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HCHD directors settle debt with county

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IMG 0169ALTON PORTER | HCC Operations Supervisor Cassandra “Cassie” Gallaway, above, of Houston County Emergency Medical Services, presented a report on the ambulance services providers services to patients in the county last month to Houston County Hospital District board members at a meeting Tuesday, May 18.

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Members of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors approved a board’s Negotiations Committee proposal to make a partial reimbursement payment of $150,000 to county government to settle a debt the hospital district owed the county. The HCHD directors took the action at a meeting Tuesday, May 18.

In approving an agreement to make the partial reimbursement, negotiated with county officials to settle the debt, the directors passed a motion, made by Place 6 Director Rhonda Brown and seconded by Board Vice President and Place 4 Director Dr. John Stovall.

The motion was offered to approve the “negotiated settlement with Houston County for ten months ambulance cost (a few years ago) upon preparation (of) appropriate legal documents by the board attorney, Board President and Place 1 Director Barbara Crowson said.

The negotiated reimbursement/settlement agreement between county government and hospital district officials was approved by members of the Houston County Commissioners Court at a meeting Tuesday, May 11, after members of the HCHD board’s Negotiation Committee had met with County Judge Jim Lovell and County Auditor Melissa Jeter and arrived at the proposed partial reimbursement agreement.

The HCHD directors were to make the payment to county government officials immediately after the directors approved the agreement at their meeting.

The directors passed the motion following a board Negotiations Committee report, made by Crowson and discussion by board members.

Place 8 Director Dina, a Negotiations Committee member, noted, “They (county officials) said we owed them one hundred and seventy-four thousand and something (dollars). And our attorney said it was an error that someone did not file an interlocal agreement in the correct timing. And so, he though we only owed them $128,000.

“But we managed to work in between, and we settled for $150,000. And so, we’ve (HCHD board members) agreed … and they (county officials) approved it last Tuesday (May 11) in their meeting to accept $150,000 as final payment over and done with the ambulance. And we’re even with them and they’re even with us, and we’re all happy about it right now.”

Crowson added “And our attorney has provided the settlement documentation so that we will be delivering … a $150,000 check to them (county officials) ASAP. And based upon their signing, (they will) release us from any obligation for that. If you look at it from a monetary standpoint, we saved something over $24,000 for the hospital district.

“And they (county officials) were gracious to do that for us. The county judge was amenable, and he was able to get the county commissioners to vote for that. So, that was very grateful, and it’s another thing that’s kind of off our plate, which we feel real good about, which allows us to look at what we owe in other places. So, that worked out well.

“The interlocal agreement was signed in the summer of 2017 and it’s been dragging on all this time, and we finally have been able to get that done.”

In other business, the board’s oath of office was administered by Stovall to five board members who were unopposed in their efforts to be reseated and seated in positions on the board.

Those board members are Crowson, Place 7 Director Harvey Bruner and Place 9 Director Carol Dawson, who are continuing after serving previous terms on the board, and newly seated Place 3 Director Debbie Kelly and Place 5 Director Roy Langford.

Since all five of the directors were unopposed in seeking positions on the board, the hospital district’s previously scheduled May 1 trustees election was cancelled at a March 23 meeting.

In a reorganization of the board, two existing officeholders—President Crowson and Vice President Stovall—were reelected, and Pipes was elected for the first time to serve as secretary. The officers, who were nominated by the board’s Nomination Committee, will lead the board the next 12 months as officers elections are held annually.

IMG 0166ALTON PORTER | HCC Five continuing and new members of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors were administered the oath of office by board member Dr. John Stovall, right. Receiving the oath, from left to right, were Harvey Bruner, Roy Langford, Barbara Crowson, Carol Dawson and Debbie Kelly.

The board members heard a report, presented by Cassandra “Cassie” Gallaway, operations supervisor for Houston County Emergency Medical Services, on ambulance services provided to county patients by the ambulance services provider in April.

