Jail staff honored for top marks
Orange County commissioners called a countywide burn ban in special session Monday. 

Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kelley based his recommendation on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, at present reading 500 in Orange County.

KBDI, used by the Texas Forest Service, measures soil moisture to calculate wild fire risk, with 0 being no risk and 800 representing maximum risk. 

The National Weather Service is forecasting extreme drought conditions in the county, Kelley said. 

Jefferson County commissioners also established a ban Monday, following last week’s lead by Hardin, Chamber and Liberty counties.

“We’ve had a number of problems over the weekend,” Kelley said.

In one case, the Forest Service responded to three fires in a short amount of time, limiting the equipment use at each one.

“That’s what our concern is – are the supplies,” said County Judge Carl Thibodeaux. He added that residents can be cited for burning if successfully reported and investigated. 

Patrol units will not be out routinely looking for violators, he said.

“We rely on an honor system,” he said. “It protects us and it protects the public.” 

For the first time, the county will fly large, red and blue Forest Service “burn ban flags” outside the county courthouse, the Vidor Sub-courthouse, the Health and Code Compliance office on Farm Road 1442 and at Claiborne West Park along Interstate 10.

“We want to try to let the public know what’s going on, both through the media and individually,” Kelley said. [Emergency Services District No. 1 in Vidor] has flags at both their stations. We’re encouraging the other fire departments to do that as well.”

Also on Monday’s agenda was an item noting the county jail’s perfect score – following a recent inspection – for the 11th consecutive year.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the personnel that we have in our jail,” Merritt said. He added that at a recent “school” of sheriff’s around the state, the Orange County jail staff was singled out as a model for other departments to follow.

County Attorney Douglas Manning offered congratulations to Merritt on behalf of the district attorney’s office.

“I’ve also attended a couple of schools lately, and jail litigation is a big issue in other areas, but it hasn’t been here because we’ve had such an experienced jail staff, at least since I’ve been here (12 years),” he said. “When we have cases filed by inmates, we win them. We get them kicked on summary judgement because these guys – whenever an incident occurs – they document it; they respond professionally and they protect the county’s interest as well as the interests of the inmates.” 

Recognized at Monday’s meeting were Capt. Donald Harmon, department head; Lt. Kristy Williams, second-in-command; Sgt. Patty Waters, jail nurse; Sgt. Yvette Jones, Sgt. Dennis Monk and Lt. Dennis Marlow. 

Merritt said the jail division includes about 60 people with some civilian workers comprising the commissary staff, service crew, inmate work crew and the cooks, among others. 

Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose offered some humor when he told Merritt, “I want to commend the staff. You all have done an excellent job. I appreciate what you’ve done but I still don’t want to be in your jail.”