Dave Rogers

For The Record

Restructuring was hot and reducing disaster pay was not in Orange County Commissioners’ Court this week.

Actually, Commissioner Johnny Trahan had a hot take in a Monday work session when County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton tried to bring up his plan to roll back some of the disaster pay increase a split court had voted in two weeks ago.

“We looked at this for quite a long time. We had a vote on it two weeks ago, decided what we’re going to do,” Trahan said.

“We can’t rehash this week after week. It’s silly to put it on the agenda every week.”

Any member of the court — the judge and the four commissioners – can put anything he chooses on the item whenever he chooses, Carlton reminded Trahan.

But Tuesday, Carlton’s motion to return the county’s disaster workers to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) pay – regular time for 40 hours and time and a half for overtime – with a $50 daily bonus for those working during disasters – was voted down 2-3, with Carlton and Commissioner Jody Crump voting for Carlton’s plan and Trahan and Commissioners Barry Burton and John Gothia voting to keep the rate voted in Oct. 17.

That two-week-ago vote OK’d a rate of 1.5 times regular hourly rate for all essential personnel working their first 40 hours during a disaster and 2.25 times their regular rate for all hours worked beyond 40. It was favored by Trahan, Burton and Gothia and opposed by Carlton and Crump.

Tuesday’s big changes for county government included 5-0 votes for the creation and staffing of two positions to deal with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey.

Michelle Tubbeville was named special projects and communication coordinator and Morgan Taylor was named special projects and communications assistant.

Their new jobs will be to track the county’s storm recovery efforts and assure compliance with FEMA reimbursement rules, locate and seek other storm-related public and private grants and network with volunteer organizations to prepare for future disaster recovery efforts.

“I know there were a lot of moving pieces, but I think this restructuring sets the county up to be better prepared going forward,” Trahan said.

Tubbleville, a programmer in the county’s MIS department, has been working on Harvey-related projects since the Aug. 29-30 storm and flooding.

Taylor, from the Sheriff’s Office, was a big help with logistics during the disaster.

Taylor’s hiring came as a shock to her old boss, Sheriff Keith Merritt.

“I’m very disappointed, very disappointed, that I wasn’t given the courtesy,” the obviously surprised Merritt said to Carlton.

“That would be like me coming and trying to pull Holly [Holly Walker, Carlton’s administrative assistant] from you. I would never do that without asking you, or just letting you know. I’m very disappointed ya’ll would do that. Very disappointed.”

“OK. Thank you for your comments,” Carlton said.

Missy Pillsbury, who last year added emergency management to a list of responsibilities that also included being the county’s risk management manager and airport manager, will now handle only the latter two jobs.

In another move Tuesday, the parks department, which has been without a department head for a year, was put under the Expo Center’s umbrella. Parks superintendent Mike Hale will still be in charge of operations for the county’s Claiborne West Park and other park facilities.

Commissioners opened the meeting by paying bills for $283,125 and approving line item transfers of $77,500 to pay for election workers for November and December.

They also agreed to pursue a federal grant administered by Texas Workforce to fund four part-time county jobs to run for six months for people who lost their jobs because of Harvey.

Commissioners agreed to spend $17,350 to purchase a climate-controlled portable building to house emergency supplies left over from Harvey and approved a permit to repair 500 feet of a storm-damaged levee located northeast of the intersection of Interstate 10 and the Neches River.

During the 17 days of the recently declared disaster for Tropical Storm Harvey, all non-union county employees received 40 hours regular pay each week whether they worked in the county’s response or were evacuated. Those non-union employees received time and a half for hours worked beyond 40 hours.

Members of the Sheriff’s Office Employees Association received double time for all hours worked during the Aug. 27-Sept. 12 disaster.

At the end of September, the association agreed to an amendment to their collective bargaining agreement that put their disaster pay in line with non-union employees. At the time, that was the FLSA rate.

Commissioners Trahan, Burton and Gothia said after Harvey they didn’t think it was fair that non-union employees who worked during the storm were paid the same for the first 40 hours as those who didn’t.

They then voted for the 1.5/2.25 disaster pay Oct. 17, prevailing over Carlton and Crump who maintained that working during disasters was among the service county employees sign on to provide.

And the judge didn’t like Trahan’s Monday assertion that to continue trying to roll back the disaster pay hike was “silly.”

“I don’t think looking after taxpayers’ money is silly,” Carlton said Monday.

“That’s not silly,” Trahan said, “but we had a vote and three members of this court decided that’s the best way to go.”

“But this option wasn’t considered,” Carlton insisted.

“You had an opportunity to present this option for up to a month,” Trahan said. “I think you need to move on.”

There was no comment Tuesday when the disaster pay vote came up near the end of the two-hour meeting, other than Burton saying, “I think it’s a good idea we might look at in the future.”

Then he cast his “nay” vote.