By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–East Texas Crisis Center staffer Gwen Cox read some astounding statistics on sexual assault and abuse during a Sexual Assault Awareness Proclamation ceremony on the courthouse steps in Athens Tuesday.
She said 6.3 million Texans have experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse. The Athens Office of the East Texas Crisis Center have served more than 200 such clients last year and is working 26 active cases.
County Judge Richard Sanders thanked all the volunteers that work each day to try to prevent this terrible crime “Without dedicated people who work each day, this problem could be a whole lot worse. To think almost a quarter of our population here in Texas has had some sort of sexual abuse happen to them or a family member is really mind-boggling to me.”
He read the proclamation making April a month to educate and raise awareness around the issues of sexual assault and abuse, which affects people of all ages, races and economic circumstances.
“The consequences of sexual abuse are often severe and long lasting. The risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder increases dramatically for victims of sexual assault. Therefore, let us extend our education campaign and build on the network of support to address this issue, including outreach to schools on topic issues of sexual assault.
“United in this effort we can continue to make a difference,” he read.
After thanking the many volunteers who work in this area, Sanders said he looks forward to the day when we can celebrate that sexual assault is no longer a factor in this county.
Rev. Ed Schauer of The Church of The Nazarene in Gun Barrel City closed the proceding in prayer asking God to “touch each of us to stand in the gap for these victims. Cure this disease by your touch, we pray.”
Posted by : April 13, 2017| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Posted by : March 30, 2017| On :
By Erik Walsh
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens City Manager Philip Rodriguez informed council and audience members that TCEQ confirmed the city is in compliance with water standards at the Athens City Council meeting March 27.
Rodriguez broke the news in a full council chamber at the Athens Partnership Center after getting the information himself earlier in the day from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Mayor Jerry Don Vaught was pleased with the outcome, thanking the city staff for its hard work finally getting the city water on the right side of regulation. Athens water had been out of compliance since 2015. He expects the city will remain in compliance now.
The compliance problem was explained in a press release. The city’s water had too much of a disinfection byproduct knows as HAA5. To stay in compliance with TCEQ, the city water must stay below .06 micrograms per millileter. When the water first fell out of compliance back in 2015, two of the testing sites had too much HAA5, and one had been rectified by November 2016. The most recent results were from a February test.
Rodriguez also clarified the city’s potential plans for annexing property outside the city. According to Rodriguez, the council has annexed a couple of properties within the last two years, and may add more.
The key is to keep an eye on the future in case economic growth spurts up outside the city limits.
“It’s a big deal for us to be thinking about the long-term commercial growth in the city,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve seen cities in Texas that have not been as thoughtful about that, he said. Some cities have had development grow up outside the city limits. The city gets none of the sales tax collected in those areas, so it is important to make sure that we’ve got access to future economic corridors.”
Rodriguez told council members that most of the property along Loop 7 is not within the Athens city limits and major exits on highways that enter Athens are prime targets for annexation. The city recently annexed property near the intersection of the loop and State Highway 19 south for development. He added that most of the locations planned for future growth with the airport master plan are not part of the city.
In other action, council members:
• held a public hearing recommending approval of changes to zoning ordinances to eliminate farming and ranching operations from residential zoning districts to allow no more than six hens as backyard chickens, or one horse per acre, and establishing a maximum number of farm animals allowed per acre in agricultural zones lands, and establishing the minimum size of future agriculture lots to be five acres.
• discussed the first reading of the zoning ordinance changes.
Posted by : March 30, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS—Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of a father and son involved in a truck chase Tuesday morning.
Stephen Wilcox, 44 and his son, Dustin Wilcox, 26, have been arrested for theft, and evading arrest.
A team of deputies, Department of Public Safety officers, police and tracking dogs participated in the investigation and chase, Hillhouse said in a press release.
Shortly after 8 a.m., a caller reported a truck stolen near State Highway 19 South. The vehicle was tracked down to an apartment complex on Gibson Road, where it had been abandoned. The men took off in a second vehicle.
