2009 - The Year in Review - Part One

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2009 - The Year in Review - Part One
The year 2009 saw substantial activity across a broad variety of community and civic efforts in the Hawkins and Holly Lake area.
January: At their regular meeting held January 9th, Wood County Commissioners agreed on the enforcement of stop or yield signs on three county roads at crossing over the Union Pacific Railroad. Signs will be placed on both side of the crossings on County Road 3390 and 2880. Yield signs will be placed on each side of the crossing on CR 2794.
Commissioners also, on January 3rd, as required by law, reconstituted the Wood County Grand Jury Wheel. District Court Clerk Jessica Turner advised this is done using current voter registration records, current driver's license records and/or personal identification card records.
Meeting in regular session on January 8th, the board of the Wood County Industrial Commission (WCIC) heard a report on the 2009 legislative session from Laurie O'Neal of the governor's office. She reported on several economic development bills that may impact rural areas. This includes a possible $10 million capital fund that might be directed toward rural initiatives.
Meeting in regular session on January 12th, the Hawkins school board approved a recommendation to seek a class-size waiver for the district's kindergarten program. They also heard a report about the theft of a school vehicle that was used in a burglary. Board members also were presented with details about "Power Reading," a program for students with reading difficulties.
Sales tax receipts for January 2009 for Hawkins increased dramatically over January 2008 with a jump of almost 37 percent. Wood County overall saw a drop of almost 4 percent.
In Austin, the 81st Legislature opened its session.
On January 23rd, wood County deputies were dispatched to a area around CR 2900. They heard a gunshot on arrival and eventually found the body of a white male who was dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was identified as 39-year-old Alex Richardson.
At their regular meeting on January 19th, trustees of the Harmony school board approved a plan to use available funds from the district's fund balance to cover costs for a five-classroom expansion at the high school. The board also approved negotiating a line of credit as a back-up plan.
The trustees also extended the contact of Superintendent Jed Whitaker until July, 2012.
Meeting in regular session on January 23rd, Wood County Commissioners Court approved an animal contract with the city of Mineola, whereby the city will provide euthanization services for stray animals picked up by Wood County. They also approved renewing a contract for juvenile detention services with the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG). Through state and federal grants, ETCOG reimburses the county for costs associated with the detention of juveniles outside Wood County.
At a special meeting on January 19th, the Hawkins school board extended the contract of Superintendent Dan Rose until July 2012. He also received a raise which will bring his salary to $97,000.
Meeting in regular session on January 19th, the Hawkins City Council approved the purchase of a patrol car by the Hawkins Police Department. The department will purchase a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria with 32,000 miles on it at a cost of $17,000, reconditioned. The Council also tightened city ordinances on charity "roadblock" solicitations. These often take place at the intersection of Hwy 80 and FM 14. Charitable organizations must apply for a permit at city hall, the person applying must show identifications and the organization must show proof of current liability insurance of $1 million.
February: Meeting in regular session on February 2nd, the Hawkins school board approved a recommendation to extend the contracts of all teachers and administrators. This included the contacts for the principals of all schools, plus the athletic director and the curriculum coordinator.
The board also called for an election in May to fill two posts on the seven-member board of trustees.
In their first regular meeting of the month, Wood County Commissioners approved a $108,279 technology contract with Computerland of Tyler. The funds will replace aging existing equipment that was installed in 1996-1997 and has only been modified piecemeal over the years.
Also, Sheriff Wansley reported that Larry Crow was appointed as deputy sheriff and began his duties as of January 26th.
In legislative matters, it was reported that the federal government had expanded the CHIP (Childrens Health Insurance Program) and that the Texas Legislature would likely approve expansion of eligibility in Texas.
On February 18th, following a two-day trial, a Wood County jury of five women and seven men, found Gaylor Stiner, Jr. guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Stiner, 38, was convicted of brutally beating a man while holding a knife to his throat. The jury heard evidence of how the victim was beaten and left for dead in the woods.
Meeting in regular session on February 16th, the Hawkins City Council approved a new five-year contract with Champion EMS for rental of the vehicle and crew accommodations at the Hawkins Fire Department. Champion will pay $450 per month for the term of the contract. The council also discussed the process for repairing the storm damage to the building that houses the police department. The city also announced that May 2 would be a city-wide cleanup day.
Meeting in regular session on February 16th, the Harmony school board approved bids from contractors to add five classrooms to the existing high school at a cost of $982,586. This will be a 6,100 square-foot expansion of the high school. The board also voted to protest Wood County tax appraisals on properties at Holly Lake Ranch.
Former Wood County Sheriff Dwaine Daugherty lost a federal lawsuit that stemmed from his handling of a raid on the Cowboy Cantina, a bar in northwest Wood County. The federal jury found that Daugherty subjected Chandra Rae Jimenez to an unreasonable search after she was arrested during the raid four years ago. Jimenez was awarded $55,000 for mental anguish and $5,000 in punitive damages.
