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  • Chamber 2020 award winners recognized at banquet (GALLERY)

    IMG 8027ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Board Chairperson Carey Minter and Executive Director Liza Clark presented a Chairman’s Award of Excellence certificate to a representative of each member organization of the chamber.

    By Alton Porter

    Members of the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce held their 2021 Membership Awards Banquet, themed “A Starry Night,” Tuesday, March 23, at which several chamber members, ambassadors, sponsors and volunteers were recognized for their support and service to the organization last year.

    2020 chamber awards presented at the banquet included Volunteer of the Year to William Clark; Ambassador of the Year to Carolyn McKnight, Crockett Economic & Industrial Development Corporation executive assistant; and Director of the Year to Carey Minter, who is chairperson of the chamber’s board of directors and Houston County Appraisal District chief appraiser.

    In addition, the chamber’s Citizen of the Year award went to Pastor Audice Leon Wallace, of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church and the Business of the Year award was presented to Good Shepherd Fellowship Church.

    New chamber members Tiffany Wiggins-Blackmon of Crockett Printing, Chip Miles of Styles by Miles and Joshua Hamelinck of Hamelinck Guns each were presented a Rising Star award, a new chamber award that recognizes outstanding businesses that joined the chamber in 2020.

    These award winners were also presented certificates of recognition Congressman Trent Ashby (R-Dist. 8) of the Texas House of Representatives.

    A Chairman’s Award of Excellence, another new chamber recognition certificate honoring chamber members for their outstanding service and contributions to the chamber, was presented to representatives of each member organization of the chamber.

    Minter also recognized former chamber board member and former Houston County Courier Managing Editor Toni Browning for the superb service and support she contributed to the chamber for many years before recently resigning from the chamber and Courier to relocate to Italy.

    The banquet also featured chamber fundraising auctions, raffle drawings, dinner prepared by chef Margaret Broughton and her staff, a video presentation about the Covid-19 pandemic and Governor Greg Abbott’s response to it, a moment of silence for persons who were impacted by the virus, an invocational prayer by Pastor Darryl Bennett of Eastgate Family Church and live music performed by East Texas artist Levi Kitchen.

    Crockett Medical Center was the event’s sponsor and the Piney Woods Leo youth organization, with advisor Ellen Brooks, served as event volunteers.

    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Executive Director Liza Clark presented the Volunteer of the Year award to William Clark.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Executive Director Liza Clark presented the Volunteer of the Year award to William Clark.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Leanne Henson presented the Ambassador of the Year award to Carolyn McKnight.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Leanne Henson presented the Ambassador of the Year award to Carolyn McKnight.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Executive Director Liza Clark presented the Director of the Year award to board of directors Chairperson Carey Minter.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Executive Director Liza Clark presented the Director of the Year award to board of directors Chairperson Carey Minter.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Greg Beaver presented a Rising Star award to Joshua Hamelinck.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Greg Beaver presented a Rising Star award to Joshua Hamelinck.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Greg Beaver presented a Rising Star award to Chip Miles.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Greg Beaver presented a Rising Star award to Chip Miles.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Andrea Hill presented the Citizen of the Year award to Pastor Audice Leon Wallace.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Andrea Hill presented the Citizen of the Year award to Pastor Audice Leon Wallace.
    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Board Chairperson Carey Minter and Executive Director Liza Clark presented a Chairman’s Award of Excellence certificate to a representative of each member organization of the chamber.

    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber Board Chairperson Carey Minter and Executive Director Liza Clark presented a Chairman’s Award of Excellence certificate to a representative of each member organization of…

    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Carole Martin, right, presented the Business of the Year award to representatives of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church. Pictured, from left to right, are Najah Forehand, GSF Associate Pastor Ron Forehand, GSF Pastor Audice Leon Wallace and Martin.

    ALTON PORTER | HCC Chamber board member Carole Martin, right, presented the Business of the Year award to representatives of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church. Pictured, from left to right, are Najah…

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  • CISD trustees accept $3.2m bid for juvenile center

    CISDALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett High School junior students Katlyn Marshall, left, and Keaton Crabtree addressed CISD trustees at Monday night’s meeting asking that the wearing of facemasks not be mandatory for students as they attend this year’s prom at the school.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Crockett ISD trustees have accepted a bid to sell the district’s Juvenile Justice Center property for a substantially higher price than they paid to purchase the facility a little over three years ago.

