WilCo Sends Another One Packing

There's just no pleasing the Williamson Co. brass

Another "national expert" has left William­son Co., after apparently running afoul of WilCo's incestuous power structure. His departure comes nine months after the high-profile resignation of a nationally recruited director of the animal shelter. Gary Oldham, chief of the county's Department of Emer­gen­cy Communications, left his post last month, citing, among other things, a lack of adequate support from county officials. Former Regional Animal Shelter Director Melanie Sobel had cited similar reasons when she left last year.

In 2006, the county recruited Oldham, a former police officer, dispatcher, and fireman, who rose up the international ranks of emergency communications over a 30-plus-year career to supervise the design and construction of an emergency operations complex, subsequently assigning him "several other full-time jobs," according to Oldham's March 24 resignation letter. Oldham gave 30 days' notice, but the Commissioners Court rejected the notice, "making my resignation effective immediately." Now, Oldham is taking stock of his achievements, which included the creation of a model dispatch academy. He says he's still struggling to understand why WilCo froze "pesky ol' me out of the picture."

Oldham left Round Hill, Va., to take his dream job in WilCo, whooping and hollering as he and his wife crossed the Texas/Arkansas border. He remembers looking forward to living in a state known for its "straight talk." He set about modernizing the county's aging communications system, deciding early on to delay construction of a new emergency oper­a­tions complex, which could have been his first mistake. "I made the case that a number of things needed fixing before we built a shiny new building into which we'd move existing problems," Oldham told the Chronicle.

Oldham acknowledges bucking what he terms "seemingly deliberate delays" to his myriad solutions. For one, Sheriff James Wil­son indefinitely impounded his new operations manual, based on unsubstantiated theories that it would lead to "dead cops all over the place," Oldham recalls. In another instance, the county effectively killed a plan to replace its circa-1970s "computer-aided dispatch" system with state-of-the-art gear because, as County Judge Dan Gattis told Oldham, people had complained of a lack of input, which Oldham denies.

However, Oldham believes the nail in his coffin may have been his expressed concerns about some questionable business-as-usual practices. For example, he said, he had told the WilCo brass that millions of dollars in grant funding could be in jeopardy if the Department of Homeland Security were to find out the county had not correctly instituted certain mandates.

In a county press release, Gattis stated Oldham's resignation had presented the county with an "opportunity" to improve delivery of emergency services. Meanwhile, Oldham no longer buys the Texas "straight shooter" mystique. More than that, he said he laments that though he made the county safer, he was forced to leave it "not as safe as it could be."

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