By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
Ellis County Treasurer candidate Vernon Ruder Jr. believes his experience as the head of the county solid waste division and his willingness to help other departments succeed make him a great candidate for the office.
As the solid waste supervisor, Ruder has been in charge of the Ellis County landfill for the past three years. Prior to that, Ruder also worked as a financial advisor and as a district manager for E.A. Sween Co.
Ruder said he decided to run for the treasurer’s position after noticing several issues with the treasurer’s office. Among those are the turnover rate and amount of money spent in the office.
“I feel like I could come in and decrease spending and increase efficiencies,” Ruder said.
Ruder, Sherry Dryden and incumbent Lisa Schlegel square off in Tuesday's Republican primary.
As the solid waste supervisor, Ruder is in charge of the landfill’s $1.2 million budget. The landfill is an enterprise and ran solely on the fees that it collects. The landfill does not receive taxpayer money to fund its operations.
“I run it like it’s my money,” Ruder said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Ruder said he also believes the financial background and the skills he has developed running the solid waste division would help him succeed in the position.
“I know for a fact that I can decrease spending by thousands of dollars within that department,” Ruder said.
He said there are several areas where he would like to see the department increase efficiencies.
Among the examples of things Ruder would like to implement would be a kiosk that allowed residents to pay their tags and taxes after hours because the administrative office closes at 4 p.m. when a lot of people don’t get off work until 5 p.m. or later. He would also like to implement an app that tells visitors to the office what the wait time is at the office.
Ruder also believes he will have several ideas to take in front of the commission once he takes office, if elected.
He also believes that he will be able to help the county in a greater capacity is elected treasurer.
“Working for the county, I feel like I have experience in front of the commissioners giving the budget,” Ruder said.
Ruder said he gets along with all of the other department heads and he believes that added level of communication will also be a benefit to the treasurer’s department and to Ellis County.
“Most departments talk to each other but I feel like that department, the lack of communication kind of hurts,” Ruder said. “Working with the county, I feel as though I can’t come up to them (members of the treasurer’s office) and speak about ‘Where is my money invested at?’ ”
He said if elected he will present the county commission with a monthly financial report, similar to the city of Hays.
“It will explain, here’s the money, here’s what we have it invested in,” Ruder said. “I know a lot of people wouldn’t question anything if it's all laid out on the table. That would be so much easier.”
Ruder said he also believes he has the necessary communication skills to run the office.
Ruder also said he would be a “working elected official.”
“When the doors are open, I will always be there,” Ruder said. “If you have a team leader, the rest of the staff will feel more like a team.”
He added his goal will be to know how to do every job within the department, similar to how he operates the landfill.
“I want to be there so I know exactly what this department doing,” Ruder said. “If you know your whole job, you are going to be able to run it smoother.”
Ruder said he has heard from staff and some of the county commissioners that that is one thing the department is currently lacking, a person who is putting in the time in the office.
“I will work,” Ruder said. “I’m probably one of the crazy people that will work more than I have too.”
Ruder also said he believes there is a current lack of professionalism in the department. He pointed to the very public disagreements current treasurer Lisa Schlegel has had with multiple commissioners.
“I solve problems and I don’t create conflict," Ruder said. “There’s no reason to have conflict. Let’s be professional about it.”
Schlegel has attacked Ruder for the fact that his son, Mason, also works for the county and serves on the Hays City Commission. Mason is the Environmental Planning Supervisor.
Ruder said he and Mason work together as division heads within the public works department but there is no nepotism as Schlegel claims, he said.
Public Works Director Bill Ring said there are policies are in place so that a family member cannot be in charge of another member of their family. Both Vernon and Mason are on an equal level as division heads.
On social media, Schlegel has also accused Vernon Ruder and Ring of attempting to cover-up wrongdoing in a September 2019 fire that destroyed a building and backhoe at the landfill.
In her posting, Schlegel claimed someone was allowed to enter the landfill after hours and put flammable rags in a bin that started the fire.
An official investigation determined that the rags were placed in the bin just after 4 p.m. Sept. 26, and they spontaneously combusted around 4 a.m. the next day.
Ring said insurance covered the cost of the building and the backhoe.
Ring stressed that no taxpayer funds went to those updates because as an enterprise the landfill does not get taxpayer funds. It is run completely on fees paid at the landfill.
Ruder said Schlegel is creating these allegations because, “she can’t find anything on me.”
“I don’t know where she is coming up with all her stories,” Ruder. “If I wasn’t running against her, there would be nothing brought up.”