Gallaway reported that Houston County EMS received 294 requests for ambulance services last month and transported 185 patients. “Of those, we life flighted four patients” by helicopter, Gallaway said. “Eighty-four percent of the patients that we transported (to 911 transport destinations), we brought here to Crockett Medical Center.”

Most persons responded to by the provider were neurological patients, but cardiac, respiratory and other categories of patients were served, Gallaway said, adding, “We’ve seen a major decline in the amount of Covid-19 patients. So, that’s always really good news.

A report on operations and activities at Crockett Medical Center (CMC) was presented by CMC Chief Executive Officer Tommy Johnson.

“Mainly, the big thing I want to address tonight is to give you guys kind of an update on our numbers,” said Johnson. “We are almost back to pre-Covid now. We were still probably almost a hundred shy during ER (emergency room) month, which was April. “However, we invested in some new telemetry equipment on the floor. So, our admission rate has gone up.

“We’re keeping more patients because we can now monitor them better. We’re probably … averaging around three and a half patient stay days a month now for each day. So, that means we’re at about three and a half average patients a day. That’s up from about 1.2 or less some months.”

Johnson said a lot of painting, sprucing up and updating have been done to the medical-surgical floor so that it’s compliant with a survey coming up in August.

In another action taken by the directors, they passed a motion authorizing chiller and tower replacements and repairs to be made at the hospital building.

In his report, concerning the chiller repairs that need to be made to the hospital’s air conditioning system, Johnson said, “I guess, during the ice storm, we lost both chillers on top of the school over here.”

He said new chillers have been ordered and are coming and he believes the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to cover the cost of them because the lost occurred during the storm when Governor Greg Abbott declared this a disaster area.

Johnson asked the HCHD board members to consider this matter and to work with CMC executives and managers on developing a solution on how to address it. The CMC executive said he has received a $186,000 bid to make the chillers and air conditioning towers replacements and repairs to the hospital building.

Concerning the planned chiller repairs, Crowson said members of the board’s Facilities Committee met earlier that morning (Tuesday, May 18) and Johnson attended the meeting.

“What Tommy told us was that their licensure is in the office,” Crowson said. “And so, whatever it’s going to be done about the chillers needs to be done, or at least a plan (needs to be) in place to get it done, as he said. And, of course, the hot season is upon us.

“And so, he says it has to be done; there’s no question about it. He said, as you noted, those things were here when the whole thing was built (around 1969) and the towers. And we did go out and look at them.”

Bruner added to Crowson’s comments about the Facilities Committee meeting, adding, some of the towers are “rusted away” and in “horrible condition” and CMC executives want the hospital district to cover part of the costs to make the replacements and repairs.

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CISD’s SHAC actions cut back due to COVID, but not totally halted

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IMG 0261 ALTON PORTER | HCC Six members of CISD Superintendent John Emerich’s Superintendent’s Student Cabinet, pictured above, shared comments about their experiences on the cabinet at a board of trustees meeting Monday.

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – The usual activities of Crockett ISD’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) were curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020-2021 school year, however, the council was still able to take a few policy-related actions and kept tabs on health-related issues, according to Superintendent John Emerich.

In his monthly report to the Crockett Independent School District Board of Trustees, at a meeting Monday, Emerich explained that the district’s SHAC is an advisory committee, and its purpose is for members to “look at health-related things and bring recommendations to me.

“They had their last meeting of the year” recently and there was “a couple of big items from that meeting.

“Obviously, there were a lot of things this year that we were not able to do because of Covid. So, some of the things in the family and community involvement area—we didn’t have much there.

“But a couple of big things I do want to point out is that we had an audit this year of our nutrition services, and they passed for that. And so that was part of this. I think Ms. (LouAnn) Turner (Chartwell Food Service director of child nutrition) was on that committee.

“One thing that came out of that was any policies that have to be in place—they actually wanted to look at some of those. But we passed on all of that.”

Emerich continued, “They did talk about the mask policy. Of course, that’s been taken care of by your action last month and also by the governor’s action now. So, nothing more to say there.

