The March 1 primaries for Bexar County judge feature four Democrats and two Republicans seeking to replace Nelson Wolff as the county’s chief executive.

Wolff, a Democrat who has held the position for more than two decades, announced in October that he would not seek reelection. 

On the Democratic ballot are state Rep. Ina Minjarez; former Bexar County Administrative Judge Peter Sakai; Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, former chief of staff to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and Gerardo Ponce. Republican Trish DeBerry, who served as Precinct 3’s county commissioner until stepping down to run for county judge, faces Nathan Buchanan in the primary.

The most recent campaign finance reports showed Sakai continued to be the top fundraiser in the race, raising $135,605 from Jan. 1 through Jan. 20. Sakai’s campaign reported $299,066 cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

Gonzalez raised $23,825 and reported $167,778 on hand, while Minjarez raised $23,725 but her campaign balance stood at $112,471.

DeBerry raised $31,500 and had a balance of $81,254 and Buchanan raised $550 and had a balance of $172.

Ponce’s most recent report was not available. His previous report, which covers July 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, showed a balance of $200 on hand.

The next round of campaign finance reports are due eight days before the primary election.

The San Antonio Report submitted questions to each of the Republican and Democratic candidates about their background, experience, and views on issues facing Bexar County. Click on each candidate’s name to read the responses to our questionnaire.

Trish DeBerry (R)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience.

I am 56 years and proud to call myself a native San Antonian. I was born at Wilford Hall Hospital shortly after my father retired from the U.S. Air Force and settled here with my mom and five brothers and sisters. I attended UTSA for two years and transferred to Trinity University, where I received a B.A. in Mass Communications. My first job was at KENS-TV, where I worked as a reporter and producer for eight years. I left television to become a small business entrepreneur and was a founding partner at two public relations/marketing firms: Guerra DeBerry Coody, then the DeBerry Group.

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

There are many issues that need to be tackled head on, with total transparency and financial accountability. The top three issues to focus on in my first year as county judge will be:

  • Completely revamping the county appraisal system. We were able to lower the taxation rate, but we must ensure property valuations are fair and reasonable and represent the accurate value of a citizen’s home. Citizens want property tax relief, and I will deliver.
  • Fiscal accountability at the Bexar County jail. We are spending millions in overtime at the jail. Morale is suffering. The jail needs a complete review and upgrade of financial accountability and leadership.
  • Fully funding domestic violence prevention. Domestic violence is a scourge on our community. We must fully fund the judicial system to remove any backlogs and bring justice to all victims.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

As county judge I will absolutely continue capital spending projects that are fiscally responsible and targeted towards the greatest capital needs in Bexar County: reducing traffic congestion, drainage and neighborhood infrastructure. As we focus on these items, I will ensure every dollar spent is accountable to the taxpayer. This means managing projects to stay on time and under budget, as well as causing minimal delays to the daily lives of Bexar County residents. Our infrastructure across the county is aging and presents potential public safety hazards. The investment is critical and will be a focus of my administration.

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

The greenway trails will continue to be funded when I am county judge. The trail system has provided our community an amazing outlet for our children and families. As we learned during the pandemic, the trails also provided a return to normalcy for residents and an outlet for their health and mental well-being. I will invest in the trail system and see the project significantly funded through completion.

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

The Bexar County jail must have a top-down review to ensure the health, safety and well-being of every deputy sheriff, employee and inmate. For our deputies, we must focus on a meaningful pay and benefits package that attracts and retains talent.  Focusing on talent acquisition will decrease a devastating issue with overtime and deputy morale. We must also ensure a career path that allows for personal growth and pride in work. As for our inmates, we must create a humane environment that values human life and adheres to the highest levels of jail standards.

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

The property appraisal/valuation system is broken. We can lower tax rates, but residents are faced with skyrocketing appraisals that do not accurately reflect home values. These skyrocketing appraisals price people out of their homes and create a homeownership crisis of affordability. As county judge, I will convene a committee to begin the process of challenging the appraisal system in the state Legislature. The answer to our appraisal system lies in Austin and we should be gearing our local legislative agendas to advocate for true property valuations and protection of personal property rights.

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies, or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

The coronavirus pandemic exposed cracks in the city/county joint response, communications and health infrastructure. Throughout the pandemic, local leaders were making decisions during challenging times without a playbook to follow. We can learn valuable lessons from the last two years. First step: form a “After Action Committee” to look with a surgical eye on infrastructure breakdowns and opportunities. We must be honest with ourselves where we could have made a better decision. This should be a completely transparent committee, answerable to the public in a very open manner.  Second step: consolidation of resources and management. We should thoroughly review merging the county’s health system with the city’s Metro Health department.  City/county consolidation saves taxpayer resources and streamlines response activities.  We cannot have competing agencies, with drastically different budgets and goals, coordinating response activities. And finally, a third step should focus on enhancing communication platforms. Local leaders must be able to deliver information quickly, efficiently, through multiple media platforms, in multiple languages. Consistency of messaging and total dissemination of clear and concise instructions will serve us well in future pandemics or any crisis threatening our community.

