**UPDATED** Commissioners Appoint Jim Lovell as Houston County Judge

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – By a margin of 3-1, Weches resident Jim Lovell has been appointed as county judge to fill the unexpired term of County Judge Erin Ford. Ford announced his plans to retire from public life, effective Nov. 22 in an e-mail to area media representatives, dated Oct. 26.

The pending vacancy was first addressed during a meeting of the Commissioners Court of Houston County, held Nov. 8, but was tabled for further discussion.

During the Nov. 22 Commissioners Court meeting, the matter was re-addressed and this time, the commissioners took action to fill the position. In a 3-1 vote – Precinct Two Commissioner Willie Kitchen cast the dissenting vote – the court appointed Lovell to fill Ford’s unexpired term.

A lifelong resident of Houston County and a lifelong member of the Weches Baptist Church, Lovell said he began his working career as a livestock inspector for the Texas Animal Health Commission and worked there for just over 16 years.erin-ford

Upon the conclusion of his time with the Texas Animal Health Commission, Lovell reported he purchased an interest in East Texas Livestock (the Crockett Sale Barn) which he maintained for 17 years, before deciding to try something different.

Lovell explained, “Since then, I have been ranching and helping my son train horses. We also have some rental property.”

When he was first approached about the prospect of the appointment, Lovell divulged he pondered the decision at length, but eventually said he would be interested, “… if the court saw fit to appoint me.”

Lovell said he has a family tradition of public service and said, “My granddad, Loyd Lovell, was in county service for 30 years of his life. He was a sheriff and a county judge. My dad (James Lacy Lovell) served in the (Texas) House of Representatives from the late 1960s until the early 1970s.”

He added, “I want what everyone else wants. I want a good place to live and a common sense way of approaching county government. I do have a passion for where I live, here in Houston County. I’m just a common sense, reasoning kind of guy and that’s probably the way I will see county government. I am very much honored to have this opportunity to serve.”

Lovell and his wife, Marleen, have been married for 13 years. Lovell has a son and two step-daughters. The Lovell’s also have six grandchildren.

Outgoing Judge Ford credited any success he has had to the hard work of those around him in the various county positions.

“I hope I did some good. I think this is the right decision and the best decision. It has been an extraordinary experience for me and it has been an opportunity to be of service to the county. I hope I was able to make some positive in roads for Houston County,” Ford said.

He added, “I want to wish incoming County Judge Jim Lovell my sincerest and best wishes for his success. I will do anything I can to help whenever – or if ever – he needs the help.”

After the meeting adjourned, Commissioner Kitchen explained his reasons for opposing Lovell’s appointment but stressed “… it was nothing personal. He’s a nice guy, but he’s never served in public office.”

Kitchen said he would have preferred to see former County Judge Chris von Doenhoff appointed to the position.

“It would have been a seamless transition. He has worked with the budgets before and he knows everyone in the courthouse. I didn’t follow the logic, but maybe I will see,” Kitchen said. “We had a person who had served in the role of county judge – twice – and was available. He did not express any desire to run for the office, but would have served out the term in order fulfill the role of public servant. It would have been a seamless transition. It would have been a situation of ‘Fill me in. Where are we at? Let’s go.’”

He explained most of the people who expressed interest in the position had an agenda of running for office after this tejim-lovellrm expires.

“They wanted sort of a leg up. We didn’t feel it would be fair to give a future candidate an advantage by making them an incumbent. We wanted to keep it on an even playing field,” Kitchen said.

The pool of potential candidates for the county judge’s positon had been narrowed down to three finalists. Kitchen indicated those in the final selection process were current Precinct Two Justice of the Peace Ronnie Jordan, Chris von Doenhoff and Jim Lovell.

Kitchen said the other reason he was hesitant to vote for Lovell was because he is the cousin of current Precinct One Commissioner Gary Lovell.

“I can’t vote to have two cousins on the court. Did you ever think about the public’s perception of having one Lovell as a commissioner, the other as a county judge and both of them are from Weches?” he questioned.

Asked if there were any type of nepotism statutes which precluded this, Kitchen said, “I think they are third cousins and the relationship is distant enough, but the public perception is, ‘how does this look?’”

Questioned as to whether he saw any potential roadblocks ahead because of his vote, Kitchen replied it would not be because of him. His job, he reasoned, was to help move the county forward and try to re-establish a sense of unity within the county.

“The county is more divided now than it has been in a long time. I can’t remember having seen it so divided. There has never been so much chaos and confusion. We have to clear the air. We have to get people back to working for a common cause, a common good and that is to promote Houston County. We can’t do that with in-fighting. We are falling apart from the inside. That is what I see,” Kitchen said.

He further indicated he did not anticipate any lingering issues because of his dissent and said, “If there are, they won’t be because of any animosity on my part. I have one focus and that’s to get the job done.”

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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