“And finally, one of the other things they did is they listened to a presentation that they recommended. And I want to tell you that, based on that recommendation, we allowed a company to come in. They’re actually in district today (Monday, May 24) and they will be in district tomorrow.

“That comes in and does imaging on our employees if they so choose. It’s a voluntary thing if they want to do that. And I know we’ve had a lot of staff members take advantage of that. I don’t know the final number is going to end up being, but a lot of people thought that was a good thing to do.

Next, Emerich announced that a district Employee Appreciation Breakfast, instead of a luncheon this year, is scheduled for Friday, June 4, at which, end of year awards will be presented to winning staff members, beginning at 9 a.m.

Emerich reminded meeting attendees that June 17 is the deadline date to nominate persons for Ring of Honor recognition this year. He said no nominees had been received as of Monday.

During his report, Emerich also introduced six members of the Superintendent’s Student Cabinet and gave them the opportunity to speak about the experiences they’ve had and the input, suggestions, concerns and opinions they’ve voiced to Emerich as cabinet members to help themselves, other students and community members.

The cabinet members introduced were senior student and President Katie Bradshaw, junior and Vice President Katlyn Marshall, senior and Secretary Gloria Hernandez, senior and Community Service Chair Khushi Bratt, junior Keaton Crabtree and junior Trinity Meadows.

“I cannot thank these ladies enough for what they’ve done for the district in giving their time this year,” Emerich said.

Aiken hired as asst. supt.

Following discussion in an executive session at the meeting, the trustees voted to approve the hiring of a new CISD Assistant Superintendent, Brian Aiken.

In other meeting agenda items requiring action, the trustees voted to accept the donation of a laptop computer, delivered by Jason Barron on behalf of ABM, the district’s commercial janitorial services contractor.

The computer is to be presented to a Crockett High School graduating senior in June. “We will continue to do this throughout the year,” Barron said. Other donations also were accepted by the trustees.

In other business, the trustees approved a food service management proposal approving the continuation of Chartwell as the preparer and provider of food for district students.

“We were just very glad and honored to be part of Crockett ISD,” said Turner, the Chartwell director. “And we have been for 15 years. We appreciate it.”

In another action, the board members adopted a resolution, extending the district’s depository contract with a local bank.

The trustees also approved the district’s school year 2021-2022 contracts with the Region VI Education Service Center.

During public comments, community residents Dr. Robert Grier and John Jenkins addressed the trustees, touching on various matters, including the sale of the district’s Juvenile Justice Center property, being more transparent in board discussions and decision-making, prayer and moral teaching at CISD schools, teachers’ aides to enhance elementary education, transgender girls competition and establishing and enhancing vocational training.

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Regional legend Country Willie to perform at Camp Street

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Country WilliePHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY WILLIE EDWARDS Singer/songwriter Country Willie Edwards is scheduled to perform Saturday night at Camp Street Café in Crockett.

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – Country Willie Edwards is a name well-known to many music lovers within the East Texas region.

Edwards, a singer-songwriter, whose sound harkens back to the days of troubadours such as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, will appear at the Camp Street Café, in downtown Crockett, on Saturday, May 29. The show begins at 8 p.m.

Edwards is currently promoting his latest record, Midnight Cowboy, a 14-track collection that was recorded at Encore Studios in Nacogdoches with Heath Perritt engineering. On the album, Edwards’ deep, bass-baritone vocals and acoustic guitar mastery is joined by his longtime drummer/percussionist Thomas Oliver. Edwards and Oliver fill up an astonishing amount of sound space for just two musicians, both on record and in live performances. Edwards’ vocals, which are tuneful and resonant, are at the forefront, and cover the frequencies a bassist would typically occupy. Occasionally Edwards and Oliver are accompanied by a standup bassist for live shows.

Onstage, Edwards is a man of few words in between songs, instead, he allows his music to tell the tales. He maintains a powerful stage presence with just the performance of his songs, and it is something that has endeared him to many audiences. One reviewer, Kevin Curtin, in the Austin Chronicle, wrote the Edwards “transformed into the coupling rod on a locomotive via his right arm, which strummed with unrelenting momentum.”

