March 15, 2023 717 PM
JEFF DAVIS COUNTY — At a well-attended commissioners court meeting at the Jeff Davis County Courthouse on Monday, concerned citizens and government officials discussed the potential replacement of longtime Fire Marshal Roy Hurley.
Hurley, who has been the county’s fire marshal for eight years, was recently elected to serve as a county commissioner and stepped into that role this January. Now, County Judge Curtis Evans has drawn into question both his qualifications as fire marshal and his ability to fulfill both roles simultaneously.
An item on Monday’s meeting agenda to “discuss and take desired action on the appointment of the new Fire Marshal” drew a crowd and prompted a handful of locals to voice confusion and opposition over the sudden move to replace Hurley.
Resident Melanie Blackman spoke during the introductory citizen comment period, arguing that citizen safety was at risk as a result of what she said seemed like a rushed decision to replace Hurley. “There must be a very important reason to move on this so quickly with so little notice,” she said.
Blackman said she was struggling to understand why there was a need to replace Hurley, who had the backing of the county’s residents, and who recently helped squelch the Solar Park Fire and protect the community of Limpia Crossing.
“He’s provided stellar service to the residents of Jeff Davis County since February 2015,” said Blackman.
Blackman said because the role of fire marshal is an unpaid, volunteer role, she felt Hurley should be allowed to continue in the role while also serving as county commissioner — and that if the county was going to scrutinize Hurley they should look into all county officials who serve various roles. Evans himself sits on the appraisal district board while also serving as county judge, she noted.
“If we’re going to move forward on this I think we should examine all of our appointments, have the AG [attorney general] review them and make sure that none of them are in conflict with the law,” said Blackman.
Graydon Hicks, superintendent of Fort Davis ISD, spoke out to say he agreed with Blackman and that he believed the move to replace Hurley was “completely unnecessary.”
Evans, in presenting the agenda item, indicated that Hurley was not fulfilling all his duties as fire marshal. “The duties of the fire marshal are to promote and educate, training on safety for the community. There are reports to be written for insurance purposes, there are many duties and certifications in order for the acceptance of this by law,” said Evans.
“In the past, this hasn’t been adhered to, as far as certifications,” he added.
He also pointed out that three reports on house fires that have occurred in the county since January were not complete. In a subsequent interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Evans clarified that a report on a house fire being requested by an insurance company was not yet in the hands of the insurance company, to his knowledge.
Hurley, meanwhile, told The Sentinel he was meeting the necessary requirements of the job as fire marshal and had completed the necessary reports. “Any insurance company that asks for a report, I get a report done,” said Hurley.
Evans also claimed that Hurley was not listed as a registered fire marshal with the state of Texas, and that he couldn’t account for Hurley’s qualifications regarding the role.
“We’re not sure of any training credentials at this time,” said Evans.
Hurley said to his knowledge the fire marshal had not historically been required to register with the state, and that he had undergone training with the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department.
Evans said that Hurley’s potential replacement was simply a matter of following rules and regulations and protecting the county legally, not a personal vendetta, as some county residents were claiming.
“If the training isn’t up to date, if he isn’t registered with the state, then the county is in a liability situation, and we need to remedy [that] as soon as possible,” said Evans. “Because if nothing has been done since he has been a fire marshal, then that is evidence that we need [someone] different that will tend to the certifications in a timely manner.”
Evans said in the past there has not been a formal review process for the role of fire marshal, who serves two-year appointments and is chosen by county commissioners.
The matter of Hurley serving in two capacities as fire marshal and county commissioner also concerned Evans, who said ideally the two roles would be separate. In the wake of the meeting, where no action was ultimately taken, Evans said the county was seeking legal opinions on the matter of dual office holding.
He said once the information is gathered, it will be brought to the commissioner’s court for the commissioners to decide how to move forward. Evans identified Jeff Davis County resident Lonnie Hebert as a suitable replacement with the necessary credentials.
To citizens’ points that dual office holding was commonplace in their small community, Evans said he wanted to ensure the county was in compliance with the current laws, regardless of how things have been done previously.
“If there’s an audit of a situation, and we’re not in compliance, the county could be held liable for allowing this type of situation, and I’d rather prevent it now instead of taking a chance of, ‘Oh, well, we’ve always done it that way.’ I’d rather follow the rules and work with someone to get that position field, then there is no question,” said Evans.
Hurley, who remained silent on the matter of his abrupt replacement in Monday’s commissioners court meeting, expressed gratitude to The Sentinel for the community members who showed up to support him.
“I appreciate the community. For eight years [I’ve been] protecting the community from our wildland fires. I do appreciate them. I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better community for the support,” said Hurley.
Hurley said he was not made aware of the matter of his replacement ahead of time, and had not been notified of any opposition to his holding dual roles. He said he plans to follow the law, but for now wasn’t sure what the regulations were.
“Find me the statute saying that I can’t be, then I will go from there,” said Hurley. “If there’s a statute reading that I can’t be, then I can’t be — that’s just part of the law.”
He said he was hopeful the matter would get sorted out soon, and that he was working to contact the Texas Association of Counties for advice. He said he desired to continue to serve in the role as fire marshal, and he felt it was his duty to his small community.
“I may be fire marshal or may be commissioner and [on the] volunteer fire department. Because the community is so small, sometimes you’ve got to take that role and take care of business,” said Hurley. “We all jump on board and do as much as we can as a community, to save and protect and make sure everybody’s safe.”