During the last week of February firefighters from six local volunteer fire departments and the Texas Forest Service battled a massive brush fire that also destroyed a residence in southeastern Wood County. More than 60 firemen from volunteer department throughout Wood County battled the flames on several fronts as the fire raged through brush and ground cover off FM 3425.
Michael Quinn Sullivan was the keynote speaker as county Republicans celebrated their annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Quinn spoke of the state of the conservative movement and urged Republicans to "reconnect, reclaim and restore."
The Wood County Industrial Commission (WCIC) met in regular session on February 5th at Urban Eats in the Hawkins/Holly Lake corridor. The WCIC board heard a report by Executive Director Gary McKinley on plans for a major investment in the Hawkins area by Praxair plus plans for a new pelletizing plant for biofuels north of Mineola.
On February 12th, the Wood County Grand Jury returned 41 indictments.
March: At their regular meeting March 2nd, the Hawkins school board approved the purchase of new football uniforms, the purchase of a new tractor/mower and the calendar for the 2009-2010 school year. Trustees also approved a district improvement plan and a recommendation to extend the contracts of teachers
The approval of the home/away uniforms only passed after a lengthy discussion. The cost, $6,615, had not been in the budget.
The Wood County Industrial Commission (WCIC) held its regular meeting march 5th at Jarvis Christian College. The commissioners heard about plans for growth from the college's newly-installed President Dr. Cornell Thomas. He said these include infrastructure improvements, a new student union building, and remodeling of an existing structure for use as a child development facility to serve the growing number of married students, among other plans.
The board also discussed a loan fund program available from the Y.S. Department of Agriculture and received an update on Winnsboro's plan for a business incubator.
At their regular meeting March 6th, Wood County commissioners approved a 14-items agenda.
The Lake Country Playhouse has status as a Texas non-profit corporation and a 501-C-3 exempt status by the IRS. The select Theatre, owned by the Playhouse, has been designated a Texas Historic Landmark under the Texas government code. Therefore, the commissioners renewed the property tax exemption for the theatre for 2009.
On March 17th, an in-custody death occurred at the Wood County Jail. The deceased was Laura Allison, 54, of Mineola. The case was turned over to the Texas Rangers for further investigation.
On March 19th, Judge Tim Boswell of the 402nd Judicial District Court sentenced Gaylor Stiner, Jr. to 50 years in prison. Stiner, 38, of Mineola, had been found guilty by a Wood County jury on February 18th, of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His victim was beaten and left for dead in the woods.
At their regular meeting March 20th, Wood County commissioners approved a 10-year tax exemption for a $55 million expansion of the Hawkins Praxair facility. Praxair Inc. operates an industrial gas production plant at the Hawkins Exxon/Mobil facility. The company asked for a 20-year economic development abatement on property taxes paid to the county.
On March 24th a Wood County jury found Carl Leonard Lively guilty of aggravated robbery. He was slated for sentencing in April
For March 2009, sales tax revenues for Hawkins were up. For the first three months of the year, revenues to Hawkins went up over 28 percent versus the same period in 2008. Revenues for the same period of most of the counties other municipalities were down as was the total to the county.
On March 18th, the Texas Senate passed SB 362 in the 81st Legislature, which requires citizens to show identification before they vote.
The votes went right down party lines - 19 votes for the measure and 12 against it. The bill was then sent to the House Committee. It then would go to the full House for a floor vote.
April: It was announced that a dinner in honor of a wounded veteran of the war action in Afghanistan would held on May 9th at the Hawkins school cafeteria. Andy Burnett and his family were formerly residents of Wood County and, before joining the U.S. Army, Burnett was a member of the Holly Lake Volunteer Fire Department.
At their regular meeting on April 3rd, Wood County commissioners approved the printing of a new county map at a cost of $3,915 for 10,000 copies by a Dallas company. The court also recognized the retirement of a canine deputy, Rico. His service was recognized by a proclamation from the court.
Meeting in regular session on April 6th, the Hawkins school board approved design plans for the graphics to be applied to the school's new athletic gymnasium. The trustees also accepted the recommendation of the architect and general contractor to install a 250-gallon hot water storage tank in the gymnasium.
On April 16th, a Wood County Grand Jury returned a total of 23 indictments.
Congressman Jeb Hensarling, the 2nd most senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, released the following statement after passage of the largest budget in the nation's history. In part, he said, "I am saddened by the results of this vote and what it portends for future generations of Americans. Today, Congressional Democrats passed a budget that will plunge the United States into a sea of red ink as far as the eye can see; it taxes too much, spends too much and borrows too much."
May: The month opened with a deluge of rain. Holly Lake residents were reporting more than seven inches in their rain gauges in a six hour period between May 2 and May 3. Flooding was inevitable and, for the first time ever, the spillway at Lake Greenbriar was overtopped and many thousands of gallons spilled out of the lake. Several areas of the Ranch were cut off by the water and the Big Sandy Creek topped the bridge crossing at FM 49.
Meeting in regular session on May 1st, Wood County Commissioners asked the Wood County Appraisal District to seek a reinterpretation of the method of evaluating mineral values by the Texas State Comptroller's Office,
In Texas, mineral values are appraised by a formula devised by the comptroller's office. In practice, the method being used has carried the often extreme and erratic volatility of the market price of crude oil onto appraised values for local property taxing purposes.
