The Wharton County Commissioners Court will have official representation during a City of Wharton meeting to speak specifically about the multimillion dollar levee, or in other official terms as it’s described – Wharton Flood Reduction Project.
It doesn’t mean that elected officials with the Commissioners Court don’t know about the levee or have never been present in some form of fashion when the flood reduction project was brought up at a past meeting or luncheon.
But during a Wharton Lions Club meeting on Thursday, Aug. 15, County Judge Phillip Spenrath said the City of Wharton has not invited anyone from the Commissioners Court to a meeting.
The levee project has been an ongoing debate that dates back to the late 1990s when longtime Wharton City Manager Andres Garza was part of the introduction process. Spenrath has been judge nine years so this project precedes him and all the present commissioners, unless you include the late Chris King, who was Precinct 2 commissioner for nearly 30 years.
Spenrath told Lions Club members he feels since this levee had always been intended for the city, it’s likely past commissioners just accepted this as fact, and now, the county has been left out of it altogether.
He provided an analogy when answering Lions Club member Jessica Hartman about cooperation between the city and county. Hartman was formerly the Wharton Civic Center’s director and like many officials in the city, assisted victims during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“Until you invite me, I can’t come in. You could say it’s in my best interest. Nobody said, we don’t want to be in (partnership) but until you invite me …” Spenrath said.
Later, the judge said: “It’s not a case of anybody hating anybody between the city and county.”
Spenrath said he and Wharton Mayor Tim Barker have always been on good terms.
He also said he doesn’t know specifics either about where the levee will actually be located. He said if he were part of any levee meetings, he would know locations.
He did say that two commissioners – Richard Zahn (Precinct 1) and appointee Rusty Graves (Precinct 2) will be meeting with Wharton officials next week.
Paula Favors, who is Wharton’s city secretary and public information officer, said the city does not have a meeting with the county in regards to the levee.
“I think Judge Spenrath might be referring to the City of Wharton Public Works Committee meeting that we are trying to schedule for Monday, August 26,” Favors said. “The meeting will be the same presentation on the levee that has been given before to the Wharton City Council and at a meeting at the Wharton Civic Center. It will allow our new council members and new county officials who have not heard the presentation to be able to be on the same page with everyone else.”
Graves was appointed a few weeks ago after longtime commissioner King passed away.
Councilman Clifford Jackson was elected in May 2019, before the federal government announced the $73.2 million levee project in July 2018. Councilwoman Alice Heard-Roberts was elected a few weeks before in May 2018, and has been privy to the levee project through council meetings and in her capacity as a member of several city committees.
Zahn, whose district includes large areas around Wharton and Boling, is likely to be affected by the levee. Graves would also as he represented a large area around Hungerford and East Bernard.
Zahn said he, Graves and engineer Eric Scheibe would be attending on behalf of the county.
“I requested from the city that Commissioner Graves and myself be brought up to date as to what is to be expected out of the levee project and what is projected to happen downstream of the city limits out in the rural areas,” Zahn said. “As far as any future meetings, the county is requesting representation to be in attendance.”
The council and court have listened to concerns during citizen comments that Wharton and county officials don’t communicate enough on matters that affect each other, or at the least do not communicate with the public about what each other has planned that would affect the other.