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  • Commissioners approve resolutions

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Polk County commissioners meet Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County commissioners approved a quartet of resolutions during the first commissioners court of March Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

    The resolutions pertain to the 87th Texas Legislative Session. The resolutions that commissioners approved were an opposition to prohibit county lobbying, an opposition to reduce the number of appellate courts, the support of county road grant funds and the support of increased funding for rural public transit.

    “Removing appellate courts would require our residents to travel further,” Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “There’s not an appellate court close to us. If someone is going through the appeals process, they would have to drive a long distance and pay for a hotel, whereas people who live close to an appellate court can just drive, do their thing and come back. The expense to rural Texas will be higher if they consolidate these appellate courts. If you look at some of the transit in larger counties such as Angelina or Nacogdoches, they have regular routes. In Polk County, it would be beneficial to our residents if we had a regular route.”

    There are 14 appellate courts in Texas, and Polk County falls under the jurisdictions of the 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont. The other Courts of Appeals are located in Houston (1st, 14th), Fort Worth (2nd), Austin (3rd), San Antonio (4th), Dallas (5th), Texarkana (6th), Amarillo (7th), El Paso (8th), Waco (10th), Eastland (11th), Tyler (12th) and Corpus Christi (13th).

    Commissioners also approved an action relating to Precinct 1 Constable Scott Evans participating in the US Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Program.

    “He has been participating all along in different investigations,” Murphy said. “It depends on which law enforcement agency is involved. We’ve already moved some of the offices there.”

    Murphy also commented on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to open businesses to full capacity and lift the mask mandate. Those went into effect Wednesday.

    “We have given all of our staff members the option of wearing a mask,” Murphy said. “We’re not asking anyone to mask, and we’re not asking anyone to unmask. We’re also asking people to be cautious and smart. Don’t go around hugging strangers. Let’s be logical about this. We have a strong vaccination program going on and we need maintain that for people who want to receive the vaccine. The majority of business owners that I’ve talked to are planning to open to full capacity. It’s at their discretion.”

  • Commissioners receive judge’s disaster declaration

    IMG 7549ALTON PORTER | HCC Houston County Judge Jim Lovell issued a Declaration of Local Disaster for the county in response to the recent severe winter storms that wreaked havoc on the county and the county’s commissioners voted to receive the declaration as information at a meeting held in person and via the Zoom video communications app Thursday morning.

    By Alton Porter

    Houston County was declared a disaster area by the county judge as a result of the major winter storms that wreaked havoc throughout the county a couple of weeks ago and the declaration was received by county commissioners.

    Saturday, Feb. 20, Judge Jim Lovell issued a seven-day Declaration of Local Disaster for the county. And five days later, at a meeting of the commissioners court, following explanations by Lovell and county Emergency Management Coordinator Heath Murff, the commissioners voted to pass a motion to receive as information the declaration.

    The declaration stated that “the County of Houston, on the 14 day of February, AD 2021 suffered widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life, with massive amounts of debris creating a public health threat (or there is imminent threat of same), resulting from the arrival of a major winter storm that has impacted Houston County and caused freezing temperatures, snow and ice accumulations.”

    It continued, the storm “essentially prevented access and safe passage on many roadways and caused long term electrical power and utility outages and major infrastructure and property damage thus creating a public safety hazard.”

    Because the county judge determined that extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of people and to protect or rehabilitate property, he declared the state of disaster.

    The declaration noted that the county’s emergency management plan was implemented, and “Whereas Section 418.108 of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, as amended, Vernon’s Texas Codes Annotated, Government Code Chapter 418, provides that the state of disaster shall continue for a period of not more than seven days of the date hereof, unless the same is continued by consent of the Commissioner’s Court of the County of Houston, Texas.”

    In other business, the commissioners scheduled a public hearing for April 13, “regarding the Tax Abatement Agreement with Houston County and Lincoln Lumber Crockett, LLC, to modify or terminate the agreement and to consider entering a Tax Abatement Agreement with the City of Crockett and Lincoln Lumber Crockett, LLC.”

    The commissioners and Crockett city councilmembers approved a tax abatement agreement with Lincoln Lumber several weeks ago, and the Crockett officials later approved a related agreement that had been amended. County officials are now considering whether to terminate their original agreement and approve the amended one that was adopted by the city.

    “What happened is Houston County and Lincoln Lumber have a tax abatement agreement…,” said County Attorney Daphne Session. “That was approved in November of 2020 based on the application for a tax abatement.

    “The city entered or approved a tax abatement agreement in November of 2020 also with Lincoln Lumber. Then, Lincoln Lumber made some acquisitions and made some new purchases of land in the area.”

    The city did a new tax abatement agreement—modified the old one based on the acquisitions and new purchases—and approved it in January, Session said. “And the city would like the county to be included in their tax abatement because their tax abatement they approved is for the city of Crockett, for Houston County and Lincoln Lumber, which was not done here. We have our own agreement with Lincoln Lumber. They would like for the county to join their tax abatement agreement and have just one tax abatement agreement for all three.”

    The public hearing had to be set to modify or terminate the county’s current tax abatement agreement with Lincoln Lumber, Session said, adding, the city’s agreement and county’s agreement are very similar, with the exception of the addition of the acquisition of the new land by Lincoln Lumber on the city’s agreement.

    Lincoln Lumber is building a high-tech sawmill in the 200 block of West Austin Street and on two adjoining properties.

    In another action, the commissioners approved a new contract with Piney Woods Sanitation for solid waste collection service in unincorporated areas of the county.

    They voted to approve motions appointing commissioners Jimmy Henderson, Gene Stokes and Willie Kitchen to negotiate for right of way and construction/temporary easements in their precincts as necessary for the Texas Department of Transportation bridge improvement project.

    Henderson is to negotiate for easements on County Roads (CR) 1060 and 1050 for the Hickory Creek tributary, Stokes for easements on CR 3585 for the Wright Creek tributary and Kitchen for easements plus relocation of utilities on CR 2215, CR 2230 and CR 2120 for Little Elkhart Creek and Big Elkhart Creek tributaries.

    The commissioners received as information racial profiling reports from county law enforcement agencies and an audit report for the fiscal year ending 2020 for county Emergency Services District No. 2.

    They approved an order declaring an exemption from bidding necessary to preserve and protect the public health and safety of county residents as authorized under Local Government Code 262.024(a)(2).

    The commissioners voted to approve acceptance of a $2,000 donation from the city of Kennard for Precinct 4 and to authorize the making of necessary budget amendments.

    And the commissioners heard annual summary interpretation presentations of 2020 AgriLife Extension Service education programs given by Jo Smith and Tasha Brent, extension agents of the county’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and Corey J. Hicks, of the Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program.

    During her presentation, Smith noted that the Houston County Fair and Youth Livestock Show is still one for late March and early April.

  • Commissioners seek more county improvement

    CountySealSJFILE PHOTO San Jacinto County seal

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT staff writer

    COLDSPRING — Reports of residents not respecting private or public property when holding events that may require security spurred a county law enforcement professional to seek a remedy.

    Precinct 2 Constable Ray Atchley took advantage of public comment during the regular County Commissioners’ Court meeting to address county gatherings.

    Atchley said that recent events in Shepherd were held and have made some residents miserable. While law enforcement has attempted to stay within their authority while respecting the rights of both parties — those having the event and those potentially filing the complaint against the coordinators — with no oversight, the resources to help maintain public safety are not always available to law enforcement.

    Atchley asked the court if they would consider passing a resolution to give law enforcement more authority to enforce restrictions should they become necessary, and he presented the court with an example to consider.

    No action could be taken.

    Elsewhere, the Court will seek bids for administrative services and requests for qualifications for the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The county expects to receive $5,597,025.34, which will go towards projects aimed at expanding the definition of traditional infrastructure, seeking to provide more resources for more projects, including rural healthcare, small business credit expansion initiatives, and improvements to the Child Tax Credit.

    More information on how money will be distributed can be found at https://home.treasury.gov/.

    Other matters discussed by the county include:

    • The county’s newest truck stop off of Highway 59 and FM 1127 in Shepherd will soon be hiring 70 new employees pending the completion of inspections.
    • Vaccination rates in San Jacinto County have continued to decline as those who are eligible and want the vaccine have been able to receive theirs. At the last Army-run clinic less than 10 people showed up, according to County Judge Fritz Faulkner. They are keeping ears open for when children will be eligible.

    The next Commissioner’s court meet will meet Wednesday, May 19 at 9 am at the Emergency Shelter in Coldspring, across from the courthouse. Public comment can be made at the beginning of the meeting.

  • Commissioners vote to oppose bills

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Polk County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Courtney Comstock updates commissioners on the county’s efforts to get back to normal following Winter Storm Uri, which affected most of the state of Texas, including Polk County, last week.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution that opposes Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 749 Tuesday morning during commissioners court at the Polk County Courthouse.

    These bills would prohibit political subdivisions from using public money to lobby. Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy is a staunch opponent of those bills.

    “Those bills hurt the little man,” she said. “They silence public officials such as commissioners, judges and sheriffs. People who don’t live in East Texas would be making decisions that affect East Texas.”

    Commissioners also discussed a future public hearing that they will have with Corrigan-Camden ISD officials on March 23. The hearing regards reinvestment zone property within the C-CISD catchment area that’s south and west of the Corrigan city limits.

    “Anytime you do a tax abatement, you have to do a reinvestment zone first,” Murphy said. “Then the board can consider whatever tax abatement agreement you agree on with that organization. C-CISD has to be engaged in the discussion because they are one of the taxing entities. The only taxing entities involved are the county and the school district.”

    A measure to close a portion of Roy Bean Road in Precinct 2 also was approved.

    “What happened was someone continued Roy Bean Road through someone’s private property,” Murphy said. “The property sold and the new owner is saying that the road doesn’t belong on his/her property. It’s been corrected.”

    Polk County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Courtney Comstock also gave an update on the county following last week’s encounter with Winter Storm Uri. Most of the county received snowfall and accumulation as well as ice, which caused school districts and several businesses to close and boil water notices in Livingston and Onalaska.

    The next commissioners court will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 9.

  • County to investigate insurance options

    CountysealFILE PHOTO Trinity County seal

    TCNS staff

    GROVETON — The Trinity County Commissioners’ Court delayed action on renewing its health benefits with the Texas Association of Counties to allow questions about plan availability are answered.

    County Attorney Colton Hay had asked if there was a second option that could be offered that had a higher deductible but lower premiums, to be offered to people who would prefer that type of plan.

    County Treasurer Bob Dockens said there was, but there also was a danger of the county losing its grandfathered position on health care plans, which will mean much higher premium costs.

    Dockens will schedule a discussion with the county’s TAC representative to get clarification on options and county’s grandfathered status.

    In other business, the county:

    • approved a hiring recommendation from the county’s Internship Committee;
    • approved the purchase of a new recording system for 911;
    • approved the countywide transition to Microsoft 365 for the county’s email needs;
    • approved the purchase of several vehicles for Precinct 4 from the Texas Forest Service;
    • approved the hiring of a structural engineer to evaluate the needs for a new maintenance building;
    • approved a resolution regarding 1115 Medicaid waivers.
  • ESD2 members elect new, continuing leaders

    IMG 7735ALTON PORTER | HCC Above, members of Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2, which supports and provides assistance to fire departments throughout the county, attended a monthly meeting in Crockett Thursday, Feb. 25, at which they elected officers to lead the district and its board of commissioners and at which they addressed other matters.

    By Alton Porter

    Members of Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2 (ESD2) have elected new and continuing leaders for the district’s board of commissioners following the reappointment and appointment last month of two ESD2 commissioners by members of the county’s commissioners court.

    The ESD2 members elected the board’s officers at a meeting Thursday, Feb. 25.

    Promoted to the position of ESD2 president is William Money, who had been serving as an ESD2 commissioner and who replaces former president George Crowson Jr., who was not reappointed to the ESD2 board by the commissioners court members last month.

    Elected to serve as ESD2 vice president is Steve Hawkins, who was appointed by the members of the commissioners court last month to replace Crowson as a commissioner on the ESD2 board. Hawkins was welcomed aboard ESD2 by the district’s members who were present. As vice president, he replaces former VP Bobby Hutcherson, who was reappointed by the members of the county commissioners court last month to continue serving on the ESD2 board but who stepped down from the VP position at the Feb. 25 meeting.

    Peggy Patrick, who had been serving as secretary-treasurer was reelected as treasurer only upon her request, and board member Roy Langford was elected to replace her as secretary.

    During public comments, Crowson, the ESD2 previous president, addressed the emergency services district members who were present.

    “In my recollection, as far as I can recall, this is my 224 meeting with the ESD of a 14-year period,” Crowson said. “To the fire departments, I want to tell you it’s been a pleasure, a privilege and an honor to serve on your behalf. What you guys do—not only what you do, but the passion with which you do it—it leaves me in awe. It truly, truly does.”

    Crowson noted that county Precinct 3 Commissioner Gene Stokes, of the commissioners court, was present at the meeting and that “out of those 224 meetings which we spoke of, this is only the second time that we’ve had a commissioner at one of our meetings in 14 years. And I think I can speak for the whole organization and say, ‘Thank you for being here’.”

    Stokes responded to Crowson saying, “We appreciate your service.”

    The former ESD2 president continued, “I’m assuming I’m not on the board. No one has shown me the courtesy to tell me that I was not, but I kind of picked it up on the airwaves there.

    “To the board, what I want to remind you of, and I hope you will think about this in every decision you make, is you are an independent political subdivision of the state of Texas. You cannot be beholden or subservient to any individual, any special interest group, any group of people of any kind, including the commissioners court. If you are, all taxing democracies will fail.”

    Crowson added, “The only people you are beholden to are the people that pay this ESD tax. It has served me well. If you will remind yourself of that in every decision that you make, I think you will continue to be successful.

    “This ESD is tremendously successful, at least in my opinion—not because of me, but because of the involvement of people and the (county’s fire) departments themselves. I know it is financially in good shape. And I know that through Mr. Stokes and all you other board members, it will continue to do that.

    IMG 7725ALTON PORTER | HCC Former President George Crowson Jr., of the Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2 (ESD2) Board of Commissioners, who was not reappointed to the ESD2 board earlier last month, addressed ESD2 members as he departed from the entity during a meeting in Crockett Thursday, Feb. 25.

    “It has been an honor and a privilege; I served at the pleasure of the commissioners court and it was no longer their pleasure. That’s perfectly fine; it is their option to do whichever they want to do.

    “I’ve enjoyed almost every moment of it. It’s been some moments that haven’t been so enjoyable, but that comes with the territory. But anyway, thank each of you for what you do.”

    After Crowson left the meeting, Money, the new ESD2 president, said, “He’s not here, but in my opinion from being on the other side of the table—he was on this side of the table—George has guided this board efficiently and diligently through a lot of stuff over the years, from helping get it started to getting it where it’s at.

    “And in my opinion, our directive change is none. We’re here to serve two priorities: the firefighters (of Houston County) and the taxpayers. And that is it. I may be the next one that goes after George, but that is how I look at it. … I will do my best to continue the direction of this board and keep it solid.”

    Among items requiring action, the ESD2 members voted to receive a $100 bid from Brijesh Patel, a member of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees, to buy and remove, within 30 days, a building on the site on which they’re planning to have a fire station built in Ratcliff.

    The board members also had advertised via the Courier for bids for the laying of a six-inch-thick concrete slab for $16,000 for the planned fire station building, but none had been received. So, the ESD2 members decided to seek out a construction company to perform this project.

    In other business, they tabled action regarding a contract between ESD2 and the city of Crockett. “The city of Crockett wanted to redo their contract with the ESD…,” Patrick said.

    Money explained, “When we formed ESD2, Crockett opted out of the vote. Kennard voted to not be in the ESD because they didn’t want (to pay) the extra tax. So, we’ve got Crockett and Kennard that are not members of the ESD….

    “Crockett has basically the biggest fire department in the county—covers the most area, covers everybody else’s back. We call it the gray area. So, we contract with Crockett. We pay them $70,000 a year to cover that area. We provide some trucks for Crockett and provide them service and help.

    “So, Crockett covers the gray area and that works to try to keep the ISO, which is the insurance rate, in those areas down. So, we contract with Crockett to cover that area. Crockett FD’s budget is $500,000-plus a year and we add them an additional $70,000 plus trucks or whatever we can afford to help them with to cover that area. We upped the rate and renegotiated with them. And so, we’re getting a new contract set up with them.”

    Chief Jason Frizzell, of the Crockett Fire Department, said he had emailed the city’s attorney, who is reviewing and possibly making adjustments to the contract, and he was waiting to hear back from the lawyer.

  • Houston County commissioners oppose being silenced

    IMG 7952ALTON PORTER | HCC Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and county commissioners court members met in person and remotely via Zoom Tuesday, March 23. Above, from left to right, are Gary Lovell, Willie Kitchen, Judge Lovell, Gene Stokes and Jimmy Henderson.

    By Alton Porter

    Houston County’s commissioners, like other local government officials across the state, have taken a stand opposing being silenced by state officials.

    The county officials adopted a resolution in opposition to Texas Senate Bills 10 and 234 and Texas House Bill 749, which they say introduce efforts to silence county officials. They took the action at a Houston County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning, March 23.

    “SB 10 is a bill that’s being introduced (in the Texas Senate),” said County Judge Jim Lovell in presenting the resolution to the commissioners—as are SB 234 and HB 749. “They (state lawmakers) word it as taxpayer-funded lobbying.

    “But what it really is is we can’t join an association, such as Texas Association of Counties or County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, if they hire on their staff a lobbyist.”

    Judge Lovell added, “Not only that. We can’t go to Austin as commissioners court or sheriff or any other elected official to (voice our positions) if a bill comes up that concerns county government and we want to go and testify before a committee or talk to our legislator and the county pay for it.

    “So, this resolution is just a resolution saying that we oppose that bill.”

    County Auditor Melissa Jeter pointed out that SB 234 and HB 749 are Senate and House bills related to SB 10.

    The bills would “take your voice away from any unfunded mandates…,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Gene Stokes said.

    “They forgot about the First Amendment, didn’t they,” added Sheriff Randy Hargrove.

    Jeter noted, the Senate’s Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, is to hold a hearing on SB 10 Thursday morning, March 25. Persons who want to comment on the bill should contact the committee before the hearing.

    It is “a community censorship bill that would prohibit a city or county from spending public funds to influence the outcome of legislation,” according to an interpretation released by the Texas Municipal League (TML).

    “At the most basic level, S.B. 10 would prevent a city from hiring staff, contracting with lobbyists or other professional advocates, or joining associations like TML that engage in advocacy at the state capitol.

    “Specifically, the bill would provide: ‘The governing body of a county or municipality may not spend public money or provide compensation in any manner to directly or indirectly influence or attempt to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature.’”

    HB 749, also dubbed community censorship legislation by TML, “would: (1) prohibit a political subdivision from spending public funds to: (a) hire an individual required to register as a lobbyist for the purpose of lobbying a member of the Texas legislature; or (b) pay a nonprofit state association or organization that: (i) primarily represents political subdivisions; and (ii) hires or contracts with an individual required to register as a lobbyist.”

    In addition, TML representatives note, HB 749 would: “(2) provide that if a political subdivision engages in activity prohibited by (1), above, a taxpayer or resident of the political subdivision is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any further prohibited activity or any further payments of public funds; and (3) provide that a taxpayer or resident who prevails in an action under (2), above, is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs from the political subdivision.”

    SB 234 is a companion bill to HB 749.

    In other business, the commissioners voted to accept as information the resignation of Bobby Hutcherson from the Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2 Board of Commissioners and to appoint Greg Brooks, of Belott, to replace Hutcherson on the ESD2 board. Hutcherson had served as vice president on the board.

    In another action, the commissioners approved the holding of a county event and display permit for a Houston County Welfare Board and Kalin’s Center program and the adoption of a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Houston County.

    The program, promoting awareness of child abuse, will be held on the county courthouse steps April 9, beginning at 11 a.m., and the annual display of pinwheels and related items, intended to focus attention on such abuse, will remain on the courthouse grounds throughout the month.

    The commissioners approved participation in a right-of-way/utility project on State Highway 7 at the Trinity River with the Texas department of highways, by passing a motion authorizing the signing of an affidavit, an agreement to contribute right-of-way funds and a resolution authorizing Judge Lovell to execute an agreement to contribute funds to the state for proper development and construction of the state highway system.

    They voted to pass a motion on a request to approve a $1,000 donation from an anonymous donor to the Sheriff’s Office for Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) expenses.

    The commissioners approved acceptance of a donation of $9,284 in road materials from an anonymous donor for Precinct 2.

    In another action related to the Sheriff’s Office, the commissioners approved a budget amendment request from the office for a vehicle replacement not to exceed $17,000.

    They voted to approve selecting which vehicles or departments are to be included to determine costs for a possible lease program with Enterprise Fleet Management.

    A motion to grant Piney Woods Fine Arts Association $1,000 from the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax fund to help cover expenses for a Texas Tenors Concert scheduled Saturday, April 16, at the Crockett Civic Center carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

    A proclamation, designating April as County Government Month in Houston County and setting April 29 as the date for a county employees picnic was adopted by the commissioners.

    Similarly, the commissioners adopted a proclamation designating April as Fair Housing Month.

    A motion declaring a 2005 Precinct 2 pickup truck as surplus and authorizing advertising for the sale of the vehicle passed on a vote by the commissioners.

    They approved District Clerk Carolyn Rains’ request for $100 for a change fund.

    The county’s former office of courthouse security was designated by the commissioners as additional space for Precinct 2 Constable Kenneth “Red” Smith, and they authorized the making of necessary budget amendments related to the matter.

    A motion to approve a contract with a company to haul and deliver road materials for Precincts 1 and 3 carried on a vote of the commissioners.

    They discussed a completed renovation project at the Precinct 2 road and bridge office building, located at 601 Cedar St., half of it which is being offered by Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen to be used for other county purposes. The commissioners voted to reimburse the Precinct 2 road and bridge budget with $24,210 from the county’s general fund for expenses incurred by the renovation project so that they can be used to fund road and bridge projects. The commissioners approved making necessary budget amendments for this matter.

    They received as information a preservation/environmental testing report on the county courthouse presented by County Clerk Terri Meadows from G&H Environmental Consulting, LLC, and approved authorizing Judge Lovell to act on presented recommendations to make repairs to the courthouse.

    The commissioners voted to authorize Judge Lovell to negotiate a possible real estate purchase.

    And renewal of an insurance policy with Texas Association of Counties for property and mobile equipment was approved by the commissioners.

  • Polk County gives firm green light for road repair bids

                                   Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy (right) signs an approval for an agenda itemduring commissioners court Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse as Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Willis looks on.

    By Jason Chlapek

    POLK COUNTY — Polk County commissioners approved the services of Bryan architecture firm Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong to advertise for construction bids on a Precinct 1 road during Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Court meeting at the Polk County Courthouse.The road in need of repair is Taylor Lake Road, which has been washed away once by high water from the nearby Trinity River. The road is located in Ace off of Farm-to-Market Road 2610, and is part of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Project.

    “Taylor Lake Road was going to fall into the river again,” Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “They already lost the road before so we’re on our second one. They fixed the culverts and guardrail.”

    Commissioners also approved the holiday schedule for 2021 fiscal year. The paid holidays are New Year’s Day (Friday, Jan. 1), Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 18) Presidents’ Day (Monday, Feb. 15), Good Friday (Friday, April 2), Memorial Day (Monday, May 23), Independence Day (Friday, July 2 or Monday, July 5), Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 5), Columbus Day (Monday, Oct. 10, 2021), Veterans Day (Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021), Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 26, 2021), and Christmas (Thursday, Dec. 23 and Friday, Dec. 24, 2021).

    “We try to stay with federal holidays and we also try to make sure that everybody gets Fourth of July off,” Murphy said. “If the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, then they get the Friday before or the Monday after the holiday off. This makes sure thatwe’re staying within the 13 days.

    ”A grant for $71,000 was approved as well. The grant is for Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding.“Those are grants that come through,” Murphy said. “We try to stay compliant with whatever the requirements are with whoever issued the grants. We have staff whose time was stretched. We want to make sure they’re paid, especially for employees who work too much. This happens a lot with emergency management, maintenance or IT departments. We work on comp time.”

    Commissioners also drew names for the sick leave pool. The names selected were Paula Baker (District Clerk), Matthew Brown (Jail), John Cabiness (Sheriff’s Office), Cassie Kosina (Tax Assessor Collector) and Judge Tolar (Road & Bridge Pct. 4).

    All four commissioners — Bob Willis (Pct. 1), Ronnie Vincent (Pct. 2), Milt Purvis (Pct. 3) and Tommy Overstreet (Pct. 4) — had items for which they wanted to accept bids or have rebids in regard to base material.

    “(The commissioners) don’t want to spend too much time and money traveling to get materials,” Murphy said. “They want to make sure where they’re traveling to get materials is close to them and they’re prudent with their tax dollars.”The next commissioners court will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27.

  • San Jacinto County talks trash

    CountySealSJFILE PHOTO San Jacinto County Seal

    By Tony Farkas

    COLDSPRING — The San Jacinto County Commissioners Court talked a little trash at its regular meeting on May 19.

    County Judge Fritz Faulkner said that about 20 people from the Trails End subdivision in the southwest part of the county came to express their concerns about a proposal for an area landfill planned in that part of the county.

    Faulkner said Peach Creek Environmental has put in an application with Texas Commission for Environmental Quality for a proposed landfill.

    Area residents that showed up told the court they don’t want it in their back yards; however, Faulkner said that the county is not part of any of the process. Peach Creek has 2,000 acres of land purchased, and 600 acres will be part of the initial phase.

    “When you put one of these things in, there’s a valid concern about water quality,” Faulkner said. “There is a membrane put down to protect water table, but it could rupture. You’re also talking about 500 trucks a day coming in through the roads, and there are concerns about property values. Also, part of the area may be in the flood plain, which carries additional concerns.”

    Faulkner said it was a very informative discussion; however, the plan is only in the permitting process and there a lot of work left to do. He also said the county will look into the matter, but took no action.

    “It’s people just bringing concerns to the court,” he said.

    In other business, the county:

    • discussed new storage for the county’s records, which currently are stored in elections building and the basement of the courthouse. Maintenance personnel were asked to price metal buildings or seagoing containers;
    • approved purchase of track loader for $86,200; and
    • approved bonds for all employees of the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Trinity County gets pushback

    CountysealFILE PHOTO Trinity County seal

    Concern about contract for vehicles results in argument, no action

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — Concerns raised by the Trinity County Treasurer over a contract for Sheriff’s Office vehicles with Enterprise Fleet two weeks ago led to a battle between elected officials on March 23.

    It also led to Sheriff Woody Wallace asserting his sole authority over the Sheriff’s Office, saying he was the only one to decide what vehicles he and his deputies will drive, and that the Commissioners Court’s only responsibilities were to provide vehicle replacements and approve finances.

    He also said the court has been less than supportive in the matter.

    Wallace also cautioned Treasurer Bob Dockens about meddling in areas that are not of his concern, saying that according to the State Constitution, that was a crime.

    “These people in this room, they elected me sheriff,” Wallace said before a packed courtroom. “They did not elect Bob (Dockens) sheriff. It’s my job as sheriff to operate this department.

    “My authority is granted by the constitution as to what I can and cannot do. when one elected official interferes with another elected official he has committed a crime for trying to influence another office. You cannot do it.

    Commissioner Neal Smith said he put the item on the agenda today because questions have been raised over the last month regarding the contract, and that Wallace brought the contract forward because no one could not buy vehicles as the manufacturers had shut down production.

    He also said there is no one on the court more supportive of the department; he said that everything Wallace has asked for he has gotten, and that day’s discussion, and another item to purchase vehicles outright, should indicate that.

    Addressing the meeting, which was moved to the grand courtroom because of the crowd, Dockens said that at a Commissioners Court meeting two weeks ago, he brought up concerns after he was asked by the auditor to take a look at the contract, basically regarding the interest rate being charged and actual vehicle ownership.

    Dockens also said he was told by Wallace at the last meeting that if he could find some vehicles, he should; Wallace interrupted, saying he was being facetious.

    However, Dockens said he talked with several dealers in the area that had vehicles ready to go.

    “All I was doing was exploring if there were other places that had vehicles ready, because if we can buy them then let’s do that,” Dockens said.

    Wallace disputed that account, saying the information he received from the same dealers was the vehicles were 90 days out. He also was adamant about being the only one to run his department; saying the Sheriff decides what the Sheriff’s Department drives.

    Dockens said he only got involved because he was asked to look into it and because his office is in charge of risk management.

    “I have a problem with one man getting you to cancel a contract that we’ve already signed,” Wallace said. “I have a problem with anyone getting involved; this is between me and this court.

    “The commissioners can only tell me what I can spend,” Wallace said. “They cannot tell me what I can or cannot drive. The people of the county deserve officers that operate in safe vehicles that are not worn out or subject to crash. It’s a known fact that in the automotive world that vehicles wear out at 150,000 miles. We operate vehicles at 120 mph every day.”

    County Attorney Colton Hay said he was asked to review the contract by Dockens, and to “get ahead of” some misinformation provided by Dockens, he did the review.

    Hay said he thought the contract was standard and a good deal, and since the contract has been signed, work has been done by Enterprise.

    “If we back out of this contract because Dockens has cold feet, even though he was not in on the contract from the beginning, that could potentially cost us everything they’ve spent without any of the benefits,” Hay said. “I urge you to remember you agreed to it, and nothing’s changed except one person got involved that wasn’t in on it at the beginning and didn’t understand it all because it was not his department.

    “I don’t think this is too good to be true,” Hay said.

    Commissioner Tommy Park, a former law enforcement officer, said he took things upon himself to find answers for the questions the court and treasurer had, and then relayed those answers to everyone concerned.

    Smith said that no action was needed on his agenda item as he withdrew his objections; however, he said that in the future, there will be no votes whatsoever until everything is understood by the court.

  • Trinity County Officials take county to task on pay scales

    CountysealFILE PHOTO Trinity County Seal

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — Trinity County Commissioners’ Court on March 23 heard threats of lawsuits regarding decisions on pay raises.

    County Clerk Shasta Bergman told the court that there is a pay disparity between the employees of female elected officials and that of male elected officials, and she, by submitting several requests for raises, was addressing the problem.

    Of the four requests that were submitted, three were for Bergman’s employees; one for an additional $2.78 on a salary of $10.92 per hour, one for an additional $3.22 on the chief deputy’s salary of $11.20 per hour, and the last for an additional $1 on a salary of $10.50 per hour.

    Bergman told the funds for the raises would be taken from her department’s Records Management account, and not from the general fund, which would not affect county income or tax dollars because the funds came from fees charged for record-keeping.

    She also said those funds can only be used in her office, and mostly for salaries.

    However, Commissioner Mike Loftin said during the budget season last year that the court decided there would be no raises, as the county needed to be frugal, despite being told by Bergman that the raises will not affect the county budget.

    Commissioner Neal Smith said that the county attempted to look at all departments equally, and had the pay scales within pennies of each other.

    “You can’t starve people out of a job,” Bergman said. “You are setting yourself up for trouble.”

    Sheriff Woody Wallace said the county needed to be mindful of the legal ramifications of its decisions, saying also that he was “sick and tired” of his deputies having to work second jobs to feed their children.

    “We need to look at this before we find ourselves in a class action lawsuit,” he said.

    Loftin insisted that he understands the plight of the employees, but said the idea was to wait until this year’s budget season to determine what money was available; Bergman again said that the funds came from a different source than tax dollars.

    Commissioner Steven Truss said that if the court approved the raises, then all departments will be seeking raises.

    Commissioner Tommy Park made the motion to approve the raises, which had to be seconded by County Judge Doug Page. The end result, though, was that Smith, Loftin and Truss voted against the raises.

    Bergman told commissioners then that she will present the raises in the same manner until they are approved, or they are handled through legal means.

    In other business, the county:

    • approved the appointment of Stacye Tullos as Trinity County Extension Agent-Ag and Natural Resources;
    • proclaimed the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month;
    • discussed billing from Groveton EMS regarding visits to inmates; and
    • recognized the county’s constables for taking training regarding the state Open Meetings and Public Information acts.