Runnels County Judge Barry Hilliard retiring

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Runnels County Judge Barry Hilliard is retiring. Judge Hilliard started his public service career as a deputy under former Runnels County Sheriff Don Atkins. Hilliard's career would take him to Midland, where he served as a police officer for a decade before returning to run the family farm and ranch here in Runnels County. He was elected as the county judge a decade ago. Prior to that, he'd served as a constable for 4 years.

Barry Hilliard, the Runnels County judge for the last decade, is hanging up his robe on May 31. Hilliard sums up his philosophy on his tenure in a single sentence, "If you're transparent and honest, you never have to worry about trying to remember what you said or did."

Hilliard's life in public dates back to 1970. He had been working in the oilfield and came back home to visit his parents, "Mom told me that sheriff Don Atkins wanted to talk to me. I met and met with him at the Texas Grill. He asked me to come work in the jail." Hilliard accepted the offer that would eventually lead him down the path of law enforcement.

Hilliard says that he worked for the sheriff's office for about a year and a half, "After that, I went to Midland and started as a police officer in 1972." He would stay in Midland until about 1982, when he came home to take care of the family farm and ranch. The judge's days in public service weren't over, however, "Sheriff Bill Baird talked to me in 1983 and asked me to work for him. I worked for him for a couple of years. Then, I got my arm hung in a PTO shaft of a post hole digger while working the farm one day."

The broken arm and other injuries from the incident put Hilliard out of public service temporarily. Hilliard found that his desire to continue serving the people of Runnels County didn't ween in the aftermath of the accident, "I became a constable for 4 years. My term began in 1992." This didn't stop Hilliard from continuing to operate the family farm and ranch and training horses. One day while working with the horses, Hilliard had a "horse wreck." The wreck caused him to suffer a broken neck, which he didn't realize until a doctor's visit, "I told the doctor about the wreck and that my neck hurt. He took x-rays then told me, 'No wonder your neck hurts. You broke it.'" The Hilliard family has been operating the family farm since approximately 1880.

Hilliard stayed busy farming and ranching until he was sworn in as county judge on January 1, 2011. Hilliard has built on the foundation of his predecessors, while contributing his own efforts to ensure that the foundation remains strong. "It's been my honor to serve the people of Runnels County," Hilliard commented when asked about his time in office.

Hilliard feels that the COVID pandemic could have been handled better by leaders in the government, "It's been terrible and it's been really draining. The whole thing was handled horribly." Many counties across the state kept the doors shut to all businesses and banned group gatherings, even after the governor started opening things up. Runnels County stayed open when allowed to by the governor, "I couldn't see shutting the county down. I felt that people knew the risks and if they understood that, then they could deal with it accordingly." 

When it comes to taking care of the people of the county, Hilliard said that he's always had them at the forefront of his decisions, "My biggest fear has always been disappointing the people of Runnels County." He spoke about the county spending the tax dollars that it receives, "I'm a steward of the people's tax dollars. I take that very seriously and it's been a constant consideration in every decision myself and the commissioners have made." One point he commented on regarded those decisions that the Commissioners' Court makes, "We don't always agree, but we always have the taxpayers best interest at heart."

The Tax Appraisal District and Hilliard have worked together over the years and his upcoming retirement hasn't changed anything, "I have always worked closely with the tax appraisal office. I'm about to send out a budget and want to know what the appraised tax values are going to be. I'm a taxpayer like everyone else in the county. Decisions effect me as a farmer and rancher just like they do everyone else. You have to understand how each decision is going to effect the general public. The commissioners' court is very conservative on how we spend those tax dollars. We research everything carefully when it comes to funding."

Perhaps, in the end, Hilliard's philosophy as a farmer and rancher, and as a deputy and judge, are best summed up in a simple rule that he lives and governs by, "There is no right way to do a wrong thing."

Judge Hilliard is 70 and while he is hanging up his robe, he will still wear those cowboy spurs working the family farm.

Hilliard retires on May 31st. There is special commissioners' court meeting on Tuesday, May 11, to review applications to fill his position. The court will make a selection at a special meeting on May 17.