Nathan Buchanan (R)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience.

I am a 38-year-old San Antonio native, and my background is in law enforcement. I started the law enforcement academy in 2007 and have worked for the Castle Hills Police Department as a patrol officer as well as the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy.

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

Overreach of our local government: Since the pandemic has started, we have seen the current county judge (commissioners as well) rule with an iron fist. They have shut down our businesses, our churches, our children’s schools and have implemented “executive orders” which have all proven to be disastrous! As the next County Judge, I would remove the executive orders and let the public figure out for themselves whether or not they want to shut down their businesses. Whether they want to wear a mask or get a vaccine. That is not the place of the government. It is up to we the people to decide!

Rising appraisal value on homes: Though the Commissioners Court might have saved the public three whole dollars on property taxes, the appraisal value went through the roof, wiping away any savings that might have been there. As the next county judge, I will fight hard to bring the appraisal value back down so we can start paying less in taxes. Folks on a fixed income are having a hard time paying those taxes and are having to move out of their homes. That is not fair by any means!

Rising crime rates: 2021 proved that we need more officers on our streets! We had the highest amount of murders in Bexar County in 27 years. We need a county judge who has the knowledge and understanding of law enforcement. A judge who stands behind our officers and allows them to do their jobs. A judge who will address these issues and find an actual solution to make our streets safe once again.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

The short answer… yes but we need to take a lot of things into consideration before we move forward with new projects. Definitely no toll roads! If our tax dollars paid for it, we don’t need to be taxed to use it! We also have to look at overspending and start finding contractors that will get the job done at a better cost to the taxpayer. A lot of contractors are found in the county judge’s (and certain commissioners’) finance reports “donating” large sums of money to their campaigns. “Pay to play” will most certainly come to an end!

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

I can agree with it if we are getting grants for the project and it is costing Bexar County residents little to nothing to build. I have no issues creating a nice place to exercise but we have to make sure we don’t end up raising taxes on residents in order to fund those projects.

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

Our deputies are the lowest paid in the state (per capita) and that needs to change. With how much we are spending in overtime each month, we can easily give the deputies a good pay raise, which will give us a higher retention rate and will help fill the 230 empty positions we currently have. Better pay and less mandatory overtime will definitely help.

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

Absolutely! I personally feel that we don’t need to be “renting” our property from the government by paying higher property taxes each year! The appraisal value definitely needs to be lowered in Bexar County!

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies, or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

Shutting our county/state down should have never happened! Many business owners were unable to pick their heads back up and had to close their businesses for good. We now see many vacant buildings that were once a thriving business, which is just sad! 

Next, there should have never been mask mandates or fines to businesses for not complying with the mandate. Some businesses were even forced to close down if they didn’t comply with the executive orders.

Incentives for vaccines are just plain wrong. If someone wants to go and receive any vaccine, that is up to the individual, their family and their doctor. Not the local government. Our county government needs to take a step back and start letting individuals make their own choices without trying to sway them a certain way. 

We don’t need to spend money on “mass vaccination clinics” either. That is a waste of resources and tax dollars. Simply put, our county government needs to focus on county issues and needs to stop intruding into people’s lives.

Ina Minjarez (D)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience:

Born and raised in El Paso, Texas. 46 years old. Graduate of the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s University School of Law. Passed Texas Bar in 2000.

Former Bexar County Assistant Criminal District Attorney, currently in private practice, and current state representative for House District 124. Board member for ChildSafe and the San Antonio Young Women’s Leadership Academy (Primary). An executive committee member of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and the Texas State Director of National Foundation for Women Legislators.

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

As one of the fastest growing communities in the country, I will prioritize economic growth and property tax relief, traffic and infrastructure, and community health and safety. Runaway tax bills are unacceptable. 

To address our lack of infrastructure throughout Bexar County, I would leverage state and federal funding. 

Finally, with respect to community health and safety, I would collaborate with the University Health system, the City of San Antonio, and the 26 suburban cities of Bexar County to address health deserts in the region and work towards providing accessible and quality health care to our community. I have worked hard on all these issues as a state representative, including co-sponsoring legislation to provide over $60 million in property tax relief for Bexar County homeowners, if approved by voters in 2022. I have the proven experience to build on the momentum and solid foundation Judge Wolff has laid.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

I do believe Bexar County needs to invest in capital projects. The county created the venue tax, which paid for the AT&T Center, Mission Reach and parks throughout our community. We should get a handle on its capacity to create other beneficial community projects by considering its extension. At the same time, we must leverage our local property tax revenue for more state and federal resources to fund our roads and other essential infrastructure.

