There is a single contested race in the Brownwood municipal election on May 4. That race is for the Brownwood City Council Ward 5 seat, where 12-year incumbent Jerry DeHay, 79, is challenged by 39-year-old Walker Willey.
The two men, both Brownwood natives, are friends and neighbors, living on the same block in south Brownwood.
DeHay, who lives with his wife, Marilyn, is retired from a wide background in education and business.
Willey is a lieutenant with the Office of Inspector General with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department – the law enforcement agency within the TJJD.
Willey and his wife, Jessica, are the parents of two young daughters.
Willey decided to run for DeHay’s seat after believing DeHay was not going to seek re-election. DeHay, after thinking seriously about not running, decided to seek another term.
Both men visited the Bulletin and stated their background and views.
DeHay, a 1958 graduate of Brownwood High School, attended what was then known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas — now Texas A&M University.
DeHay received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration, and later received a doctorate degree from the University of North Texas.
DeHay went to work for Proctor and Gamble in 1962 as a soap salesman. He later became the founding dean of the Tarleton State University School of Business.
After retiring from that job, then-Howard Payne University president Don Newbury asked him to take the same job at HPU.
DeHay declined that offer, deciding instead to teach management and marketing classes at HPU.
DeHay said he’s served on multiple boards and commissions including the Brownwood and Mullin school boards, and has also worked as a business consultant.
Now fully retired, DeHay was first elected to the Brownwood City Council in 2007.
“I had seriously considered not running for re-election,” DeHay said. “I had a lot of things going on. We like to travel and there are a number of things we wanted to do. Walker (Willey) came down to my house and said he wanted to visit with me and said he was thinking about running.”
DeHay said that happened in the fall, and he and Willey had a long visit. He said Willey probably got the impression during that visit that DeHay wasn’t seeking re-election because “I told him right now if I were making the decision, I probably would not run. I said I haven’t made that announcement, but I said I’m seriously considering not running,” DeHay recalled.
DeHay said he has advice for anyone thinking of running for the city council.
“When you get elected, you’re getting onto a moving train,” DeHay said. “You’ve got to learn a lot. You shouldn’t come in with an agenda. You should come in with an open mind and become a part of a team of councilmen, work with the city manager and have an understanding of what the situation is and what the needs are.”
Around December, DeHay said, fellow council members and others began asking him if he planned to file for re-election.
“All of them were very insistent that they wanted me to run again,” DeHay said. “So I began to rethink … after much discussion with them and with my wife and a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided I really would like to go one more round because I’m heavily invested in what we’re doing and some of the initiatives we’ve got going on. I would like to see some of those things through.”
When asked how he campaigns against a man who is a friend and neighbor, DeHay said, “you have to tell the citizens ‘consider our qualifications and vote for whichever one you think will do the best job.’ I pretty much let my track record stand for itself. I am very actively involved in a lot of different things. I am on a number of key committees.”
Those committees include the EMS oversight committee and the tourism advisory board, DeHay said.
City council members are not unanimous on every issue, DeHay said. “We’ve got a group of people who will speak their mind and take their position, but once we make the decision, we all get on board and we move on,” DeHay said. “There’s no hard feelings.
“We see ourselves as having some serious responsibilities in terms of the quality of life and the economy and all these thing in this community. That’s our focus.”
DeHay said he has been part of a council that has seen excellent individuals become part of the city including former City Manager Bobby Rountree, current City Manager Emily Crawford, former economic development director Guy Andrews, current economic development director Ray Tipton, Police Chief Terry Nichols, Fire Chief Eddy Wood, sports coordinator Roland Soto and Marshal McIntosh, public information officer and assistant director of economic development.
DeHay recalled an action taken by Rountree when Rountree became city manager which has impacted the way he serves on the council.
“When (Rountree) came on board, the first thing he did was begin to organize tours,” DeHay said. “He took all of us and we visited every single department in the city, saw what they did, how they did it, met the people and became acquainted with what they do day in and day out. And that was extremely valuable.
“Because now when we come down to budget time, and these people are spelling out what their needs are and why they need a certain piece of equipment, we have a real sense of the importance of what they do with that. It’s been a tremendous learning experience. It makes a huge difference in terms of your perspective and it gives you a tremendous appreciation for what they do.
“People have no idea of the magnitude and the complexity of the city operations, a community even as small as Brownwood. We have our own landfill, our own waste water disposal plant, water treatment plant. A lot of cities don’t have all of those operations that we do.”
Citing city services such as water, sewer, brush pickup and streets being paved, DeHay said, “if you’re not careful, you just begin to take all of that for granted, that it just happens. Well it does, but it does because we have a tremendously well organized group of people who are working very hard to take care of our citizens. That’s what I’m dedicated to.
“I feel like I’m a part of that, and I feel like the role I play is to be supportive and see to it that we do everything we can to continuously improve Brownwood. My signs say ‘Put Brownwood first.’ That’s what I’m talking about. I want to keep Brownwood first.”
DeHay said he’s a “problem solver” who has always tried to be responsive. “When somebody brings something to my attention, I immediately bring it to the attention of the right people and do what I can to be sure that it gets remedied and taken care of,” DeHay said.
He said he’s excited about downtown development and the historic district. “This I something we have talked about and envisioned,” DeHay said.
He said he is also proud to have played a role in transitioning the former Brownwood Economic Development Corp. into the current Brownwood Municipal Development District, which is able to fund a wider scope of projects.
“I’m ready, willing and able. I enjoy what I do,” DeHay said. “We have a really good group of people who work very well together. I feel like we’ve got a really good mix right now.”