Oliver said he has enjoyed working with Edwards through the years. “Working with Willie is amazing,” he said. “He is a master of his own craft. He takes the simplest things in life and turns them into folk classics. It is just a treasure, for me, to be a part of the rhythm to help Willie deliver his final product.”

Alongside his unforgettable stage presence, Edwards has also gained a cult level of interest in the Texas songwriters’ community for his large repertoire of original compositions. Some of them, such as “Marfa Lights,” “Rollin’ Down the Highway” and “Dallas in the Night” are standards at his shows and inspire singalongs with those in the know. To the uninitiated, they are liable to be singing along (and tapping toes) well before the performance’s end.

The new record is a whole slate of songs sure to become crowd pleasers. Songs such as “When I’ve Finally Gone Crazy” and “Down by the Railroad Tracks” seem to transport the listener to a roadhouse on the outskirts of town, circa 1955, but at the same time, there’s still a modern edge in some of the lyrics.

Edwards’ music has made him something of a legend among connoisseurs of live music, and not just in Texas. He grew up in the tiny Cherokee County community of Sardis, where he returned to establish roots in recent years. A farmer by trade, Edwards has been playing music from a young age, when he led hymns in church and played the East Texas opry circuit as a teenager.

Since his collegiate days, he has played before live audiences steadily, and became a favorite in the Nacogdoches area, typically mesmerizing audiences as a solo acoustic act. Throughout his career, he has also played in bluegrass bands, like the Nacogdoches favorite the Remains, and even led the punk band Country Willie and the Cosmic Debris, which showcased a more rock-based influence, and allowed Edwards’ songwriting to branch out to include lyrics that worked in his fascination with extraterrestrial matters, as well as B-movie type imagery about zombies. Edwards also starred in a film, Rainbows End, which was directed by Eric Hueber, a filmmaker and musician, who played in the Cosmic Debris. The film documented an ill-fated tour undertaken by the band and featured a cast of other real-life characters associated with the band, including the late East Texas mystic Audrey Dean Leighton.

Aside from his live gigs, Edwards has also recorded many albums, in a variety of locations. The latest album is available through his website, www.countrywillieedwards.com and will be available at the show.

Despite all of his recognition and achievements within music, and other media, Edwards remains a humble country boy. “He is so humble, and so talented,” Oliver said. “Just a great dude!”

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DETCOG five-year transit plan summarized

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DETCOG Cunningham 052721ALTON PORTER | HCC Mark Cunningham, above, of DETCOG, presented a summary of the entity’s five-year transit coordination plan for residents in its 12-county region who have transportation needs or know of available services.

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Staff members of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments & Economic Development District (DETCOG) have held public meetings in the 12 counties the entity covers, including Houston County, to offer and receive information on transportation needs and services in the region.

The meetings drew small attendances, according to DETCOG Regional Disaster Economic Recovery Coordinator Mark Cunningham, who came to Crockett last Tuesday, May 18, to present the Deep East Texas Regional Public Transportation Coordination Five-Year Plan and collect information from Houston County residents who have transportation needs or know of available services.

Low turnouts at the meetings is not stopping DETCOG staffers from attempting to spread information about the plan and collect information from regional residents, Cunningham told the Courier at the Houston County meeting.

“Some of our counties do not have any public transit,” DETCOG Regional Planner Bob Bashaw was quoted as saying. “In some of our counties you can call and schedule a ride a couple of days in advance. Some of our cities have fixed bus routes. The planning process gives us an opportunity to look for better ways these resources could be used.

In addition, the press release states, “Anyone providing transportation is also encouraged to provide information on their services at the meetings. Matching up available rides with needs is an important part of the plan.”

Persons who have needs or know of services and were unable to attend any of the meetings “can also submit comments and information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,” Cunningham stated, adding they may also call the DETCOG office in Lufkin at 936-634-2247. Also, “they can call 211—the 211 program—and they can be referred,” he said.

