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 23, 2017| On :
By Erik Walsh
Posted by : March 9, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Three vehicles were reported stolen Monday morning in a three-hour period according to Athens Police Department reports.
Beginning at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, the calls started rolling in to Athens Police. Officer James Graham took the first report involving a missing 2004 Dodge truck from an apartment complex in the 2100 block of East Tyler St.
The second call, coming in a few minutes later, concerned a 2006 Ford F-250 missing from a residence in the 200 block of La Jolla St. The third theft, reported around 10 a.m. involved a 2014 Buick apparently taken during the night from the 900 block of East Corsicana St.
The F-250 is reported to have been recovered in Dallas.
All three thefts are currently under investigation by the Criminal Investigations Department and may be related. No arrests had been made as of press time.
Posted by : March 9, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS—Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of four suspects involving auto theft and drug warrant charges.
Ronnie Waters, 53, was arrested at an address on State Highway 274, where a backhoe and trailer that were reported stolen were discovered. He was also found to be in possession of methamphetamines. The state jail felonies are punishable up to two years in prison and a $10,000 find.
In similar action, narcotics investigator Brad Beddingfield and deputy Kyle Pochobradsky arrived at a residence on CR 1504 to serve an outstanding felony arrest warrant for Brunswick Jones, 45, wanted for manufacturing and delivering controlled substances. During the arrest, more narcotics was located in the home under search warrant. While officers were there, two men arrived. Both were in possession of illegal drugs and were taken in. They are Michael Barker, 35 and James Sockwell, 36. Sockwell was charged with possession of meth, and both men were also charged with possession of marijuana.
“It was a busy day for our team.” Hillhouse said. “Thanks to the alert, careful and persistent work of these deputies and the growing cooperation from the community, we are making a difference.”
Posted by : March 2, 2017| On :
By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–Malakoff Rotary members met Feb. 21 in Athens to hear Faith in Action Outreach’s executive director, fellow Rotarian Teri Caswell, give a report about the group’s Day Resource Center, which has been helping the homeless in Athens since it opened on Dec. 5, 2016.
Serving the homeless population – along with those who are on the brink of homelessness – needs extra help from the community, Caswell told Rotarians. “Since we opened our doors, the number of people we are serving continues to grow each day, so the cost of staying open is growing, too,” Caswell said.
“We need funds to keep our doors open so we can continue to serve the poor and needy in our area,” Caswell continued. “We know that God has called us to open this mission, and we know that He will provide the funds through His people – YOU! Please help us to help others.”
The fundraising drive is hosted on a GoFundMe web page, where online donations can be made. FIAO would like to reach its fundraising goal by March 15, Caswell said.
The FIAO Athens Day Resource Center, which is located at the corner of Maple and Pearl streets in northwest Athens, operates from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The center offers a safe place to use the Internet, take a shower, wash clothing, eat a warm meal, or get a coat or a blanket, along with toiletries and food items.
Several area businesses, organizations and individuals have already stepped up to the plate to help Faith in Action’s Athens Day Resource Center, Caswell said. Clothing is provided by Athens Thrift Store, while Baker Brothers and Randy Featherston donated plumbing services, including a hot water heater and finished-out shower and bathroom facilities. Acme Brick also has provided new industrial carpeting.
Malakoff Rotarians also brought donated items to Feb. 21’s meeting, including canned goods and Valentine’s Day candy. Further community service will come during Spring Break, when First Baptist Church of Athens’ will scrape, paint and perform other chores at the Athens Day Resource Center.
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 23, 2017| On :
Special to The News
ATHENS–A Log Cabin man, suspected of murdering his wife, has been indicted.
Daniel Joesph Scott, 28, was indicted for the murder of Alicia Scott, 29, who was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound Dec. 28, 2016.
Formerly Alicia Weaver, she was a graduate of Kemp High School.
The accused is being held on a $3,500,000 bond. He is one of 43 indicted by the Henderson County Grand Jury Feb. 17 including 14 cases indicted under seal.
