His office is empty now, swept clean like the Blue Tide that washed Precinct 4 Commissioner James Patterson and many other elected officials out of office last month.
Although Patterson would have preferred to leave on his own terms, he is not bitter. He understands the nature of politics and knows that his 19 years in office made a difference.
“My wife and my family and I have worked very hard to make a positive difference and at the end of the day people will be able to say that county commissioner, he was certainly a statesman,” Patterson said.
He lost his election to Democrat Ken DeMerchant, who will be sworn in on Jan. 1. Right now, Patterson is one of DeMerchant’s biggest supporters.
“I want Precinct 4 to be the most fabulous place and so what can I do to help him? He’s made an offer to all three members of the staff here and all three have accepted his offer for them to stay right here and continue on,” he said.
Being a commissioner was a second career for Patterson. He came to Sugar Land in 1965 as a teacher and later worked as a principal at Dulles and Elkins high schools. In 2017, the Fort Bend ISD honored him by naming a new elementary school after him.
“There was eight bus routes. When I started driving there was one high school, one junior high school, and two elementary schools, that was ’65,” he said. “Dulles Avenue was Lester Lane. Watched a lot of growth. I was principal of Dulles High School when we had over 4,400 kids.”
When Patterson was first elected in 1998, Fort Bend County was a backwater bedroom community to Houston. According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Brazoria County was projected to grow more than twice as fast as Fort Bend County.
“All this growth in First Colony and Sienna and Aliana and the Katy area, these were just old rice fields and nobody would ever develop those. These were prison properties and nobody would ever sell those. It wasn’t taken into account,” Patterson said.
Grow it did, and Patterson played a large role in guiding that growth.
“Becoming a member of the transportation policy council and eventually the chairman of the transportation policy council, I was able to go back in and show folks the plats that were on books and what was coming at us,” he said.
Preparing for the growth meant improving the infrastructure and improving services to local residents.
“We had poverty areas with no city running water, no sewage – public sewage system. I’m extremely proud that all areas in Precinct 4 that want to sign up for public water and public sewer can do so,” he said.
In addition to infrastructure improvements were transportation improvements.
“You had a problem getting from point A to point B. And we started working to get a public transportation system,” he recalled.
He said there was a public perception that public transportation meant big METRO buses rolling across the county, which many people did not want.
“We had to walk slow and say we’re talking about a person who needs to get to dialysis and get back home type situation,” he said.
This year the county’s bus system will transport almost 400,000 rides which includes demand response (like a taxi service) to commuter service to the Texas Medical Center and the Galleria.
“It’s been unbelievably positive. It in part comes about because we worked so hard to get multiple entities to work together. The parking lot at the University of Houston is a park-and-ride lot that we built through a federal grant,” he said.
Partnerships and leveraging resources have helped the county and its cities to grow.
“We’ve got multiple examples of that. The bridges on Glenn Lakes in Missouri City are a partnership between us and the City of Missouri City,” he said. “The University of Houston library is a partnership. … If you walk into that library you don’t see anything that indicates it’s anything but a county library. But two of the employees are paid for by the University of Houston and Wharton County Junior College.”
Last year the county partnered with the Gulf Coast Water Authority to clear and dredge part of Oyster Creek.
“It hadn’t been dredged in over 50 years,” Patterson said, noting several other examples of partnerships.
He is also proud of the fiscal responsibility the county has shown during his tenure.
“We reduced tax rate by 26 percent since I came into office,” he said. “A part of that, I would have to give credit that we have the most wonderful budget officer in Pam Gubbels in the world.”
“We’ve passed four mobility bond issues. We’ve never passed a mobility bond issue prior to 2000,” Patterson added. “We’ve passed four of those and every one of those started with a wish list and have got down to a need list. They’ve all been highly successful in passing.”
One part of the transportation piece is currently under construction in Rosenberg. The $21 million transit center began construction this year and will centralize and expand service that is now spread among three centers.
“That’s a biggie as far as I’m concerned. That’s huge,” he said.
Another thing he is proud of is his reputation on the court. He said he was always viewed as a mediator and was respected for his listening and reasoning skills.
Although he is no longer in office, Patterson plans to remain involved in charity work.
“I’m still going to do the charity auctions,” he said. “I’m still going to be out there supporting any kind of program that makes a difference for kids.”
He helped start Achieve Fort Bend to help reduce dropout rates in the public schools. “Achieve Fort Bend, that needs to continue,” he said.
He also started the Buyers Group, an organization that does second bids for children’s animals at the Fort Bend County Fair. He also wants to stay involved on the board of Behind the Badge.
When asked if he had any parting words, Patterson hesitated.
“I don’t want to give parting words. I want to be able to say my wife and I, we’re going to be right here and continue … to try and make a positive difference in the community. I am not running for any office,” he said. “There’s plenty of opportunity for me to be a positive influence in some way.”