Doug Leecock
Julie Sanders
Joyce Yannuzzi

2024 Primary Election

Early voting begins on February 20 and election day is March 5, 2024. Visit the Comal County Elections webpage for polling locations and sample ballots. Candidate responses to our questionnaire are listed below.

2024 Primary candidates for Comal County Commissioner, Precinct 1: Doug Leecock (left), Julie Sanders (center), Joyce Yannuzzi (right)
2024 Primary candidates for Comal County Commissioner, Precinct 1: Doug Leecock (left), Julie Sanders (center), Joyce Yannuzzi (right)

Candidate Questionnaire

Preserve Our Hill Country Environment sent a candidate questionnaire to all four candidates in late January, then followed up with each candidate multiple times. Responses from each candidate are shown below verbatim. As per instructions, responses have not been edited for spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. There are three candidates in the Republican primary, Doug Leecock, Joyce Yannuzzi, and Henry White. Mr. White did not respond by the February 15 deadline. The winner will face Julie Sanders, who runs unopposed in the Democratic Primary, in November. 

Background: Urbanization

The Texas Hill Country and Comal County provides us with scenic landscapes, vistas, and an array of interconnected waterways including the Dry Comal, Cibolo, Rebecca, and Honey creeks; the Comal and Guadalupe rivers; Comal and Hueco springs, the Trinity and Edwards aquifers; and Canyon Lake that are all integral in supporting tourism and economic development, ranching and agricultural operations, and an abundance of wildlife (including many endangered species) and flora throughout the area. Urbanization is threatening these natural resources.

Comal County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. This record level of population growth is rapidly changing Comal County from what was once mostly a rural area into an albeit large suburb of San Antonio.

Question 1. The affirmed low priority some local elected officials have given to the preservation of our natural resources, and to parks and open spaces has, in our view, resulted in irresponsible growth. Would you align with fellow commissioners on policies that could potentially preserve and protect our natural resources – specifically water quality and quantity sustainability issues, and parks & open spaces? What actions would you take to facilitate these protections? Would you support the idea of allowing the voters of Comal County to decide the best method of acquiring more park land and protecting open spaces?

Leecock: I have an established track record of supporting preservation of our natural resources as a private citizen and will continue to do so as an elected official. Protection of our natural resources will take each of us working together with other groups and individuals, public and private, to deal with the rapid growth in this area. I will generally be cautious but also thoughtful in my support any program that will increase an already heavy tax burden on our taxpayers. Based on my years of interacting and observing our Commissioners Court, I do believe that my addition to court will change the chemistry of the group. I have worked hard over the years to build a good rapport with the current court and other leaders in this County and I can be effective in bringing in some positive changes that are reflected in the desire of our citizens. I affirm the opportunity of our citizens to speak and be heard about the issues that are of concern.

Sanders: I would absolutely align myself with the other commissioners, in order to protect and preserve our natural resources. I would insist that we have regular meetings with one another, and the community in order to make some sort of headway. The residents of Comal County should be the only people that have a say in what is done in our community.

Yannuzzi: I grew up on a large farm and cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle and understand the importance of protecting Texas land. I believe we’re all concerned about the dwindling landscape in Comal County and the Hill Country and are looking for good options to protect our natural resources, wildlife, and countryside. Yes, I would align with fellow commissioners and work to protect areas that could eventually become parks/open spaces; however, instead of looking at a county bond at the taxpayer’s expense, I would choose to meet with landowners, individually or as a group, to discuss available options other than development. There are state agencies and organizations whose mission is to assist landowners in protecting their property: Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Farm Credit and Texas Agricultural Land Trust, to name a few. These entities offer options for landowners to place a portion or all their property in a trust the landowner holds, a private conservation easement, or in a conservancy with the State whether it be 10 acres or 10,000 acres, thus protecting the property in perpetuity from development (as long as it is not part of a federal land grab known as “30×30”). This is not an anti-growth or anti-development stance; this is a positive attitude of working to protect the Hill Country landscape. I would also work to meet with developers to discuss options for greenbelts or parks within the development instead of selecting a proposed plat of stacked homes and streets. Protected spaces within a development only enhance the quality of life for homeowners, reflects positively on home values, protects existing wildlife and natural resources in the area, and provides yet another option that doesn’t involve a bond. I would much prefer taking these routes versus a bond, which is just another burden for taxpayers and the next generation.

