County Judge Barbara Shaw said she placed the item on the agenda because of numerous complaints she has heard related to road and bridge issues.
“I have been asking for some plans for and some like long range term planning for – we’ve been making a lot of emergency amendments, but I’m not sure they qualify as emergencies – continually to the road and bridge budget,” Shaw said.
Shaw said Commissioner Pete Jauer had also talked to Road and Bridge Administrator Jeffrey Wiatrek about the issues.
“We’re too all over the map with this road and bridge thing right now with complaints pouring in and what we need to be doing with it and the direction that it needs to be going in,” Shaw said.
Commissioner Pete Jauer said he had heard complaints about the road and bridge department.
“We get a lot of phone calls,” Jauer said. “A man just talked to me who said, ‘There is a grader sitting on Road 208, how come they didn’t finish it? They started work and didn’t finish it.’”
“Jeff’s done a lot of good things for us,” Jauer said. “He knows the roads and it is an uphill job all the way, we know that. He needs to do some planning ahead and get things organized so they can get done. I don’t think Jeff’s a good administrator. He’s a good worker, but he’s not a good administrator.”
“Like today,” Jauer said. “What are all the employees doing in here? Were they invited?”
“What’s it say on the agenda?” Road and Bridge Administrator Jeffrey Wiatrek asked.
“It says road and bridge administrator and personnel,” Jauer said.
“My personnel are here,” Wiatrek said.
County Treasurer Vi Malone then joined the discussion.
“It is an open meeting, they don’t have to be invited,” Malone said. “And when you say personnel issues, you are darn right they are going to show up.”
“It’s not a public hearing, so let’s not start getting into all that,” Shaw said.
“I’m not getting all into that, but that’s why they are here,” Malone said.
“Stop, please,” Shaw said.
“Pick and choose who gets to talk,” Malone said.
“If you can’t stop, please leave,” Shaw said. “Please let us do this.”
“No, I am not going to leave,” Malone said.
“You are out of line, please let us do this,” Shaw said.
“No, I am not out of line,” Malone said.
“Ms. Malone, you are out of line and I am going to ask you one more time to please stop,” Shaw said.
County Commissioner James Rosales asked Shaw specifically what was the purpose of the agenda item.
Shaw explained that lately she had been visited and called numerous times by road and bridge personnel who said that they felt that the road and bridge department was falling apart.
“The other day, Bob and Betty – (County Attorney) Bob Busselman and (Assistant County Attorney) Betty Yarter – were in here,” Shaw said. “We sat here and we had discussions. And then the phone calls keep coming in that they feel that – they don’t know what they need to do and they are coming to me and asking me to help them plan, or help them write, or help them do, and it is not my job to do the road administrator job, so it comes back to an administration thing. I can’t fix those problems. I can’t dictate to them. I can’t tell them what statute is. It is very easy. You just gotta follow the statutes. I’m not going to get in the middle of the employees and the road and bridge administrator and it seems like there has been a very large breakdown somewhere when all of these people start calling me or coming in.”
County Commissioner Tracey Schendel joined the conversation.
“It should be the administrator with his own personnel,” Schendel said. “We shouldn’t have to deal with that. We should just have to deal with the administrator, himself.”
Wiatrek said the meeting was called without him even knowing about it and he didn’t think any employee should come to Commissioners Court asking for equipment.
“I am working on a budget,” Wiatrek said. “I have got equipment on there that I want to replace or I want to work with. We did the proposal for you twice – on what you wanted – and you told me twice it wasn’t what you wanted.”
“Y’all didn’t know what y’all wanted,” Wiatrek said.
Wiatrek explained that the first proposal was the first of three with two other proposals planned to be presented at a later date.
“I’m not sure exactly what’s going on,” Shaw said.
“It’s too many wannabes, and it is going to change,” Wiatrek said. “If I have to get rid of some people, I will change it and I am fixin’ on doing some changing here pretty quick, if I get to stay.”
Commissioner Rosales talked about setting an agenda for work on the county roads. He said heavy rain storms, for example, can cause the agenda to get backed up as a result because other tasks have to take a higher priority.
“You’ve got to work with what you’ve got,” Rosales said.
Commissioner Schendel said the reason the current department is behind because they lack the equipment needed to get the job done.
“He’s got three or four maintainers and they are all junk,” Schendel said. “You run them three days and they are tired – they’re wore out and they don’t want to run no more. They are like us. They are old. We need some new stuff to work with.”
“A lot of that is planning and being prepared,” Shaw said.
