Upshur County Commissioners’ Court is continuing to accept applications for heading the Road and Bridge Dept., either as county engineer or road administrator.
The court interviewed four applicants in closed session Tuesday at the first meeting for two new commissioners, but voted to wait till at least its Jan. 31 meeting to make a decision, and to continue accepting applications through that date.
During the meeting, new Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka said he was unsure the applicants so far were “best for our county.” As of Friday morning, he, new Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry and Pct. 3 Comm. Cole Hefner said they were not aware of any additional applicants. County Judge Dean Fowler could not be reached for comment.
“The state says that we are required to hire a qualified engineer (if one applies), and that qualification is really set by the Commissioners’ Court as opposed to any other criteria,” Berka told The Mirror Friday.
While one engineer was among the applicants, “We are still looking to see if there is a qualified engineer out there. . . It seemed to me that the consensus was that the applications that we had were not what we were looking for totally,” the commissioner added.
The engineer who was interviewed is with the Texas Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT), building highways and bridges rather than county roads, Berka said. In addition, an engineer may be qualified to build roads, but maybe not to “converse well with the public” and “direct his employees,” the commissioner said.
The other three applicants interviewed Tuesday were former county commissioners, said Berka. A fifth applicant who had qualifications “on paper” that the court appeared to want was unable to be interviewed that day, and the court delayed its decision in order to interview that person “and other applicants,” he said.
Berka said he wasn’t ruling out hiring anyone who was interviewed Tuesday. Fowler had told those applicants as Tuesday’s meeting neared its end that their applications were still up for consideration.
The new engineer or administrator will succeed Eric Fisher, who resigned as county engineer effective in early December to return to work for TxDOT.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the court named former county employee Chuck Mears as Building Maintenance Supervisor after Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer’s motion to hire another applicant, David Erb, died for lack of a second.
The decisions to hire Mears, and to delay filling the road and bridge post, came after a nearly 3-hour closed session in which the court interviewed candidates for the positions. All four commissioners voted to employ Mears at $15,120 annually, which he told The Mirror was the maximum amount he could earn while drawing Social Security.
“I’m helping my fellow (county) taxpayers out by. . . having the federal government share in my payroll requirements,” Mears told the newspaper. He has been a leader in the county’s TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement.
Mears, a 62-year-old contractor who worked for the county in building maintenance from 1999 to 2004, will replace Charles Daniels, who was fired in November.
Berka, who made the motion to hire Mears effective Feb. 1 with a 6-month probation period, noted the former county employee would be able to receive certification to supervise jail inmates in custodial and grounds maintenance work. Berka told the court that was a “basic requirement” for the job.
Mears told The Mirror he held a jailer’s license at one time, but must make it current or retake the examination for it.
The court interviewed three candidates (counting Mears) for the post, including one prior to Tuesday, Fowler said.