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Polk County News

Virus concerns lead to declining attendance for Rotary Club

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                               JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Rotary Club of Livingston president Matt Anderson conducts business at last week’s Rotary Club meeting at the Polk County Chamber of Commerce.

By Jason Chlapek

Matt Anderson remembers when Rotary Club of Livingston met on a weekly basis.

He also remembers when there were 30-40 club members meeting on a weekly basis. But things have changed since Covid-19.

The local Rotary Club has met every other Thursday since the pandemic and attendance at the meetings has declined. Many of the club members are in the 50-over age group, which is more susceptible to adverse effects from Covid.

“The main reason for declining attendance is the health concerns related to Covid,” Anderson said. “People are a little leery to meet in large groups and to expose themselves is what the majority of our members have expressed. The majority of our members are mature and they’re the ones that are more susceptible to Covid.”

Anderson is the president of Rotary Club of Livingston. He would like to see attendance return to the way it was prior to Covid, and an increase in membership.

“In the past we’ve had committees and chairs that have taken care of and brainstormed different ideas for recruiting new members,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, the last 6-8 months have been kind of stopped and had a pause button placed on it. We’re more in maintaining mode right now than we are growth mode or anything else. It’s just really hard right now to get new members and do events. We want new members and welcome new members. Unfortunately, this past year we have not been able to do the events we normally do or help out with them.”

While things are not as active as they were prior to Covid, Rotary Club is still going to perform two of its biggest service projects, albeit on a smaller scale. Anderson said manpower, not finances, are more of a reason behind this.

“We’re still doing the Empty Stocking program to help our community, but we’re doing it on a smaller scale just for the sheer number of volunteers and community help that we have,” he said. “We need people to help us shop and to deliver. Unfortunately, right now we don’t have as many as we normally do. We have our Pancake Supper toward the end of February. We’re still planning on having that, but with a revised schedule of having a drive-thru meal option. We hope the community is still looking forward to having some Rotary Pancakes.”

For the moment, Rotary Club meets every other Thursday at noon at the Polk County Chamber of Commerce. Anderson said things could change once the new year starts.

“We’re doing every-other-week meetings to help people social distance,” he said. “We can go back to meeting once a week if that helps our members if that’s what our membership wants. We’re trying to do what’s best for our membership, listen to what their needs are and what they want. With the holidays approaching, lots of our members travel and visit families so it’s a little harder right now. If we decide to resume weekly meetings, it would be in January before we did that.”

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Texas LawShield rep speaks at Lions Club

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Lions 2PHOTO BY JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Texas LawShield representative Gary Blalock speaks at Lions Club of Livingston last week at Cam Cho Yeh.

By Jason Chlapek

Self-defense is a necessity at times.

There are times, however, when it can come back to haunt the person who defends itself. Gary Blalock knows this all too well.

Blalock was the guest speaker at Lions Club of Livingston last week. He’s a representative of Texas LawShield – a legal defense program for self-defense.

Blalock was once involved in a self-defense situation in which a legal defense program could’ve helped him. Unfortunately, Texas LawShield didn’t exist until 2009 and the incident involving Blalock took place in 2000.

“I owned a bar and two patrons were involved in a fight,” Blalock said. “Then one of them assaulted one of my employees. The employee called me and I came to the bar to talk to them.”

Once Blalock arrived on the scene, trouble ensued. The patrons were not in the mood to reason with him at first.

“When I tried to stop them in the parking lot, they tried to run over me in their car,” Blalock said. “I drew my firearm and when they saw the laser beam pointed at them, they got out and were willing to talk. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use deadly force.”

While Blalock wasn’t forced to use the firearm, the worst was yet to come. He soon found himself in legal trouble.

“I found out a few days later that there was a warrant out for my arrest,” Blalock said. “They went in and filed a report against me and I had to take care of things legally.”

Blalock had to pay approximately $4,000 in legal fees to prove that he acted in self-defense. He learned a valuable lesson from that fateful night.

“I should’ve called law enforcement and filed a report,” Blalock said.

Fast forward to 2010 and Blalock was with a former Marine friend at a gun show in Houston. It was there that he discovered Texas LawShield.

“The people who found Texas LawShield was the law firm of Walker, Rice and Wisdom – a law firm in Houston,” Blalock said. “All three gentlemen are from the Houston area and it was found in 2009. I became a member then went to work for it six months later. I became a member because of what it cost me in legal fees 20 years ago. One of my former Marine buddies still works for the company. He introduced me to the attorneys at a gun show at the George Brown Convention Center. They explained to me what they do and how they protect us. For $10.95 a month, all of my legal defense is covered.”

Blalock has been involved with Texas LawShield since 2010. First as a member and now as a representative.

