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Light is the best disinfectant

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Donnis Baggett TPADonnis Baggett
By DONNIS BAGGETT
Texas Press Association


Editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent once penned a masterful sketch of a newspaperman — a skinny, bug-eyed fellow in a baggy suit with a press card in the band of his porkpie hat.

The unnamed journalist was depicted in the simple act of entering a dark room at city hall and switching on a light. The cartoon had no caption. It didn’t need one. In your mind’s eye you could see cockroaches scurrying for cover.

Sargent’s message to Austin American-Statesman readers was clear and timeless: Light is the best disinfectant, and nothing shines light on the activities of government like a newspaper. That’s especially true in this era of real-time news coverage, instantaneous online commentary and partisan electronic echo chambers. 

Governments today are larger, more pervasive and more powerful than any time in our history. Fortunately for those of us who believe in self-governance, newspapers are still around. And they're the best source for information on how government spends your money and what government plans to do to you. That’s because newspapers still cover the behind-the-scenes goings-on at city hall and not just the horse-race aspect of political campaigns. It’s also because newspapers are still the home of public notices, and some of the most important journalism in your newspaper arrives in the form of public notices.

Public notices are mandatory announcements of what a governmental body plans to do or what it has already put into motion. They are not universally popular among government officials. Public notices are printed in newspapers — the civic journals of their communities —because they’re required under scores of laws passed over the past two centuries. The idea behind those public notice laws was to foster transparency to keep government open and accountable.

If you're a parent and you need to know ahead of time that the school district is drawing up new school attendance zones, you should appreciate public notices. The law requires the district to print that plan in a newspaper. Without even knowing you should look, you can stumble across new information on where Little Johnny may be attending school next year while sipping your latte and reading the morning paper. You become aware of this important development in your family’s existence whether or not you follow the superintendent’s social media posts. If you don’t like what you see, you can take action to oppose it.

If you’re a taxpayer and you want to learn out about property tax rates planned for next year before they’re passed,  you can appreciate public notices. State law requires cities, counties and school districts to notify you of their intentions before tax rates are set in stone. How? In a public notice printed in the newspaper.

And if you’re a property owner like the folks of Fayette County, you’d appreciate knowing if an out-of-town company is seeking a permit to dump Austin sewage sludge in a field beside the Colorado River. A modest legally required public notice in the Fayette County Record brought that plan to light. It didn’t pass the smell test with citizens, and they raised a stink with state officials. The permit application was quickly withdrawn.

Public notices in newspapers get noticed. When they do, readers may decide to share a thought or two with the officials involved. Let’s face it: those officials’  jobs would be ever-so-much less stressful if they didn’t have to interact with upset voters who pay the taxes that fund their paychecks. Some officials are particularly galled that state law requires them to pay newspapers to publish these notices. They complain to legislators that it’s a waste of money — that the notices could simply be posted on the governmental entity's website without paying newspapers to spread the news.

Their argument doesn’t mention the fact that public notice rates are among the lowest charged by newspapers. It also fails to note that creating, operating and maintaining a government-public notice site would also cost taxpayers money. And it conveniently ignores the immense watchdog value of a newspaper serving as an independent, verifiable and archived third-party source for these important notices. 

Today, newspapers are making their notices more visible than ever, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer an extra dime. In addition to printing the notices for a fee, Texas publishers make public notice information available at no extra charge online. Citizens can even sign up at no charge to electronically receive notices by subject matter and by jurisdiction.

A few months ago, the state of Florida updated its public notice laws by requiring newspapers to provide this additional electronic service for public notices at no additional charge. But only eight weeks after the new law went into effect, the Florida legislature backtracked. It passed another law allowing governmental entities to post notices on their own government websites and bypass newspapers altogether. In doing so, the state of Florida legalized the concept of the fox guarding the henhouse.

If you think that sort of thing can’t happen in Texas, think again. Like Texas, Florida is a conservative state with voters who want to hold government accountable. That’s a good thing. But some overeager legislators committed to cutting taxes, supporting local control and promising to “work with” local officials can be misled by a local official's suggestion to eliminate newspaper notices and put the money into pothole repair. That, combined with the reckless labeling of all traditional media as “fake news,” means a toxic environment for newspapers that have faithfully served their communities for a century or longer.

