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.
Willey graduated from Brownwood High School in 1998 and attended the West Central Texas Council of Governments Police Academy in Brownwood, graduating in 2001.
Willey’s first job in law enforcement was with the Robstown Police Department in the Corpus Christi area. In 2005, Willey went to work for the Corpus Christi Fire Department as a firefighter and paramedic, and maintained reserve status with Robstown police.
In 2010, Willey returned to Brownwood and went to work as a Brownwood Police Department, first as a patrolman and later as a detective. Willey left the Brownwood Police Department in 2014 to take the job with the Office of Inspector General.
When Willey worked for the City of Brownwood, running for city council “wasn’t even on my radar,” since that would’ve been a conflict, Willey said.
Willey had become a state employee when the 2018 municipal election occurred, and Willey watched the race between Ward 1 incumbent H.D. Jones and challenger Pat McLaughlin.
That race “kind of sparked an interest in what was going on with the city and to see if a younger generation would be able to have any sort of success in running for city council,” Willey said.
With the Ward 5 seat coming up for election, Willey discussed the idea of running with friends and with others “who had a little more city know-how, and nobody laughed me out of their office,” Willey said.
Willey went to DeHay’s house in the fall and talked about running, and left with the belief that DeHay was not seeking a new term. Willey filed to run, and when he learned that DeHay had also filed for re-election, Willey went back to see the incumbent councilman.
“I told him I wasn’t trying to step on his toes,” Willey said. “I said ‘either way it will be a learning experience for me.’ Jerry and I get along great. There’s no animosity between the two of us.”
Willey said he’s been attending city council meetings for the past several months.
“I don’t think the City of Brownwood is broken by any means,” Willey said. “I don’t see that there are a lot of issues. I’m very much for the (downtown) revitalization. I’m very much for the incentives the Brownwood Municipal Development District is putting in front of our city council, for those businesses that are looking for a helping hand to offset some of their costs, to maybe open something new or reface what they have.”
Willey said he thinks downtown is “moving in the right direction.”
“It would be very possible for Brownwood to continue to do things to attract people from areas outside of Brownwood,” Willey said. “The two examples I give are, Comanche has done some things with their square and then of course the pizza and winery in Coleman. It’s good to be able to have something that attracts your surrounding communities.”
Willey, noting that he was gone from Brownwood for 8 ½ years, said it’s desirable for “the young people to either stay and have something here for them, or to come back.”
Willey said he’d like to see more of an emphasis on recycling.
“I know they do the recycling trailers here and there, but I don’t know that it’s advertised strong enough,” Willey said, noting that he’d like to encourage greater recycling availability.
Willey said while he’s not seeing any major issues, he’s noted that “you see the same people at city council every time. A council is only as good as what’s put in front of them, and if the city is the only (group) putting topics in front of them, then it’s a very limited realm and scope of what’s being talked about and discussed and decided.
“I think the citizens need to understand that they are more than welcome do citizen presentations to bring up topics that are concerning. It’s easy to complain to your friends, but a lot of these people may not know that there is an avenue to actually discuss topics in front of a board that could listen.”
Willey said it might be beneficial to have council meetings at times when more people can attend. He said he knows the council has previously discussed having some night meetings.
Willey said he knows voters will compare him to the more experienced DeHay.
“A lot of people are going to look at me, and they’re going to look at DeHay, and he’s a 12-year councilman … it’s not apples to apples,” Willey said.
“I can’t compare to somebody hat had a 60-plus year career and 12 years on the council. I would obviously be a freshman coming in to the council. I hope that’s not a negative toward me. I hope that would be more of a positive, that I’m not by any means a politician, I am not set in my ways and I am absolutely willing to learn. I would be present and representing Ward 5 to the best of my ability.”
Willey said while he can’t compare to DeHay’s career, he has 17 years of public service, both municipal and state. With his experience with police and fire departments, Willey said, he would have a working knowledge when expensive items for the departments come before the council.
“I don’t think there’s a reason to have dirty politics,” Willey concluded. “Both people can want the same thing and not be bad people. It’s just two people who want the same thing.”
Willey said he and DeHay will be friends no matter who wins.