Brown County Judge Paul Lilly recalled a phone call he placed Friday to Precinct 3 County Commissioner Wayne Shaw.
Shaw took the call in the middle of playing golf, saying “hey good buddy, how are you?” Lilly recounted the phone call as he spoke to the media Tuesday in his office.
“Well first of all I’m not his good buddy,” Lilly said. “We have never been good buddies. Before I ran for office we got along just fine, but since I’ve been in office, that relationship hasn’t prospered.”
Lilly said he brought up the county fire marshal issue in the phone call. Then, Lilly said, he asked Shaw about an agenda item that had been placed on Monday’s commissioner’s court meeting: “discussion and possible action regarding FEMA funding.”
Lilly said Shaw told him Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Traweek was going to ask to borrow money from the county’s contingency fund to pay contractors who have repaired roads damaged by floods, pending reimbursement with federal FEMA funds.
Lilly said Shaw abruptly said he had to get off the phone. “He said ‘well this is not a good time. I’m playing golf on the golf course. I’ve got to go’ and hung up on me,” Lilly said. “Just hung up on me.”
Shaw agreed with Lilly’s recounting of the phone call — to a point. Shaw said he did tell Lilly he needed to get off the phone because people were waiting on him — but said he told Lilly he’d call him right back.
Shaw said Lilly then texted him and said Shaw didn’t need to call him back, and indicated in the text that he supported Traweek’s idea of borrowing money from the contingency fund.
Lilly sent Traweek a message. “I said ‘if your intention is to borrow money from the contingency fund to keep the contractors working, I’m in support of that,” Lilly said.
“He sent me a thumbs up. And that was the only outside communications I’ve had with him in I don’t know how long.”
“I’m sorry it got spirited in there.”
Those were among Lilly’s words when asked for his assessment of Monday’s contentious meeting of the Brown County Commissioners Court.
Discussion involving Lilly, Shaw and Traweek became, at times, loud and heated as the commissioners court took up Agenda Item E — the items regarding FEMA funding.
Lilly sparred with the two commissioners over David Creed, the man Lilly hired as emergency management coordinator shortly after Lilly took office in January.
At one point, Shaw said Creed should be fired. Shaw said Creed hasn’t caught on to crucial aspects of FEMA, even though, Shaw and Traweek both said, FEMA has walked Creed through the tasks.
Shaw initially said Creed had cost the county about $2 million in FEMA reimbursements because of mishandled paperwork, although Shaw and Lilly both said later that it appears FEMA will restore some of the lost funds.
Traweek, of Precinct 4, said making the transition from former Emergency Management Coordinator Mechail Cox — whose services Lilly did not retain when he took office — to Creed caused paperwork submitted to FEMA to become “messed up.”
Traweek was referring to work done by contractors on roads and bridges in his precinct that had been damaged by flooding. As a result, reimbursement from FEMA was delayed, and contractors were waiting to be paid, Traweek said.
“We’re several months behind on getting money in from FEMA on account of the catching up that we had to do on paperwork,” Traweek said.
Commissioners voted to remedy that situation by transferring $1.2 million from the general fund to the contingency fund. That money will in turn be loaned to Precinct 4 pending reimbursement by FEMA.
“For the record, what has happened — when we had a transition from the previous county judge, I brought in a new emergency management coordinator,” Lilly said.
“(Creed) had no idea what was pending. Nobody shook his hand and said ‘here’s what I have. Just like me — when I walked in, there was nobody who even made a phone call to us. So (Creed) had paperwork that was already late before he even took the job, and he wasn’t even aware that it was out there. Now he’s doing the best he can to get it submitted.”
In an interview later, Traweek said, “we weren’t behind when Mechail Cox left.” Traweek then added, “if we were behind, it was just barely. (Creed’s) been trained numerous times.”
“It was very clear that three of the commissioners supported my predecessor,” Lilly said, referring to longtime incumbent Ray West. Lilly defeated West in the March 2018 primary, then defeated write-in challenger Steve Fryar in the November general election to take office.
The three commissioners Lilly referred to were Shaw, Traweek and Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Worley.
“They were not happy when I won office. I never got a congratulations call from any of them. The one I’m leaving out is Commissioner (Joel) Kelton. I did from him,” Lilly said.
“He is the only one that has ever darkened the doorway, and he does it on a regular basis, to come in to ask for my advice or for my office to work with him on anything.”
Lilly continued that the other three commissioners “clearly were supporters of Judge West. “Since the day I assumed this office, there has been no cooperation and there has been next to no communication,” Lilly said.
The three commissioners had a far different viewpoint.
“That’s not true,” Traweek said. “I’m not against anybody. I just want (Lilly and Creed) to do their jobs.” Traweek reiterated that he has no issues with either man — if the two will get the FEMA paperwork issue solved.
Worley said, “we were Judge West’s supporters, but he got beat and that’s the American process. We live with it, we work with it. We’re not against Mr. Lilly at all.”
Shaw said of Lilly’s assessment, “no way. (Lilly) won fair and square and I worked hard the first couple of weeks to get along.”
“The first couple of weeks were OK because you have your honeymoon period where everybody wants to put on a good face,” Lilly said. “But even then, there was no real communication.
“To even get my staff confirmed, if you’ll recall, I had to articulate and justify heavy in the commissioners court, which nobody ever does when they want to hire someone. It’s been that way from day one and I’ll be very clear: the only commissioner who ever comes to visit with me or welcomes me is Commissioner Kelton.”
Shaw said he and Traweek had told Lilly earlier to “get Creed on the ball. Lilly wouldn’t do anything about it.” Shaw also said his precinct foreman, Jeff Mobley, who is knowledgeable of working with FEMA, had been to see Creed several times.
