Records indicate Ellis County may lose Fire Marshal Joe Stewart

Joe Stewart was hired as the Ellis County Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator on January 29, 2012.

ELLIS COUNTY — Looks like Ellis County is yet again losing a Fire Marshal. Agenda items for Monday's Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting indicate plans are in the works for Ellis County Fire Marshal Joe Stewart's departure.

Agenda items 3.12 and 4.1 for Monday's Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting mention a "Separation Agreement and General Release" for Stewart. The public meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on the second floor of the Historic Ellis County Courthouse located at 101 W. Main St. in Waxahachie.

Click here to read the full Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting agenda.

Stewart was hired as Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator on January 29, 2012 for a two-year term.

At the time of Stewart's hiring, Ellis County Judge Carol Bush said, "We are pleased to have Joe Stewart join us and we are looking for many positive changes to take place."

"Joe's unique background in both police and fire made him the perfect candidate for the job."

His contract was renewed for a six-month period on January 21, 2014 and for one-year on June 23, 2014.

Previously, during a January 13, 2014 commissioners' court meeting, Trey Moon of the Maypearl Fire Department said "He's the common person whose brought all of the firefighting agencies together."

Eddie Miner of the Bristol Fire Department said, "We actually have someone who shows up now. He's a good asset for us."

Stewart replaced former Fire Marshal Jim Pharr and former Emergency Management Coordinator John Patterson, who, according to the Ennis Daily News, were both laid off.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Patterson served as the Emergency Management Coordinator from 2008 to 2011.

Research through past commissioners' court meeting agendas indicate Pharr's position ended some time in September 2011.

The court appointed Tim Birdwell as both the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator on October 3, 2011 but rescinded the appointment on October 10, 2011 because Birdwell turned down the position after deciding to stay with the Red Oak Fire Department.

During the last budget preparation, Bush indicated that the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator positions would be split up upon the hiring of a new Emergency Management Coordinator and the Fire Marshal's salary would be reduced by $10,000. The positions had been combined in 2011 with the exits of Pharr and Patterson.

Stephanie Parker was hired as the new Emergency Management Coordinator in April 2015 thus leaving Stewart to focus full-time on his Fire Marshal duties.

Stewart's anticipated departure is of no surprise. Bush placed the following agenda item for executive meeting discussion during the February 23, March 9, March 23, April 13, April 27 and May 11 Ellis County Commissioners' Court meetings this year.

"Pursuant to §551.074 of the Government Code, consultation to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of the Fire Marshal."

According to a May 14 Ellis County Press (unaffiliated with Ellis County Citizen) article written by Diana Buckley, Stewart had requested the topic of his employment be discussed in public session for the May 11 meeting because his position had been listed for executive session discussion for six consecutive meetings spanning across a three month period.

For the June 8 commissioners' court meeting, an executive session agenda item appeared that read:

"Pursuant to Section 551.071(2) of the Texas Government Code on the following matter where the duty of the attorney to the Commissioners Court under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas clearly conflicts with Texas Government Code Chapter 551 -- Letter from Stacy Cole Law, P.C. -- Joe Stewart."

The item also appeared on the June 22 meeting agenda and a number of concerned volunteer firefighters appeared at the meeting and signed up to address the commissioners' court. However, Bush refused to allow the firefighters to speak because the topic was for private executive session discussion only.

Buckley wrote in a June 25 Ellis County Press article that Stewart had obtained legal council, which is reflected in the June 8 and June 22 commissioners' court meeting agendas.