The Nativity scene in front of the Orange County Courthouse could soon be under scrutiny, as a member from the Orange County Atheists group stated he would file a request soon to have his group’s banner placed nearby. The representative of the group stated he does not wish to have the county remove the Nativity scene, nor was the group’s intention to have the City of Orange move its Nativity scene earlier this week, but it only wanted an equal opportunity for placement of hits holiday banner. Photo by Tommy Mann Jr.

Tommy Mann – For The Record

After hours of specially called meetings and the review of numerous applications, Orange County has a new human resources director.

Orange County Commissioners met Tuesday afternoon in a regular session to discuss a variety of topics. One of the leading items on the agenda was the possible hiring of a new human resources director for the county.

The previous human resources director, Minnie Hightower, resigned from her position earlier this fall and left to take a position “in the private sector,” according to Orange County Judge Brint Carlton.

“We received 10 applications for this position,” Cartlton said. “And we reviewed all of them extensively, and, after discussing several of the candidates, we believe Lori Ardoin is best suited for the position.”

Ardoin currently works in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office as a human resources specialist and will take over as director of Human Resources for Orange County very soon.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity,” Ardoin said after the announcement. “I’m excited to get started and I look forward to doing this for the next several years. I just can’t thank Sheriff (Keith) Merritt enough, or my husband, Joel (Ardoin), for supporting me.”

In other news, commissioners discussed whether or not to continue funding the Orange County Economic Development Corporation from Jan. 1, 2016 through the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, 2016.

According to Judge Carlton, the executive committee could hire a new executive director of the Orange County EDC as early as Wednesday, Dec. 16, during a public meeting of the executive group.

“We hope to have more success and build upon what our EDC has already accomplished,” Carlton explained. “Bobby Fillyaw (outgoing EDC director) has done a great job with the current EDC set-up, but we want to improve upon that as we go forward.”

Along with having a new executive director in place by Jan. 1, 2016, plans include having the new director develop a mission statement, a county-wide master plan and a five-year strategic plan for the EDC.

Earlier this summer, Orange County and the Orange County Navigation and Port District, along with the cities of Orange, West Orange, Pinehurst, Bridge City and Vidor all opted to withhold funding for the 2016 fiscal year from the EDC. Reportedly, all contributing entities were unhappy with results from the EDC.

Since that time, some of the contributors have opted to resume funding the EDC once changes were made.

Orange County approved continuing to contribute and approved its annual amount of $68,000 to the EDC during Tuesday’s meeting. Later that after, the City of West Orange followed suit and agreed to contribute its portion, approximately $4,600, as did the City of Pinehurst later that night, which contributes approximately $2,800.

Although the City of Bridge City has not officially committed, Carlton said indications are it will. However, cities such as Orange and Vidor, plus the Orange County Navigation and Port District, have not committed to any course of action at this time.

Carlton said approximately $140,000 would be available for the EDC for the remainder of the fiscal year, which should be enough to allow the EDC to function adequately.

“This is a vital part of our county,” said Barry Burton, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 2. “The EDC is vital to our growth, and it is a tool in our tool box that we need to use. I think funding it is important for all of Orange County.”

After handling remainder of court business, Joshua Hammers, spokesperson of the Orange County Atheist Group, addressed commissioners and the audience. Earlier this week, the atheist group requested to have a holiday banner placed on the property of Orange City Hall adjacent to the Nativity scene, which is on the city property. The city opted to take down the Nativity scene instead of allow the group to place its banner.

On Tuesday, the Nativity scene was reconstructed on grounds of Stark Park, which is private property owned by the Stark Foundation and next door to City Hall in Orange.

“We never asked the city or intended for the city to take down their Nativity scene,” Hammers said. “We wanted to show our support of the holidays by placing our own banner.

“We would like for the city to keep its Nativity scene. We 100 percent agree they should,” Hammers continued. “We just wanted to share our message of ‘Happy Holidays’ with the public.”

Part of Hammers purpose for addressing Orange County Commissioners Court on Tuesday involved the county’s Nativity scene display, which is located on the corner of the Orange County Courthouse property at Border and Division in downtown Orange.

“We have not filed a motion about the county’s Nativity scene, but we intend to do so,” Hammers added.

Prior to Hammers comments, obviously in anticipation of such a comment and pending request for the placement of the group’s banner, Commissioners stood unified in their beliefs.

“We are blessed to live in a nation that is free,” Carlton said. “And I hope everyone keeps in mind the reason for the season. There are a lot of ways to say greetings to one another during this time of year, and I choose to say Merry Christmas.”

Burton, along with Commissioners David Dubose, John Banken and Jody Crump, who represent Precincts 1, 3 and 4, respectively, all made various comments echoing Carlton’s statement.

Since the Nativity scene was not listed as an official agenda item, no formal discussion from the commissioners could be made in response to Hammers comments.

Many people, including elected officials, have come out in vocal support of the City of Orange to continue its Nativity scene display.

“I stand behind the City of Orange’s initial decision to display the nativity scene of Christ outside City Hall,” said Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, in a statement. “In fact, I encourage the City of Orange to put the nativity scene back on display and not succumb to those who threaten to silence what many of us hold so dear to our hearts – religious liberty.

“Religious liberty is the foundation of our nation,” Patrick’s statement continued. “If the City of Orange is worried about litigation, I am happy to make the first donation to their legal defense fund.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also stated his support for the City of Orange earlier Tuesday.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has continually held, public acknowledgement of our religious heritage is entirely consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution commands accommodation of religion rather than hostility towards it,” Abbott stated in his press release. “I strongly encourage the City of Orange to stand up to the demands of a select few who wish to see God thrown out of the public square, embrace the season of Christmas and restore the Nativity scene immediately.”

As of press time late Tuesday, Orange County Commissioners had not considered any action with the county’s Nativity scene display.