.
“I’ve always thought that hopefully the goal is still to try to diversify our economy away from strictly oil and gas,” Simmons said. “Those are the kind of things I’m focusing on for the future of the county. Two of my kids have gone to college and they both have come back here and found good jobs.”
If re-elected, Simmons said the court will continue work on a new juvenile detention facility, improve parks and find a way to renovate the library or build a new one.
He’d like to figure out what to do with the county’s aging courthouse, but fears there’s too much dissension right now to address the matter. There are those who would like to rebuild on its current site and others who’d like to build a new facility south of Interstate 20.
“I’m not opposed to other options, but up until now my focus has been to keep it in the downtown area and keep it as kind of a community staple downtown,” Simmons said. “I think right now because of the diverse opinions on it the court has just decided to kind of wait until the community as a whole comes together.”
A $95 million bond to construct a new courthouse that included underground, secured parking failed in 2013.
Simmons, who moved to Odessa in 1990, initially ran for office out of frustration.
“I think it was just the sense of not having any control as a voter or constituent. I felt somebody needed to represent individuals as a whole. It seemed like everything was always focused on special interests and kind of the good ole boy network, if you will,” Simmons said. “I was an outsider more or less. I’d only been here eight years or so when I ran. I had gotten frustrated with the way things seemed to be going and somebody just finally said ‘Well, why don’t you run and do something about it.’”
The government always needs good people to run for office so he’s never surprised or upset when people choose to run against him, Simmons said.
“It’s a great job. I enjoy being a commissioner and I think obviously there are people like I was the first time. They think ‘I want to get involved. I want to make a difference.’ I always assume that’s the motivation for people to step up,” Simmons said. “Obviously there’s things out there that might trigger people though, one issue might motivate people to step in and try to fix it.”
Simmons, who has been donating his net salary since 2015 to his church and various causes, said there are several benefits to having served on the court for so long and one of them is relationships he’s established.
“I was brand new to it one time, too, so I’m not saying by any means another person couldn’t come in and be successful, but it does take some time,” Simmons said. “Over time, you learn how to work with different people. Everybody’s different, they have different hot buttons and different issues that are important to them. Over time you learn how to deal with what does this person expect, what does this person want to hear and if I’m not able to give them what they want how do I deliver that news?”
Although he may not be the most popular commissioner, the married father of four said he’s always respectful.
Another benefit to his long tenure is patience. He’s gotten used to the pace.
“It just moves very slowly. That was probably my biggest learning curve. I felt like ‘Hey, I’m here, we’re going to fix these issues’ and nothing gets fixed in a short period of time,” Simmons said. “That’s one thing anybody coming in is going to find shocking. There’s so many people who have to work through so many departments, it’s just a slow moving system. That may not be a bad thing. It keeps people from overreacting and doing something quick and foolish.”
The last day to register to vote is Jan. 31. Early voting begins Feb. 14 and ends Feb. 25.