According to witnesses recording comments on social media, the vehicle crossed the loop by the hospital and ran through a stop sign on Mill Run, while being pursued and never checked up. “They almost hit my fiancé and another vehicle,” Steve Sparks wrote. “They were probably doing about 80, I’m thankful no one was hurt or killed. No regards for anyone else.”
Sheriff Hillhouse said he is relentless. “We don’t give up. If someone tries to steal here and we get a call, I’ll put everyone at my disposal on the case right then and there,” he stated in a press release.
The vehicle was finally stopped on County Road 4600. The younger Wilcox is being held on bonds totaling $60,000. His father is being held on a $50,000 bond.
At press time, word from the Sheriff was he and his deputies were involved in another vehicular pursuit Wednesday morning.
Posted by : March 23, 2017| On :
By Erik Walsh
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens City Manager Philip Rodriguez presented city council members a “strategic map” at the council meeting March 13, outlining the goals of the city over the next two years.
The key points of the strategic map included preserving Athens’ heritage, improving its quality of life, keeping the city rooted in community pride and growing its economy.
Rodriguez assured council members that getting the Cain Center back to full functionality was a matter of large importance for the city’s sense of heritage. He said the pool in its current condition is “unsalvageable,” but said it’s in the plans over the next two years to have a pool functioning in the Cain Center than is suitable for competitive and recreational swimming.
“We want the the Cain Center to be the premier event center in Henderson County,” Rodriguez said.
To make that a reality, he said that the phase-one goal is to get the upstairs up and running where it can host events and conferences like it has in the past. He expects phase one to be complete this year. Phase two, getting the aquatic center online, is the more expensive and time consuming part of getting the Cain Center back to its past glory. He expects phase two to be complete next year.
Quality of life improvements for the city include bringing Athens ISD campuses under the umbrella of the Athens Police Department for law enforcement purposes by the 2017-2018 school year; adding two police officers to the Athens Police Department; bringing Athens into full compliance with TCEQ for water and wastewater for the first time this decade and ensuring all Athens boundaries have Emergency Notification Systems facilities.
To increase community pride, Rodriguez said enhancing code enforcement and property standards will strengthen property values and increase public safety and support the beauty of the community. A new website is also in the works that lets the user interact based on if they are a resident, visitor or business.
The big topic in the economy portion was the airport. Rodriguez wants to finalize and implement the findings of the Airport Planning Advisory Committee to expand the airport and the aviation industry in Henderson County. Other economic improvements the city will be striving for include gathering public input on new housing programs for developers and develop housing incentives for first time home buyers.
Rodriguez said he wants Athens to “be the place” investors and businesses want to come to in East Texas.
In action items, the council approved an agreement for the construction of the Texan Theater project in downtown Athens with Watson Commercial Construction in Tyler. The work will not exceed $1,498,000
The council also approved:
• a resolution making sole source findings and authorizing staff to purchase hot mix asphalt material without going through the competitive bidding process;
• the purchase of a Caterpillar Mini Excavator in the amount of $49,868 from Holt Cat of Tyler for use in line maintenance;
• the purchase of a Bobcat Compact TrackLoader in the amount of $63,758.05 from Dallas-Cedar Hill for use in the Line Maintenance Department;
• an agreement with Ben Griffith for T-Hangar No. 6 at Athens Municipal Airport;
• supplemental requests for the 2017 budget; and
• closing several streets in the vicinity of the Henderson County Courthouse during the “Celebrating the Texan” event on April 1.
Posted by : March 2, 2017| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Henderson County Commissioners’ Court tabled action to permit the Tarrant Regional Water District Integrated Pipeline to move forward until a road closure and crossing agreement can be spelled out to the satisfaction of Precinct 1 Commissioner Ken Hayes.
Representatives from Tarrant Regional are to meet with Hayes and the County Attorney Thursday (today) so Hayes can explain to residents of Key Ranch Estates, where the pipeline will be buried, what will occur. “You understand why I need information on this, I have constituents to answer to,” Hayes said. Plans call for the crossing of one road in Key Ranch Estates, which will close the road and provide a detour for local traffic.