Question 2. Much of Comal County’s rapid growth is occurring in unincorporated areas. County commissioners have claimed they have insufficient authority when it comes to regulating incompatible land use or protecting citizens against threats to their health and property. Would you support asking the legislature to grant counties more local authority to help preserve the very quality of life that attracts new residents to Comal County and holds old ones here? What specific actions would you take to rectify this lack of authority and foster a reasonable and predictable approach to development that protects all property owners?

Leecock: Texas counties have limited authority in unincorporated areas. Our elected representatives at the State level have made it clear they have no intention of expanding authority to counties. In view of that information and, in consideration of “property rights” and the “right of capture (water),” I believe in fostering communication and action between stakeholders at the local level to deal with developing solutions to these important issues.

Sanders: When it comes down to preserving the land in Comal County, it should be up to the voters and local authority to handle County business, not the Texas Legislature. They don’t live amongst us, and therefore will not be affected by what lies in the wake of Vulcan. I would not stop researching until I found out who possesses the authority to make these decisions, and what strict guidelines need to be met.

Yannuzzi: I currently work for Senator Donna Campbell as the District Director. I have the unique opportunity of traveling the 7-county Senate District and meeting with local elected officials and constituents, listening to their concerns or frustrations, and working to find viable solutions on their behalf. My job often involves coordinating with a state agency to resolve an issue for a constituent, or meeting with city leaders and county commissioners over what can be done regarding encroaching development. Initially, people move to the unincorporated areas of counties to get away from the tighter controls of city ordinances and enjoy country living. But when there is almost zero authority for county government to establish limits on compact housing development, I do believe it’s time to ask the Legislature to provide counties a few more proverbial “tools in the toolbox”. To be clear: I am a strong property rights advocate and against growing government; however, because of my position on the Senator’s staff, I’ve been tasked with compiling a list of suggestions and ideas for potential legislation that would benefit the County Commissioners and am working with our Capitol legislative staff to finetune the suggestions. At this time, I cannot discuss what is being considered; but please keep in mind where I grew up (on a large farm and cattle ranch), my position on alternate options (to protect land using conservancies and trusts), and my adversity to growing government. I am taking the above approach of thinking outside the box to find good solutions for property owners, County Commissioners, and developers.

Question 3. A Primer on County Tools and Paths Forward was published in 2023 with the support of several leading local conservation groups. It provides a guide to existing powers and practices of Texas counties, with consideration of additional governance tools that might be considered by future county officials and legislators to help protect the Hill Country’s natural resources. Are you familiar with this report, and if so, what additional practices do you think are most applicable to Comal County?

Leecock: I am familiar with “A Primer on County Tools and Paths Forward”. This publication is similar to many others I have reviewed. They all generally recognize that it is an enormous challenge while respecting property rights and our freedom to move to the place of one’s choice. I believe we must decide locally how we, the citizens, want to solve these issues. I agree with the report that local government has tools available to them to develop solutions but I also believe they will only be successful with support from the legislature, the cooperation and support of the voters, local stakeholders, not giving up our property rights or increasing taxes.

Sanders: I am not yet familiar with A Primer on County Tools and Paths Forward, but I soon will be.

Yannuzzi: Yes, I am familiar with the publication and have read through it and as mentioned in question (2), have comprised a 2-page list of suggestions for our Capitol legislative staff to review for potential legislation. And I have forwarded the “Primer on County Tools and Paths Forward” to our Capitol staff for their review. However, I want to reiterate I would prefer talking to and working with landowners and developers on protecting land using conservancies and trusts and implementing greenbelts and protected parks within the developments, respectively, and am against growing government and issuing bonds as an only resort.