    The Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to accept a $3.2 million bid, submitted by Merkabah, Inc., headquartered in the Houston area, to purchase the former Crockett State School property at a meeting Monday evening.

    The school district’s officials paid $650K in cash and turned over the district’s $61,000 bus barn/transportation facility to the city of Crockett to pay for the property, located across Loop 304 from the district’s administrative office building in January 2018.

    “We did invest some money in that property,” School Board President and District 5 Trustee Dr. John Garner said.

    Merkabah’s owner has indicated that he plans to have the property developed into a residential facility, but not for the same level of students that some of the past organizations that owned the property served, CISD Superintendent John Emerich said.

    Although the campus will be a juvenile facility, plans are for it to be a place for foster care youth, the CISD superintendent said, adding, so it won’t be for kids that have been sent there because they’re in trouble.

    “It will be much different,” Emerich said. “They (Merkabah employees) take care of the education of their students, so it won’t be something where we’re constantly (having) kids coming to our school. That will not be the case. It will not be a burden on the school, which has been something that has happened here in the past.”

    Garner said the Merkabah company and its owner were vetted quite extensively, and it was determined that they will be good owners and developers of the property.

    The motion that passed, approving and accepting Merkabah’s bid, after the trustees reconvened the open, public part of the meeting following an executive session, was made by Board Secretary and District 4 Trustee Karen Norman and seconded by District 1 Trustee Ansel Bradshaw.

    “I’d like each one of us to consider the transition that will have to take place and how that will affect our students’ positivity by selling this property,” said District 2 Trustee Stephen Tuggle. “It is an asset, but we have an investment that we are, I guess, cashing in, for lack of a better word. And we also have an opportunity to use those funds for the betterment of our students here in Crockett High School.”

    “I think it is worthy to note that this bid and the proposed action that will take place there is something that will benefit not just the school district but the entire community with jobs coming to the area,” Emerich said. “And I think this is a win-win all the way around.”

    “I feel that all the board members understand the history and the heritage that property has brought in this community,” said Garner. “We take this action very seriously. It’s been considered extensively. We feel that, as the bid process is ongoing, it’s an opportunity, as Mr. Tuggle said, not only for the district but for the Crockett community, the company of value, and very worthy of our consideration.

    “Any action that’s taken regarding the property is done after due diligence and our effort to make the best use of this entrusted property for the district as well as the whole community. We feel like that’s what will occur if this purchase proceeds.”

    Emerich said, “There are some things in the agreement that we’re going to get some time to continue using … after the sale goes through to give us time to build new facilities.”

    He noted that he visited some of the other facilities that belong to the Merkabah owner and he feels “very comfortable about this gentleman and his operation (and) what they were doing.

    “This company has some big plans to do a lot of additional building. When everything is up and going, it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the Crockett community.”

    “It will help infuse additional revenue and business activity,” Garner added. “That’s one of our main goals.”

    Mask resolution adopted

    CISD trustees voted to adopt a resolution regarding the wearing of face coverings by students and employees at the district’s schools.

    In offering the motion to adopt the resolution, Bradshaw read a statement, saying, “Masks are recommended for all staff and students. Temperature checks will be continued to be done on all campuses for staff and students. And any visitor visiting Crockett Independent School District during instructional time are required to wear facemasks while on district property.”

    During public comments, Crockett High School junior’s Katlyn Marshall and Keaton Crabtree, daughter of District 6 Trustee Josh Crabtree, addressed the trustees and asked that it not be mandatory for students to wear facemasks at this year’s prom. They requested that wearing facemasks to the event be optional.

    In his monthly report to the trustees, Emerich noted that they will have a special meeting Monday, May 10, beginning at 5:45 p.m., to canvass the results of the district’s trustee election. Emerich reported that 136 voters had cast ballots early—103 in person and 33 by mail—in the election as of Monday evening. Early voting ended Tuesday; election day is this coming Saturday, May 1.