Shaw recalled an earlier commissioners court meeting that involved a dustup over Lilly’s intent to hire a part-time assistant for Lilly’s office.
“I felt like (Lilly) kind of misled us on how far behind the courts are,” Shaw said.
After that commissioners court meeting ended, Shaw said, he told Lilly, “it’s not too late but you need to slow down. We had this little mess-up. Nobody called you a liar. We can work together.
“Just slow down, learn to work with people. Just slow down and get your feet on the ground. I’ll work with anybody.”
Lilly said he was shocked Monday when he entered the commissioners courtroom and Worley “actually said hello. He does not like me,” Lilly said. “That’s the treatment I get. That is your elected officials.”
But Lilly also thought, “what do you know, I think we’re making progress.”
But the events that followed as the meeting unfolded “didn’t help,” Lilly said.
“You are probably not going to like the end of this, I’ll tell you that,” Shaw said, addressing Lilly as he began talking about what he believed was a subpar performance by Creed in dealing with FEMA.
Shaw said Creed had prematurely signed off on FEMA paperwork that listed an amount of money FEMA was willing to reimburse the county. Shaw said Creed had been advised not to sign off on the paperwork because the county could appeal FEMA’s amount, and could potentially have received a much larger sum.
Shaw said the county had missed out on just over $2 million in FEMA funding because of dereliction of duties and not doing his job.
“He’s had seven months, and he can’t even get into the (FEMA) portal,” Shaw said, “He can’t even open it to get into it.”
Angered, Lilly fired a question at Shaw. “Do you know how to get into the portal?””
“No!” Shaw fired back. “They won’t let us … only you and (Creed).
Shaw said FEMA has indicated that because Creed prematurely signed off on the paperwork, the FEMA funds are gone and can’t be restored.
“Well, I guarantee you I can get that changed,” Lilly said. “But I just wasn’t aware of it.”
A few minutes later, Shaw said, “my recommendation is that you terminate (Creed).”
“You can’t say that!” Lilly immediately replied. “You just exposed us to liability by saying that out loud. I want that made very clear that Commissioner Shaw said that — no one else, not the court.”
Traweek said, “when I went in last week, I tried to get Mr. Creed to open the portal.”
“I was there,” Lilly said.
“No, you weren’t!” Traweek replied.
“Yes I was,” Lilly said. “I wasn’t in the office but I saw you there.”
“And he couldn’t open it,” Traweek said of Creed.
Lilly addressed a question to Creed, who sat among the audience and had said nothing. “Was that a computer problem, or a portal problem, or what?” Lilly asked Creed.
“It was a portal problem in Austin,” Creed replied. “It was resolved later on that day.”
Traweek said, “you told me yourself that you weren’t versed enough to get into it.”
Lilly said, “I’ve been standing there when he’s in it all the time.”
Shaw asked Creed about FEMA paperwork on a road project that hadn’t been touched. “It’s been in there for 10 or 12 days and you haven’t even looked at them,” Shaw said.
Creed said he was in the process of having paperwork signed.
“I went in there (Monday) morning and it hadn’t been done,” Mobley said from the audience. “He couldn’t get into it. He could not get into the documents. He doesn’t know how to do it.”
Addressing commissioners, Lilly said, “all the commissioners need to get schooled to not throw somebody else under the bus. If you’re the one responsible, elected by the public to maintain the roads in your county, then you ought to know how to get into that portal too.”
Traweek said, “we can’t get into it. FEMA told us that you had to authorize us to get into it and that’s just never been done.”
Lilly said, “if we’re talking $2 million, Commissioner Shaw, I agree with you, I’ve got a problem with that. All of this could’ve been avoided if you just came to me, individually, and said ‘this is a problem we have.’”
“We did,” Shaw said.
“No, you did not,” Lilly said. “You don’t even speak to me. No commissioners here hardly speak to me. The only one who speaks to me is Commissioner Kelton.
“If you will do that, I will bend over backwards to help you but I’ve got to know about the problem. I guarantee I will get some results.”
Shaw wasn’t finished. He reiterated that FEMA has “walked (Creed) through that portal. They’ve done every bit of the work for him.”
Lilly fired back, “so (Creed’s) done nothing? Not a single thing? Is that your statement on the record? Right here in front of everybody, on camera and the world, you’e saying he has done absolutely nothing?
“ … I’m going to hold my tongue, Commissioner Shaw.”
A short time after Monday’s commissioner’s court meeting, Shaw said Mobley, his foreman, had received a call from FEMA. Mobley was told a FEMA representative would be in Brown County Thursday and some of the funds that were initially described as lost could be restored, Shaw said.
Tuesday morning, Creed said he did not wish to comment on Shaw’s recommendation that Creed be fired.
Creed said he spoke with a FEMA official Tuesday morning, explained the situation and the official said “we’ll take a look at it. He said ‘there’s nothing we can’t undo.’”
Referring to commissioners Shaw, Worley and Traweek, Lilly said, “I understand there are hurt feelings that I beat their longtime incumbent and friend.”
Lilly said he doesn’t know how he can “heal that wound. My hand is extended. We’ve got to meet in the middle. Where do we go from here? I hope we can work together but it won’t happen overnight. It’s too fractured.”
Shaw said, “I can work with anybody if they’ll try and do right and be straightforward and honest with us. It’s not too late. I want him to be up front and transparent and stop creating a bunch of jobs without talking to us first.
“There’s nothing broke that can’t be fixed.”
Shaw added, “he’s not going to railroad us.”