Brown County Commissioners Court members hit the “reset” button Monday on what had become a contentious issue: the creation of a county fire marshal’s office.
Commissioners unanimously approved County Judge Paul Lilly’s request that he be allowed to begin drafting a new, non-binding resolution — with input from each commissioner — that authorizes the position of a county fire marshal’s office and the writing of a job description.
“That’s what I am purposing and I hope that we can all work together,” Lilly said. “This is not asking you to adopt anything. … if you don’t approve that today, then I won’t move forward with it and the issue will be dead.”
Commissioner Gary Worley said he envisions a time frame of 18 months to two years before a county fire marshal is actually appointed. Worley said earlier that commissioners had been under the impression that a county fire marshal wouldn’t be appointed until Brownwood Fire Marshal Buddy Preston — who investigates county fires on a contract basis — retires in that time frame.
On Feb. 11, commissioners acted on an agenda item that authorized Lilly to sign a resolution that commissioners would later rescind That resolution, according to the agenda item, allowed David Creed — who is the county’s emergency management coordinator — to apply for a county fire marshal’s license with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
Commissioners said later they did not read the resolution before authorizing Lilly to sign it. Commissioners went on to learn that the resolution created the office of fire marshal and appointed Creed to that position. Commissioners voted 3-1 on April 15 to rescind the resolution, saying the resolution had gone beyond the agenda item.
Lilly, who was away at training during the April 15 meeting, expressed his disappointment later in an email to the Bulletin that commissioners had rescinded the resolution. Lilly said having Creed as county fire marshal would be less expensive to taxpayers than continuing to contract with the City of Brownwood fire marshal to investigate county fires.
In another email to the Bulletin Friday, Lilly, looking ahead to Monday’s commissioners court meeting, said, “I’m not asking them to approve a resolution at this time. I’m asking them to join with me in writing a new one that includes everything they wanted in the last one. This would be starting from square one again. They said that they didn’t like the last one so I’m asking them to join with me in drafting a new one that has everyone’s input included within it.”
Monday morning, Lilly — speaking to commissioners and a packed commissioners courtroom — said he wanted to choose his words carefully.
“My soul purpose in presenting the original resolution for Chief Creed to assume the duties of fire marshal for the county was two-fold,” Lilly said. “Number one, most counties our size already have a designated county fire marshal.
“But the primary goal was to save money. There were some expenses up front that came with that. (Creed has) already purchased the equipment that he needed. He also needed most of that equipment to effectively perform the duties of emergency management, so they serve both roles. The purchases have already been made, but the resolution, as we know was rescinded.”
Lilly said he was initially hurt when commissioners rescinded the Feb. 11 resolution.
“But then I realized, no I’m not, I must have done something wrong,” Lilly said. “I must have done something that the three commissioners who voted to repeal it didn’t approve of, and I respect that. They have the right to repeal any legislation that they pass. That is their right.”
After some “soul-searching,” Lilly said, he asked Creed if Creed would still be willing to be county fire marshal “if we could go back and revisit the issue.
“ … The only reason I sit in this chair — and I would imagine most of the commissioners as well — is to try to serve the citizens of Brown County, to do so to the best of our ability. Now, we’re not always going to agree on that but there’s no reason why we can’t work together,” Lilly said.
Lilly continued, “What I would like to do on this issue is something I didn’t do the first time. In hindsight I realize that I should’ve involved each of the commissioners, and I want to do that now. I don’t have the luxury of being prideful so I’m setting my pride aside. I want to do what’s best for the citizens of the county, and I want to provide them with the best services that we can.”
Lilly said he wants to start drafting a new resolution, but one that each of the commissioners are included in, “every single step of the way. I would like to make sure that that resolution addresses all of the prior concerns, and I think we pretty much know what those were,” Lilly said.
“I will send the resolution to the commissioners at least two meetings in advance before it’s ever back on the agenda again.”
That will give commissioners to chance to indicate if they want anything changed, Lilly said.
“It’s become somewhat of a passionate issue and I hope it hasn’t become an issue of pride,” Lilly said. “I hope that we can set pride aside, and that (won’t) let our passions strain us above our ability to work together.”
Lilly noted that Creed will continue to report to Lilly as emergency management coordinator. But on any tasks that Creed performs as county fire marshal, Lilly said, Creed will report to the commissioners court.
Commissioner Wayne Shaw said an attorney general’s opinion holds that a new job can’t be created in the middle of a budget year unless it’s an emergency. “And this is not an emergency,” Shaw said.
“I’ll leave it open to the court,” Lilly said. “You tell me what you would like to do and we’ll either move forward or the issue will stop here and we won’t bring it up again.”
Lilly said he was not going to be the one to make a motion on his own proposal. Commissioner Joel Kelton made a motion “to begin process of drafting a new resolution, authorizing the position of and creating a job description for the office of brown county fire marshal.”
After several seconds of silence with the court, Lilly seconded the motion.
With no more discussion, all four commissioners and Lilly voted in favor.
“This is non-binding whatsoever,” Lilly said. “It doesn’t create anything new, it’s just starting work on a draft resolution that we’re all involved in.”
Later, Worley addressed the matter of why commissioners voted on April15 to rescind the Feb. 11 resolution.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric back-and-forth, on social media and elsewhere,” Worley said.
Worley read the Feb. 11 agenda item for the resolution: “consideration and possible approval allowing the county judge to sign a resolution allowing the emergency (management) coordinator to apply for a fire marshal license with the Texas Commission on Fire Commission and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
“No where on there did it mention establishing a county fire marshal office … the resolution was not read into the record. I don’t remember having a copy of it in front of me to read. I read it a couple of weeks later. The resolution states ‘establishing a county fire marshal’s office and allowing the county judge to appoint someone to that position.’”
Nowhere in the Feb. 11 agenda item, Worley said, “were we aware of establishing a county fire marshal office. And those are the reason we rescinded that resolution a couple of weeks ago.”