An unexpected hot topic at Monday’s Orange County Commissioners Court was an agenda item concerning closing the county offices from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16 for Christmas luncheons so all employees could participate.

Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the county used to have one large luncheon for the entire county, but that it became difficult to coordinate because it was so large. He said that kind of went away and each department started doing their own thing. They started coordinating the time for the Christmas luncheons three or four years ago, so that there wouldn’t be erratic closings of different offices.

Commissioner Precinct 4 Jody Crump opposed the closing of the county offices and suggested the employees could hold their gatherings after 5 p.m. when offices would already be closed.

Thibodeaux said, “I’m gonna disagree with you. We’ve got 52 weeks out of the year. If we can’t afford to close this county for two and a half hours for the employees to enjoy a luncheon together, then we’ve got issues.

When Thibodeaux asked if anyone else had any discussion, three Orange County citizens; Trudy Pellerin, Kathy Covey and Cullen Smith all spoke up in opposition of the Christmas closing.

“I just have a few questions since I’m one of the ones that showed up when the doors were closed,” said Pellerin. “I know your saying the purpose is having a gathering and getting together to enjoy their company together. Can we do that not at the tax-payers expense? Because you’re essentially giving them an hour and a half with pay and I understand that’s not a lot, but when you just went up almost four percent on the tax rate, that does add up.” She agreed with Crump about celebrating after 5 p.m. She said some people only have their lunch hour to take care of county business.

Kathy Covey questioned the cost of the closing. “A few weeks ago Mr. Thibodeaux looked me in the eye and said we’ve cut everything we can possibly cut and next year we are going to do better. So, even these little cuts make a difference. I don’t mind ya’ll getting together or anybody getting together whenever you want to on your time. I hate to pay for you to go out and eat when I don’t get invited,” said Covey.

“You’re more that welcome to come,” said Thibodeaux.

“I think ya’ll are misunderstanding,” said Thibodeaux. “It’s not costing the county anything to do this. These employees are already getting paid, it’s not an extra expense and we’re not buying their lunch, they are buying their own lunch. The only cost to the county is if somebody is coming to buy their license plate and they can’t buy their license plate at that time. This is not increasing the expense of the county. This is being made a simple thing into a major expenditure, but it’s not, because it doesn’t cost the county anything,” said Thibodeaux. “The only thing is it might cause an inconvenience. It’s not costing you or anybody an extra penny.”

Smith challenged Thibodeaux, “I just want to clarify this; If they’re taking a two and a half lunch and they do get I presume one hour off non-paid, so in effect there is money that went out the door. They are being paid to not work; therefore, there is a cost. Would you agree with that?”

“There’s not an increased cost,” said Thibodeaux.

“It is a cost, yes or no,” said Smith.

“It’s not an increased cost,” said Thibodeaux.

“It is an increase in cost if you’re paying someone that is not there to do the work,” said Smith.

“No we’ve not hired someone to replace them when they’re not there,” said Thibodeaux.

Smith accused Thibodeaux of “fuzzy math.” Smith and the women were talking “hourly” pay. The county employees’ pay is based on a “yearly salary” that is budgeted; which is what Thibodeaux was trying to get across to the citizens.

Commissioner Precinct 1 David Dubose said the county has great employees and he felt they deserved the time for the luncheon and called for a vote. The motion passed 4 to 1 with Crump being the opposing vote.

In other business Monday, the court recognized the Sabine River Authority for providing labor and materials to repair the fishing pier at Bluebird Fishing Camp. “They have been a tremendous partner with Orange County in developing areas our outdoorsmen can enjoy. Not everybody has a boat. I lot of people like to fish and just don’t have the means to get out on the water.” Thibodeaux said the SRA build new boat launches at the camp about eight years ago and now they have repaired all the damage to the pier. “They have been instrumental in helping Orange County move forward on providing fishing piers for the citizens of the county and for also providing boat launches, so I commend them for a job well done and for the money their investing in Orange County.”

The county also put the burn ban back in effect on the recommendation of Emergency Management Director Jeff Kelley. Kelley was also authorized to look into the possibility of grant availability in the next two years to remove distressed trees that may die and become hazards because of the drought.

Tina Barrow, the election administrator was given permission to hire the part time employees needed for the upcoming election. Ten students from Lamar State College-Orange have signed up to volunteer during the election, reducing the number of employees to be hired.

The court also authorized payments of $21,652.83 to U.T.M.B, $34,312.24 to S.E.T.R.P.C., $68,641.00 to OC Economic Development Corp. and $158,257.25 to McInnis Construction for the Adult Probation facility.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.