Dave Rogers

For The Record

Barry Burton says he encountered surprises from the minute he took the job as Orange County Precinct 2 commissioner in 2015.

The surprises continued through his bid for re-election earlier this year, when he was beaten by a margin of two votes by former city council member Theresa Beauchamp in the March Republican primary.

“I was surprised a little,” he said in an interview last week. “But I was a little worried going in because too many people had told me ‘You’re going to win by a landslide.’

“I stopped counting after 40 people told me later, ‘Sorry, I didn’t go vote; I just knew you were going to win.”

In a major rarity, all three members of the Orange County Commissioners’ Court seeking re-election were voted out of office by members of their own party in the March 6 primary.

That included Burton, fellow Commissioner Jody Crump and County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton. Their terms end officially Dec. 31, 2018.

Carlton stepped aside in May to take another job. That was after taking seven weeks of vacation and military leave immediately after his primary defeat.

“That was not a referendum on the job I was doing,” Burton said of the election. “It was a referendum on the county judge. Me and Commissioner Crump just got caught up in the tide.”

Carlton was at the center of the storm, upsetting county employees and retirees by pushing through a series of benefit reductions. Burton and Crump joined Carlton for several 3-2 votes for the cuts.

The great, great grandson of John Burton, Orange County Judge for 12 years from 1885 to 1896, Barry Burton is best known as the nephew of Owen Burton. Owen Burton was Precinct 2 commissioner for the three terms preceding Barry Burton, from 2003 to 2014.

Precinct 2 runs vertically through the center of the county from Mauriceville to Bridge City, including Pinehurst, West Orange and a slice of Orange.

“I thought I had a leg up on this, because Owen had been doing this for 12 years,” Burton admitted. “But I learned there’s nothing that can prepare you for being a public servant.

“There were a lot of things I found out you can’t do, and others I found out you can’t do quickly.

“Working in government at every level is a matter of consensus.

“People have likened it to the difference between turning a speed boat and a super tanker. You don’t need much room to turn a speed boat but you need miles of ocean and a lot of time to get a super tanker turned around. “Even if people agree on a solution, they’re going to have different ideas of how to get it done.”

While he has enjoyed dealing with the details, Burton has been frustrated by how the details make issues so easy for the public to misunderstand.

“It’s like an iceberg,” he said of government. “What people see is just what’s above water. There’s so much more on every issue that’s going on that’s out of sight. “People just don’t have the time and inclination to be fully informed on a lot of these issues. Everybody wants a 15-second soundbite and a lot of these issues can’t be explained in 15 seconds.”

Burton says he was proud to be involved in Orange County’s response to 2016 Sabine River flooding and Tropical Storm Harvey in 2017, a disaster that 16 months later continues to occupy a great deal of the commissioners’ time.

“Number one was the rescue efforts and number two was putting people back in their homes, because of the way people have come together,” he said.

However, what Burton called “one of the best things for the county is adding two full-time positions to deal with this [Harvey].”

Adding two full-time employees at a time when the county was burning through its Rainy Day Fund to pay for things like debris removal might have seemed strange to some.

But Michelle Tubbleville, who has connected volunteer groups and non-profit foundations to people in need, and Morgan Taylor, who deals with Harvey paperwork, have more than paid for their jobs with their diligence at reaching out.

“Those two positions have paid for themselves just in tracking the volunteer hours that have come into the county. Most of these grants are not 100 percent; they’re 75 or 80 percent. We can use these volunteer hours as in-kind contributions to pay the county’s 20 to 25 percent share,” Burton said.

“They helped us save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Plus, they helped us coordinate volunteer groups and make sure we’re taking care of unmet needs.”

The county is still owed millions of dollars from FEMA for Hurricane Ike, in 2008, because of changing regulations involving paperwork.

Orange County has already received $9.1 million from FEMA for Harvey expenses and is expecting another $2 million plus any day now. Nearly $20 million in federal reimbursement is being sought.

“That group is going to be one of the things that helps us get out of Harvey,” Burton said of Tubbleville, Taylor et al. “And if we ever do have to go through another hurricane, we’ll be in much better shape.”

Burton had overseen the work to repair damaged marble on the front of the courthouse and he found grants from the Texas Historical Commission that will pay for the marble fix and other restoration projects for the historic building.

The commissioner hoped he’d still be in office when the project was finished, but weather and paperwork delays are still holding up start on the 90-day job.

“All the pieces are in the place for the courthouse. It’s just finishing the execution,” Burton said.

“Getting the master plan for the courthouse was a big thing I was involved in that we needed to have done.”

Burton said he learned many things during the time he served Orange County as president of the Economic Development Corporation and the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission as third, second and first vice president.

But he’s keeping his work not tied to the county, serving the First Baptist Church of Mauriceville as finance coordinator and a member of its long-term planning commission.

Burton also serves on a planning and development board for the city of Pine Forest.

“So I’ve still got my hands in on a lot of things that are community service,” he said.