A request Tuesday from Precinct 1 County Commissioner Kelly Snell to reorganize part of the road and bridge department he oversees brought up old debates for the commissioners court.

Commissioners ultimately voted down Snell’s request, but not before a lengthy discussion.

Snell said he couldn’t make the budget-neutral request during the county’s budget discussions a few months back because he was waiting for an employee to retire and make the reorganization possible. The change would create a more organized structure, providing for more efficient work, Snell said.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Will Jones told Snell he would be “really kind of changing up the mix” by reorganizing positions with new job descriptions that don’t match the other precincts. Jones said the proposal would take Precinct 1 farther from what’s being done in the other departments.

“I think we might want to take a look at all these job descriptions across the board and see if we want to update where we are,” he said.

Snell countered that there isn’t a set organization structure for each precinct and that there is no reason for each precinct to operate its road and bridge departments the same.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said the court needs to have a lengthy discussion about the organization of the road and bridge departments. Perry said it can’t be too difficult to compare job descriptions and duties across four precincts.

Perry also said Snell’s proposal would move the county further away from a unit road system, a plan “I haven’t given up on.”

The county uses a precinct-based road system in which each commissioner oversees a separate road crew with separate equipment. A unit road system could merge crews and equipment into one department overseen by an engineer.

Perry and County Judge Scott Felton have previously expressed a desire to move the county into a unit road system to save money and take the politics out of roadwork. Snell has opposed the idea.

Snell said during the meeting Tuesday that each commissioner needs to determine what works best in his precinct. He said his proposed plan to realign some positions would ensure his crew gets more work done. Snell said he did not want to wait to make the change during budget discussions for next fiscal year “being as inefficient as we are.”

Perry said each commissioner can’t create their own “ecosystem” in a precinct. Perry said he supports efficiency, but claiming it and proving it are not the same.

Felton said Snell’s proposal gave too much favor to the administrative side of operations.

Snell said unlike the other precincts, his road and bridge department is located off Interstate 35, and therefore gets a lot of walk-in traffic.

Felton called Snell’s efforts disingenuous.

“You made an effort last year to give your administrative assistant a raise and it didn’t float,” Felton said. “And so it looks like to me all this is devised to go back and achieve, to give your administrative assistant a raise over and above.”

A precinct does not belong to a commissioner but to the taxpayers, Felton said. A unit road system would remove duplication of efforts across the four precincts, he said.

Snell re-emphasized that his proposal would make his department more efficient.

Perry said Snell operated at $4,000 more per mile than he did.

“If you’re going to start throwing terms out like efficiency you need to be able to define it and you haven’t been able to do it,” Perry said.

Snell made a motion to adopt the changes he proposed for his department.

Perry, Felton and Jones voted against the motion. Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson was not at the meeting.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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