(Editor’s note: The following is an opinion commentary submitted to Odessa Headlines for publication.)
Ector County Commissioner Michael Gardner held his first town hall meeting since his election keeping a major campaign promise. Following the lead of his father Freddy Gardner who held quarterly townhalls Gardner plans to hold them across multiple locations to make it easier for everyone across his district to attend. I was proud to see a packed audience show up and be engaged in their community.
Commissioner Gardner summed it up best when he said “Town halls show you where you need to improve, if you’re honest with yourself you can become better.” That’s the perfect attitude that I wish many others in public office would take up.
The main agenda was an update on cleaning up Ector County with the help of the environmental enforcement officer, offenders, and the community. Gardner expressed his belief that the community needs work together with the county to stop the illegal dumping.
He outlined some new initiatives such as the county used fines from illegal dumping to purchase a truck and roll-offs to set up a large item drop-off in west Odessa, possibly using trustee inmates to load the roll-offs. This addresses many of the issues people have with Republic landfill. Currently, it’s $55 a ton with a three-ton minimum at the landfill. This makes it difficult when you only need to drop off an old couch or bed. At Republic, you also must have a hardhat, high visibility vest, and have your load covered or you will get an extra charge for being uncovered. There were complaints about other drop-off locations being difficult or “never open”. This solution seems like a simple fix that did not cost the taxpayers, instead of using the fines in a manner that directly helps with the original issue.
The Commissioner talked about the stiff punishment for illegal dumping, surprising some in the room with the “ten tons” aspect of the punishment. When asked about it, Gardner went into detail. Basically, on top of a large fine most offenders must clean up their mess plus ten tons. Then they must turn in the receipts from the dump. It was later clarified that they can choose to pick up ten tons instead of charges being filed by Officer George of the environmental enforcement department. Regardless, that is a strong deterrent to throwing out that old lazy boy recliner on wireline road.
Another part of the plan to clean up Ector County is the community watch network that holds training with officers from the sheriff’s office out at the west annex on the 4 th Thursday of each month. This helps to ensure responsible reporting of criminal activity.
Other subjects briefly covered were sheriff’s office, roads, water, and noise. Gardner explained that the county doesn’t have the authority to write ordinances and that the county can only enforce state laws. One of the reasons he invited State Rep. Brooks Landgraf to the town hall who regretted not being able to make it since the state legislature is in session. Rep. Landgraf hopes to attend the next town hall to hear more concerns from the constituents.
The volunteer fire chief answered a few questions about burn bans and talked about the damage caused last Fourth of July. He emphasized personal responsibility and using good judgment with burn barrels and fireworks. He also warned that if weather conditions didn’t change, we were in for a tough fire season.
Gardner held a Q&A to answer questions that ranged from burn bans for the fourth of July to strays dogs getting after livestock. Overall, it was a great discussion with open dialog that was definitely encouraged by Gardner and the staff on hand helping him. His lovely wife showed that they are a team, as she worked to get people signed up for email updates and assist anyone who needed it.
Helping people help their community should always be a goal of local government and it seems that is the goal of Commissioner Gardner who said aim for nothing, and you will hit it every time. I was impressed with the commissioner’s desire to have a working relationship with the community and his understanding that the government is not a solution but a tool to reach a goal.
In this case, a revived and cleaned up west side will attract new business to the area.
Honestly, I walked away from that town hall impressed and hopeful of the changes Commissioner Gardner has for Ector County and its citizens, and I am glad to see he is planning more of these events across his precinct in the coming days. That’s leadership.