The Orange County Commissioners Court has reversed course on the employee travel policy at their regular meeting on Jan. 26. County Judge Brint Carlton said the police was adopted by the court two years ago requiring approval from the commissioners court for employees to travel. Carlton said the policy was created to “rein in travel.” That policy was overturned at Monday’s meeting where department heads approve travel for employees.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said the department heads have controlled traveling “very, very well.” “I don’t want to be a micro-manager. It’s up to them to take charge without our approval. We’ll watch it and if it gets out of hand…..” Banken said. He added this is necessary travel within the departments’ budgets.

Crump said the court implemented the policy two years ago because it was facing a $3.1 million deficit. The assistant county auditor, likewise, was approved to fly to Lubbock to attend educational training at the Tyler Technologies facility. This item did not pass at last week’s meeting due to a deadlocked vote. Carlton was absent from the meeting to break the tie.

Carlton also said Ryan Peabody was hired as the emergency management coordinator to replace Jeff Kelley. Peabody has a legal background. He attended law school with Carlton and also did some investment work with him. “I know him very well and he’s someone I can work together with,” Carlton said. The judge said the county has missed from $1 million to $1.5 million by not meeting required FEMA reinvestments through grant applications. He added that Ken Luce, assistant EMC, has a strong background in on-scene incident command.
The county will also save some money in the difference in salaries paid to Peaboday compared to Kelley. Carlton, furthermore, said he will look through applications for three department head vacancies and narrow down his choices. Jeanine Denman, county judge secretary, was replaced by Holly Wheeler who worked with Carlton in the district attorney’s office.

The commissioners approved the on-site sewer grant application of $275,000 to the Department of Rural Affairs. Leslie Waxman of David Waxman and Associates, said the applications are taken every two years for a CDBG from the Agriculture Department. She said the county should take a chance and see if they can get the grant.

Kurt Guidry, assistant maintenance supervisor for the county, sought approval for a $30,000 invoice to Member’s Building Maintenance, a janitorial contractor. The invoice was for the months of October through December. Guidry said he was out on surgery leave at the time. There was a long and sometimes argumentative discussion over the summer on hiring the contractor and laying off county janitorial employees. Banken rhetorically asked if the contractor hasn’t been paid since October.
“That’s no way to do business. It’s inexcusable. It seems someone was trying to internally sabotage the contract. I don’t like it one bit. This should had been brought to the court’s attention,” he said.

Guidry said then-supervisor, Mark Wimberley, had some issues with the contractors and didn’t sign off. Guidry added Member’s Building Maintenance has since had a change in management and there has been better communication. No action was taken on the item since Guidry is the interim department head and he has the permission and authority to sign off.

Businessman Gary Biehslich was at commissioners court for a second straight week requesting the waiving of penalty, interest, and attorney’s fees associated with GT Auto. Biehslich said the experience has been “aggravating,” particularly since the the Orange County Tax Office and the Orange County Appraisal District made the mistake. He fears it will send the message the taxpayer is responsible to pay for their mistake. He would like for both offices to go back over their operations and clean things up. Gary Biehslich, owner of GT Auto in Vidor, requested the waiving of penalty, interest, and attorney’s fee associated with his property. In a letter to the commissioners court, Biehslich wrote GT Auto owns a rent house and two garage buildings, all on adjoining property to Burger King’s administrative building. All were purchased at different times. As a result of a tentative offer to purchase GT Auto, he decided to make sure all possible items that could hinder any sale were addressed. There was a building identified as built in 1972 on the Orange County tax statement that was incorrect. Bieshslich wrote Chief Appraiser Mike Cedars of the OCAD to look into the matter on Nov. 21, 2014. He then wrote the OCAD on Dec. 3, 2014. He received a tax statement for taxes dating back to 1998, the date he purchased the Burger King property for a total of $782.91 plus penalty and interest and attorney fees totaling $801.46.
Banken said the court owed Biehslich an answered.

Douglas Manning, assistant county attorney, was absent for last week’s and this week’s meeting. Banken said he wanted an answer from Manning and if it would be possible for him to e-mail an opinion on the matter. David Dubose said he was afraid Biehslich would be assessed another late penalty if he had to wait. Carlton said he wouldn’t since he brought it to the court’s attention. Dubose said he was also in favor of contacting Steve Byrd, a tax attorney for the county, to get his opinion.

Lastly the citizens comments section of the meeting was inadvertently left off the agenda, according to County Judge Brint Carlton.