It took the Orange County Commissioners’ Court only a week to fill a vacancy for the veterans service officer position. Gene Smith, former Veterans Service Officer, was terminated from employment at last week’s meeting of the court. His replacement, Mark Hammer, was named at the regular meeting on Monday afternoon.
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux gave the commissioners the option of either appointing Hammer as a temporary position and receiving applications from other candidates or permanently appoint Hammer to the office. The commissioners chose the latter.
Hammer originally hails from Garrison in Nacogdoches County. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served six years. He’s also a Desert Storm veteran. He lived in Colorado Springs, Colo. before moving to Orange where he has resided the past six years. He arrived in Orange after Hurricane Ike to help his uncle repair his home. Hammers said he’s becoming a veterans service officer because he has always wanted to help others.
“There are a lot of veterans in Orange County and we’re all proud of that fact. This office will continue to support the veterans and the families in any way possible,” he said.
During citizens comments, resident and veteran Robert Rothrock said Hammer was a good man and for him not to take his remarks personally, but it would take three men to replace Gene Smith.
In other county business, the commissioners voted 3 to 2 not to build a proposed storage building for the Community Expo and Convention and Hospitality Center on FM 1442 at the present time. Commissioners Jody Crump, John Banken and Owen Burton voted yes and Thibodeaux and Commissioner David Dubose voted no. At the March 24 meeting, the commissioners decided to go out for bids again to construct the storage building. The vote on the re-bids was 3 to 2 with Thibodeaux and Dubose voting no.
The original low bidder was Basco Construction at $247,850. The new 4,200 square foot building would be financed with Texas General Land Office and Hotel Occupancy Tax funds and not out of the county’s general fund. The county is also in the process of securing a grant to build a $75,000 water well at the site. The building will be rated to withstand 150 mph winds and house the department of emergency management’s mobile command unit.
At Monday’s meeting, Thibodeaux said the time was now to either shelve the project or to proceed and make everyone comfortable with the decision. Grant Administrator David Waxman said the storage building is the last facility to be built at the FM 1442 Center.
He said the court was at the point where they needed to so something. Basco Construction agreed to hold their bid for the time being. Thibodeaux said a storage building was needed at the location.
“It’s an opportunity that won’t be out there for much longer to secure the grant,” he said.
Mark Wimberley, maintenance supervisor, said the commissioners can either re-bid or re-propose the building’s specifications, but neither suggests it will make building the structure any cheaper.
“If we build it we will probably have a decent price,” Wimberley said.
Burton said it’s hard to justify the construction to constituents when the county is dealing with a $3 million deficit. Thibodeaux replied explain to the constituents where the money comes from.
“If we don’t build it now, it will never be built,” he said.
Crump said he agrees with Burton and the county could use a rental stall for the mobile command unit. Thibodeaux said that would come out of the county’s general fund and cost the taxpayers’ money.
“You’re not comparing the same thing. It’s a substantial amount of difference,” Thibodeaux said.
Waxman asked the commissioners if they needed more information in making a decision. Crump said he thought the technical specifications for the building were already changed after the March 24 meeting. Wimberley said he was waiting for direction from the court and he needed specific information from them. Burton proposed the county waited until the budget was balanced to build the storage facility. The motion was seconded.
“Then we can afford to do it,” Burton said.
Thibodeaux answered then it would be taken out of the county’s general fund to build it. Burton said the court could then use whatever mean they wanted to build the structure.
Waxman concluded the discussion by saying the court could categorize the project as at-risk and ask the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission for more funds.

Pictured above is Mark Hammer, the new county veterans service officer.