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Wiatrek dismissed on split vote
by Joe Baker
May 30, 2013 | 2162 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Karnes County Road and Bridge Administrator Jeff Wiatrek (right) answers questions about the dumping of contaminated materials near the Wofford’s Crossing bridge during a meeting of Commissioners Court on May 13.
Joe Baker photo Karnes County Road and Bridge Administrator Jeff Wiatrek (right) answers questions about the dumping of contaminated materials near the Wofford’s Crossing bridge during a meeting of Commissioners Court on May 13.
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KARNES CITY – On a 3-2 split vote, the Karnes County Commissioners Court voted to end the employment of Karnes County Road and Bridge Administrator Jeff Wiatrek during a special meeting on May 21.

The item on the agenda to discuss the employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of Wiatrek had been posted as a possible closed session item, but at Wiatrek’s request, the item was instead discussed in open session.

Commissioner James Rosales began the discussion stating that he had talked with Wiatrek about the situation regarding fill material mixed with trash moved from a hospital demolition site to sites near the Wofford’s Crossing bridge.

“I don’t know how much responsibility the contractor has with this problem,” Rosales said. “I know there is a problem and it is being taken care of and it is being all cleaned up.”

Commissioner Shelby Dupnik said Wiatrek consulted with Donnie Liska, who specializes in bridge construction, and Liska mentioned some material from the hospital site might be suitable as fill for the project. Dupnik said he understood Wiatrek was trying to save the county money by not having to purchase and transport fill for the project.

“I don’t think he intended to dirty up the water, or anything like that,” Commissioner Tracey Schendel said.

County Judge Barbara Shaw said no one agreed that the materials would be pushed into the water.

“Donnie Liska told me that he didn’t give anybody permission to put anything into the water,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that Ronnie Hernandez with the San Antonio River Authority told her that he wanted her to know that Karnes County had created an illegal dumping ground on the San Antonio river bank and that it needed to be corrected immediately.

A representative from the Texas Commission of Environment Quality (TCEQ) also contacted her, Shaw explained, to let her know that the county needed to begin the clean-up as soon as possible.

Rosales said that Wiatrek requested to be allowed to clean up the area himself.

“I mentioned to Jeff that I didn’t want him in there and I didn’t want any county employees in there,” Rosales said, explaining that his concern was for the safety of the county employees working on this type of job so close to the river.

Commissioner Pete Jauer said he went to the site after he was made aware of the situation by a concerned resident and he saw the materials that had been dumped there.

“It looked trashy to me and had all this steel sticking out of it,” Jauer said. “I give Jeff credit for having paperwork that says that it is clean, and acceptable with no contamination, but the steel sticking out of it is not acceptable by any standards. You can’t dump that kind of stuff in there. Jeff should have known that you can’t put that kind of stuff in there.”

“At that point Jeff was negligent in not realizing that he couldn’t get away with putting that stuff in there,” Jauer said.

The county judge expressed concerns about the expense of the next step of the clean-up, moving the materials away from County Road 326 to an acceptable landfill for waste materials of that kind.

Bernice Stimson, a citizen in attendance at the meeting, asked the court if anyone had asked anyone if what they had planned was legal.

“He didn’t ask me,” Commissioner Schendel responded. “He’s the road administrator, so I guess he can make his own decision about it.”

Wiatrek said he didn’t ask anyone about the legality of what he was doing before moving forward with the work.

Rosales questioned the contract the county signed with Liska Construction which he said includes work that goes beyond the scope of a clean-up operation.

Shaw responded to Rosales saying the county had to move quickly because of public safety concerns.

“We have dumped rubble into the San Antonio River and we have got to pick it up,” Shaw said. “There is rebar out there as tall as a knee that is sticking out of the river. There were two young men out there Tuesday night that were fishing, and if they had slipped and fallen onto that rebar... I am not going to sit here and say it is not an emergency to pull that rebar out of the river, because it is.”

Jauer asked Wiatrek if he had anything to say in defense of his actions and decisions.

Wiatrek said the idea was to save money, and it backfired on him. He said when he saw the material at the hospital it looked good, but when the contractor dug into the piles and delivered it, it looked like something else.

Shaw said there have been other problems with the road and bridge department, besides this particular situation.

“Accident or no accident, I think that people are just extremely angry right now that this is costing the county all this money,” Shaw said. “That is a lot of money for a small county to spend to clean this up.”

Commissioner Schendel asked if Wiatrek’s job performance had ever been evaluated by the court, but received no response to his question.

Rosales said the court’s decision to advertise for a road and bridge engineer was not directed at Wiatrek, who has served the county for 15 years as county commissioner and then road and bridge administrator. Rosales said the county needs to expand the area in which they advertise for the position in order to try and find a qualified applicant.

Dupnik asked the court again if an evaluation of Wiatrek’s job performance had ever been completed.

“How could we go out and evaluate Jeff if we are not engineers?” Rosales responded.

Rosales suggested the possibility of reassigning Wiatrek to a position to assist the road engineer, if an when one was hired.

Dupnik asked if the court should consider a disciplinary action such as a 90-day probation.

Jauer said the county received an inspection report on the bridge in June of 2011 and Wiatrek rented a bulldozer in January of 2012 to repair the bridge but he didn’t start until April of 2013.

“That’s a long time,” Jauer said. “We knew this had to be done. I think he has been quite negligent in preparing to do this job when he knew it had to be done. We had equipment ready to do it and he hasn’t done it... He got in a hurry to do it and he didn’t plan it right and he took that junk out there.”

Wiatrek defended himself by saying his focus has been on keeping roads that school buses travel from falling apart with limited manpower.

“I asked for money, and I got rejected,” Wiatrek said, regarding his requests for funds to hire more employees.

“If it goes to raining right now, this county is going to be in a hell of a shape,” Wiatrek said.

“Don’t you think it would have been easier if we would have just contracted this job out with Mr. Liska, rather than trying to do it ourselves knowing that we have no manpower?” Schendel asked Wiatrek.

“You have got to have manpower to do it,” Wiatrek said.

County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk told the court that there is money in the budget to award a contract for this type of bridge repair project.

Commissioner Jauer made a motion that he read before the court.

“In consideration of recent decisions made by Jeffrey Wiatrek, road and bridge administrator, combined with previous choices in disregard of citizens’ concerns along with many choices, omissions or failure to plan properly, I move to dismiss Jeffrey Wiatrek as road and bridge administrator and advertise for someone to replace him as provided by statute.”

Shaw seconded Jauer’s motion.

The motion carried on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Shaw and Schendel voting in favor. Commissioners Rosales and Dupnik voted against the motion.
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