Upshur County Commissioners Court voted 3-1 Monday to name Danny Thompson as county interim road administrator after accepting County Engineer Eric Fisher’s resignation.
Commissioners also unanimously approved letting County Judge Dean Fowler spend up to $500 on advertising for applications for county engineer/administrator, and set a Jan. 14 deadline for receiving such applications.
That means the 5-member Commissioners Court will have two new members before naming Fisher’s permanent replacement, since two current commissioners are scheduled to leave office at year’s end.
Applicants need not be an engineer, although Fowler said state law requires the county employ an engineer to oversee the Road and Bridge Dept. if a qualified one applies. The judge said that in the past, there have been times no engineer applied, so “I hope everyone (interested in the post) takes the time to apply.”
Thompson is a foreman in the department. With Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree opposing the motion, the court named Thompson interim administrator after Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden’s motion to appoint Lisa Tefteller to that post died for lack of a second.
Ms. Tefteller has been the administrative assistant to Fisher, who was scheduled to put in his final day Tuesday. He resigned last week to return to work for his former employer, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in Greenville.
Near the outset of Monday’s special court meeting, Upshur County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Miles Jr. said the county “is on a save-money kick,” and asked why it shouldn’t let a current county employee finish out the year in Fisher’s place.
“I tend to agree with you,” Fowler replied. He later said the court must provide for someone leading the Road and Bridge Dept. for two and a half months, and that Ms. Tefteller could be designated temporary administrator so foremen could keep doing their jobs.
At one point, Fisher and Fowler agreed this was the best time of year to have a vacancy in the engineer/administrator post, due to the holidays. Crittenden asked Fisher if work for the near future had been “mapped out.”
Fisher said yes, provided details, and said Thompson is the individual he has put in charge when Fisher was out from work.
Added Fisher, “We’re working on a limited spending operation at the moment. Lisa’s aware of that.” Crittenden then said he planned to nominate Ms. Tefteller for interim administrator in order to keep foremen in the field.
Fisher said the department was currently only doing routine maintenance, not construction.
Former Pct. 2 Comm. Tommy Stanley, who held that post 12 years, told the court it was “missing the big picture” in determining who would be interim administrator—namely, who would be held liable if something happened on the road and “she (Ms. Tefteller) don’t know what to do.” He warned that the interim administrator “will have all the responsibilities.”
Crabtree cited the possibility floods could occur and a man in the audience who is seeking the administrator post, Matt Bremmer, warned that trees could fall.
But Crittenden said he thought Ms. Tefteller “knows enough about” the department to get the county through a crisis.
Former Pct. 4 Comm. Glenn Campbell asked why the court should not supervise road and bridge operations. Crabtree replied that state law forbade the court from telling “the foremen what to do.”
Fowler said naming Thompson as interim administrator was an option, and that if an emergency arose, the court could hold an emergency meeting on three hours’ notice.
After more discussion, Crittenden moved to appoint Ms. Tefteller, arguing that naming Thompson would take his focus off his own precinct. Crittenden also said Ms. Tefteller fields calls to the department.
When Fowler asked Fisher for input, the departing engineer said, “As far as hands-on experience, Danny would be slightly more qualified” as Thompson has been in the field.
Fowler said Thompson had agreed to take the post temporarily if Ms. Tefteller would work next to him. (Fisher said Thompson didn’t understand the department’s computer system.)
After Crittenden’s motion died, Crabtree said he didn’t want Fisher’s successor to feel “threatened” by Thompson and to thus give Thompson “the ax.” Crabtree said the county needed an “outside person” to temporarily run the department.
When Crittenden replied he didn’t think anyone would feel threatened by Ms. Tefteller, Crabtree pointed out she wasn’t the person Fisher put in charge when he was away. “This is not about Lisa,” Crabtree added.
Crittenden objected that naming an outsider as interim administrator would entail “additional expense.”
Stanley said that having someone in the position who knew what to do might make the difference in a $1 million lawsuit. “I do know what happens (on roads) during these storms,” Stanley said.
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said he was leaning toward appointing Thompson, as that would allow the county to spend “hardly any money” on an interim administrator.
Added Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer, “Lisa or Danny either one can handle it. They’re going to work together.” Spencer said Thompson knows what happens in the field, while Ms. Tefteller knows about the office’s computer system.
Hefner, Spencer and Crittenden voted to name Thompson.
After the vote, Stanley charged that “the (county’s) road and bridge maintenance has gone straight down the hill.” He said that whoever takes charge of the department stays here only a year or two, puts the job on their resumé, and leaves.
As for finding a new permanent head for the department, Fowler said there are websites which are “not terribly expensive” and which list job openings for engineers. One allows advertising 60 days for $60, he said, and he requested being allowed to spend $300 to $400.
He said commissioners could tell him if there was an applicant they wanted to interview. However, Crittenden pointed out that two commissioners (he and Crabtree, who were defeated for reelection this year) would not be in office after Dec. 31, and contended the court should not interview anyone till after that date. Fowler agreed.
Soon after that exchange, Fisher told the court the next day would be his last on the job, and commissioners unanimously voted to accept his resignation. Fowler thanked him for his two years’ service to the county.