The commissioners were asked to approve permits to construct the pipeline in a floodplain, which had nothing to do with roads or road closures. However, Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney pointed out that this permit was the only leverage the court had to have any say in what would transpire, especially as regards to road damage caused by the construction to take place in Precinct 1.
TRWD director Wesley Cleveland tried to assure the court that the district has worked well with other counties on the project and have left roads in as good or better condition than they found them and that money was built into the budget specifically for road repairs.
Engineer Matt Gaughan answered questions about the burial of the 108-inch (nine-foot) pipe. He told Hayes that where the pipe crossed under a road that it would be encased in quick-drying concrete and he expected to open detours for the two days that the road crossing would have to close any road.
Emergency Management Coordinator Joy Kimbrough presented commissioners with an emergency management plan for the work to take place in the floodplain, stating that the permit includes a clause absolving the county from any and all liability in connection with the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline. There is no fee attached to the permit, she said.
The item is expected to reappear on next week’s agenda.
In other business, commissioners:
• agreed to assist with four local elections for the cities of Eustace, Athens and Gun Barrel City as well as the Athens ISD for early voting April 24-May 2 and Election Day, May 6.
• renewed membership in the Sabine-Neches Resource Conservation and Development group and appointed Thomas Fraiser and Fire Marshal Shane Renberg as representatives.
• approved bonds for 2017 county elected officials
• accepted Racial Profiling Report from the Sheriff’s Office.
• agreed to a number of appointments and reappointments to Emergency Service Districts No. 1 and no. 2.
• approved inter-local cooperation agreements for labor and equipment use in the amount of $500 with the cities of Berryville, Coffee City and Poynor.
• paid bills in the amount of $425,844.52 and payments to fire departments in Caney City and Eustace in the amount of $21,174.
Posted by : February 16, 2017| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
STAR HARBOR–The Star Harbor City Council agreed to file for a grievance hearing with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) through its attorney over new sewer rates the City of Malakoff is charging under new contract terms.
Star Harbor has been adamant in its rejection of the new contract and is developing plans to construct its own wastewater treatment plant. A committee formed for this purpose gave its report to the council on Monday. The council named Wasteline Engineering Inc. out of Aledo to be its design firm.
The January bill to Star Harbor has gone from $3,400 a month to $15,485. In addition, the council has agreed to continue to pay the City of Malakoff the customary amount and bank the rest in an escrow account. Councilman Duane Smith opposed the move.
One of the residents, who is a lawyer, pointed out that if Star Harbor pays the increased amount it could be construed as acceptance of the new contract.
Council member Warren Claxton told the council that under Chapter 13 of the Texas Water Code (TWC), the city could appeal to the PUC on the grounds the new rate is unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory. Claxton pointed out that it discriminates because Star Harbor’s rate doesn’t consider the community provides its own maintenance of sewer lines, reducing (I & I) water inflow (from storm water) and infiltration (from ground water). Thus, it is not being treated equally with other customers outside the city limits. Star Harbor charges each of its taps an additional $15 a month to maintain the lines.
“It’s unfair, too,” Claxton said pointing out the increase from $10.43 per sewer tap for first 1,000 gallons to base rate of $47.50 represents a 355.4 percent increase. The next 1,000-gallon increment costs $14.04. Extrapolated out to three and four thousand gallons a month demonstrated a 624 percent increase from $10.43 to $75.58 for 3,000 gallons; and a 759 percent increase from $10.43 to $89.53 for 4,000 gallons of wastewater. “Surely, they haven’t been taking our $10.43 a month per tap fee for the last two years at a loss?” queried city treasurer Don Ellis.
“At those rates, just over two years we would have enough to build our own sewer plant,” Councilman O.R. Perdue said.
Star Harbor produces its own water for residents. It sends a quarterly report to the City of Malakoff reporting the amount of water delivered to residents in Star Harbor, some of which have septic tanks. From this data, the city formulates the charge, divided among 326 taps comes to $10.43 a month for the past two years, or $3,400 to the city, plus a 1 percent administrative service charge.