Not only should government not be in the business of disseminating their own public notices; government shouldn’t want to. By handling the publication, verification, distribution and archiving of official notices, newspapers keep government from serving as its own publisher, distributor, certifier of the record and archivist. By handling public notices, newspapers give government officials legal protection from accusations of releasing incomplete or untimely information  — or of surreptitiously changing the record for the officials’ convenience. 

So it comes down to this: if you want to know what’s going on in your hometown, tell your local officials and your legislators to keep public notices in newspapers. It’s the civically healthy thing to do.

Don’t risk waking up one morning to the aroma of something foul being spread in your neighborhood.

Donnis Baggett is executive vice president of the Texas Press Association. TPA represents some 400 Texas newspapers, including this one. TPA campaigns in Austin for open records, open meetings, public notices and government accountability. Baggett may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Copyright © 2022 Texas Press Association. All rights reserved.
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Time with family - Livingston instructor wins championship at Rodeo Houston

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Grady Tinker (middle) and partner Raymond Martinez (right) are shown with Dave Wolfe (left), president of Ranch Sorting National Championships.Grady Tinker (middle) and partner Raymond Martinez (right) are shown with Dave Wolfe (left), president of Ranch Sorting National Championships.By Brian Besch
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Grady Tinker needed a good score at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Competing in ranch sorting, there were 100 other teams looking to better him. But they weren’t the main competition — that would be in his home.

His wife, who is a nurse at Leggett ISD, and son, a graduate of Livingston High, also competes with and against him. Successful on his seventh try in Houston, it was mandatory Tinker achieve this goal or face plenty of razzing at home. 

His wife, Krystal, won a buckle in Houston three years ago, and he has been chasing her ever since. In the past, Tinker has won National Finals Champion of the Ranch Sorting National Championships, so he may hold bragging rights for now.

“We’ve been doing this about 10 years — my wife and me. It’s taken me 10 years to get that,” Tinker said pointing at his shiny, new belt buckle. “It is hard. The cows are always tough at Houston.”

Tinker said rodeo has been part of his life since riding calves as a 5-year-old. After graduating his senior year at Lamar High School in Arlington, Tinker joined the Army, starting a 25-year career. He retired in Polk County, where his wife has called home. 

Interest in the sport from the couple began when friends told them about ranch sorting. The event has a 60-foot round pen with two sides, making a figure eight. The middle is called the gate, yet it is not a physical gate. It is an opening that joins the two pins with a 12-foot separation. Calves are numbered from 0 to 9 with a couple of blanks. There are 60 seconds on the clock and a number gets called. The calves then must be shuttled through from that number in sequenced order.

With 10 heads of calves and three rounds, Tinker and his partner, Raymond Martinez, registered a perfect 30 score and beat the field by a five-second interval.

Tinker’s father was a foreman on a ranch, allowing him to grow up around horses and cattle. Yet, he had to learn the sport, putting in three years of work to become competitive. He goes to many events on weekends, traveling two or three hours to reach a destination and practice his craft.

“It’s a family sport. There are kids probably five, six or seven years old that do this,” he said. “Grandparents do this; it is all ages. It is one of the sports out there that is really family oriented. 

“You have to have your horses taken care of and medically taken care of, and then you have to turn around and get yourself physically fit and mentally fit to go in there. You have to correct the mistakes that you are making because it is a sport where the least amount of mistakes is what puts you into the winner’s circle. 

Tinker said he chose the event because any age group can participate. He said competitors take part into their 80s.

“Those guys and gals will put it on you, because they have been doing it for so long. It is about reading cows. You have to be able to move the horse, but you also have to know how to read the cow and outthink where that cow is going to go or what pressure you need to put. Some of those people that have been doing it 30 or 40 years will go in and school you real quick.”

Buckles, jackets, saddles or prize money are all fantastic perks, but it is time with family that is the real goal.

“It is the family time and something that is competitive that we can have fun with. My wife and I can spend time together, and then my son can go with us and that is what makes the sports so enjoyable.”

Tinker, a military science instructor at Livingston ISD, said he wants the students in his program to learn from his experiences in sorting. 

“All through life, you never stop being competitive at whatever you are doing. At the end of the day, it is how you mesh with other people. It is not about winning a buckle; it is about the commitment that you make with something. That is with an educational goal, going further in some type of sport or something similar. I want them to see that it never stops and that you can go out and reach your goals in anything you want to do.”