Background: Groundwater

Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs), mostly organized along county boundaries, are the state’s preferred method of groundwater management. GCDs are charged with managing groundwater by providing for the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging, and prevention of waste of the groundwater resources within their jurisdictions.

Question 4. The Comal Trinity GCD is one of 9 GCDs responsible for managing the Hill Country portion of the critical Trinity Aquifer system (Lower, Middle, and Upper Trinity Aquifers). The CTGCD’s authority is currently limited to issuing drilling permits, gathering water level data, and collecting water production fees from “non-exempt” (i.e. commercial) wells. During the current exceptional drought, the Hays Trinity GCD has implemented a temporary moratorium on new non-exempt wells to help protect the water supply of existing well owners. Comal County commissioners appoint the board members of the CTGCD. Would you be in favor of asking the CTGCD board to consider taking more proactive measures to protect its existing well owners during droughts?

Leecock: The CTGCD does not have the same authority as the Hays Trinity GCD, because of their restrictive enabling legislation. In the event the CTGCD had the same authority, I would support them using it.

Sanders: I would definitely be in favor of asking the board to take more proactive measures. I personally know members of this community that have lived for days with a dry well, and no water in sight. This has been a frequent problem that will only worsen, if something is not done to rectify the situation.

Yannuzzi: Never in my lifetime has the adage of “Whiskey is for drinkin’ and water is for fightin’” been more appropriate and truer. The Trinity Aquifer has not recovered from the 1950s drought, regardless of rainfall (and floods). The Texas Water Code, Chapter Sec. 36.101 does give the CTGCD authority to make and enforce rules to provide for the conservation, preservation, protection, and recharge of groundwater and aquifers within CTGCD boundaries, as stated in state statute and on the CTGCD’s website. I am unsure if the board needs approval from the Commissioners first before issuing a moratorium on new wells and could not determine that when reading through the referenced section. One thing to keep in mind regarding restrictions on groundwater consumption: Texas Water Code, Chapter Sec. 36.002, (a). “The legislature recognizes that a landowner owns the groundwater below the surface of the landowner’s land as real property.” Texas courts have historically upheld the “Rule of Capture” and these restrictions could potentially place the county in an unnecessary legal battle over which landowner has the rights to the groundwater below. So, to answer your question: Yes, I would be in favor of CTGCD taking proactive measures to protect existing well owners during drought, but with limitations implemented. I am not in favor of any government entity gaining more authority/power and not relinquishing it when the drought crisis is over.

Question 5. Because of the current drought and record population growth in the area there has been a drastic increase in water demand and many private well owners are reporting that their wells in the Trinity Aquifer are going dry. Would you work with state elected officials on legislation granting county commissioners and Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) the authority to manage new development activity, including aggregate production operations, to ensure that water demand never exceeds water availability?

Leecock: Absolutely, I believe it is important that all current water users understand the part we all play in the area of water conservation. In regards to the future, accurate data and involvement with elected officials at the state level will become increasingly important for all of us to become organized and involved in. The GCD’s are required to submit data to the State of Texas via the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) every 5 years. This very import ant planning cycle is in the initial phases for the report due next year.

Sanders: I will, without question, work with state elected officials to make sure that water demand never exceeds water availability.

Yannuzzi: As mentioned in previous answers, I am currently working with Senator Campbell’s Capitol legislative staff on ideas for potential legislation to help County Commissioners in regard to growth, without necessarily growing government. Again, I am pro-property rights and do not want to impose restrictions on what an individual (or business) can or cannot do with their property in the unincorporated areas of the county; however, I definitely recognize the current (and future) strain on the aquifer and landscape is untenable. I would prefer to go to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure the rules and regulations already in place are strictly adhered to when granting permits to developers and aggregate operations. Senator Campbell’s office is taking the proactive step in requesting public hearings to allow constituents the opportunity to voice their opinions when development or aggregate is coming near their homes. I will continue this same method as Commissioner, not because I am anti-growth, but because the TCEQ public notices are often missed and residents living adjacent to the proposed development are not always notified. I will also comb through Municipal Utility District (MUD) applications and permits from TCEQ to ensure the 1-vote rule meets the State’s current election statutes on residency requirements and take appropriate steps if they do not, as I am currently doing as part of my current job.

