Bud Kennedy

How a small-town Texas judge accepted a mysterious Facebook friend

Clay County Judge Kenneth Liggett of Bellevue.
Clay County Judge Kenneth Liggett of Bellevue. Courtesy photo

Before Facebook officials updated their status with Fort Worth to “in a relationship,” they took a dusty trip to visit an unsuspecting Texas county judge.

“All they told me was they were from California, and bein’ a country boy I had trouble understandin’ ’em,” said Judge Kenneth Liggett of rural Clay County, site of a new wind farm that will power Facebook’s $1 billion data center.

“It was one o’ them unusual-type deals.”

For “15 or 20 minutes” in the courthouse in Henrietta, a banker and guests giving only names made small talk, then asked if residents liked Canada-based Alterra Energy’s idea for turbine towers near Windthorst.

Liggett said he was “up front — 99 percent of folks like it. One or two don’t.

“When they left, I told my secretary, ‘I don’t know what they’re wantin’, and I don’t know if I told ’em what they want, but I sure didn’t learn anything.”

The judge, a former dairy farmer in Bellevue, said he had no idea who his guests were, “but I knew by the way they were acting they had power or money or something. I could tell they knew what they were asking.”

Now, 119 turbines on a 5-square-mile farm in southwest Clay County will be on the other end of a 90-mile connection delivering power to the new data center in far north Fort Worth.

“We’re producing the electricity to pull the deal together,” Liggett said, describing Clay County as the perfect site: “We’ve got lots of barren land.”

Not until last week did Liggett know who his guests were.

A representative called his office with an invitation to a groundbreaking “for Facebook.”

“I thought,” Liggett said, “now why would they call me to be at a groundbreaking for Facebook?”

When one of the Facebook energy program executives, Peter Freed, called later that day, Freed began, “You may not remember me, but …”

“I told him, yes, I might remember,” Liggett said.

“Then he said he was with Facebook, and it all kind of came together.”

Liggett, chief executive of a county with “1,100 square miles and 11,000 people,” came to the groundbreaking as an honored guest and said he was — “I won’t say awestruck.”

“That’s the first groundbreaking I’ve ever seen where there was a $100,000 building with air conditioning just for the day,” he said.

“Every groundbreaking we have is just a couple of us with shovels to break up a little rough piece of ground.”

He said he had a “nice” barbecue lunch and visited with “a man out of Washington, D.C.”

Liggett had to explain: He’s not on Facebook.

“But I have eight kids, so I know about it,” he said.

Now Facebook knows about Clay County.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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