By Kati Walker
Hockley County Judge Larry Sprowls has announced his retirement and turned in his letter of resignation.
Thursday, in a special meeting, the county commissioners will approve the resignation and appoint a new judge, since Sprowls’ resignation falls within 70 days of the general election.
Sprowls has served Hockley County for 21 years and eight months. His wife, Susan Sprowls, announced her retirement as the executive director of the Hockley County Senior Citizens Association last month.
“Susan and I kind of planned for this to happen around the same time,” Judge Sprowls said. “Everybody just reaches that point in their lifetime when it’s time to leave it to the next generation…I’m just ready.”
Judge Sprowls and Susan moved to Levelland in 1975 after working as barbers in Lubbock. They rented a building on the north side of the square, where Tony Malouf’s is now, where they operated a business for 38 years.
Sprowls ran for County Judge in 1996, which he won. He said he will miss his co-workers and commissioners, who he worked with day in and day out.
“I appreciate the commissioners court for the way they run the county,” said Judge Sprowls. “Since I have been here, the commissioner’s court has worked well together. They may not always agree, but it doesn’t enter into the business part of it.”
He is thankful for how he has been able to witness the county evolve and continue to move forward during his time in office.
“The county has been progressive under the commissioner court,” said Judge Sprowls. “This court understands there is that need to keep moving forward.”
While Sprowls has been county judge, several projects have been undertaken and completed by the county. These include the Mallet Event Center and Arena, the new Hockley County Building Annex, and the remodeling and expansion at Levelland Covenant Hospital.
This year, the commissioner’s court budgeted $5 million to pay off the Mallet using unencumbered funds the county has saved over the years.
“The Mallet has given a place for the different organizations, entertainment, 4-H and FFA to use,” Judge Sprowls said. “It’s a good place and it was sorely needed for this area. It brings lots of people to town who spend money, and that’s an economic advantage for everybody.”
Also on the agenda for the Thursday meeting is the appointment of a new Hockley County Judge. According to Texas State Law, when a judge retires or resigns within 70 days of a general election, it is the responsibility of the commissioner’s court to appoint a new county judge.
Judge Sprowls has the ability to recommend a replacement to the commissioners, but it is nothing more than a recommendation until appointment by the commissioners.
Sharla Baldridge, Judge Sprowls’ secretary, is who Sprowls would like to see succeed him as Hockley County Judge.
“She has 30 years legal experience and has been with me in court since she began as my employee five years ago,” Sprowls said. “She is, by far, more qualified than I was when I came into office.”
Baldridge is honored that Sprowls has recommended her as his replacement, with the caveat that he will be leaving.
“It makes me sad because I really care a lot about him and consider him more than just my boss,” Baldridge said. “He and Susan have been like family to me.”
Baldridge has lived in Levelland her entire life, she said. While going to school at South Plains College, Baldridge began working in a local law office and figured that is what she wanted to do.
“It seemed to be my knack and I really enjoyed it, so I stuck by it and here I am,” Baldridge said.
The reason why she accepted the job as Judge Sprowls secretary is because she was interested in learning the job.
“I came into this job wanting to learn both sides, mine and his,” Baldridge said. “I don’t like to undertake something I don’t know much about.”
She said while working in Judge Sprowls’ office she has learned more than she ever expected to.
“I’ve learned so much and he’s [Judge Sprowls] been the best mentor,” Baldridge said. “I can’t even go into detail about all I’ve learned, it’s so much.”
If appointed, Baldridge said one thing that will be a priority for her would be carrying on the legacy Sprowls has began.
“I feel like I’m prematurely saying anything because that is yet to be determined…but he [Judge Sprowls] genuinely cares about what’s going on with people and that’s something I would like to continue,” Baldridge said. “Because you can’t make things better if you can’t fix problems and that’s one thing I learned from him…He’s a very compassionate man.”