    Seeking election to the Super District 7 position are Johnny Taylor, who has been employed 30-plus years as a school administrator, teacher and coach, and Gerald Colter, a Crockett High School graduate, Texas Department of Transportation retiree and current part-time employee of the city of Crockett.

    The trustees voted to approve personnel recommendations submitted by Emerich and his staff: the hiring, resignation and reassignment of district employees. Among those employed is Judy Leediker, who was rehired to fill the position of Crockett Junior High School principal.

    In a district continuing education credit board training report, Rhonda Kendrick, CISD executive secretary and human resources director, noted that all of the trustees are in compliance with the Texas Association of School Boards training requirements.

    Among items requiring action, the trustees approved changing a district’s previously scheduled half day of school from Sept. 24, the previously scheduled homecoming day, to Oct. 8, the rescheduled homecoming day, on the district’s 2021-22 school calendar.

    In addition, the board members approved the district’s annual Allotment and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) Certification for the 2021-2022 school year and approved continuation of a legal services agreement with Powell Law Group, LLP, the district’s legal counsel firm.

  • Houston Countians urged to take broadband survey

    Broadband Graphic PixabayCOURTESY OF PIXABAY Broadband Graphic

    By Alton Porter

    An online survey is being conducted to determine the broadband internet needs of Houston County residents.

    The survey is being put forth by Connected Nation Texas, a localized division of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to broadband. It was launched in January and will continue into May.

    County residents are encouraged to take the broadband survey.

    Involved in the Houston County Broadband Initiative is the county’s broadband committee, which is comprised of local community leaders from various sectors with a common mission of enhancing broadband access, adoption and use throughout the county for the benefit of local residents and businesses.

    With that goal, the committee is partnering with Connected Nation Texas and its “Connected Community” program to assess the present state of broadband in the county, establish a broadband planning process and address the county’s current and future broadband needs.

    According to survey coordinators, in order to perform an assessment of Houston County’s current broadband environment, the committee members are surveying local residents, businesses and other organizations across the county.

    Responses to the surveys will help them better understand the existing resources and capabilities available to support the access, adoption and use of broadband technology in residents’ homes and businesses.

    After a structured evaluation of this assessment is completed, the committee and other survey coordinators will be in a position to develop appropriate action plans and projects to effectively improve the county’s broadband environment.

    The results of the community broadband assessment and related surveys are planned to be shared with the public this summer, followed by additional work to develop a countywide action plan to address identified areas of need.

    County residents’ participation in the appropriate broadband survey and overall support of the committee’s efforts are seen as very important in developing an accurate assessment of broadband availability and related needs in the county.

    To take the survey as a resident, business owner or designated representative of some other organization, go online to https://www.myconnectedcommunity.org/houston-county/ and select the appropriate option.

    Readers of this article are asked to share this information with peers and to encourage others to take the appropriate broadband survey.

  • Latexo ISD trustees select initial bond construction scheme

    IMG 7762ALTON PORTER | HCC Board President Kelly Nicol, left, of the Latexo ISD Board of Trustees, and District Superintendent Michael Woodard spoke and heard comments from other board members about the district’s $5 million bond construction project and other matters at a special meeting of the trustees Thursday, March 4.

    By Alton Porter

    Latexo school trustees gathered for a special meeting at which they discussed plans for the construction of facilities as part of the school district’s $5 million bond construction project and addressed other matters.

    The Latexo Independent School District Board of Trustees called meeting was held Thursday, March 4.

    “We’re really excited moving forward with the bond construction,” Board President Kelly Nicol said in a statement summarizing that discussion after the meeting was adjourned. “We’ve settled on our placement of the buildings (on the district’s elementary and secondary school campuses). And I think we’re moving forward and looking forward to getting the architectural drawings to be able to start bidding out through the bidding process.”

    The bond project includes the planned construction of a multi-use, multi-faceted facility that will be used as a gymnasium and for the holding of community events, as well as other additions and upgrades to district buildings, including a new career and technical education (CTE) building and an elementary school cafeteria.