“It’s incumbent upon Malakoff to come back to justify this rate increase,” Claxton said. Council members repeatedly wanted to know what it costs Malakoff to process a thousand gallons of wastewater. They also agreed the city was entitled to make a reasonable profit. After a lengthy discussion, the council approved the sending of a letter to the City of Malakoff, demanding it justify the new rate and be willing to negotiate with the City of Star Harbor on a new contract.
However, Star Harbor residents say there is a 10-year history of attempts to negotiate a new wastewater treatment contract before the former 30-year contract ran out without success. “In fact, Malakoff did not even present us with their original ‘new contract’ proposal until several months after the old contract expired,” Mayor Dr. Walter Bingham wrote in a letter sent to all residents. “Most recently, we have had our attorney directly involved in the negotiating attempt but Malakoff has rebuffed any counter proposal we have made other than an out clause after a 10-year lock and has notified us that the new rate will be used as the calculation of our sewage bill beginning Jan. 1, contract or no contract.”
In related business, the council approved the hire of four laborers to complete smoke testing on sewer connections with 192 homes to locate areas of I&I, so these can be corrected. “Last month, we tallied nearly 21,000 gallons of rain water we sent to the wastewater plant,” utility/golf maintenance director Tommy Posey said.
Resident Selwyn Wilson pointed out that Star Harbor residents need to continue the relationship they have had with the businesses and people of Malakoff. “We use the same grocery stores, banks, insurance professionals; I’m sure the citizens of Malakoff don’t know this is going on. We want to continue a cooperative relationship. We’re just asking for information.”
Posted by : February 2, 2017| On :
By Rachel Williams
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–The Athens City Council named an architectural/engineering firm to renovate the Cain Civic Aquatic Center Jan. 23. PGAL Architects, headquartered in Houston with offices in Dallas and Austin and founded in Texas in 1946, delivers international expertise with 11 regional offices and a staff of more than 200 architects, engineers, planners, and designers. The firm was named to the project after a qualifications-based assessment. The council members unanimously agreed PGAL Architects will provide the full complement of specialists and consultants to bring these facilities up-to-date. City Manager Philip Rodriguez is also authorized to execute an agreement, pending city attorney review.
The council also ordered an election for May 6 for Place 1, now held by Monte Montgomery and Mayor, held by Jerry Don Vaught. The city will share the costs of the election with Athens ISD by mutual agreement with Henderson County providing election services, and conducting Election Day voting.
Council members also held a public hearing on amendments proposed for mobile food vendors, subject to development standards and applicable zoning regulations, followed by a first reading of an ordinance pertaining to mobile food vendors. The city’s development services staff reviewed ordinances being used in other cities, including rules about restrooms, trash receptacles, proximity to brick-and-mortar restaurants and other items. Concerns about the disposal of grease and water was voiced. The item is expected to be listed for a second reading at a future council meeting. The next one is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13.
The council also considered a first reading of an ordinance which would provide entry level police officers a hiring incentive. The ordinance proposes offering new officers a $1,500 signing bonus on the first day of work and a second $1,500 payment before the end of the first year of service.
In other business, council members:
• appointed Keri Wilmeth to the Planning and Zoning Board.
• adopted a resolution outlining a legislative agenda. In general, the collection of statements support policies that protect “home rule” and local control, encourage the state to support its mandates with resources and promotes effective local governmental processes, city staffer Ryan Adams explained. The resolution also directs the city manager or his designee to act or represent the agenda when corresponding with elected officials in Austin.
The Texas 2017 regular legislative session began on Jan. 10 and will continue through May 29. About 6,000 bills are expected to be proposed during the 140 days the state representatives meet every two years. The legislative agenda will help lawmakers understand the Athens perspective and enable them to act on their constituents’ behalf. Representatives include Lance Gooden in the House and Robert Nichols in the Senate.