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

Yes. We should maximize the local venue tax and leverage state and federal dollars for our community’s betterment. The greenways trails improve the quality of life for families and contribute to healthy outcomes.

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

I would first review the two studies ordered by Commissioners Court on the county jail’s needs and begin to address them accordingly. Investing in our detention officers and deputies is critical. We must pay them well and train them well. A raise in their pay, and addressing their concerns with their work environment is crucial to retainment. I would also seek input from all relevant stakeholders, especially the rank and file. We must do a deep examination into inmate and officer safety, as well as seek innovative measures to help reduce the jail inmate population.

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

Absolutely! The “effective tax rate” should be the measure while allowing for some growth. Simultaneously, we should incentivize property improvements, redevelopment, as well as new developments. Throughout this process, we should prioritize the needs of the average taxpayer and homeowner.

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

The pandemic exposed our systemic generational poverty, digital divide and health issues that have persisted for decades. It exposed the fact that we, as a community, have systemic issues that need to be addressed immediately. The county quickly learned it became a lifeline for its residents. The county witnessed an unprecedented strain on the University Health system. The pandemic affected all sectors of our local economy leading to unemployment, small businesses shutting down and people unable to pay their rent, utilities and groceries. The county has the responsibility to work with multiple federal, state and local agencies; key partners; the City of San Antonio and the 26 suburban cities to safeguard our health and safety. This collaboration must continue on a regular basis. Most importantly, the county must continue its investment in emergency management planning and ensure all residents of the county can be reached. Federal relief funds must be allocated and spent wisely. Public input must be taken into account, as well as, making sure the funding is spent in accordance with federal guidelines. 

Peter Sakai (D)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience:

I was born in McAllen, the son of farmers. I am 67 years old and attended the University of Texas at Austin to obtain my bachelor’s and law degree. I was unanimously appointed by the district court judges to the Bexar County Children’s Court in 1995 and elected in 2006 to the 225th District Court. I served as the administrative judge and supervised the Children’s Court and its award-winning programs.

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

As county judge, I will focus on: 

  • economic development — across all sectors of the county through advanced job training and workforce development, including the development of technology and cyber sectors. Promoting a fair-living wage for our workforce will boost all facets of our economy. 
  • infrastructure — to develop/support new strategies to relieve roadway congestion and promote multi-modal transportation county-wide. Secure access to highspeed internet connectivity for all and develop and support affordable and quality housing. 
  • education — to give our workforce the tools they need to improve their earning power and promote/celebrate continual knowledge and skills growth Pre-K through college.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

Yes, we need to finish out the current capital projects and then reevaluate our needs for a post-pandemic economic recovery. Some of the issues we need to evaluate and review include our long-term financial obligations and partnerships with other stakeholders like the San Antonio River Authority and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority and expenditures that provide county residents with safe and reliable structures and services, such as roads, flood control, and the County Parks Master Plan and impact on the future needs based on the projected population growth. 

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

I would honor the commitment to finish the greenway trail system so that all parts of Bexar County are connected. I also believe that completing this project is important in promoting the health and wellness in our community. Families can access these trailways and the connecting parts at no cost.

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

The sheriff, an elected official, is accountable to the citizens that voted for him. As county judge, I will work with the commissioners, the sheriff, the Budget and Finance Department as well as the Audit Office in conjunction with other experts and stakeholders related to the jail and its operations to conduct an in-depth performance review of all facets of the jail including a review of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. The National Institute of Corrections provides information/support to jails across the county to advance public safety by shaping and enhancing correctional policies and practices through leadership, learning and innovation.

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

I recognize that the property appraisal/valuation system has priced many residents, particularly those on fixed incomes, out of their homes. While the reduction of property taxes is primarily a function of the Texas Legislature, I would push to adopt property tax relief by adopting a county homestead exemption for seniors, disabled, veterans and survivors of first responders killed in active duty.

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies, or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

I have learned through the Office of Emergency Management that we must communicate, coordinate and collaborate in the most effective and efficient way in order to best protect our citizens during these extraordinary situations. The pandemic as well as the February freeze has taught us that if we don’t take such actions, we lose innocent lives.

Ivalis Meza Gonzalez (D)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience.

I was born and raised in San Antonio. I am 40 years old; I am a proud graduate of Incarnate Word High School, UTSA, and St. Mary’s University School of Law. I was recently named the 2021 “Woman of the Year” by the San Antonio Business Journal. Before running for this position, I served as chief of staff for Mayor Ron Nirenberg. I spearheaded the mayor’s public health response to COVID-19, helped lead City Council’s recommitment to the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, funding for our VIA transportation authority and workforce development. I served on the boards of Healthy Futures of Texas, the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and Martinez Street Women’s Center. Before law school, I worked in community development for the San Antonio Spurs and in government affairs for the San Antonio River Authority. 

