By Kathi Bliss
Another proposed change in Caldwell County staffing caused the growing rift in the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court to widen on Monday morning.
Under a state statute presented by Bonn, counties are required to employ a County Road Engineer. If a county is unable to hire an engineer, they are allowed to hire an “administrator” instead, the law states. Bonn said the decision to hire an engineer would bring the county in line with the statute, but Roland presented an opinion from the Texas Attorney General suggesting that parts of the statute remain questionable, and said Caldwell County was presently in compliance with Jeffrey at the helm of the Unit Road System as Administrator.
“There’s more to the statute than what you read,” Roland told Bonn. “You need to read it all.”
Bonn said he had read the entire statute, and Roland fired back, “No, you didn’t.”
After an extended conversation about the proposal, in which Bonn and Commissioner Fred Buccholtz said they hoped to hire engineer Bill Gardner as the road engineer not to replace Jeffrey, but to help him, it was revealed that the hiring of a county road engineer would effectively “demote” Jeffrey, who would no longer be the head of the department, but who would instead answer to Gardner, rather than to the Court.
“If we do this, we’re not helping him, we’re demoting him,” Roland claimed. “And I don’t understand why we’re always doing this. Why are we wrecking our employees’ lives? This is the sorriest Court I’ve ever been a part of.”
Roland pointed at employee morale that he claims is at an all-time low, noting that fewer than 30 people came to the county’s Thanksgiving celebration last month.
“What does that tell you?” he asked the others. “We need to start thinking about the employees… or is this a way to control more of the departments?”
Cyrier expressed concern that the measure would change procedural activity within the Unit Road System, and said he would support the change, provided Jeffrey was in support of it, as well.
In a brief statement to the Commissioners, Jeffrey said that he’d be willing to go along with the change, but before he would agree, he’d like to see a job description written for his new position, and to have clear understanding in writing of what the Court’s expectations from him would be.
Gardner, who is currently on the payroll as a part-time county engineer and consultant, said that his circumstances had changed and he was now willing and able to work full time, and that he was willing to accept the position at a rate significantly lower than County Road Engineers are usually paid.
“I’m seeing more and more areas where I can be of use,” he said. “And I’ve got more time where I can provide that assistance. I think the County should take advantage [of my professional knowledge and skills] while they’re available.”
Madrigal said he appreciates Gardner’s willingness to step in and help, but said he was uncomfortable with the idea that Gardner would go from a free consultant, to a part-time employee, to a full-time employee then a department head in a short time, and was hand-picked to fill a position that the Court had not originally put into the budget passed just a few months ago.
He also pointed to a conversation relayed to him by Jeffrey, in which the current road administrator claimed that Buchholtz told him as a “head’s up” that the Commissioner’s Court had decided to hire a County Road Engineer.
“I don’t know why he would have said that the Court decided that,” Madrigal said. “Because I didn’t decide that last week.”
Roland and Cyrier both said they had not made a decision at that time, either, and Buchholtz confessed that he may have misspoken when speaking to Jeffrey.
In the end, the Commissioners decided to table further discussion on the measure until a job description could be developed for Jeffrey’s “new” position, and the District Attorney’s Office can research the legality and the questions about the statute requiring a County Road Engineer.
Roland, Madrigal and Cyrier voted in favor of tabling the measure, while Bonn and Buchholtz stood against it.
In brief business:
The Court heard a presentation from Syd Falk, an attorney with Bickerstaff and Heath, regarding the need to draw new lines for the county’s voting precincts. Although the new lines will not impact the commissioner or justice precinct lines drawn earlier this year, it will dictate the “voting boxes” to which voters are assigned. Although Falk’s firm has been working on a plan to redraw those lines, he suggested the Court wait on drawing those lines until the Federal court case on redistricting in Texas is settled.
They appointed Ronnie Duesterheft to replace David Childress and reappointed Tony Collins to the Board of Directors of Caldwell County Emergency Services District No. 2 (the Maxwell ESD).
They approved the appointment of Michael Haynes as the new extension agent for Caldwell County. Haynes will begin his employment on Jan. 2, and will be permanently located in the Caldwell County Extension Office on Feb. 1.
The Court paid bills in the amount of $368,140.51.
Monday morning’s meeting was the last gathering of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court for this calendar year. The Court will reconvene after the holidays, when they will meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference Center of the LW Scott Annex, 1430 Blackjack St. in Lockhart.