Background: Vulcan Construction Materials, Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP), Eminent Domain/Railroads

Vulcan Construction Materials purchased the White Ranch in 2017. The ranch, 1500 acres (2.3 square miles) of pristine Texas Hill Country rangeland, sits in the middle of Comal County amidst caves, rivers and streams, wildlife, and flora. It sits under the migratory paths of bats, monarch butterflies and whooping cranes. Numerous legacy ranches and homesteads are nearby along with Indian remains and artifacts on neighboring properties and in adjacent caves. The property itself extends southwest nearly three miles from the corner of State Highway 46 and Farm-to-Market 3009. This land is one of the largest pieces of undeveloped property in the county and is in unincorporated territory midway between New Braunfels and Bulverde. Perfect for a park and/or open space development.

The property sits entirely atop the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone (EARZ). Vulcan must prepare and apply for a WPAP under the TCEQ’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan (EAPP). The EAPP outlines the best management practices that will be implemented and maintained to reduce the amount of contaminants reaching the Edwards Aquifer. The WPAP has numerous components and requirements that must be satisfied before TCEQ will deem the application administratively complete. Once complete, the TCEQ will start the technical review process. This process kicks off notification to affected cities, counties, and groundwater conservation districts, and the 30-day public comment period begins. Water quality and supply are vital to our area, both as a foundation for the local tourism industry as well as for human consumption, agriculture, and wildlife.

Question 6. Conducting heavy industrial operations, such as quarries and mining, directly over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones endangers one of our most precious natural resources—water. What actions are you willing to take to allay community concerns before Vulcan’s WPAP is rendered administratively complete? When (if) the WPAP goes into the technical review process, would you be willing to ask for a public meeting and contested case hearing on behalf of your constituents and Comal County? What, if any, other measures would you take?

Leecock: I believe that all businesses and individuals should comply with current state rules and regulations. I would be willing to ask for a public meeting on behalf of my constituents.

Sanders: I unequivocally would ask for a public meeting on behalf of my constituents and Comal County. A public meeting wouldn’t be enough, in my opinion. We need to knock on doors with literature in hand, protest in numbers too massive to ignore, and let the people of Comal County know what kind of life is ahead of us, if we don’t band together and put an end to Vulcan.

Yannuzzi: Communication is key and essential in situations involving government entities and the private sector. The proposed site for the Vulcan Quarry is in Precinct 2 which is Commissioner Scott Haag’s precinct; it is not in Precinct 1 (even though it is directly across Hwy. 46). I stand at the ready to offer my help in any way, shape, or form to Commissioner Haag in holding town halls and using all forms of media to keep constituents informed of the permitting process. If/when the WPAP goes to the review process, I am available to work with the Commissioner to immediately request a public hearing to give people a chance to voice their opinions to representatives of the quarry (if present) and TCEQ. I will offer to assist in reaching out to our State Representative and State Senator offices, TCEQ permitting, and the Government Relations team of Vulcan requesting a meeting in hopes of relaying the concerns of constituents. I want to make myself available in any way possible, knowing the quarry may/will affect the quality of life of constituents in Precinct 1 (and everyone drawing water from the Edwards) even though the quarry lies in another county precinct.

Question 7. Eminent domain was used by a Vulcan subsidiary, Southwest Gulf Railroad, to condemn properties that Medina County landowners refused to sell. Now this Vulcan company has built a nine-mile railway to connect a quarry to the Union Pacific line. What specific actions would you take to help correct the imbalance of power between large corporations and Comal County citizens and landowners when it comes to property rights and eminent domain condemnation?

Leecock: The use of eminent domain is governed by specific rules and regulations. If the current regulations present an unbalanced situation I will review and take appropriate action to protect all parties.

