Runnels County history added another chapter in the November election when Juan Ornelas was elected Runnels County commissioner in precinct 4. Ornelas was elected easily, outdistancing the other candidate, Tony Dillon, by a vote count of 901-141 and was sworn in on January 1st.
This isn't Ornelas' first foray into public service. Ornelas got married to his wife, Annel, and moved to Miles in 1994. Less than a year later he was serving on the Miles volunteer fire department, “I've always tried to stay involved in the community, serving in whatever way I can.”
Ornelas and Annel were living in San Angelo when they attended a Miles trade days event, “We saw their advertisement and decided to check it out. We fell in love with the town and there happened to be a house for sale right there where the trade days event was so two weeks later we bought it.” After moving to Miles he opened his automotive mechanic shop and still owns the shop. He and Annel have two daughters, Mirella who is 19-years old and Daniela who is 16-years old.
His public service journey soon led him to run for the city council, “Public service has always been in blood. It's always been my intent to serve others. I was raised like that. I want to continue to serve others and I try to utilize the grace that I've been given to that end.” He uses his mechanic shop to help others, such as the high school students in Miles, “We try to hire high school kids to teach them auto mechanics. Not every kids is going to attend college so this is one way we can help them, by teaching them a trade.” Ornelas' inquisitive nature led him to mechanics at an early age, “When I was ten years old I took a lawnmower apart to see how it worked. I put it back together and it started up immediately.”
While mayor of Miles, he was instrumental in obtaining a grant to get 8 homes built in the town, “Miles is a small town with a big heart.” Ornelas is also in the choir at St. Thomas Catholic Church and is the Grand Knight for chapter 6811 of the Knights of Columbus.
Being mayor of Miles for 6 years with 14 years on the city council has prepared Ornelas well to be a county commissioner. He is looking forward to serving the constituents of the county. On the day we met for the interview he had been out looking at a road that is in need of some work, “It's a new adventure and I can serve the citizens of Runnels County. I've already been through several commissioners' court meetings. There are a lot of great people serving on the commissioner's court and I'm very fortunate to be part of it. Together I think we can make a positive difference for the taxpayers.”
Ornelas seeks input from the citizens of the county to learn about their concerns, “I'm a listener first and foremost. I've found the best way is if you just listen, let people vent then look for a solution to their problem together. Sometimes people just want to know that you're listening to them.”
One area that Ornelas wants to work on is cooperation among all of the towns in the county, “We are Runnels County, not Miles County or Winters County or Ballinger County. The county and our cities need to work together because together we can make a difference and I'm hoping we can get all of the communities working together.” Ornelas mentions the roads as a serious concern among the citizens of the county, “A lot of the concerns regard the county roads and their condition. Road issues are significant. At one time the main concern was the water, now it's the roads. I want to make sure all of the precincts in the county get their fair share of work. The taxpayers pay their taxes and deserve to have good streets. I want to also look at some grants for some of the work. The taxpayers are my bosses. I answer to them.”
Ornelas is not in favor of raising taxes but says if it does come down to it, they should be raised gradually, a small amount at a time.
Another area Ornelas is looking at is the jail, “Jails are one of the biggest area of lawsuits. We have to comply with new state regulations all of the time. They hand down regulations but they don't hand down money so we have to come up with money to meet the regulations. The mandates say you “shall”, not you “may” and that means that not complying is not an option. We have a great jail staff and they work hard. We have to look out for our jail staff as well as the inmates, all of it is our responsibility.”
As he looks forward to his term as a commissioner, he's looking forward to hearing from the citizens of his precinct. He takes his job and duty seriously, “We're stewards of the taxpayers money. I've always enjoyed living in the county. I'm here to be an open ear for the people. I don't turn anyone away. Everyone deserves the chance to have their say.”