Others indicted by the grand jury include:
1. Aaron Sean Short, 28, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
2. Temple Andrew Gough, SR, 43, indicted for Injury to a Child
3. Arthur Edward Carpenter, 62, indicted for Aggravated Sexual Assault
4. Khomenique Latoia Thompson, 37, indicted for Assault
5. Shyanna Josey, 22, indicted for Prohibited Substance in Correctional Facility
6. Russell Glen Levescy, 57, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
7. Cody Glenn Sims, 18, indicted for Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle
8.James Donelle Cumby, 33, indicted for Failure to Comply with Registration Requirements
9. Clinton Keith Holmes, 50, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
10. Brad Lee McCarty, 30, indicted for Burglary
11. Bobby Don Jackson, 24, indicted for Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
12. Jason Charles Rhea, 40, indicted for Failure to Comply with Registration Requirements
13. Lisa Michelle Goodwin, 32, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
14. John Grig Kincheloe, JR, 58, indicted for Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
15. Debra Sue Kincheloe, 54, indicted for Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
16. Austin Gustavo Mendoza, 26, indicted for Evading Arrest or Detention
17. Gentry Jomal Canady, 25, indicted for Theft
18. Justin William Deans, 36, indicted for Driving While Intoxicated
19. Ashley Michelle Kleinmann, 46, indicted for Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear
20. Troy Allen Alldredge, 46, indicted for Assault
21. Craig Steven Richardson, 43, indicted for Injury to Disabled Individual
22. Nicholas Francis Landi, JR, 25 indicted for Aggravated Assault
23. Amanda Gail Morgan, 35, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
24. Paul Alton Ely, JR, 49, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
25. Joseph Adam Parrott, 33, indicted for Unlawful Possession of Firearm
26. George Ramon Perez, 34, indicted for Unlawful Possession of Firearm
27. Traunjanique Chantel Rose, 19, indicted for Prohibited Substance in Correctional Facility
28. John Edwin Mitchell, 28, indicted for Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
29. Charles Thomas Lastowski, JR, 34, indicted for Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
30. Raymond Leo Clary III, 47, indicted for Assault
31. Corey Vance Johnson, 24, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
32. Michael Edward Sargent, 24, indicted for Assault
33. James Randolph Sockwell, II, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
34. Silvia Maryann Morris, 32, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
35. Benny Wayne Whatley, 42, indicted for Evading Arrest or Detention
36. Randall Gene Looney, 23, indicted for Aggravated Perjury
37. Kerry Wayne Clark, 55, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
38. Randy William Allen, 47, indicted for Possession of Controlled Substance
39. Richard Dean Garner, 22, indicted for Burglary
40. Robert Kenneth Chapman, 35, indicted for Evading Arrest or Detention and Manufacture or Delivery of Substance in Penalty Group One
41. Dylan Thomas Hoggett, 19, indicted for Prohibited Substance in Correctional Facility
42. Thomas Dalbert Hamilton, indicted for Aggravated Assault and Unlawful Possession of Firearm
Posted by : February 9, 2017| On :
By Denise York
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens Chamber of Commerce President Tara Rigby has a passion for connecting people and building community.
“We were created to live in community and I want people to know that I am here for them to build on our strenghths and partner together as different entities, young and old, to mend fences, build bridges and improve our commmunity,” said Rigby. And that is reflected in the mission statement “Serving to build a better community.”
Rigby was born and raised along the central coast of California, graduated from Santa Cruz High School, received her A.S. degree in Accountancy in Aptos and her B.S. degree in Business Administration from California State University in Fresno. During that time, she also studied abroad in London.
She moved to the Nashville, Tenn. area as part of a church planting team where she met and married her husband Lance, an accomplished musician and artist who specializes in wood carving. When their eldest daughter was nine months old, the couple relocated to Lacey, Wash. where they lived for 2 years and from there to Shelton, Wash. on the Olympic Peninsula side of the Puget Sound where they lived for 10 years.
Lance had family in Eustace and Tara in other areas of Texas and the couple visited the East Texas area frequently before moving in June, 2015. Rigby said “We had intentions of moving for some time, but things never seemed to line up right. In 2015, things came together.”
While in Shelton, one of Rigby’s major accomplishments was to found the Pioneer Community Food Bank. She was able to bring together resources and like-minded people to establish the food bank, which still exists to this day.
Her most recent position was as Operations Manager for the Cain Center until it was taken over by the city and closed for major renovations. In that position, she worked with a great staff of varied talents, she said, and they did great things as many community events were held there.
