Drive-In, restraining order at center of Dept. of Development debate
WAXAHACHIE – The county’s Department of Development admitted to employing unlicensed inspectors, but they acted in an apprenticeship, according to the agency’s director and an assistant county attorney.
The employment of inspectors before they were licensed caused Superior Septic owner Rick Parkinson to complain, but he alleges in a series of interviews of harassment for trying to keep the county honest.
Violation letters from the unlicensed inspectors (under the apprenticeship, they are referred to as designated representatives), were sent to Parkinson’s clients, which he said should be deemed illegal.
“All of the field inspectors employed by the Department of Development are currently licensed [state designated representatives],” said assistant county attorney Lee Auvenshine, who fielded questions sent to Department of Development director Delton Ake. “In response to your inquiry, Mr. Ake has informed me that some of the [department’s] field inspectors who are currently licensed [on-site sewage facility designated representatives] were hired at a time before they obtained their licenses.”
Parkinson said he submitted dozens of the violation letters and photos showing projects signed off by the inspectors for over a year, which he said the county has not responded to.
“He’ll [Ake] absolutely reject you if you have any experience,” Parkinson said of the previously employed inspectors that were hired before Ake took over on one of the last official acts of former County Judge Al Cornelius.
Neighboring counties have similar departments – usually referred to as public works – with two or three inspectors and staff, but Ellis County, Parkinson said, has about a dozen.
One such inspector Parkinson provided licensing documentation for allegedly scaled a auto salvage yard fence to perform an inspection; that inspector is still employed with the county, according to an analysis of employees at the county.
“Mr. Ake has informed me that these individuals acted as apprentices to licensed [designated representatives] and ‘rode along’ with licensed [representatives] to various inspections prior to sitting for the examination to become licensed…themselves,” said Auvenshine, who handles legal advice for the county out of Joe Grubbs’ office. “Mr. Ake has assured me that no septic system in Ellis County has ever been permitted or inspected outside the presence of a licensed [designated representative].”
Parkinson said the documentation and allegations he has submitted to county commissioners and the county judge encompass a network of alleged corruption.
“There’s no such thing as an apprenticeship, none,” he said. “If you’re riding in a cop car, can you give someone a ticket? They can’t either.”
In numerous conversations with county officials, who asked that they not be named, the actions by Parkinson amount to harassment.
“We have one guy [Parkinson] down here all the time, inspecting every little detail on every little project,” said one Department of Development employee. “We’re constantly being bombarded.”
Parkinson recounted a conversation he said he had with Ake, the agency’s director, who informed him that if any rule was violated on Superior Septic’s part, the county would prosecute.
Recently, Parkinson has alleged that Martin and Marcia Murray, owners of the popular Galaxy Drive-In Theatre near Ennis, have an illegal septic system, though the county approved (with a licensed inspector and the facilitator of Kaufman County’s department of development) the permits and system four years ago.
Parkinson submitted photos to the paper and the Department of Development in which he alleged the water run-off from one of the movie screens was sewage, yet county officials responded the photos were of drainage water.
The Ellis County Press surveyed the Martins’ property for over a week [full disclosure: the volunteer surveillance was requested by this news editor] and documented the areas in which Parkinson included in his allegations.
County officials said they have no statutory authority to regulate drainage water; in nearby farmland, the Murrays said flood water from torrential rains washes onto their property and floods portions of the parking lot for one of their screens.
Their next-door neighbor, Jerry Daniels, has also accused the Murrays of water diversion, though an analysis of Daniels’ property shows a Texas Department of Transportation drainage ditch is being blocked by dozens of mounds of dirt placed by Daniels.
The photos were taken by both
Daniels and Parkinson.
Daniels and Parkinson both told The Ellis County Press of the allegations, but Daniels refused to comment after he was told “the Galaxy would get a chance to respond.”
“I don’t really want to talk to you, not to sound rude, but you’re not a judge and you don’t have any jurisdiction,” Daniels said after being asked about numerous allegations in which he offered to settle for $100 a day. “So I can’t really comment on any of this until it’s in front of a judge. Let them make those allegations in front of a judge.”
A temporary restraining order was issued against Daniels several years ago in then-Judge Bob Carroll’s county court for placing bright lights atop the Galaxy’s fence line, but the Murrays said it has gone unenforced.
The allegations Parkinson brought forth with the photos to the Department of Development have not been included in any legal document, according to records The Ellis County Press has obtained.
Daniels would not comment if there would be future litigation based off of his “judge” comments.
The lights are a form of harassment, the Murrays said. The drive-in’s owners noted numerous incident reports about Daniels allegedly tearing down two sets of fences the Galaxy erected were never investigated, nor were the allegations that Galaxy employees discovered dozens of buckets of rotting fish heads placed along the fence line.
Daniels and Parkinson both complained of the strong odor coming from the Galaxy’s property, but when asked about placing the buckets of fish, Daniels laughed.
Daniels accused the Galaxy of excessive noise, but Martin Murray, who has 21 years of experience in the drive-in business, noted a thick tree line was cut down by Daniels. Some of those trees were his, Murray said.
As of Monday, June 16, lights from Daniels’ home and barn were still shining on the drive-in property.
One of the stipulations of the TRO from Carroll’s court was that lights would be turned off during movie show times.
Parkinson, meanwhile, still alleges the Galaxy of operating an illegal septic system, even going as far as meeting with the Galaxy attorney, Robert Guest, to push for a lawsuit against the county.
“Within your correspondence, you inquire whether these photos depict ‘non-compliant, if not unhealthy, sewage/piping systems,’” said Auvenshine, the county attorney. “The short answer according to Mr. Ake is no, they do not. Most importantly, sewage is not apparent in any of the attached photos.
“The first photo depicts storm-water, which apparently collects from time to time along the metal fence located along the property line of the Galaxy Drive-In Theater and a neighboring property. The second and third photos apparently depict some type of drainage system installed by the owner of the Galaxy Drive-In Theater. Outside of its limited authority to regulate platted subdivisions found within Chapter 232 of the Local Government Code, Ellis County does not have any statutory authorization to permit or regulate drainage systems. The septic system of the Galaxy Drive-In Theater is located several yards from the water and property line which is depicted in these photos.”