    Nicol said, so far, the district officials have not run into any problems or major issues in their construction planning process, adding, “I think we’ve pretty much decided on the location of the gym and CTE building, and also the cafeteria down in elementary. And things are just moving forward.

    “We will be using this 9.2 scheme (a version of a drawing prepared by Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong architects and delegated for the project), and we’ve decided where this building (the multi-purpose facility) is going to go and the CTE classrooms and locker rooms.”

    “And down here (on the elementary school campus), this will be the cafeteria,” the board president said, referring to portrait of the scheme. “And those are what we decided on tonight. Everything else is kind of down the road.

    “These (the gym and CTE facilities) are the main two buildings we needed to approve tonight.” He said the planned cafeteria will be attached to the back of the current gym on the elementary school campus.

    “This (construction of all the facilities in the bond project) has been something that our community’s needed for a long time,” Nicol said. “We’re moving forward—looking forward to it. I’m happy to be a part of getting it for them. The whole board is looking forward for the community to get what they’ve been wanting for a while.”

    The trustees voted to pass a motion to “approve scheme 9.2, with the location of the multi-purpose center,” along with the elementary cafeteria and CTE building, as presented.

    In related actions, the trustees approved payment of $4,900 for geotechnical engineering services and voted to authorize Superintendent Michael Woodard to look into another situation and possibly negotiate the cost in a contract with Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong and get the best price he can for a survey to be conducted on the district’s land, buildings and attached properties on both of the district’s campuses before designing the planned bond facilities. Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong representatives had offered to conduct the survey for $7,200.

    In other business, the trustees approved a missed school days waiver for 2020-2021, authorizing Woodard to go online to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website and request approval of the waiver by the state so that the district doesn’t lose any state funding for employees for the days missed due to “the bad weather that we had” last month, the superintendent said.

    In a similar action, the trustees voted to approve a resolution “authorizing all employee pay for bad weather days.” This is to “make sure all employees get paid for the same days that they missed work,” Woodard said. “That’s for all employees to make sure they don’t miss any paycheck.”

    Woodard noted that the board’s regular meeting for this month is being moved to Thursday, March 18, beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting was originally scheduled for March 11, but “that’s our spring break,” Woodard said.

    Concerning “the mask situation across the state,” Woodard said, “As you all know, the governor came out (Tuesday, March 2) about no more masks and (opening the state) 100%, starting Wednesday (March 10).

    IMG 7758ALTON PORTER | HCC Members of the Latexo ISD board of trustees, above, discussed and approved a scheme for the location and plans for buildings to be constructed as part of the district’s $5 million bond project and acted on other matters at a March 4 special meeting.

    “We were waiting on TEA and UIL (University Interscholastic League) to say anything. So, what TEA did say: ‘The governing body, which is the school board, may modify or eliminate by formal action the above mask-related requirements.’

    “UIL came out and said pretty much the same thing. That, ‘Consistent with TEA guidance, School systems’ governing bodies may modify or eliminate mask-related requirements. Schools may determine spectator capacity and seating arrangements for UIL events.’ So, the mask can go away.”

    Woodard added, “The only thing that’s still in play is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines with conract tracing…. We haven’t had any cases here in a month. I was the last one that got sick here.

    “So, say, if something happens now, if we do away with the masks, think about the sports or any kind of activity. If little Johnny gets Covid, we still got to do the quarantine until CDC changes their guidelines—still got to do quarantines, still got to do the tracing, all of that. And the shut-it-down could still happen if it went that far.

    “I have talked to the principals and they’re okay with doing away with the masks and putting it back on who wants to wear it can wear it. I talked to, of course, the coaches—Coach (Greg) Horn. He said, if that’s what does happen, then he’ll probably make his players still wear masks. That way, they’re covered in case something does happen.

    “If something does happen, then you’ve got to quarantine. They’re going to be out 10 or 14 days, until CDC changes what they have to do.

    “I think the governor caught everybody off guard when he made his announcement” lifting the statewide facemask mandate.

    Woodard said he recommends that those who want to wear a masks do so. He said the school district has no need to change anything it is currently doing, including continuing remote learning, an option being utilized by some students.