The resolution adopted asks for reinterpretation of mineral values to insure equal treatment for all county taxpayers and directed the county appraisal district to join with other appraisal districts to ensure the same method in all counties.
Meeting in regular session on May 4th, the Hawkins School Board approved a budget amendment that move remaining Construction Fund monies into the general account. The transfer amount was $95,000. The board also approved a plan to replace the fencing along the north and west property lines at a cost not to exceed $45,000.
On May 5th, Blake Simmons placed three new benches at the veteran's memorial park in Hawkins. He made the benches as part of the requirements he needed to complete before becoming an Eagle Scout.
The Texas Senate finally passed Sen. Kevin Eltife's (R-Tyler) SB1569, making the changes necessary in Texas' unemployment benefit laws too quality the state for the $555 billion in federal unemployment insurance funds. The bill passed on a 19-11 vote which is not a veto-proof margin. Governor Perry opposed the acceptance of the federal money, fearing it will result in future tax burdens on Texas businesses.
On May 11th, Carl Leonard Lively was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a robbery that took place in Hawkins in 2007. The sentenced was handed down by Judge Tim Boswell of the 402nd Judicial District Court in Wood County.
On May 14th, William "Owen" Mayo, 34, of Mineola, pled guilty to aggravated robbery before the 402nd Judicial District Court. Mayo threatened and robbed an elderly woman with a crowbar in the Walmart parking lot in Mineola.
Meeting in regular session on May 15th, Wood County Commissioners voted to abandon CR 3390, following a public hearing. Commissioners also voted to acquire a diesel-powered flatbed truck for use by the Pct. 1 road crew, at a cost of $17,000.
In the local elections, Howard Coquat won a seat on the Hawkins City Council. Allen Holley. Crystal Smith was newly elected to the Hawkins school board.
Meeting in regular session on May 18th, the Harmony school board selected the bid of First National Bank of Gilmer as the district's contract depository. The board also reviewed a positive report on the district's financial position.
The monthly sakes tax returns for May 2009 for Hawkins dropped versus the same month in 2008. The decline was the first in 2009 in monthly returns.
Meeting in regular session on May 18th, the Hawkins City Council rejected a bid for city property formerly used as a dump. The council also swore in the new city council members elected on May 9th.
Meeting in regular session on May 29th, the Wood County Commissioners voted to approve Basa Resources for road oil and Wood County Asphalt to supply the county's oil/sand mix. The bids had been opened on May 28th.
In Austin, on May 15th, the Texas House gave final approval to a measure which will expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by allowing certain families to earn more than the current income limit to pay to join the program.
June: The Texas legislature adjourned June 1st with some unfinished business. The House adjourned leaving some funding uncertain for some state agencies including the Texas Department of Transportation. A special session was likely to be called in the summer.
In late May, a location filled with thousands of old tires burned producing a very dangerous and protracted fire. This was a result of a Hawkins jobs program, started in 2006, that went astray. The tires were supposed to have been shredded and but instead the massive pile grew over the years and became a dangerous breeding ground for mosquitoes. In June, The Gazette counted the costs of the endeavor: Up to $1.5 million of taxpayer funds for the original program, reports of up to one million to put the stubborn fire out and then a $1.2 million bailout from the Texas government to clean up the site.
Meeting in regular session on June 12th, Wood County Commissioners voted to advertise for a used backhoe for Pct. 1. The bids would be opened on July 9th with a purchase decision to be made at the July 10 meeting of the court. Commissioners also gave approval to be Wood County Airport to seek a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to fund the completion of a parallel taxiway to the airport's runway. The cost to complete the project was estimated at $870,000.
Meeting in regular session June 15, the Hawkins City Council named Dan Kirk as a Hawkins representative on the board of directors of the Wood County Industrial Commission. The council also approved a budget amendment for the Hawkins Community Development Commission to fund construction of a concession stand at the Youth Sports Park.
Meeting in regular session June 26th, the Wood County Commissioners received the 2009 Annual Report from the Wood County Industrial Commission (WCIC). Three items of interest in the report were: 1) the continued role of Ozarka as an employer and corporate citizen' 2) the TECTRAN Manufacturing relocation to Winnsboro; and 3) the expansion plans of Praxair, Inc.
Monthly sales tax returns to Hawkins for June 2009 showed an increase of three percent over the same period last year. Also, the year-to-date totals were up 15 percent.
During June the Wood County Grand Jury returned 15 indictments.
On June 25th, a Wood County jury, after a three-day trial, found Stephen Delain Rambo, 38, of Sulphur Springs, guilty of a felony offense, possession of a controlled substance = methamphetamine. Sentencing was scheduled for July.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison lobbed the first shot over the bow in what many expected will be a primary bid against Governor Rick Perry. She said if she had been the governor, there would have been no need to call a special session this summer.
(The review for July through December 2009 will appear in the next edition of The Gazette.)