A special election for a proposition “abolishing the office of county surveyor” for Wise County will be held in November, as ordered by county commissioners at their regular meeting Monday.
It will appear on the general election ballot, and citizens will vote “for” or “against.” On the same ballot will be the election for that office. Surveyor Davey Edwards of Alvord is the lone candidate for the position, one which has not been filled since the 1960s.
Davey and his father, Tommy Edwards, who own Edwards Surveying in Decatur, attended Monday’s meeting and questioned the county judge about his reasons for seeking the abolishment.
“You’ve known about the position. You knew I was running for it,” Edwards said. “Why now?”
County Judge Bill McElhaney outlined the history of the issue: Tommy had requested to be appointed county surveyor in 2009, and Davey requested the same appointment in 2010. Neither appointment was granted.
McElhaney said Davey included in his request a budget that was “kind of light the first year at $20,000, but by the end of the fifth year, it was $64,000 or $65,000 for that department … and the proposal was for him to come to each (county commissioners) court and work six days per month.”
The judge said there was no office space for a county surveyor, and those duties have been performed by the county clerk for many years.
Davey reminded commissioners that the Edwards Surveying office is just one block off the Decatur Square on Walnut Street.
He indicated he could use this space in his capacity as county surveyor, and all the county has to provide are the books and a phone. The county is not required to pay the surveyor a salary, according to the Natural Resources Code.
Davey said he discussed the possible appointment with each commissioner, and “they could see a position for me. They could also see me reviewing plats of record and being at commissioners court to answer questions that need answering.”
Davey said he was on board with what was discussed, but since it might include more work than the basic county surveyor duties, it would be a salaried position.
“So the budget that I presented in 2010 was to handle that position – to be a person to the court to answer those questions,” he said. ” … so yeah, I didn’t get the appointment, but I did at the time have the blessing of the commissioners.”
Davey said the judge also had mentioned a potential problem with giving jobs to Edwards Surveying if Davey were the county surveyor.
“As far as I can see, we have had work with the county, but typically the work goes out of our hands into Kimley Horn’s hands. They have their own surveyors, and they do their own work.
“We had to adjust a plat that was done by one of their surveyors recently because of an error,” Davey said.
He explained that since the primary election, he has kept up with everything required of him by the Elections Administration office, and he had been working on his budget. Since he did not draw an opponent, he would win the office by default at the general election.
“I talked with (County Clerk) Sherry (Lemon) to get the cost of the books,” Davey said. “I had to create a budget somehow. I called and tried to set up an appointment with the judge to talk about the budget. I had not gotten that appointment.
“The budget I’m requesting is nothing compared to the overall county budget,” he continued. “I understand that you may not have an issue with the county surveyor’s position, but with me personally.”
McElhaney fired back: “Do not accuse me … I’m trying to be civil. There are no personal issues … I told you exactly back during appointment time why. It wasn’t a personal thing.”
At times the discussion ran in circles.
“Why is this so controversial?” Davey asked.
“It’s not to me,” the judge said. “You’ve got an opinion we need (a county surveyor), and I’ve got one that we don’t.”
Davey did not know the commissioners planned to discuss the possible abolishment of the office until he read it in the Messenger’s Update Monday morning. He said the judge should have notified him, and the way McElhaney had handled the situation was “underhanded and sneaky.”
Davey said he deserved a phone call.
“Did you call me to say you were going to run for office?” asked the judge.
Davey said he did not.
“Then what’s the difference?” McElhaney asked.
Davey’s wife, Sonja Edwards, made a tearful plea and said whether it was personal or not, it now looks that way.
“I get frustrated when he’s frustrated … he has told me all along how he has talked about this position,” she said. “If you had 40 years to abolish this position, why would you wait 40 years to do this? It could have been abolished before he put his name on it.”
Davey said he is fighting for the position itself, and the fact that it is needed in Wise County.
“In the last five years, since I’ve been a licensed state land surveyor, I’ve been working on five vacancies,” he said. “A vacancy is unsurveyed, unsold public-school land in the state of Texas.”
He explained it to the Messenger Tuesday afternoon as a “gap between original surveys that are usually caused by errors or omissions between generations of surveyors.”
He said as vacancies are discovered they need to be added to the survey books, and he said Lemon has told him she won’t be adding the vacancies to the books.
“I’m sure this is the protocol of all county clerks,” Davey said Tuesday. He said if a county surveyor is in place those vacancies could be added to the books. That would be the surveyor’s job. He describes the difference in what a surveyor does and what the county clerk does as “maintaining” versus “keeping.”
“(A surveyor) is needed to protect the public and get these records to the surveyors who need them,” he said in Monday’s meeting. “The books need to be readily available and kept current.”
At this time, when he discovers a vacancy he files it with the state office and files it at the county clerk’s office, but it is not inserted in the survey books.
The county surveyor’s position was first established in 1837, and according to Don King, who has been Brown County’s surveyor for 35 years and is head of the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors’ historical committee, a state election was held in the 1980s that allowed counties to choose whether to abolish the office of county surveyor.
Of the 254 counties in Texas, only 43 have county surveyors, said King when Davey filed in December.
Tommy Edwards said Wise County’s last elected surveyor was Jeff Fox, who held office in the 1960s.
According to the Natural Resources Code in the state constitution, the county surveyor is elected to a four-year term. The 2012 election would be to fill a two-year vacancy in Wise County. The surveyor position would have been up in 2010, but no one ran for the office. It would be up for re-election in 2014.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance made the motion to allow the proposition to abolish the office, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns seconded it. It passed 4-0.