SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai is taking a lighthearted approach to marking his first 100 days in office as the county's top elected official, celebrating the milestone with Harlandale schoolkids who brought small gifts and well wishes this week.
Because former Judge Nelson Wolff held the job for more than 20 years, Sakai said learning to lead Bexar County into the future is a big job.
“We have this system that's been running this way for 30 or 40 years," Sakai said. "I think I'm the first person that has said, 'Can we take a pause? Can we look at how we do things?'"
While on the campaign trail in 2022, Sakai promised that, were he to win the job, he would listen to anyone who had ideas on how to provide better service. Now, he says he's pleased with how people are responding, especially county employees.
“If you talk to county employees, they're excited that we are talking to them. We respect them and we're doing our very best to compensate them fairly,” Sakai said.
In regards to navigating the budget process, Sakai said, “We have talked to all the various departments and we have gotten really positive feedback.”
Sakai says the county's procurement process is one of his greatest challenges.
“It's not so much balancing the budget," he said. "It's paying the bills! It was often brought to my attention there are vendors that are yet to be paid.”
The judge said he is actively working on better procedures.
“That's probably getting the highest attention right now. How can we be more effective and efficient?”
Budget issues overall are big initiatives too, Sakai said, as is making sure employees are fairly paid and treated with respect.
Referring to a recent controversy in the office of the county district attorney, Sakai said, “I will not tolerate any hostile, toxic workforce or work environment in the county.”
Because law enforcement and jail expenses are such a huge chunk of the budget, Sakai says better mental health programs would benefit everyone.
He said a public-private partnership involving an innovative new effort at the state hospital property on the south side of the city could solve a number of problems.
“We could use state hospital buildings and retrofit them. We don't need to buy land and put a new building up.”
The key, the judge said, would be taking care to make sure the facility was safe for those who need help and for people in surrounding neighborhoods.
Sakai said he would like to see a partnership developed with a nonprofit agency that could provide mental health services.
“I want to see county government operate in a better way. Be more effective and efficient, be more open and transparent and basically be better stewards of taxpayer money,” Sakai said.
Taking input from everyone during the budget process is key, he added.
“To be blunt with you, those are things that have never been done," he said. "It has taken a change of mindset, a change of culture, a change of, 'Hey, can we do this better?' Those are ongoing conversations."
Sakai said he is pleased that the four commissioners on the court are engaged in making progress.
“The entire court is looking forward to seeing more openness, more transparency,” Sakai said.
“Hopefully we will make some really great decisions," he added. "We're really going to take Bexar County to another level."
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