A County Cluster

Share this story:

We’ve been highlighting the horrible shape of the roads in Angelina County in our Kicking Asphalt investigation. It has now led us to a cover-up that tries to hide another County Cluster.

“We can stand out here until the cows come home, if you want to,” James McMullen says.

“Now, you’re about to get me aggravated,” McMullen adds.

It was the first time in nearly two years we got more than a “no comment” from Angelina County road boss, James McMullen.

“You have an agenda and in your agenda you’re trying to find something wrong and I know people pay y’all to come up to here to find and to talk about your agenda,” McMullen said.

We’ve seen and felt the neglect: 700 miles of mostly crappy roads in Angelina County.

76 percent of the roads are poor or very poor, and that’s according to their own study.

And the road and bridge budget? It’s not small—4.8 million dollars in 2023.

Commissioners borrowed another six million a few years ago and then paved only a fraction of the roads they promised they would.

Voters wanted an engineer to take over the problem with the roads, but instead they got McMullen.

He has construction experience, but he’s no engineer.

“We’re learning on this as we go along. I’m not a county guy. I never worked for county government,” McMullen told us.

In a place where roads turn into muddy rivers because of clogged ditches, it’s McMullen who has now stepped into it big time.

“But, you know not going out for a bid is illegal. Why did you do it?” Brian Collister asked McMullen.

“There’s just too many lies going around. They’ll sit right there and lie to your face,” said local watchdog, Lynn Atkinson.

But this time we aren’t busting another case of the missing asphalt, we’re riding a tractor to our latest county cluster in the Piney Woods.

“From Jarvis Farming Equipment, for tractors: $44,100,” McMullen read during the bid meeting.

We showed up as McMullen opened up the bid for some used tractors.

Jarvis Farm Equipment was the only bidder.

But, we already knew this bid had a foul stench to it, so did members of the Angelina County watchdog group.

We knew this bid was a sham.

“This was sort of a dog and pony show today,” Collister said.

You see, McMullen had already bought those county tractors and some mowing attachments from Jarvis Farm Equipment, $94,000 worth.

He had traded in a different kind of tractor the county didn’t need anymore.

“I’m trying to stay in budget and so, you know, we sold equipment that we didn’t need to buy equipment that we did need,” McMullen said.

The tractors were delivered, the invoice sent for payment.

But, the county auditor, to her credit, refused to pay the bill.

A guy who runs a multi-million-dollar county road budget had broken the law.

“Anything above $50,000 it has to go out for competitive bids,” Kenneth Jeffrey told us.

That didn’t happen.

To make it look even worse, he got his reference for the county job from Jarvis.

“Well, it was a clerical error,” McMullen said.

“That was a little bit more than a clerical error. That was just an uneducated mistake,” local watchdog, Michael McCracken, told us.

A screwup that taxpayers would never have been told about unless the Angelina County watchdog group, and troublemakers like us, were paying attention.

“We believe in government transparency and doing the right thing,” McCracken said.

When the auditor refused to pay the bill, Angelina County had to scramble to fix their screwup.

They sent the tractors back to Jarvis to get rid of the evidence, and then decided to issue a brand new bid.

As long as Jarvis won, who would ever know?

And sure enough, Jarvis was the only bid.

But, the county even screwed that bid up.

If you read the bid from the newspaper they posted, it doesn’t say a thing about trade-ins.

Angelina County commissioners may have to start this all over to clean up the mess that Mr. McMullen created.

“He’s got a checklist now for in the future to make sure things go properly,” Jeffrey told us.

That’s reassuring, I guess, but isn’t this why voters wanted a professional engineer to run the roads in the first place?

Get rid of the politics and the asphalt favoritism we exposed.

And now, the tractor trouble.

“You have a damn good day,” McMullen said.

Keep up with us on social media: