Local Wrecker Talks with Commissioners About Dispatch; Radio Network to Be Tested

September 3, 2019 - The Shelby County Commissioners heard from a local wrecker service during their meeting held August 28, 2019, about what he says are issues with the dispatch rotation at the Sheriff's Department, 

Larry Joe Eaves is the owner and operator of Sandhill Wrecker Service out of Center. 

He feels his business is being overlooked at the Sheriff's Department in the wrecker rotation. When an incident occurs, such as a crash, vehicle wreckers are at times needed and to ensure not any one particular company is called out by the Sheriff's Department more than another, they have a rotation of available companies.

His business is located in Shelby County and as a Shelby County tax payer, he doesn't believe the county is putting any money in it's pocket when large wreckers are called in from places like Nacogdoches.

"Using local companies puts money back into our own location economy and not Nacogdoches," said Eaves.

Eaves requested being added to the Shelby County wrecker rotation. Eaves said out of the 440 crashes that occurred in Shelby County in 2018 his company was only called by the Sheriff's Department six times.  

Judge Harbison asked Chief Windham who dispatches the wreckers. Windham said Sandhill is on the Sheriff's Department "big rig" rotation, but they aren't on the smaller vehicle rotation.

"The way rotation works at the Sheriff's Department is it's computer generated on rotation," said Windham.

He explained, if someone is in a crash incident they have the choice to request a wrecker; however, if they don't have a preference it's computer generated when a rotation wrecker is requested.

Eaves said he has heard his companies called to wrecker large trucks, meanwhile his company has been passed over. He says he has spoken with Sheriff Blackwell about the problem he's having.

"I asked him if he would go look [at the computer] and I can't even get him to go pull up the computer and see what's going on. I'm not saying it's the Sheriff, I'm not saying that, but it could be the person inside that's pulling it up that's leaving me off," said Eaves.

Eaves said it costs $96,000 a year for the six wreckers he says he has to serve the county. He said all he wants is a fair shot. 

"I live here, and I wanna work here. I'm on rotation in San Augustine and everywhere else," said Eaves. "The city here is perfect, they're fair, but if you can call somebody that's right here it's a lot better."

Judge Harbison said the court would talk with Sheriff Blackwell and see what could be done. 

There was one item in the weekly expenses the commissioners inquired about with Ann Blackwell, Treasurer. It was a travel expense turned in by the District Attorney Investigator Joey Haley for a trip to New Mexico with a reserve officer. 

Blackwell stated Haley traveled in his personal vehicle since the vehicle purchased for the District Attorney Investigator was in the shop at the time having lights installed. The trip took two days and only mileage was submitted. The reason stated for the trip was to pick up an individual on a Center Police Department arrest.

Haley said he was advised to claim mileage to cover all expenses. 

"I did advise him that was not the correct way to do this," said Blackwell. 

She said the county should have just paid for gas receipts for the newly purchased vehicle, meals and overtime for the travel.

Charles Barr, Precinct 3 Commissioner, stated it was his belief out of state trips like the one turned in are to be approved by the commissioners, and Blackwell agreed that is what is in the personnel policy.

Commissioner Jimmy Lout asked why the city didn't pay for the travel if the individual was a city prisoner.

"I believe the D.A. (Stephen Shires) offered to go get the prisoner. At this time I have it charged to his budget," said Blackwell. 

Lout asked if the inmate was in the county jail; however, Blackwell didn't know the answer to the question or the name of the inmate.

County Judge Allison Harbison reiterated the bottom line is any employee doing travel outside of the state is to seek pre-approval from the commissioners' court.

Blackwell stated Haley does understand the appropriate way to take such a trip in the future.

"That vehicle is for county business, and it was a county purchased vehicle and he's a county employee to perform county functions in state and preferably in county," said Tom Bellmyer, Commissioner Precinct 4.

Barr said he was sure Haley was doing what he was asked to do.

A motion carried to pay $787.64 out of the District Attorney budget and to pay the weekly expenses.

 Judge Harbison stated the next agenda item was to amend the work rules and employee responsibilities within the Shelby County Personnel Policy.

"We had some issues about people bringing animals, pets to work and we had to fumigate and spray. Also there was another office, not in the courthouse that had some issues that the cleaning lady would discuss with me," said Judge Harbison.

She said other counties are amending personnel policies relating to pets and animals. Her proposal was to amend the personnel policy under work rules and employee responsibilities to add pets are generally restricted from entering the courthouse or other county buildings where public business is conducted.

Employees and officials shall not keep house pets in county offices. The exception to this policy would be service animals providing necessary function regarding personnel, personal guidance and/or mobility. Service animals would be required to have proper documentation and/or certifications. Judge Harbison said the commissioners could take action on the item or give it time to see how things progress.

Lout stated the wording included all county buildings and grounds. He asked if that includes the rodeo arena. 

Lout said, "It should be exempt shouldn't it?"

A motion carried to table the policy amendment pending further adjustments and wording for the rodeo arena.

Barr discussed running tests on radios for emergency responders as was presented at a previous commissioners' court meeting. There are some areas in the county where coverage either doesn't exist or partially exists and Barr feels it creates a danger to law enforcement and other emergency personnel. (Related article)

"They're here to protect us, we need to try and protect them," said Barr.

Sheriff's Department Chief Kevin Windham agreed there are still some problem areas, and that it is a lot better.

A motion carried to run the test on the radio equipment to discover problem areas.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:14am.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:
1.Pay weekly expenses.

2. Accept bid for Precinct 1 equipment from JB Raymond in the amount of $33,400 for a DHP865 Case Maintainer Serial #N5AF0432 and a bid from 96 Equipment in the amount of $61,300 for a 140H Cat Maintainer Serial #CCA1673.

3. Run test on radios for emergency responders.

4. Adjourn at 10:14am.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting include:
1. Amend the Work Rules and Employee Responsibilities within the Shelby County Personnel Policy.