Approximately 25,000 people in Angelina County voted for the adoption of the unit-road system on Nov. 3, 2020. The adoption of the unit-road system requires the commissioners hire a professional engineer with the qualifications required for the Texas Department of Transportation District Engineer.
Section 252.304 of the Texas Transportation Code says: (a) The Commissioners Court shall appoint a County Road Engineer who must (1) be a licensed professional engineer, experienced in road construction and maintenance; and meet the qualifications required by the Texas Dept of Transportation for it’s District Engineer. (b) If the Commissioners Court is unable to employ a licensed Professional Engineer, it may employ a county road administrator to perform the duties of the County Road Engineer.
The Texas Legislature knew that most county commissioners oppose a unit-road system and only the voters could make them adopt it. The Legislature also knew that they would not want a professional engineer to manage the department because they may no longer be able to justify their salary and they would also lose some voter control.
This is why the Legislature used the word “unable” to hire a professional engineer. It is not at the whim of a commissioner or commissioners to simply dislike an applicant, to avoid hiring one. If the engineer applicant is qualified for the job at a price that is reasonable and necessary under the conditions, he or she must be hired over a nonprofessional engineer.
“Unable” means the same as “not able.” Unable in this context is applied to a person or thing that is lacking in ability, preparation or power for whatever is to be done according to Dictionary.com.
In Angelina County’s case, it is either hire this engineer or no engineer since the court has no other applicants. The will of the people for good roads will be thwarted if the unit-road system is not staffed in management with a professional engineer.
Pitts and Cheshire simply don’t want an engineer, period! They have been fighting the system since before the election, and after losing, they tried to delay its adoption and now are attempting to find anything they can use to disqualify their only engineer candidate.
Chuck Walker offered to make his personnel records available to the commissioners on March 15, provided they would keep them confidential and provided that if they had any questions, they would discuss them with him before making any decision about employment. He was scheduled to meet with Commissioners Court on Tuesday, April 27 in executive session. Pitts nor Kennedy have ever asked him any questions or explanations before they told the newspaper they were definitely going to vote against him.
Mr. Walker prepared an explanation in writing about the circumstances of his termination with the city and it was delivered to the commissioners on Monday morning, the 26th, so it could be discussed in executive session on the 27th.
Mr. Pitts violated the agreement to keep Mr. Walker’s personnel records confidential to themselves so they could make a qualified judgment about whether he was able or unable to do the job. Mr. Pitts gave Mr. Walker’s private personnel records to the newspaper on the 26th before he had Mr. Walker’s explanations. Mr. Walker could not respond before the meeting on Tuesday because he had agreed to be questioned in executive session.
The newspaper refused to wait until after the commissioners met to discuss their issues in the ordinary course of employment interviews. Pitts, nor Kennedy nor the paper have acted judiciously, refusing to wait to get Mr. Walker’s explanation of his termination. As to Commissioner Pitts, he acted maliciously to kill the effectiveness of the unit-road system and use the paper to pre-judge Mr. Walker.
There is, in fact, a perfectly satisfactory explanation of his termination. There is nothing about it that disqualifies him for this job for the county. The city manager was sad to terminate him and actually extolled Mr. Walker’s virtues and abilities.
Mr. Walker was terminated on a technicality from a very old city charter provision that says “No employee shall be directly or indirectly interested in any work or business that is paid from the City Treasury.”
Honestly, as Lufkin’s city attorney for 41 years, I never saw anybody that was terminated under that provision. It is archaic and vague. What does “directly or indirectly interested in work” mean? Does it mean an employee of the city can not be interested in the road in front of his house being repaired at city’s expense? Of course, that is not what it meant! But technically it could be so construed.
Chuck Walker and two friends worked for Lufkin Industries for a number of years and when it went down, they formed a company with Chuck having a minority interest to do construction or engineering work. In November 2019, the company became a distributor in this area to sell Gatorbar, which is a substitute for steel rebar in some cases. The city of Lufkin engineering department authorized the city street department, over which Mr. Walker was head, to design and construct about three-quarters of a mile of concrete walkway in Jones Park. The estimated cost for the sidewalks was $180,000. Mr. Walker bought 1,250 pieces of Gatorbar from the company he was a minority owner in for use in the sidewalk. In doing so, he saved the city $6,500. He also made many other savings in that project that allowed him to bring in the whole project for $76,000, a savings of about $100,000 under engineering estimate. Even though he got bids from another local company over the phone, the purchase from his company appeared to be a technical violation of the charter.
When Mr. Walker was confronted by the city manager and shown the charter provision, he assumed that what he did was technically wrong and he agreed to the termination because he knew that the county would be hiring an engineer soon and he wanted to apply for the job and felt that he was perfectly qualified and he did not want to leave Lufkin.
Anybody that looks at Mr. Walker’s resume would be proud to have him in charge of our roads. He has never even been accused of any criminal conduct and he has been a model citizen.
Mr. Bruce Green, Lufkin’s city manager, said this about Chuck Walker after he agreed to leave the city’s employment: “Chuck Walker is a highly trained and skilled engineer, with a command of road construction, repair, budgets, supervision of employees, and drainage issues that will be hard to match anywhere. Moreover, he is always positive and was always responsive with members of the public and elected officials. His expertise and experience were valued at the city of Lufkin. Were the county to ultimately hire Chuck Walker, I expect county residents would soon notice the difference he can make in the county road system.”
Mr. Green also said that the incident over the Gatorbar should in no way disqualify Mr. Walker for the county road job.
Some commissioners may vote against hiring him but they cannot say that the Commissioners Court is “unable” to hire him so they can staff the unit-road department with a non-engineer.
The newspaper is missing the whole point. It is not about Chuck Walker being able to do the job, he is absolutely qualified. Some commissioners, with the help of the newspaper, are simply making Mr. Walker a “whipping boy,” in trying to find some way to avoid hiring an engineer. It is a shame and a stain on our community that some commissioners are willing to destroy a good man so that they can retain control over the roads even though 76.2% of the voters demanded professionalism be brought to a unit-road system.