“The benefits are you have 24-hour access to a live attorney on an emergency hotline,” Blalock said. “When you’re in an ‘aww shucks’ moment and you’ve had to use force or deadly force, I want to know that I can contact my attorney and they’re going to be on their way to defend me. That’s the big thing. The fact that it’s so inexpensive, I don’t have to worry about going into my Dave Ramsey emergency fund, my retirement or the mortage for my house because all of my legal defense is covered because of this great program.”

Texas LawShield is under the U.S. LawShield umbrella. Blalock also discussed some of the coverages associated with the program.

“They offer additional coverages such as gunowner identity theft, multi-state protection and family protection,” he said. “I have my wife covered as well. I recommend this for everyone, especially now that we cover an individual for any kind of weapon. It no longer has to be a firearm. In today’s world, you see what happens. You have to defend yourself if someone attacks you. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

Especially when self-defense becomes a necessity.

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Polk County receives Freeze Warning

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                               JASON CHLAPEK I PCE This stretch of land along US Highway 190 in between Livingston and Onalaska had frost on it Tuesday morning. Polk County and several other counties in Southeast Texas experienced a freeze warning Monday night and Tuesday morning.

By Jason Chlapek

Polk County experienced freezing temperatures Monday night and Tuesday morning.

For the first time in the fall season, temperatures in parts of Polk County were at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The low for Polk County was 27 degrees in between Dallardsville and Livingston in the eastern portion of the county.

“This was our first freeze warning for the fall season,” Polk County Emergency Management Director Courtney Comstock said.

According to Comstock, a freeze warning is put in place when expectations of a freezing temperatures are projected. Much of the region was projected to have freezing temperatures Monday night and Tuesday morning, according to the Houston/Galveston Weather Forecast Office.

Livingston was projected to have a low of 29 Monday night, while Lufkin was projected for a low of 26.

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Polk County rescinds burn ban

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Burn Ban LiftedCOURTESY PHOTO Polk County rescinded its burn ban on Tuesday.

By Jason Chlapek

Consecutive days of rainfall last weekend led to a rescinded burn ban Tuesday morning.

Polk County Commissioners called an emergency meeting to rescind a burn ban that was originally put in place Nov. 17 and extended to 30 days on Nov. 24. But substantial rainfall last Friday and Saturday prompted commissioners to lift the ban.

“Because of the rainfall we received over the weekend, our drought conditions improved and our commissioners decided it was safe enough to lift the burn ban,” Polk County Emergency Management Director Courtney Comstock said.

The Texas Forest Service and the Polk County Office of Emergency Management both agreed that it was safe enough for commissioners to lift the ban. However, there are a few reminders to citizens who wish to burn outdoors.

“Use caution when proceeding with any outdoor burning, be mindful that conditions may change quickly and individuals burning outdoors are responsible and liable for any fire damage from such burning,” Comstock said. “We recommend any persons contemplating a sizable amount of debris for outdoor burning contact their local VFD for recommendations and assistance. Never leave fires unattended.”

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Naskila reopens with emphasis on safety

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Naskila logoFILE PHOTO Naskila logo

By Jason Chlapek

Naskila Gaming Center reopened its doors after a two-week hiatus last Monday.

The gaming center is the second-largest employer in Polk County and is on the ground of the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation. Naskila closed for two weeks (Nov. 2-15) as a safety precaution due to an increased number of Covid-19 cases in the region.

“We have four days under our belt and our guests have been very supportive of our efforts to keep people safe,” Naskila Chief Marketing Officer Scott Smith said. “We had a lot of support during the shutdown and we have the same level of support now that we’re reopened. The two weeks gave us a chance to evaluate our procedures and redouble our effort to protect the community, team members and the tribe.”

During the two weeks, employees still earned paychecks. Smith said he and his team are very grateful to the A-C tribal council for continuing to pay employees during time away.

“We paid our employees during the two weeks,” he said. “The tribe has been so supportive of team members not only with wages, but also with benefits. It’s spectacular. I can’t say enough about the tribal council and what they’ve done to keep our team members paid.”

Naskila closed its doors last spring and didn’t reopen until Sept. 10. Smith said during that time, the gaming center staff had plenty of time and opportunities to examine how Naskila should reopen.

“Things are very different,” he said. “The one area that has been great is our guests have been so cooperative with our procedures. We have had zero resistance to our social distance policies. The people have been wonderful. No significant changes. We are testing team members on a weekly basis, but we just evaluated the clean team. They’re highly visible and wiping stuff down. Being closed for seven months gave us time to plan. We saw what was working at other places and we have a really strong program. We’re going to continue to make it better and focus on the safety of the community. We also opened with a no-smoking policy and moved 106 machines to our patio where the buffet used to be. That was a major redesign to promote social distancing. Our smoking area was self-contained previously. Initially there was some push back on social media, but our guests have been so cooperative with our policies.”

Smith said Naskila is open 24/7 again. He also said attendance is pretty close to normal.

“Our head counts are very similar to this time a year ago,” Smith said. “You can tell that it means a lot to people to be able to get out of the house and do something.”

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