By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
As Robert “Red” Henderson looks back on his 30-year career with the Madison County Road Department, the last four years as Road Department Coordinator, he talks about the Department’s future. Currently, the department has 23 people out working on roadways at any given time, and most of them work on more than one crew. Their official crew assignments are the basic structure most of the time, but that changes daily, depending on where the extra hands are needed. One crew, the rotating patch crew, is composed of whomever is available that day. Most people do multiple jobs because “we’re short-handed and we’re under a (hiring) freeze,” said Henderson.
This is especially critical when handling emergencies. During those times, everyone is out working wherever they are needed, clearing roads of storm debris, clearing clogged culverts, back-filling and patching washouts and any other necessary repairs. Whether the cause is adverse weather or serious traffic accidents, the focus is on repairing the damage as quickly as possible and getting the traffic flowing safely again.
In addition to serving on different crews, six or seven of the employees are “machine operator specialists,” meaning they can safely and proficiently operate two or more different pieces of the specialized heavy equipment. The Department provides on-the-job training for operating the equipment and cross-trains those who wish to learn more than one type of machinery – something that’s especially important now because, “a lot of those guys will soon be ready to retire.”
In fact, Henderson estimates that sixteen or seventeen of the workers will be retiring in the next ten years. However, news filtering out of Tallahassee about possible changes to the state retirement system have him a little concerned that those changes could hurt small counties and their employees. “I don’t know what the future holds yet…we’ve got guys who’ve been here for 30 years and they’re only in their 50’s.”
Henderson himself is scheduled to retire in September of this year, but his own retirement is already set; he signed up for the DROP program eight years ago. “I’ll be ready for it,” he says. “I’ve got it all planned if the creek don’t rise.”
As for how the department will carry on without him, “They’ll be fine. They’ve got Lonnie and Jo,” he said, referring to his assistant and right hand man Lonnie Thigpen, and Executive Administrative Assistant Jo Williams.
“The county’s been good to me and I thank the Lord for it,” he says. After September, it’ll be time to “do other stuff.”
To report road emergencies during the Road Department’s business hours (6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday), call the Department directly at 973-2156. After hours, nights and weekends, including all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, call the Sheriff’s dispatch office at 973-4001. The Sheriff’s Office will contact the Road Department’s “on-call” guys via beeper and/or cell phone.
Madison County Road Department, Part Eight: The Final Chapter
By Lynette Norris