• Approved the purchase by the Athens Fire Department of a new lightweight model brush truck running slightly over budget at $96,489. Fire Chief John McQueary said the vehicle meets all design specifications.
• Approved a request from the Athens Economic Development Corporation for a letter of support for the City of Athens to be included within the Foreign Trade Zone.
• Authorized a lease agreement with Steven Eddy for T-Hanger No. 1 at Athens Municipal Airport.
• Authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Stantec for street improvements in support of FutureMatrix, Inc, using 2016 Texas Capital Fund.
Posted by : January 19, 2017| On :
Special to The News
AUSTIN – State Representative John Wray took the oath of office Jan. 10 inside the Texas State Capitol, marking the beginning of his second term in the Texas House.
“I’m honored to represent House District 10 again in the Texas legislature, and will continue to fight tirelessly for the people and values of Ellis and Henderson Counties,” said Wray. “I am proud of the accomplishments we achieved last session, and although we face new challenges, I believe the House will continue to approach issues in the same conservative, pragmatic, and fiscally responsible manner that has helped our state prosper.”
In his first term as State Representative, Wray was appointed to the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. As a member of those committees, Wray helped pass open carry legislation, increased security at the Texas-Mexico border, and provided nearly $4 billion in tax relief to Texans.
Wray also passed the most bills of any freshmen representative, and filed bills to repeal taxes, honor Texan and American hero Chris Kyle, establish a higher education campus in the district, and protect private property rights and taxpayers funds from the planned High Speed Rail project.
The Texas Constitution dictates that the legislature meet in a regular session every two years, convening on the second Tuesday in January of every odd-numbered year. These sessions are limited to 140 days. The governor can also call additional special sessions as necessary, which cannot exceed 30 days. The 85th Legislative Session is Jan. 10 through May 29, 2017.
John Wray is a principled conservative, serving his second term as Texas State Representative of House District 10, the area encompassing Ellis County and part of Henderson County.
Wray currently resides in Waxahachie with his wife, Michele, and their two children, Morgan and Patrick.
Posted by : January 12, 2017| On :
By Rachel Williams
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–With a waiting list a year long for hangar space at the municipal airport, Athens City Council members are looking at ways to capture that lost revenue through a master plan to expand the airport’s capacity. However, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that all repairs be completed first.
The Athens Municipal Airport is a city-owned public-use airport located southeast of the central business district of Athens. Since the summer of 2016, city officials and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) have coordinated efforts to conduct required maintenance on critical sections of the airport, such as the taxiway. Funding for maintenance projects comes from a variety of sources, including city, state and national designated for airport upkeep.
On Monday, a master plan was discussed for the airport. The major options in front of the master planners are expanding the airport itself or increasing the number of hangars available for lease. At current capacity, the airport can host at least 6,000 aircraft operations in a year. Expanding the airport will only increase activity, thus increasing revenue.
Increasing the number of hangars at the airport, will allow those on the current hangar waiting list the opportunity to store their aircraft. A hangar waiting list has been in place for more than a year. Hangar leases are renewed annually and two new lessees will be removed from the waiting list to use hangars left unleased at the close of fiscal year 2016. As part of the master planning process, analysis will be conducted to ensure that hangar leases are appropriate for the market. The master planners will consider all options in the development of the best case scenario for Athens Municipal Airport.
The city council is also seeking public input during a special meeting planned for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Partnership Center, 201 W. Corsicana St. in Athens to discuss capital improvements and changes to the water treatment plant. At a recent meeting, repairs to an existing water well were discussed. By shortening the well, adding a vacuum and two pressure reliefs, the water system will now have greater capacity. Additionally, the ground water drawn from this well will not require as much treatment as surface water does.
In other business, the city council:
• Approved the implementation of a Records Management Program.
• Resolved to apply to TEXSTAR, an investment service created by local governments for local governments, as a means of diversifying the city’s portfolio of investments.
• Approved a request from the Athens Economic Development Corporation regarding Minor Plat, Lot 6 Block 1 Industrial Park Addition, Unit III.
Posted by : January 5, 2017| On :