Ector County saw several major changes in the county and district attorney offices during a commissioner’s court meeting on Thursday, with Greg Barber resigning his office as county attorney followed by commissioners swiftly appointing Lee McClendon to fill the vacancy.
Barber, who was just elected as county attorney last year, will be leaving the office in the tenth month of a fresh four-year term to serve as the first assistant district attorney under new District Attorney Dusty Gallivan.
The move comes as the county is completing a change-up in jurisdictions and structure, with the district attorney’s office assuming all prosecution duties, taking the task of prosecuting lower misdemeanor offenses from the county attorney.
The county attorney’s office will now handle civil cases on behalf of the county in addition to providing legal counsel to other county offices.
“Truly, since I have been sitting in this position, you have been so helpful to me in so many ways,” Ector County Judge Debi Hays said to Barber, as the court accepted his resignation. “You have been an asset in every capacity to this county and this community.”
The court then turned toward the next agenda item regarding the appointment to fill the vacancy in the county attorney position.
Historically, the county has usually posted notice and allowed potential applicants to apply and be considered for vacancies.
However, a motion was made by Commissioner Greg Simmons to appoint McClendon to the spot, briefly mentioning that he is long-time employee in the county attorney’s office.
All four members of the court immediately said “second!” causing some laughter on the dais as Judge Hays then proceeded with the vote saying, “four seconds, one motion, all in favor say aye….motion passes (unanimously).
The appointment to fill the vacancy occurred within a matter of seconds and without any discussion from the commissioners regarding the issue other than Simmon’s short quip about McClendon.
Odessa Headlines spoke with Commissioner Don Stringer immediately after the vote, asking how long the appointment was for and whether anyone else applied for the posting.
“To tell you the truth I don’t know when he goes up, but it will be to satisfy the unexpired term,” Stringer told Odessa Headlines.
Stringer continued further confirming that he believed that McClendon would serve out the remainder of the four-year term, which has just over three years left.
Commissioner Stringer also explained that the position “wasn’t put up” for applicants to apply, saying that they (the commissioners) felt that since McClendon has worked for the county for a long time and has done a good job in the county attorney’s office, that “we are happy with him.”
When asked if the details surrounding McClendon’s qualifications and the decision to appoint was something the commissioners discussed before the meeting, Stringer said “yes” and that they “absolutely” established a consensus on the issue.
Simmons had a different take on the term in office, saying that while he wasn’t entirely sure, he suspected that McClendon would have to run for the office in the 2022 midterm elections to continue in the post, and further stated that the elections office would know for sure.
Odessa Headlines also asked Simmons if there was “any particular reason” why the commissioners chose not to put the office up for people to apply.
Simmons responded by saying that since it has now become such a small office with only three employees, they wanted to be sure someone continues with what is going on right now, pointing to the fact McClendon currently works in the county attorney’s office.
Commissioner Mike Gardner told Odessa Headlines that when the motion was made to appoint McClendon, he assumed someone had talked to him about it, but that he also felt McClendon was the right person for the job.
Information provided by the Texas Association of Counties confirms that McClendon will have to run for the position in the 2022 midterm elections if he wants to keep the office, with the appointed term expiring at the end of 2022.
Additionally, if a third member of the court did discuss the appointment with Stringer and Simmons to establish a consensus on the appointment before the official meeting began, the appointment could raise questions regarding compliance with Texas Open Meeting Act requirements.
Candidates may begin filing to run for local offices, including the office of county attorney, in mid November through mid December for the 2022 Party Primary Elections.
Editor’s note: Commissioner Stringer is of no relation to the author.