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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Commissioners vote to establish deputy OEM position

During the regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 28, the Wharton County Commissioners Court approved a measure to make Wharton County Office of Emergency Management (WCOEM) Deputy Coordinator Debbie Cenko’s position permanent.

The position was previously classified as temporary and is 100% funded under the CARES Act for 9 months according to the guidelines. However, the court felt it was important for her to serve in a more permanent, part-time capacity. 

According to Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath, effective March 16, the court hired Cenko in a temporary capacity to assist with COVID-19 paperwork. 

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“She has been a volunteer for a number of years,” Spenrath told the court. “The time (she spent) was so much more (than expected). Thankfully, the CARES Act will reimburse 100% of Cenko’s salary until December of this year. Regardless, the court has budgeted needed funds for a part-time deputy well into 2021, at which time, we all hope the COVID pandemic will have reached some resolve. It’s really a bookkeeping issue.”

Spenrath told The County Gin that Cenko’s work is essential, saying, “Cenko has been outstanding to work with.” 

He continued, “With COVID-19, it’s been a full-time opportunity for her. She works countless hours, especially as (WCOEM Coordinator) Andy Kirkland’s attention has been directed toward weather developments,” Spenrath said. “She does all the daily reports — the number of cases and the list of addresses for first responders.”

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Kirkland, who has volunteered his time with the agency since 1991, said he could not have handled both the pandemic and this year’s hurricane season without the help of his deputy. 

“We’ve been dealing with the unknown the whole time. We weren’t real sure about what was best for us to track and what’s going to give us the best information for officials to make decisions and she’s just a whiz at math. She gathers all the things they’re asking for. Especially during hurricane season I’ve been able to work on one thing and she’s been able to work on another,” Kirkland told The Gin. “There’s no way I’d be able to do this on my own in (20 hours a week). We were putting in tremendous hours in the beginning (of the pandemic) just to keep up.” 

Kirkland also praised the commissioners court for its forward-thinking decision.

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“It’s good the court is being fluid. We don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021,” he said. “It’s important enough for us to keep this up and I was really happy with that decision.”

For more information about the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management and for COVID-19 updates, visit the county’s website.

Natalie Frels-Busbyhttps://www.thecountygin.com
Natalie Frels-Busby is the former editor-in-chief of The County Gin.

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