Commissioner Carl Hummel asked how much was budgeted for road and bridge maintenance prior to the adoption of the unit system of road maintenance compared with the current budget.
“No, I don’t know that,” Commissioner Jauer said.
“The unit system is fine,” Hummel said. “That’s a great deal, but if you have the same amount of money in the budget, you have the same old wore out equipment and you have the same amount of employees, how do you really expect to get any more work done?”
Rosales said he recalled that before the unit system, about $1,400 per mile was budgeted for road and bridge maintenance.
“You need to stop and look out the window – what the hell is going on in Karnes County right now. Look at what the hell is happening to the roads,” Wiatrek said. “My employees are sitting here right now and every one of these boys can tell you, we fix some damn roads. Excuse my language because I am a little bit upset with some damn people.”
As an example, Wiatrek mentioned a county road that was repaired and then fell apart only six months later because of heavy truck traffic.
“Are you going to get ahead of this?” Wiatrek asked. “Nobody is going to get ahead of this, I don’t give a damn who you put in here... There is no end to this.”
“How many times have we amended your budget, Jeff?” Shaw asked Wiatrek. “That is where we are going to get into a bind. We keep declaring it an emergency, but how many times have we amended your budget and for how much?”
County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk said the current road and bridge budget is $1.6 million and there is an additional $559,988 in the road and bridge special budget.
“So we have got over $2 million budgeted for road and bridge expenditures right now, not counting the bond monies,” Kasprzyk said.
Wiatrek said that there are 586 miles of county road to maintain and the current workload has taken a toll on the older equipment.
“We need to all work together and just quit all this bickering and stuff and all chip in and find a solution,” Commissioner Hummel said. “It is easy to just blame it on Jeffrey and want to fire him, I think that is what is taking place here.”
“Is it to fire him?” Hummel asked Shaw in regard to the agenda item.
“Carl, there is a lot going on there,” Shaw said. “Do you want my motion, is that what you are asking me for?”
“I’m asking you why you placed this on the agenda,” Hummel said.
“I placed it on the agenda because I foresee that there is problems in the road and bridge system. But when they are coming to me and asking me to help them budget, okay? Number one, in statute, I am not supposed to do that. He is supposed to do that. I am not going to get myself into some bind or pickle for anybody. I am not going to do it.”
“We should be farther than we are now,” Shaw said.
“I think you need more organization,” Shaw said. “I think Jeff is a great person. I think he does great working on the roads. I don’t think he knows how to organize it, prepare it, get it ready, or do his budget.”
Commissioner Rosales mentioned the possibility of getting more training to help with these issues.
“Judge, you went back to the fiscal year,” Wiatrek said. “When we started this fiscal year I asked for two belly-dumps and I asked for two tractors. At that time we were denied the tractors. I also asked for one new pick-up... I got denied the pick-up.”
“You said a budget wasn’t prepared?” Wiatrek said. “I did have a small budget prepared to try to start moving forward and I got stomped down on it... We were working on it trying to start a 10-year program.”
“I asked for equipment, and I didn’t get it,” Wiatrek said.
“I think that Jeff does a wonderful job being on the equipment and doing the equipment,” Shaw said. “I think his organizational skills and his administrative skills – I think he falls short of, therefore my motion is today, to remove Jeff as road and bridge administrator and allow Ricky Jalufka to fill in temporarily until we can take applications for a road and bridge administrator.”
“I won’t take the internship,” Ricky Jalufka said.
“That’s fine, we will just have to find somebody to do an interim,” Shaw said. “It is still my motion – we need a road and bridge administrator – somebody who can organize, plan, be prepared, and work by statute to get us moving forward. It has to happen.”
“Can I make a comment to you, judge?” Wiatrek asked. “Are you really a judge?”
“You called me a bunch of times late in the evenings, and I never really grasped what you were trying to tell me. You complained about every department in the county... run everybody down in the departments.”
“Jeff, that’s not true,” Shaw said.
“Yes, it is, ma’am,” Wiatrek said. “You even complained about some of the commissioners.”
“I’ve made my motion,” Shaw said.
Commissioner Jauer suggested having Wiatrek continue working for the county as an assistant or foreman to work under a new administrator.
Shaw’s motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Jauer then made a motion to secure a road and bridge administrator, with Wiatrek staying on as a superintendent.
The motion was seconded by Commissioner Schendel, and was passed on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Schendel and Shaw voting in favor with Commissioners Rosales and Hummel voting opposed.
“He’s is not demoted, he is still administrator,” Jauer said. “He is still administrator and he is still responsible to work on a budget for next year. We may not be able to hire a new administrator.”