Cunningham said, “We contracted with TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) to create a five-year regional transit plan. It’s one that we do every five years through TxDOT. It’s for the DETCOG region.

“The contract was finalized before Jasper (County) was moved to the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission. So, they’re still included in this plan.”

Cunningham explained, “Right now, Brazos Transit District is the designated public transit provider in the DETCOG region. They operate demand-response transit services in Houston, Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. And then, they do fixed-route bus services, where the buses just make regular routes in the cities of Nacogdoches and Lufkin.

“So, you can call them for the demand-response, or you can go online—btd.org. Then, the fixed-route bus services—you can find out more about those at btd.org, as well. As of right now, there aren’t any known public transit services in Jasper, Newton, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby or Tyler counties.”

Cunningham continued, “So, those counties don’t have the bus services from BTD or any others that we know at this point, which is why we’re having these meetings. We’re having the meetings so that we can learn of anybody that is providing transit services to veterans—to anybody, really.

“So, that’s really the whole purpose of these meetings that we’ve been having in each of the 12 counties that makeup DETCOG. We go out in the communities; we ask people if there are people providing that services. We’re making sure that people have the information that they need and making sure we can get to the information so that we can pass it on to TxDOT so they can have it as well.”

Cunningham added, “There are a few providers, like Nacogdoches has a taxi service and Lufkin has a couple of services, as well. But BTD is the main public transit.”

He said the main needs DETCOG and BTD staffers have heard about in the region are medical needs and veterans’ needs, but he was not aware of any in Houston County. “That’s why we’re holding these (public meetings) so that we can hear from the public; so that anybody that has unmet needs, anybody that has ideas of needs, they can go through.”

The Houston County public meeting was DETCOG’s ninth one, Cunningham said. Meetings also were held last week in Angelina, Trinity and three other counties. Meetings were held in the six other DETCOG region counties week before last.

The message Cunningham said he would like to distribute to residents in the region is “just if they know of needs and have ideas of what can be used, to contact us—to reach out to us—and we can pass that along. We want to be able to provide as much help as we can—just to get the word out and to make sure that they can get that (help). We’re here to make sure that we can get that feedback. We are required to have the meetings, but we just can’t stress enough that people need to reach out with anything they’ve got.”

Jo Marlow, of Bryan, BTD’s vice president for marketing and communications, who was present at the Houston County meeting and attended several others, according to Cunningham, confirmed Cunningham’s statement that Brazos Transportation District provides transit services in several counties in the region.

“We provide a demand-response service. It’s a door-to-door service where people can—we would pick them up from one location and take them to another location. Here in Crockett, the majority of our transit needs are mainly medical—people getting to and from doctors’ appointments or hospital visits—something like that—or a pharmacy.

“Our services are available to anybody,” said Marlow. “You don’t have to be disabled to use it. We’ll take you anywhere you’ve gotta go within Houston County.”

To request BTD’s services, a person must first fill out a short application; “and then, if you want to call or schedule a ride, we’re going to need your pick-up location and your drop-off location, and if you’re going to an appointment or something, we need to know what time you need to be there,” Marlow said.

The phone number to dial to request services is 979-778-0607, BTD’s main office number, and the caller will be transferred to its dispatch office to talk to a dispatcher to get setup for their trip, she said. “You can call up to a week in advance. As soon as you know when you’ve got an appointment, I would suggest calling because we do fill up pretty fast.

“We do offer same-day service, but that’s just based on availability if we have the space and the drivers available, but I would suggest that you do it as soon as you can.”

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GISD trustees honor students and retirees

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Swearing InALTON PORTER | HCC Four Grapeland ISD trustees, from left to right, Josh Goolsby, Brad Spisak, Ryan Richie and Allen Cheatham, were administered the oath of office to begin new terms by Business Manager Julie Martin at a meeting Monday.