The course Tinker teaches is a lesson in leadership and how to interact with others. The lessons are something from which all students could benefit. 

“You learn how to have honor, courage and commitment. That is the cornerstone behind anything that we do in life. What I am looking for in the term leadership is young people — when they graduate high school — that are goal oriented, driven and that they have commitments. They know that it takes hard work to go out there and earn things. You always go out and work like a team with people you are working for, whether they are under you, peers of you, or over you.

His students are all JROTC, but only around 3-5% contract with the military. Tinker says he receives phone calls regularly from his students’ employers who rave about their commitment and working as a team.

“They hear military science and it kind of gets a bad rap in a way,” Tinker said of the class. “People look at it and think, ‘That is only for people that are going to the military.’ It’s not. It teaches so many things that are going to prepare you. There is a lot of kids that miss out on this program because they look at it and think that they have to wear uniform, but that is just a tiny portion of what our program is about. It is more teaching you how to lead, how to work as a team, and teaching you how to work hard to accomplish things.

“I have a senior that is graduating this year. She got accepted to McNeese (University in Lake Charles, Louisiana,) for a music scholarship. She is never going to do the military thing. That school, when I wrote an endorsement letter for her and summarized all of her leadership from the time that she came into the program as a sophomore, they said, ‘We want you because you are going to bring some leadership to our team.’ That is what carried weight for her, and that is not going to be anything military.”

When Tinker arrived, there were 30 students in the class. This year, there were 80 enrolled at the high school with another 30 at the junior high.

“We tried to make this a place where everybody can feel like this is family. You can count on the person left and right and front and back, so that when you make mistakes you can grow and learn from them. You pass that on to the lowerclassmen before you graduate. Most of my seniors I put into director positions and are like my direct assistants, and at that point, should have learned how to develop a team. They should be able to take a group of people and work out all of their issues.”

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Giving Back - Endowed scholarship named for local playwright

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An annual playwrighting competition in Don Glenn’s name is being sponsored by the UT Department of Theatre and Dance and will determine each year’s scholarship recipient. Courtesy photoAn annual playwrighting competition in Don Glenn’s name is being sponsored by the UT Department of Theatre and Dance and will determine each year’s scholarship recipient. Courtesy photo

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Thanks to the support of the local community as well as his friends and former classmates who raised $50,000, the newly endowed Don Wilson Glenn African American Playwright Scholarship at the University of Texas has been created and the first scholarship will be awarded in 2023. An annual playwrighting competition in Glenn’s name is being sponsored by the UT Department of Theatre and Dance and will determine each year’s scholarship recipient. Glenn will serve as a judge on the competition panel.

Born and raised in Livingston, Glenn is an award-winning African American playwright of Native American descent from the Apalachicola Band of Creek Indian Tribe of East Texas. A 1984 graduate of Livingston High School, Glenn went to the state finals at UT as a senior drama student with a play in which he adapted and starred. He has continued his passion for theater arts in the 38 years since, with no signs of stopping.

“The UT-Austin scholarship idea originated with Ryan Stubbs during the beginning of the 2020 pandemic. Ryan then graciously invited a few LHS friends to share in his vision of getting the scholarship endowment funded,” Jessica Dunn Guilbeau, a member of the scholarship committee and a classmate of Glenn’s, said.

“Basically, we were a group of 1980s close-knit LHS childhood friends who were very proud of Don’s lifetime of work in the theater arts. As kids of the 1980s, we all grew up in a loving community with both shared and diverse experiences, who, over the years, no matter where we lived, no matter where life took us, we somehow managed to remain lifelong friends. In a nutshell, Ryan invited the group to share in his vision and everyone was excited to help in any way they could,” Guilbeau said.

“Laura Walker was the chairperson who kept us focused and on track. Sadly, in June 2021, we lost Donna Cryer Lawson, who was an integral member of the group. She was a voice of reason who always weighed in with the right suggestions for our success. After her loss, we decided to continue on in her honor,” Guilbeau said.

In addition to Stubbs, Guilbeau, Walker and Lawson (in memoriam), other members of the scholarship committee are Kimberly Camp Orr and Kimberly Robertson Jackson. An interesting note that Guilbeau shared is that everything was electronically accomplished by Zoom meetings, Gofundme, Facebook and word of mouth.

