BELTON — Two new lead administrators at county departments are experiencing two starkly different staff transitions.
While the staff at the Bell County Attorney’s office has remained largely unchanged under Jim Nichols young term, new Sheriff Eddy Lange has had to weather the retirement of several top administrators.
The difference in their experiences reflects their standing with their predecessors. Nichols had been former County Attorney Rick Miller’s longtime right-hand man.
Miller strenuously defended Nichols in an ugly campaign, making his presence felt at candidate forums and creating his own advertisements that addressed accusations made by defeated candidate Bobby Barina.
On the other hand, Lange was not retired Sheriff Dan Smith’s first choice for a successor.
Shortly after he announced he would not seek re-election, Smith threw his support behind former Bell County jail administrator Bob Patterson. Patterson lost to Lange in a Republican primary run-off election in July.
To illustrate the rough transition, Lange said last week that he only received access to his new office after the county judge swore him in as sheriff. He has yet to officially move into Smith’s former office, while workers repaint it.
Four out of five top deputies retired at the end of Smith’s term, including the head of the jail, criminal investigations and animal control. Smith’s second-in-command left the office as well.
In contrast, the staff shuffle in the county attorney’s office has been minimal. Nichols hired one new prosecutor and named Mike Danford his first assistant.
“(The staff) know me well, and I know them,” Nichols said. “It’s been very smooth.”
Lange has addressed vacancies by moving some of his allies within the sheriff’s office to new positions. Longtime lieutenant and Lange supporter Chuck Cox took over as chief deputy.
James Lewing, investigator for the sheriff’s office during Smith’s final term, is now the lieutenant over the Patrol Division.
Lange campaigned on expanding that department.
He also hired from outside the department. Two retired Department of Public Safety employees moved into leadership positions, and Lange plans to hire a third DPS officer in April.
Lange also reorganized the department, creating a new division tentatively known as Special Units that will focus on sexual offender registry compliance and apprehending fugitives.
The department also now has a chief financial officer. Lange placed deputy Norman Hubbard into that position. Hubbard has 20 years of accounting experience, new public information officer Lt. Donnie Adams said.
“We are the largest single department in the county with a combined budget along with the jail of over $20 million,” Lange said. “We need a financial officer. And that person works hand in hand with Donna Eakin, our county auditor, on counting beans and seeing how we can save more beans.”
The department lacks an official jail administrator, who would be the manager of the largest area of the sheriff’s office. During Smith’s tenure, the sheriff’s office evolved largely into an inmate management department as the county’s population grew threefold.
The jail makes up 73 percent of the sheriff’s office’s total budget, a larger slice than jail operations in neighboring Williamson County (52 percent) and McLennan County (68 percent).