By Alton Porter

GRAPELAND –  Honoring several Grapeland High School (GHS) students for their outstanding scholastic and athletic accomplishments this semester and two retiring teachers for their years of service as educators were the highlights of the Grapeland Independent School District (GISD) Board of Trustees special meeting held Monday, May 17.

In recognition of GISD excellence, the trustees, high school administrators and staff members introduced and commended GHS’ 2021 graduating class valedictorian and two salutatorians, members of the boys basketball team, and the girls golf and softball teams for their outstanding performances. In addition, the two retirees were recognized.

The GHS Class of 2021 valedictorian is Cierra Espinoza, and the salutatorians are Mary Jane Watson and Stacy Perez-Maldonado, who were introduced by Katie Doughty, associate principal of instruction and guidance, as were three Pilot Program participants who made the President’s List and Dean’s List.

The Sandies basketball team won the championship runner-up trophy in the UIL Class 2A Boys State Basketball competition. Several of the team members who were present were introduced by Head Basketball Coach Blake Doughty.

Members of the Sandiettes golf team, introduced by Coach Tyler Terry, advanced all the way to the UIL Conference 2A state playoff tournament.

The Sandiettes softball team advanced to the area round (Region 4) in playoffs. Head Softball Coach Trina Pierce introduced the majority of the team members who attended the meeting.

The two longtime educators, described as “very special retirees” by GISD Superintendent Don Jackson and introduced by Doughty, are science teacher Karen Cole and history, government and economics teacher Arthur Betz.

“I would like to consider them legends here at Grapeland High School,” Principal Doughty said. “When I think of these two, the word that comes to mind is truly solid. They are reliable (and have) great relationships with kids.”

GISD Board President and Position 2 Trustee James Martin, who presented plaques and Christian devotional booklets from district officials to the two retirees, said, “You all are both so special. They taught all three of my older kids. We love you guys, and you all are going to be truly missed. We’re so thankful for you all.”

A video presentation featuring comments made by school staff members honoring, thanking, congratulating and showing appreciation to Cole and Betz, and wishing them joy and happiness in their retirement was played after they were introduced.

In addition, during the recognition part of the meeting, newly hired Athletic Director Jordan Wood, as well as two new faculty members—Heather Wood and Kelli Fletcher—were introduced.

In other business, four members of the GISD board—Josh Goolsby, Brad Spisak, Allen Cheatham and Ryan Richie—who were unopposed in their bids to continue serving on the board, as their previous terms expired this year, were declared reelected and were administered the board’s oath of office and presented a statement of public office by Business Manager Julie Martin.

In reorganizing the board for the next 12 months, Martin was reelected to continue serving as president, Position 1 Trustee Brad Spisak was newly elected to the position of vice president and Position 3 Trustee Kendra Huff was reelected as secretary.

In another matter addressed by the trustees, they heard a report on district facility improvement initiatives from Jackson and a presentation by Zane Oliver, of Lucas Roofing of Crockett.

After discussion, the trustees voted to accept—pending confirmation that the roofing materials are the ones they expect—the lowest of two bids submitted by Typhoon Roofing of Sugarland to make repairs to the roof of the junior high school building, one of the district’s oldest structures, which has water leaks.

In addition, Jackson suggested that district officials hold a strategic planning meeting and draft a two- or five-year plan for the district’s facilities “to see where we want to go and what we want to do.”

In another action, the trustees approved a retainer for the district’s attorneys.

The trustees approved a change to the district’s Policy DC(LOCAL) regarding the hiring of teachers.

“I believe that’s the policy where we’re asking that our administration office has the power to hire teachers in the next month,” Jackson said.

Julie Martin added that “it gives people notice that we can hire them on without having us call a special, called meeting to get that approved. It would bring them to you (trustees) at the next meeting. I think we have a few positions open. And so, it would give the authority before the cutoff date in July because there’s a certain day that people have to have resignations turned in.”

In his monthly report to the trustees, Jackson said, in reference to repairs and upgrades that are being made to the district’s Lorena Shultz Auditorium, “We’re moving really good. I think we’re ahead of schedule.”

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