Sanders: I would push for protection of private property at the state and federal level. I would ensure that existing laws are followed, that protect landowners, while protesting any attempts to take private property that isn’t for the public good, or claiming land unfairly.

Yannuzzi: State law dictates that private companies cannot use eminent domain laws to take the property from landowners, who refuse to sell, using condemnation. I am familiar with the Medina County eminent domain case where the railroad spur line requested by Vulcan was designated as a ‘common carrier’ line to bypass the state’s eminent domain laws. Common carrier, as defined in the Texas Administrative Code, Sec. 3.297: “A person who holds out to the general public a willingness to provide transportation of persons or property from place to place for compensation in the normal course of business.” The Medina County/Vulcan railroad spur is NOT a common carrier (it’s used for transporting aggregate materials, not people) and I am COMPLETELY opposed to how this was handled. As stated above in question 6, the proposed site for the Vulcan Quarry is in Precinct 2 which is Commissioner Scott Haag’s precinct; it is not in Precinct 1(even though it is directly across Hwy. 46 from Precinct 1). But as the Precinct 1 Commissioner with constituents that close to the proposed quarry, I would demand transparency and public hearings from all parties involved so everyone has access to what is occurring, should Vulcan (or any other aggregate company) try to acquire property using eminent domain for a railroad spur in the same manner conducted in Medina County.

Question 8. The mission of Preserve Our Hill Country Environment is to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country against the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry. Considering our mission and the interest of our over 5,000 members, followers, and supporters, why do you think you are the best person to represent us as a Comal County Commissioner?

Leecock: I am the best person to represent the citizens of Comal County as the Precinct 1 County Commissioner because I have the experience and record of solving problems. I proudly support the preservation of natural resources. One of the reasons I live in Comal County is due to the natural beauty of the area. Through my service on a board here in Comal, I regularly communicate the facts regarding our aquifers and the importance of conservation of our natural resources. I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with fellow commissioners, as well as our legislators, to anticipate problems and address them with sufficient time to develop meaningful solutions with the help of local stakeholders.

Sanders: I should represent Comal County as Commissioner, because I have integrity, and will stand up for what is right. I’m in this to make a difference, and want to be a part of preserving our little slice of heaven. This is our home, our community, and it’s damn sure worth fighting for.

Yannuzzi: Comal County has remained in the top ten of the fastest-growing counties in the nation for several years and I have lived here, and been invested in, the people and the community for the past 22 years. The position of County Commissioner can no longer afford someone with zero experience of government statutes, governmental entities, process/policy/and procedure. The county cannot afford a new Commissioner needing one to two years of on-the-job training to “figure things out”. I am the only candidate in this Commissioner race working full time; the only candidate with a proven record of long-term investment in our community; the only candidate with a proven record of conservative Republican work and involvement in the county and Republican Party of Texas (spanning 17 years); the only candidate in this race working daily on issues for constituents who have requested assistance, to include some questions in this questionnaire. I know how to research state statutes regarding county government, transportation, water laws, etc. and I know how to track bills as they move through the Legislative Session, watch for those beneficial to Comal County and testify in committee when necessary. I have extensive knowledge of the varying State agencies and consistently reach out to them to answer constituents’ questions or concerns as Senator Campbell’s District Director. I’ve been meeting and working with a group in Mystic Shores development (north Canyon Lake area) for nearly 2 years on a case regarding a developer and a questionable MUD vote, gathering information, and following proper procedure as is required. In every case, I work on behalf of constituents and remain neutral to prevent emotion from clouding my judgement. Our county population is projected to continue growing and we need someone with a deep, broad, and extensive knowledge of “how things work” at all levels of government without wanting to grow government. I am the ONLY candidate in this race with that background and will begin working for constituents of Precinct 1 and Comal County on day one.

Comal County Precinct Map
Comal County precinct map. Click map for more details and voting precinct information.

Preserve Our Hill Country Environment is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization formed to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country from the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry.