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Houston County named to ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative

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NEWS Vaccine 031721FILE PHOTO

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – Governor Greg Abbott announced today that Houston County is one of four East Texas counties added to the statewide “Save Our Seniors” initiative.

The initiative was announced on March 1 by Abbott to ensure that more senior citizens are vaccinated throughout the state. Houston County senior citizens can receive their free shot at the Crockett Civic Center Thursday, March 18 and Friday, March 19.

The vaccines, which will be administered by a military team, will be available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each of the two days. According to the Houston County Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal, the availability in the county of the vaccine as part of the initiative is the most recent plan to protect the county’s citizens. Five hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available at the vaccination center.

Anyone who is age 50 or older, along with members of the same household (21 and older) and/or caregivers is eligible for the vaccines on these dates. The availability has also been opened to employees of the education field.

Other counties in the region that were added to this wave of the initiative are Trinity, Shelby and Hopkins. This is the third week, thus far, and there were previously 26 and 34 counties participating, respectively, each of the other two weeks. This week, in total, there are 28 Texas counties named to the initiative by the Texas Division of Emergency (TDEM), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Military Department (TMD.)

“The continued expansion of our ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative is protecting elderly Texans from COVID-19 and ramping up our vaccination efforts across the state,” Abbott said.

For those who have questions regarding the vaccine or might need to schedule a home visit for a home-bound individual, they can call 936-544-7175, and registration is also available on-site. The Civic Center is located at 1100 Edmiston Drive in Crockett.

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KISD trustees make mask wearing optional

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KISD supt img page wz0estCOURTESY PHOTO KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey

By Alton Porter

Like students, faculty members and staffers in other independent school districts across the state, those in Kennard now can choose whether or not to wear face coverings to school.

Members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a “mask or no mask requirement,” giving students and district personnel the options at a regular board meeting Monday, March 15.

The trustees took the action in response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott March 2 and which took effect March 10, lifting his former statewide mask mandate and a change in health guidelines by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

“Our board approved the no mask requirement. However, it is optional. If a student or staff member wants to continue to wear their mask, they may do so. It is optional at this time.”

Before Abbott issued the recent executive order, “TEA required us all to wear masks, based on the governor’s orders,” including his mask mandate executive order issued during the week of June 29 last year), Lindsey said.

“And since he changed, TEA had changed their health guidelines. And it said that the only thing that the schools could do—the board had the local authority to change the mask requirement. We still have to continue to follow TEA’s public health guidance. But the only thing that we could change was the mask requirement. The school board had the authority to make that decision.”

Among other actions taken at the meeting, the trustees approved a “missed school day waiver” to account for days missed by school employees during last month’s severe winter storms.

“Due to the winter freeze in February, we had to ask TEA for waivers, due to not having electricity and those types of things,” the KISD superintendent said. “And we asked for waivers from Feb. 16-19 because that Monday (Feb. 15, when the first of the two storms created electrical power outage and water service loss problems), we were already out for a holiday.”

The waiver eliminates the requirement that the staffers make up for those missed days, Lindsey said, adding, they will be paid as usual for those days.

In other business, the KISD trustees voted to approve the district’s school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year and approved an Instructional Materials Recommendation Proclamation for 2021.

A copy of the calendar is posted on the district’s website and Facebook page.

About the instructional materials recommendation proclamation, Lindsey said, “This year is time to adopt new materials for pre-k, and we recommended to adopt Frog Street (one of several pre-kindergarten curriculums provided by an approved vendor included on a list provided by TEA),” and the recommendation was approved.

“TEA provides a list of approved vendors for us to look at that they feel are appropriate and aligned with text,” Lindsey said. “And then, it’s up to the district to evaluate those on the list to make the best recommendation for their district.

“It’s the curriculum that our teachers will use that are based on the pre-k guidelines. We currently use the program, but now it’s time to adopt our instructional coach. And our teachers did and evaluation process of three vendors and found that Frog Street they felt would be the best to meet the needs of our kids.”

In another action, the trustees approved contracting with the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm, to serve as the district’s auditor for the 2021-2022 school and fiscal year.

During reports by Principal Oscar Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Robin Stowe, it was noted that “we gave benchmarks last week,” said Lindsey. “And we just had a summary of our data to look at where we need to do some intervention prior to giving STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).”

Lindsey said Encarnacion and Stowe were to meet with teachers Thursday or Friday, March 18 or 19, “to go over that data and make individual student plans” for administering the test. She said the district is required by TEA to administer the test this school year, adding, “we have chosen this year to go all online 100% for testing.” Most of the test will be administered to students in late May, she said.

