County commission fires engineer

Published 3:23 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2023

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In a 3-2 vote by Escambia County Commissioners Monday, County Engineer Bill Bridges has been terminated from his position.

As the commission convened its regularly scheduled meeting, a room filled with supporters of Bridges heard little in the way of explanation for the agenda item regarding his termination.

According to rules for public comments dictated, only two supporters were allowed to speak on the question of Bridges’ position.

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Commissioners did not elaborate on any specifics of the termination during the meeting. Given an opportunity to address the action taken, Bridges declined to make any comments to the media.

Charlie Walker addressed the commission in an effort to support an opportunity for Bridges to maintain his position with the county.

“In the 18 months I’ve been working with Bill on some right-of-way problems, his integrity has always been obvious,” Walker said. “I know there can be a lot of politics and personal differences, but 99 percent of those can be worked out. His ideas have always been good and he has done a good job with the road department and to protect you guys.”

Prentice Parrish said Bridges will be difficult to replace if terminated.

“I know Bill has over 20 years of experience, 18 in this county,” Parrish said. “My concern is that he has some pretty big shoes to fill. I want to know if there has been someone who has been hand picked for this position.”

Larry Waldrop also addressed the issue of being able to “fill the shoes” of Bridges.

“I’ve known Bill since he’s been here,” Waldrop said. “I know Bill did his best to take care of the county. We are fortunate to have a man of Bill’s character and he has some big shoes to fill. Bill is an asset to the county and you are charged with taking care of those assets.”

Following comments from supporters, the vote regarding the termination of Bridges was called.

In the vote, Commissioners Stephen Dickie and Karean Reynolds voted “no” on the termination with Brandon Smith, Larry White and Raymond Wiggins all voting “yes” in favor of the termination.

During the vote, Dickie said he believed Bridges deserved a chance to retain his position as engineer.

“Anyone who serves our county for 25 years deserves a better fate,” Dickie said. “There has been no dereliction of duty, no sign of any legal, ethical or moral issues. To dismiss Mr. Bridges is not only an injustice to him, but to the county. We’re all imperfect people. Instead of moving on with this process we should address any shortcomings. Just three months ago we approved a pay raise, and now we’re asking him to resign or be terminated? He should be given a chance to meet goals and objectives before this action is taken.”

Reynolds also expressed his concerns about the termination of Bridges.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bill since 2018 and I have had zero complaints from anyone in my district,” Reynolds said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things about him. Mr. Bridges has done an outstanding job and is so efficient at what he does. As for any petitions, that (kind of thing) has been going on for years as part of the political process. His job is performance based and nothing has been brought to this commission regarding his performance. (I believe) this is revenge and I am not going to agree with the termination.”

Bridges was present at the table for the meeting, but chose not speak on his own behalf.

Although neither commissioners nor Bridges commented on the specifics behind the termination, Alabama is an at-will state meaning the employer/employee relationship is based on the free will of both parties, and it can also therefore be severed by either party at any time and for virtually any reason.

Escambia County Commission Chairman Raymond Wiggins said the position of engineer would be advertised internally allowing any qualified candidate an opportunity to apply and be interviewed for the position. If no internal candidate is qualified, the position would then be advertised externally.

In other business, the commission:

• approved the posting of a 20 m.p.h. speed limit along a portion of Robinsonville road;

• heard a County Rebuilding Alabama annual report presented by assistant engineer Brad Solomon; and,

• approved a resolution requesting local legislation regarding animal shelter manager compensation.