“We had lots of hits and a few misses, yet the group persevered with Don’s blessing and got the job done,” Guilbeau said.

Listening to the life stories of the multi-generational matriarchs of his family as a youth, Glenn gained inspiration and began writing “American Experience” plays that he hopes bless, encourage and entertain his audiences.

With extensive theater credentials, Glenn received the 2002 AUDELCO Award for Excellence in Black Theatre for “American Menu,” receiving Best Playwright, Best Director, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Dramatic Production of the Year. He received the 2003 Outer Critic Award Nominee for American King Umps.

He received the 2019 Mario Fratti & Fred Newman Political Play Award for his play “American Summer Squash: Katrina 2005 Raw.” Additionally, he was the 2020-2021 season recipient of the Meyer Memorial Trust-Oregon Cultural Trust and the Cultural Coalition for his winning proposal of “Troy USA,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida that he co-authored with Dmae Roberts. It will open in the Summer of 2022.

One of Glenn’s current works in progress is “Walking through Portland with a Panther, The life of Mr. Kent Ford, All Power to the People,” a one-man show based on the life and times of Kent Ford, the leader of the Portland, Ore. Chapter of the Black Panther Party from the 60’s through the early 80’s. It will open in the Spring of 2022 at the Vanport Mosaic Festival in Portland.

Another of his works in progress is “Martha Bakes: A biography of a Revolution and Insurrection that never Happened,” a one-woman show that takes a satirical lens to American Colonial HerStory. Part historical biography and part cooking show, the audience is invited into the relationship between Martha Washington, the original First Lady, and her dower slave Oney Marie Judge during an imagined slave revolt on Mount Vernon. The play begins with Martha, the fresh widow of George Washington, socially distancing herself during a fictitious slave uprising on Mount Vernon. The slaves have learned the contents of George’s will declaring that the over 350 enslaved bodies on the plantation are to be set free –upon the death of Martha. Enduring her newfound circumstances with a pleasant disposition, Martha bakes a three-course meal during the revolt as she barricades herself in the kitchen, and with each preparation reflects on her influential role with scant representation in the creation of the nation.

“That the suffrage and abolition movements are not always easy bedfellows echo the legacies of racism, sexism and voter suppression that our nation is still struggling to unpack today,” Glenn said. It will open during the 2022-2023 season.

His work has been produced in theaters across the country, including the Woodie King Jr. New Federal Theatre, Mrs. Gertrude Jeannette’s H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, Theater For The New City, PassinArt Theatre Company and Vanport Mosaic Producer Damaris Webb.

Glenn received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. He has served as the President and Artistic Director of the Angelina Community Theater in Lufkin. 

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Man in custody after teen shot

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Maurice ScottMaurice ScottFrom Enterprise Staff

A Livingston man is in the Polk County Jail after a teenager suffered a gunshot Thursday.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call in reference to a shooting near Newberry Drive, in the Indian Springs subdivision.

Sheriff’s office deputies arrived on scene and located the victim sitting on the side of the roadway. Tylor Smith, 18, of Livingston sustained a gunshot wound to his lower leg and was taken by EMS to the Livingston Hospital for treatment.

The suspect was identified as 57-year-old Maurice Scott, also of Livingston. Scott was quickly located and deputies were able to take him into custody without incident. He is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, The case is still under investigation at this time.

Those with information in reference to this case are asked to contact  the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 936-327-6810.

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Winner of easttexasnews.com app download contest announced

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AppContestWinner

Congratulations to Natalie Bachynsky, (center) nurse practitioner and owner of Houston County Family Medical Clinic in Crockett, TX. She is the big winner of our easttexasnews.com app download contest. The contest took place during the month of February, and the drawing was held live on March 1. The prize package, worth over $1200, includes a two night stay at Moody Gardens resort in Galveston, a family four pack of tickets to several Moody Gardens attractions, $100 gift card from Moody Gardens, and a $25 gift certificate to Gypsy Joynt in Galveston. Pictured with Natalie are Brandy Jones, left, graphic designer at the Houston County Courier newspaper, and Kelli Barnes, right, publisher for Polk County Publishing Co. group of newspapers. 

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