Students in grades three through eight, will be given the tests, Lindsey said. “And then, you have your Algebra I, Biology, US History, English I and English II” high school classes that will be administered tests.

During the meeting, student participants in this year’s Kennard High School one-act play cast and staff were recognized for their success in advancing to bi-district competition, which took place Monday, March 22.

“We also recognized our basketball all-district students,” Lindsey said, adding, “and our coach, Cory Carden, was named district coach of the year. So, we were very proud of him.”

After reconvening the open, public part of the meeting, following a closed, executive session, the trustees approved annual contracts for Principal Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Stowe; the resignation of former school nurse Diann Deckard; and routine requests for personnel employment, teacher contract renewal and proposed renewal, renewals for professional employees in non-certified positions and approval of at-will employees for 2021-2022, Lindsey said.

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Broadband project sees some funding

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3 NEWS Broadband GraphicGraphic courtesy of Pixabay

By Chris Edwards

LUFKIN – A project that has been three years in the making for the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) moved from the planning stages into one signaled by a green light.

Broadband funding for the 12-county East Texas region that DETCOG services has been high on the council’s list of priorities since 2018, and last Thursday, a chunk of a $32 million round of General Land Office funding for various projects will be allocated toward a broadband project in northern Newton County.

“We are thrilled to learn that our grant application to construct a rural broadband network in northern Newton County has been approved,” Lonnie Hunt, DETCOG’s Executive Director, said.

He called the Newton project’s funding award “a significant step toward realizing our ultimate goal of ensuring every home and business in Deep East Texas has reliable and affordable broadband.”

The project claims $9,008,688 of the overall pie, and Hunt said that DETCOG is awaiting word on another larger grant application, which if approved, would enable the agency to construct a rural broadband network in all 12 member counties.

“It’s very, very doable,” he said last week on a conference call before the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce Stakeholders and added that the larger grant application may take a couple of months.

Hunt described the project as intimidating, even scary, when DETCOG first began the initiative in early 2018, but now it is a must. “It must be done here in Deep East Texas,” he said.

All of the DETCOG member counties signed resolutions in support of the initiative. The Newton County-specific request came from funding after flooding in 2016. The other grant DETCOG is awaiting an answer on is from the GLO’s Hurricane Harvey recovery funds.

Hunt acknowledged the state legislature, which has placed priority on broadband access throughout the region.

Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) filed identical bills in the Senate and House (SB 506 and HB 1446) to address the issue by forming a state broadband office, creating a comprehensive statewide plan and identifying which areas have the greatest need.

Hunt said that broadband access is a big project, which will take time to complete. With the Newton project, he said a contract will have to be put in place with the GLO, and then there is additional engineering work and environmental assessments before any construction can begin.

“We will move as quickly as we can but will also take the time to make sure this project is done right. Since we began the DETCOG broadband initiative three years ago, we have sought out the best experts available to make sure we have a solid plan that will be successful. We already have our engineering and grants management teams in place and ready to start once we have a contract in place,” he said.

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Fisher declared re-elected as mayor

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2 Mayor Fisher 031621ALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett’s re-elected mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher presides over Monday’s council meeting.

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Dr. Ianthia Fisher has been declared re-elected as Crockett’s mayor in a city council resolution. She was unopposed in her bid to continue serving as the city’s elected leader, a position to which she was initially elected in 2019.

Fisher is one of two candidates who originally filed to run for mayor in the city’s Saturday, May 1, election. However, the other candidate, James Jellum, withdrew from the race before ballots were printed, according to City Secretary Mitzi Thompson. Therefore, members of the city council voted to approve a document of certification of Fisher as an unopposed candidate for mayor, an at-large position, at a meeting on Monday, March 15.

After approving the city certification of unopposed candidate for mayor, the councilmembers, in a related action, voted to approve a resolution authorizing cancelling the election of mayor in the scheduled May 1 election.

The resolution also states that only one eligible candidate, Fisher, had filed to run for mayor and had not withdrawn by the Feb. 12 deadline “and hereby declares the unopposed candidate (Fisher) elected to office and shall be issued Certificate of Election following the time the election will be canvassed.”

In another election-related matter, the councilmembers voted to approve a resolution, appointing election officials for the regular general election, setting the rate of pay for the election officials and the maximum number of election clerks for the polling places, and designating the early voting ballot board.

Also, in preparation for the municipal election, the councilmembers approved designation of two deputy early voting clerks, who are “authorized to perform any duties which are assigned by me in the performance of conducting early voting,” wrote Thompson, who also is the early voting clerk, in the designation document.

