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Port Neches names interim fire chief; move follows former’s arrest for child porn

PORT NECHES — “Congratulations Mike. Y’all have been doing a good job. We’re proud of you. Continue to get things moving forward. We appreciate all the work y’all are doing.”

Those were the words of encouragement delivered this week by Port Neches Councilman Robert Arnold to Mike Stegall following his confirmation as interim fire chief.

It was Arnold delivering the message Thursday, leading the council meeting as mayor pro tem in the absence of Mayor Glenn Johnson.

Stegall has been running the fire department for more than a week following the surprise arrest Jan. 13 and subsequent firing of Fire Chief Paul Nelson for two promotion of child pornography charges.

Nelson’s warrants followed an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Child Exploitation Unit and were the result of a cyber tipline report from a social media site involving the transmission and receipt of child pornography through private messages.

“Digital devices were seized, and they are being examined right now by our digital forensics unit,” Attorney General’s Office Press Secretary Kayleigh Date said. “They were taken from (Nelson’s) residence.”

Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine said Nelson was arrested at City Hall, leading to a great deal of heartache in the community and numerous employees who were crying at their desks when informed of the news last week.

The continuation of city business necessitated the city council’s vote this week, according to Port Neches City manager André Wimer, who noted there are fine points of distinction between the terminology “acting” and “interim.”

“In order to have the full width of authority and responsibility during this time period, it is necessary to designate Chief Stegall as the interim fire chief instead of the acting fire chief,” Wimer told council members. “The designation of interim status does require the concurrence of the city council, and I recommend approval.”

Present city council members unanimously approved the designation.

Stegall is now overseeing a department that includes 15 in personnel (chief, assistant chief, three captains, three operators, six firefighters and a secretary) plus an operating budget of slightly more than $2 million for the fiscal year.

The fire department handles fire and EMS calls that are residential or commercial, as well as working with industry.

The department is also responsible for code enforcement in the context of property maintenance.

Wimer said he would make a determination in the “near future” in terms of how and when the position would be filled on a permanent basis.