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

As county judge, my focus is to strengthen our public health system, build out our emergency response networks, foster growth and opportunity for small businesses, and ensure affordability and economic opportunities so that together we come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. Underlying each issue is the realization that continued success means we work in coalition and partnership with local entities, nonprofits, neighborhoods and the broader community.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

Yes. Bexar County is growing in population daily, and continuing to invest in its growth is most important. Bexar County is part of the “Big Five” large counties in Texas and we need to be ready for the growth that we will see over the next 15 years.  

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

Yes, Bexar County should continue to invest in our greenway trails. Greenway trails benefit our region and add to the quality of life for all residents. Recently, the trails have provided a safe space for families to enjoy as we’ve battled through a pandemic. Our greenway trails are multi-use trails that are adjacent to our transit centers and provide multimodal access to employment centers and hospitals. 

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

I will collaborate with the Bexar County Sheriff’s office to assist in building a stronger agency with a focus on recruitment and retention.

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

Although the Bexar Appraisal District is not a county department, we need to partner with them to ensure that our homeowner appraisals are fair and equitable so that property owners aren’t taxed out of their homes. 

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies, or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

Throughout the past two years we have seen the strength of our community and the compassion of our neighbors. But the pandemic also exposed some hard truths — from our state’s failure to invest in public health infrastructure, to an education divide that remote learning only exacerbated, to an electric grid failure that endangered all of our lives. As chief of staff to Mayor Nirenberg, I saw firsthand how powerful local government can be when we work together. 

Gerardo Ponce (D)

Please tell voters about yourself, including your education and experience.

A longstanding member of our community, I am a 68-year-old, 10th-generation Texan and Tejano Democrat, descended from those who fought for Texas independence and a man of a melting-pot heritage, making me a strong believer in diversity. My career highlights include 17 years with Bexar County, where I was court coordinator/administrator overseeing 12 county courts and their budgets. I helped start the juvenile justice system and Bexar County DWI task force, and  implement family violence courts and community service hours for offenders. Thirty years later, the programs continue in place and help people change their lives

What three issues do you consider to be most pressing for Bexar County and how would you address them?

My first priority is to reduce homeowner taxes and prevent them from rising. Property assessment at significantly lower than the purchase price makes for communities upside-down in value, often preventing earned equity and ability to move up.

My second issue and just as important as the first is the fight against family violence and hate crimes such as anti-semitism. I’ve been involved in the fight against family violence for over 30 years. Now more than ever our community has seen increased anti-semitism and hate crimes when it should be less. People are being educated, living in a free society enabling practice of their own beliefs and religions per America’s Constitution. Recognizing the traditions and teachings of Jewish people and members of other faiths must be allowed, so why do some people deny this? 

Job diversity must be paramount and the norm, especially with our nation’s president selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate – a  woman and a person of color. This leap in societal advancement should be approved and applauded by everyone, not fought because of misguided beliefs.

Are you interested in continuing Bexar County’s spending on capital projects?

As Bexar County Judge, I will get back to basics, stopping the spending of public funds on ancillary pet projects in an effort to reduce increased homeowner and property taxation. 

Should Bexar County continue to significantly fund greenway trails?

Yes. Conservation, sustainability, environmental protection and preservation of our greenways is an important part of keeping Bexar County a beautiful place to live and work. The role of the park services in maintaining this positive environment is a worthy investment.

How would you address the issues at the county jail, such as deputy staffing and overtime and inmate deaths?

First of all, I will try to work with Sheriff Salazar, who must be overworked and overwhelmed by his workload. Since he is in charge of this, I will work directly with the sheriff to investigate these issues to determine exactly what needs to be done to rectify this situation. What is the                                        underlying cause, which issues may be satisfied and how, are specific deputies due for promotion being sufficiently recognized or released, is their workload overwhelming and being taken out on the inmates?

Given rising home prices in Bexar County, do you see a need to adjust the property appraisal/valuation system?

As previously stated, citizens and government need to work together to prevent homeowner / property taxes from rising further. Property assessment at significantly lower than the purchase price makes for communities being upside-down in value, often preventing Bexar County residents accruing earned equity and ability to move up.

What are some lessons Bexar County should learn in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s in the area of public health, coordination with state agencies, or determining how to spend federal relief funds?

I believe that we need to be better prepared in the area of public health in order to adequately administer vaccinations for viruses such as the coronavirus. We also need to be more prepared for unknown issues we may possibly find ourselves having to deal with in the future in order to adequately manage the quality of public health. To accomplish this, I will engage the University Health System in concert with Metro Health. As for federal funds, I will work with local health care providers to determine in which way would be best for spending for our numerous communities’ best interest.  

Disclosure: Ina Minjarez’s husband, Leo Gomez, sits on the San Antonio Report’s board of directors.  

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org