Council seats up for election in the May 1 election are those for City Precincts 1 and 2. Candidates for the Precinct 1 position are incumbent Butch Calvert, Gene Caldwell and Samantha Wiley. Precinct 2 seat candidates are incumbent Darrell Jones, Charles Clawson and Vicki Cox.

On election day, polls for the councilmember elections will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Election day polling places are: Precinct 1, All Saints Episcopal Church Annex, 1301 E. Houston Ave.; and Precinct 2, Crockett Fire Station, 201 N. 6th St.

Early voting by in-person appearance will be conducted at Crockett City Hall, 200 N. 5th St., April 19-23, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and April 26-27, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Applications for ballots by mail should be mailed to Mitzi Thompson, City Secretary, 200 N. 5th St., Crockett, Texas, 75835, and must be received in the secretary’s office no later than by the close of business Tuesday, April 20.

In other business, the councilmembers voted to approve an ordinance, temporarily reducing the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph for motor vehicles being driven in either direction on State Loop 304 between State Highway 19 and SH 7, while much of that section of the loop is under construction.

The councilmembers also discussed city facility operations and current COVID-19 measures. “Basically, what the city is doing is there are certain facilities that we do have control over,” said Fisher.

“And as far as the city facilities, they’re going to remain pretty much stable, recognizing the CDC guidelines that they already have,” she added.

There’s no limit on the size of gatherings “unless we run into a problem and they (users of city facilities) can’t ensure their safety,” Fisher said. “If it presents a problem where people were saying it was so congested, then we will have to readdress it and set a cap on it.

“But right now, everyone that has basically used the facility—even for concerts—have been so mindful of being able to respect the safety of others. So, we haven’t had that problem; we don’t anticipate having that problem. But in case we do, we will be able to readdress it and be willing to put a cap (on gatherings at the facilities) if it has to be.”

The mayor added, “But we are asking that you (users of the facilities) maintain the safety guidelines. Whatever your percentage should be, it should be in accordance with what you can do—staying within the guidelines.

“And then the other part of it (the mayor and councilmembers approach) is that we did ask the city (staffers) to take into consideration the CDC guidelines. And even though the (former) mask mandate isn’t in effect anymore it is important that we still continue to protect ourselves to the best of our ability. And that’s a simple way with the basic guidelines: washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing and those kinds of things.”

Summer Fun Day planned

During Police Chief Clayton Smith’s regular report, he said the police department is planning a Summer Fun Day event to be held Saturday, June 5, if allowed by COVID protocols and depending on what is going on at that time. “We haven’t been able to have a community event in a while because of Covid and everything going on,” said Smith.

He noted, June 5 is during “the first weekend that the kids are out of school,” and added, plans are to have the event in Davy Crockett Memorial Park with waterslides, possibly around the splash pad, and event planners are “just trying to get all the kids out to have fun.”

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Second arrest made in Paul case

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1 MUGSHOT Edwards 031621MUGSHOT Clara Kimble Edwards

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – A second arrest was made in connection with the disappearance of Faye Lynn Paul on Monday.

Crockett Police Chief Clayton Smith announced on Monday that Clara Kimble Edwards, age 31, was taken into custody by investigators on the charge of Tampering with a Human Corpse, a second-degree felony. Edwards was apprehended with the assistance of the US Marshals’ Service, at her family’s home in Houston County.

According to Smith, the arrest came about through the ongoing investigation into Paul’s murder. Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar approved of a warrant being issued for Edwards’s arrest.

Crockett Police began investigating Paul’s disappearance in February of last year, when the 79-year-old Crockett woman’s Chevrolet Impala and her nephew, David Wayne Denson, were also missing. A Silver Alert was out for Paul, and the Houston County Courier was notified that Denson was wanted for questioning about his aunt’s whereabouts.

Denson and the vehicle were both located, and the 25-year-old man was brought back to Crockett from Alamosa, Colo., where he was discovered, for questioning and on felony charges for violating an existing probation.

Although Paul was not located after Denson was questioned, Smith announced in March 2020 that his department was actively investigating Denson for capital murder. Earlier this month, the case was presented to a Grand Jury, which returned a True Bill for the case. A True Bill indicates that enough evidence was presented to proceed with a trial.

Smith added in a news release on Monday that Paul’s remains have yet to be recovered. “Investigators hope to one day be able to locate her and provide the family with some closure,” he stated in the release.

Edwards is currently being held in the Houston County Jail on a $100,000 bond. Crockett Police are encouraging anyone with information about the case to contact them at 936-544-2021.

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