As President of the Chamber, Rigby sees herself as a member of a solid organization with a board of directors, 20 Ambassadors and many dedicated members. Kristina Jacobson serves as the Office Manager for the Chamber and together they make a dynamic team.
Rigby is impressed by the history and culture of the East Texas area and she said, “Athens has such a rich history and such great people. I love to get out there and meet our chamber members and learn about them and their businesses. There are so many citizens dedicated to improving the community and helping others. It’s really a special place and people are so welcoming and friendly.”
Membership in the chamber is up over 315 and she hopes to get to know them all, a few at a time as she visits businesses. She sees the Chamber as a resource, to partner with the city, county, college, schools, EDC and local business to strengthen the community and put on events that benefit the community. Some of the popular events include the “Taste of Athens’ which will be held Feb. 25, the “Go Texan” Rodeo held at the fairground, the farm and ranch tour and the Ladies Night Out in November.
She has some new ideas such as yard signs that can be put out to honor the monthly large and small business of the month and recognition for local teachers.
There is a lot to do but with her talent for bringing people together and her genuine love for people, the road ahead looks bright. As she says, her door is always open to the members of the community and she hopes to serve.
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 : February 2, 2017| On :
Special to The News
TYLER–A 35-year-old Trinidad, Texas man has been sentenced to federal prison for child pornography violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston Jan. 25 in a press release.
Mikael Johnson pleaded guilty on Oct. 11, 2016, to distributing child pornography and was sentenced to 140 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Ron Clark on Jan. 24, 2017.
According to information presented in court, on Dec. 14, 2015, Johnson knowingly sent another person child pornography by using the Internet, digital services that he owned and a social media application. Following an investigation, federal agents obtained and executed a search warrant at Johnson’s residence on Jan. 7, 2016. More than 600 images and videos containing child pornography were located and seized during the search. Johnson was arrested on that day and a federal grand jury returned an indictment on Jan. 20, 2016 charging him with federal child exploitation violations.
This case was prosecuted as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. [external link]
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Miller and U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division Trial Attorney Amy Larson.
Posted by : January 26, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of three people in a drug ring in Athens Jan. 20.
Investigators have been eyeing the operation for about three months, Hillhouse told The News, before moving in with a search warrant last Friday afternoon.
Stephen Duane Roberts, 44; Elisha Marie Jones, 31; and Jason Denard Donnell, 41; were charged with first degree drug felonies upon finding at their Williams Street residence a large amount of methamphetamine, along with crack cocaine and controlled substances, Xanax and Ecstasy.
“This was a major drug-dealing operation,” Hillhouse said. “Our team got the information and with help of other law enforcement officers were able to shut them down.”
Investigators counted 36 grams of meth, two grams of crack cocaine, 28 grams of Xanax and 15 grams of Ecstasy, Hillhouse reported.
Narcotics investigators Josh Rickman and Brad Beddingfield were the lead in this investigation and swore out affidavits before Henderson County Court at Law Judge Scott Williams to obtain the search warrant for the residence.
Officers helping in the execution of the warrant included Chief Deputy Kevin Halbert, Captain David Jones, investigators Cayce Bosher, Brad Gray, Jeremy Rose, Robert Powers, Jessica Halbert and Jerry Corder, along with Precinct 1 Constable Kay Langford and detectives from the Athens Police Department.
Bail for the trio totaled $650,000 with a history of prior drug arrests. “Getting them in jail and keeping them there until they can be brought to trial sends the right message to other dealers and users in this community,” Hillhouse said.
Roberts and Jones were charged with three counts each of manufacturing and delivery of controlled substances in various amounts, with bonds totaling $275,000 each. Donnell was charged with possession of a controlled substance not less than a gram or more than four grams with bond set at $100,000.
“Henderson County is no place to be making, selling or using illegal drugs.,” Hillhouse stated. “I am committed to clean up this county and so are my fellow officers and judiciary.”
If convicted, Roberts and Jones face up to 99 years in prison but no less than five. Donnell faces felony possession sentence up to 10 years and no less than two, if convicted.
“These folks were selling poison that destroys lives,” Hillhouse said. “With them off the streets, hopefully one child, one mother, one father, one family will not fall into a life of addiction and pain.”