Many people reading that title may wonder what a judge has to do with our taxes. Aren’t judges usually presiding over criminal or civil trials? Aren’t judges generally lawyers who, after gaining experience prosecuting or defending those charged with offenses, aspire to the bench where they can continue their pursuit of justice? That’s true in the great majority of cases, but, there’s another type of judge.
Meet Denton County Judge Mary Horn, who sits on the bench at the County Commissioners Court, which sets our tax rate and figures out the county budget each year. The judge has one vote, as has each of the four commissioners. Her capacity as County Judge is an administrative position, sort of like a CEO of a corporation, whose primary duty is to provide necessary services while keeping costs down and managing a balanced budget. “Tax rates are determined through computations of certified values and abatements for all jurisdictions sent from the Appraisal District,” Judge Horn said.
An indefatigable defender of our financial position, when Judge Horn first took office in 2002, she traveled to New York to pay a visit to Standard and Poor’s, considered one of the top 3 credit rating agencies, as designated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Her goal was to have the agency raise Denton County’s rating from AA to AAA, the highest rating any public or private entity can receive. S & P was no match for a judge who, prior to her current role, was the County Tax Assessor – Collector for 9 ½ years. After providing all the necessary data and explaining all the reasons why we deserved the upgrade, they soon realized they were up against someone who had done her homework and wasn’t about to accept lower grades than deserved.
The triple-A rating means that we have an extremely strong capacity to meet our financial commitments. It also means that we can borrow money at the lowest interest rates. Judge Mary Horn had hit the ground running as a fiscal conservative and guardian of the public trust. “Out of 254 counties in the State of Texas there are only six with AAA bond rating and four of them are right here in North Texas,” she says proudly, adding, “Those are Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton. The other two are Harris and Bexar.”
Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Mary Horn for lunch at my Flower Mound home. Although I’ve met her several times over the years at political and charitable events, sharing some private time with her over ham and cheese croissants gave me a chance to see a different side to this delightful woman. Born and raised in Owatonna, Minnesota, she graduated from the Minnesota School of Business before moving to Dallas and beginning a 17-year career with Braniff Airlines, two of those years as a flight attendant. It was at Braniff that she met her husband Jim Horn, a businessman who subsequently became a Texas State Representative.
After Braniff closed in 1982, Mary started her own small business from home, allowing her to raise their two children while sharpening her entrepreneurial skills and building a second income. Mary and Jim Horn have been married for 46 years and have two grown children and three grandchildren. Their daughter Jennifer lives in Austin with her husband and three children, and manages her own business. Their son Jim is a graduate of Liberty Christian School, and, in 2001, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Now, Major Jim Horn, he did three tours of duty in Iraq and another tour in Afghanistan. Major Horn is currently serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stationed in Vicenza, Italy. His mom flashes a grateful smile as she talks about how happy she is that her son is no longer in a battle zone.
Judge Horn has been reelected in 2006 and 2010, and is on the Republican Primary ballot in 2014. Having worked for several years with the four county commissioners, she had nothing but good things to say about how well they’ve worked together to guard the public purse. “We have low tax rates in Denton County and the fewest number of employees per capita. All this was accomplished by taking advantage of technology. Denton County, for example, was the first to have online vehicle registration and Jury Duty notices that can be done online and rescheduled without the need to travel to and from court. Information is seamlessly sent from one office to another,” she said, with the enthusiasm of someone who relishes every opportunity to save money and time for her constituents.
Mary Horn is just another reason why I enjoy doing these written portraits of notables in our area. By the way, Ms. Horn, a Sanger resident, enjoys riding her Harley several times a week. No, not one of those 2000 pound “Hogs” that run on gasoline, but her 1000 pound stallion that provides her with endless hours of contentment when she’s away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.