GARLAND — The Town of Garland is facing a heavily diminished staff following the departure of two Public Works employees, the sudden resignation of a commissioner who oversaw that department and a declined job offer from one of the commissioner’s relatives recently hired to help fill the void.
An emergency meeting was called Friday evening for 8 a.m. Saturday to discuss a number of topics, including Ralph Smith’s resignation and Public Works vacancies, as well as emergency procedures and commissioner reassignments to operate the department in the interim.
“Due to specific, unexpected and unforeseen occurrences since our last meeting, it was imperative that I call this meeting so we could develop a temporary emergency plan to keep our immediate services for our citizens, our infrastructure and our water/sewer systems maintained,” Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy said, opening the meeting.
Murphy said, until the town can hire permanent staff, a plan needed to be in place.
She received notice just after 4 p.m. Friday that Smith had submitted his resignation. Murphy read the brief letter into the record.
“I am writing to inform you of my decision to resign my position on the Board of Commissioners for the Town of Garland, effective immediately,” the missive, signed by Smith, reads. “It has been my pleasure to serve the Town of Garland and I appreciate the opportunity that I have had to work for the taxpayers of Garland.”
Judy Smith, S.J. Smith and Haywood Johnson were in attendance Saturday morning, along with Murphy. Carolyn Melvin joined the proceedings following the 2-1 vote to accept Ralph Smith’s resignation. Johnson cast the dissenting vote.
Smith’s term is set to expire at the end of 2019. Murphy said the board could appoint someone to the vacancy or solicit applications for review. A decision as to the course of action is expected at the board’s next meeting on July 11.
Smith first won election to the board in 2011, serving nearly four years before resigning in June 2015, citing health matters. However, he rejoined the board before the election in November 2015 and ran for re-election, garnering the most votes of any candidate to retain his seat and earn another four years.
Smith served Garland for more than two decades not only as commissioner, but previously as mayor, handling a variety of duties in the Public Works arena over the years.
Val Bannerman, a Garland Public Works/town employee for 18 years, submitted his resignation May 30, effective June 14. A second employee, Ivey Bordeaux submitted his resignation on June 15, effective on Thursday.
At a recent meeting, commissioners approved the hire of a new Public Works/maintenance employee — Bannerman’s replacement — in a unanimous vote, however the decision came with some concerns due to a proposed increase in the salary, from $13 to $18 per hour.
Judy Smith and Murphy thought the amount was too high, especially with the selected person not owning certain certifications. They also noted issues of nepotism, with the candidate’s family ties to both Ralph Smith and S.J. Smith. S.J. noted during those previous discussions that it was not the first time the town has hired people who were kin to each other.
Judy made a suggestion of $16 per hour and possibly increasing in the future after passing tests. The position was ultimately approved under the condition all certifications are met within two years. If not, the employee would be terminated.
However, the vote did not come without Ralph Smith airing his grievances, mentioning that he would be more likely to come to an agreement if other town officials got in a ditch and fixed problems, noting that he has picked up the slack in the past.
Murphy said the candidate who is related to the Smiths has now also taken his hat out of the ring.
“I was notified since then that this candidate has declined the job offer, which leaves us without any Public Works employees,” Murphy remarked. “Right now, we are without Public Works staff and we are without our chairperson for the Public Works Department.”
Murphy said the Public Works openings are still being advertised, noting “several applications” in the past several days. Following discussion, Murphy said Envirolink would be assisting with reading pumps and could respond to emergencies. Johnson agreed to accept emergency calls, with Envirolink serving as backup. S.J. noted that Envirolink would take about two and a half hours to respond.
S.J. agreed to cut grass around the town, using the town’s equipment and gas. He also offered to utilize his crews to collect trash from the containers on the streets in downtown Garland on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The board agreed to pay S.J.’s work crew at a rate of $10 an hour for trash collection until the vacancy is filled.
“The quicker we can get somebody else in here, the better off we’ll be,” S.J. stated.
Johnson was reassigned as head of Public Works, with S.J. also placed on that committee in a temporary capacity. Murphy also addressed Melvin, asking if she would be able to make a commitment to the board. Melvin’s absences from meetings have been an issue, with work priorities cited as a main obstacle to attendance, but she said Saturday she would be a part of the board going forward.
“With the exit of Val, with 18 years of experience, and Ivey and Ralph, we have lost a lot of knowledge and skill-set about the town’s infrastructure and procedures,” said Murphy, noting she would float between committees to further help out.
“I’m just praying that through some careful deliberation, cooperation and unity, this town will survive. We have been through things in the past — we’ll get through this,” Murphy asserted. “People don’t understand how small Garland is. A lot of commissioners don’t have to work because they have paid staff. We don’t. So when our employees resign or one commissioner leaves, it’s a very, very significant void for us.”
“I think everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see if we’re going to fall apart and see if we’re going to continue to work together,” Murphy said. “I know that we can, and I know that we will.”
The mayor thanked Ralph Smith for his years of service.
“We’ll just try to move forward, together and cohesively,” she concluded.
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