‘On the road’ for a quarter century
With those helpful words in 1988, a friend sized up the job newly-elected Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Jaecks of Rockdale was about to take on.
More than 24 years later Jaecks, who is stepping down Monday as the county’s current longest-serving office holder, can look back with a smile.
“I’d only worked in white collar business—Jaecks and wife, Dian ran Rockdale’s Sears agency—and I know some people thought I was completely crazy to get into being a commissioner,” Jaecks laughed.
On top of that, the political race, to replace revered retiring commissioner Gerald “Bigun” Vinton of Milano, was about as wild and prolonged as Milam County politics gets.
Nine persons sought the office. Jaecks finished second in the Democratic Primary, won the runoff then defeated a Republican in the general election.
3 road crew I was going to direct,” he remembered. “But I just made up my mind I was going to get along with everybody and that’s what I’ve tried to do for the past 24 years.”
‘PICNIC IS OVER’—It didn’t take long for Jaecks to get “welcomed to the NFL.”
“The county tax rate was just 18 cents,” he said. “We’d had a good-sized surplus and Alcoa convinced the county judge at the time to put some of that money into the budget and drop the tax rate about 20 cents.”
“After a while, though, we just barely had the money to pay salaries and keep up with the roads.” Jaecks said. “I wondered how people would take it if we raised taxes. I got some advice from Jerry Mehevec, who was a longtime commissioner in Williamson County.”
“He said, ‘Dale you can have people mad at you one day, a year or every day in the year’.” Jaecks recalled.
Jaecks and the county auditor arranged a meeting with Alcoa officials. “We told them, ‘guys, the picnic is over’.”
The county raised the tax rate about 20 cents. You know, Alcoa was okay with it. They knew it was going to have to happen.”
FLOODS—But there were some events during his tenure which couldn’t be met in advance.
“Probably the biggest things that have happened during the past 24 years were a pair of huge f loods, in 1991 and 2004,” he recalled.
Worst flooding both times was in the Gause area, part of Jaecks’ Precinct 3.
“In 2004, Gause got 18 inches of rain overnight,” he recalled. “Everything f looded, we lost bridges, roads, it even flooded the highway (US 79).”
“I know one guy who lived on a county road north of Gause, drove down to his gate and the minute his pickup hit the road, it just sank. He couldn’t get out at all. He was stranded, like a lot of people.”
To make it worse, the floods had taken out the only two accesses to the site where Precinct 3 obtained its road-fixing material.
“I called Truman Starr at The Railroad Yard, where they sell big railroad equipment,” Jaecks said. “I told him we needed a 60-foot tank car. He asked when I needed it.”
“I told him I needed it yesterday but tomorrow would be all right,” Jaecks recalled.
“He located one in Oklahoma and told me it would be in Milam County at 8 a.m. the next morning,” Jaecks said. “It was.”
Precinct 3 crews buried the tanker at one of the washouts, covered it, had a way to access their material and got going on the long task of repairing roads.
ONE-TERMER—A memory of the 1991 flood stands out.
The flooding took out the access to County Road 329 (Davenport Lane) at the railroad tracks and the highway leaving a number of families stranded until repairs could be made.
“While the repairs were being made to the crossing you couldn’t drive across, you could only walk,” Jaecks said. “People would arrange to have someone come and pick them up both ways.”
“The next year was the first time I was standing for re-election,” Jaecks said. “One of the people who was going out there on a regular basis was my opponent in the upcoming primary. He was campaigning up and down that road.”
“I thought, oh boy, I’m going to be a one-termer!” Jaecks said. “I won with two-thirds of the vote.”
Another memory of his first re-election campaign. “I was campaigning in the Gause area and I still had a lot of campaign cards left over from four years before so my cards didn’t say ‘re-elect Dale Jaecks’.”
“I gave one to a guy and he studied it, looked at it, then looked at me and said ‘I’m voting for you; that guy we’ve got in there now sure isn’t any good’.”
Jaecks was re-elected five times.
MIDNIGHT CALLS—“Taking the heat” is just part of the job and in 24 years Jaecks has certainly done that.
“I honestly tried to treat everyone the same,” he said. “I also tried to be responsive when people really needed help.”
But then there were the other kind of calls.
“I went through a period where this same lady would call me, just after midnight, every Friday and Saturday night,” Jaecks recalled. “I know her husband put her up to it, because I could hear him in the background saying ‘tell him this’ and ‘tell him that’.”
“I think they wanted me to be mean to them but I never was, he recalled. “I’d just say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes ma’am’ and stay on the line.”
ACCOMPLISHMENTS—Jaecks knows the one thing county dwellers want more than anything is paved roads, something that’s very expensive.
“We’ve paved about 20 miles in Precinct 3,” he said. “Some of that is in other precincts now.”
In 1989 there were about 230 miles of county-maintained roads in Precinct 3. That number is now down to 190.
“Over the years the population of Milam County has shifted south,” Jaecks said. “As that happens Precincts 1 and 2 have grown in size and 3 and 4 have shrunk because you’re supposed to have about an equal number of people living in all four precincts.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that over the years we have replaced all the wooden bridges. There are no longer any wooden bridges in Precinct 3.”
“That’s a really big deal,” he said. “Some bigger vehicles used to have to go down through Caldwell and out Burleson County roads to access some Milam County locations south of Gause.
PRO TEM—Jaecks has served as county judge pro tem and has at times conducted commissioners court sessions in the absence of the county judge.
“I’ve served with lots of good people,” he said. “I appreciate serving with county judges who were not afraid to make decisions and take the heat when it was for the good of Milam County and its citizens.”
“And the Precinct 3 employees over the years have been dedicated and hard workers,” he said. “And the people in Precinct 3 are the best anywhere.”
Jaecks was also was involved in regional government over his tenure.
HewasontheCentralTexas Council of Governments board for 22 years and was its chairman for three. At the time of his retirement, Jaecks is still serving as vice-chairman.
For 20 years he’s been a member of the Texas Association of Regional Councils.
RETIREMENT—What will he do now?
“I know Dian and I plan to travel,” he said. “One thing I know I’ll miss is driving down a road seeing something that needs fixing and knowing that with one phone call I could have someone out there in a couple of hours to fix it.”
“But that’s the kind of thing you’ve just got let go of,” he added. “Besides I’m sure John (newly elected commissioner John Fisher) will have already been on top of it.”
It was quite a 24-year span and Jaecks knows he was on the minds of his Precinct 3 constituents, sometimes in ways he never imagined.
“This got back to me after a while,” he said. “A Rockdale man and his wife were flying out of the Austin airport, the plane took off, banked east and headed into its flight path and got into some clear air turbulence, started going up and down and making a bumping sound. The wife turned to her husband with a concerned look in her eyes.
“He turned to her and said, “It’s okay honey, we’re just going over some of Dale Jaecks’s roads’.”