When the calendar turned to 2021, Wharton County personnel said goodbye to a longtime county employee. This one was the tax assessor-collector, Grace Utley, who served for 18 years as an employee of the Wharton Journal/Spectator before her career started in the tax office.
Utley, who was appointed to the top post unanimously by the Wharton County Commissioners Court in September 2018, made her final appearance before the same elected officials – minus the late commissioner Chris King.
Utley was the frontline deputy clerk before she filled the vacancy left by Patrick Kubala, who retired more than two years ago. Utley officially took over on Oct. 1, 2018 to finish out his term, which would have lasted till Jan. 31, 2020. If it had not been for his retirement, she would have retired in 2018, but she felt she was needed to finish his job.
The first year of filling his shoes proved to be a challenge.
“During the first year as TAC, (the hardest part was) trying to accomplish all the classes and educational credits required in your first year in office and calculations of taxes,” Utley said.
She had good and bad memories.
“I enjoyed working with the public,” said Utley. “Actually knowing how the taxes and motor vehicle systems worked.
Her family and extended family is very happy for her. It consists of her husband Kenneth; three daughters Tanika, LaMoya and Kenesha; one son Kenneth, Jr.; and three grandchildren
Utley plans to spend a lot of time fishing with her children and grandchildren and taking time to visit.
“I am thankful for my time with Wharton County,” said Utley. “I have worked with and met a lot of great people through the years. If I could name a few, I would. However, there are too many.”
She persisted even in the face of adversity.
“There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel, but through it all, I made it,” said Utley. “Thank you, Wharton County. It’s been real.”
Before being appointed, Utley said publicly she did not plan to run for the tax office, which is an elected position.
When the seat did become available, three women registered to run for office, including tax office employees Jessica Schultz and Cindy Hernandez, and Sarah Hudgins.
The election was held in March 2020, but a runoff was forced between Hernandez and Hudgins.
Hernandez would end up winning during a summertime election that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hernandez was sworn into office on Jan. 1.