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Redistricting is underway for county

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Polk County LogoFrom Enterprise Staff

The Polk County Commissioners Court recently received the numbers from the 2020 Census, much later than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Texas Constitution requires all counties to look at redistricting after the census, Polk County is beginning this process now that the information has arrived.

According to 2020 Census figures, Polk County gained 10.4% in its population since the last accounting in 2010, up from 45,413 to 50,123. The firm of Allison, Bass & Magee LLP was retained to assist in examining the data and developing a redistricting plan for Polk County.

Texas Law allows a deviation in commissioners’ precincts of up to 10% before boundaries are required to be redrawn and the county is over—in total—by 30.66%. Precinct 1 is 18.26% higher than the ideal population and Precinct 3 is 12.4% below the ideal, so a shifting of boundaries must occur.

Attorney Eric Magee gave a preliminary presentation of the numbers during the September 28th meeting of the commissioners court. A recording of that meeting—and all other commissioners court meetings—is available on the county website at www.co.polk.tx.us and the county’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Allison, Bass & Magee will assist with lawfully redrawing boundaries, which will redistrict some Polk County citizens into a different commissioner/justice of the peace/constable precinct and/or voting precinct than they are currently in. However, the Court is following state law and is attempting to provide the best representation to the citizens it serves. 

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On track to a solution

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K’Twon Franklin died at three months after he stopped breathing during a nap.K’Twon Franklin died at three months after he stopped breathing during a nap.By Brian Besch
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The tragic events on Sept. 30 have those who live on Glover Road pleading once more for a second option to cross the railroad tracks. The dirt road in Leggett is a mile from the railroad crossing to a dead end. To compound the issue, trains commonly stop on the tracks, blocking the crossing for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and up to four hours. 

Last week, the Enterprise reported the story of Monica Franklin, whose 3-month-old baby, K’Twon, had stopped breathing during a nap. After an hour of CPR, paramedics arrived. 

A train was on the track for an hour and 10 minutes the day of Franklin’s emergency. It took the ambulance 30 minutes to receive K’Twon because they were stuck on the other side. The train started once Franklin and paramedics reached the tracks, delaying another five minutes to get across.

An autopsy is still pending to determine the cause of death, however, a heartbeat was not recovered until K’Twon’s body reached St. Luke’s Health – Memorial Hospital in Livingston. Franklin said he was then flown to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston for two days before tests determined he had been without oxygen for too long.

Residents on Glover Road, Franklin, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy, Leggett ISD Superintendent Jana Lowe and Polk County Precinct 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis all have the same story about their conversations — if they are fortunate enough to have one — with Union Pacific.

“They say they will do something,” Purvis said, “but they never do it. 

“I have talked with them, Sydney has talked with them, and Carolyn Glover Hockley mailed them letters. It has been an ongoing thing,” the commissioner continued. “All we have ever asked is just another crossing. I even mentioned to them if they would get me an easement to go down that side of the tracks, that I would build them a road from Glover to Frank Drive. That has been in phone conversations I’ve had with them over the years.”

A path to Frank Drive would give those on Glover Road another way to Highway 59. It also leads to McCarty Road, which intersects with FM 942 and a third Highway 59 outlet.

The county commissioner mentioned another crossing south of the only existing way over the tracks would be a second solution.

“We would have to just build a little short road from the county road (a few feet) up to the crossing. The railroad owns the right of way in between them, but it wouldn’t be a big trick to do it. That is what I have been trying for. We’ve had conversations, they just said they would get back with us.”

But after 30 years, it seems clear no one at Union Pacific is getting back to anyone in Polk County.

According to letters from Carolyn Glover Hockley (the road is named for her father, W.T. “Pete” Glover), Glover Road had a second and third crossing, yet both were destroyed during a remodel. 

Purvis is unsure if a law prevents trains from blocking a crossing for an extended amount of time. Franklin has been informed by attorneys that there is a state law requiring trains to move after 10 minutes. Federal law, if one pertaining to a time limit exists, would supersede any state or local requirements.

“Those guys work their own rules and don’t adhere to (anybody),” Purvis said. “TxDoT (Texas Department of Transportation) can’t even interfere with their rules.

“I would go either way. If they would put a crossing in, I will build the road up to it the minute they do it. If they get the right of way to go down the side (connecting to Frank Road) I will start on that immediately. This deal never should have happened. I am hoping now they will send us somebody that will come here and talk to us to go down there with us. I will go meet with anybody down there to work with them and get any kind of solution we can get.”

Purvis agreed that there is a lack of effort on Union Pacific’s end to come to a decision, but reminded that they are not required to follow local or even state law.

“They are the big dog, evidently, because they don’t have to listen to any of us,” Purvis said. “I don’t know how often (the train parks on the tracks), but it must happen a lot more than I realized. What gets me about it is that it takes something like this. Let’s fix the problem.”

The commissioner said he plans to reach out to Union Pacific again in hopes of finding a solution.

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County approves recycling partnership agreement

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Polk County LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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A public/private partnership agreement between Polk County and Polk County Recycling and Beautification for operation of the recycling center was approved by the Polk County Commissioners Court during its regular meeting Friday.

Tuesday’s regular session of the court was moved to Friday due to the court’s attendance at the County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference in Round Rock this week.

“On December 8, 2020, the Court received a presentation from Dick Burr and Shawn Loring regarding their commitment to recycling efforts in Polk County. The collection station has been built and we did a grant application to DETCOG for equipment to make it successful. Shawn and Dick have managed volunteers to staff the facility and today we have a verbal agreement and so the proposed agreement was amended for your review to make it official,” County Judge Sydney Murphy said.

“The terms of the proposed agreement are that Polk County agrees to provide and maintain the facility and sufficient equipment to run the operation and the volunteer group takes responsibility for staffing and operations of the facility. At this time it is fully equipped and it’s actually ready for operation,” Murphy said.

Commissioners discussed proposed revisions to the Polk County Subdivision Regulations and scheduled a public hearing on the proposed revisions for 10 a.m. November 9. The significant changes include:

Maintenance bond is reduced from 100% to 10% of estimated construction costs but is still a two-year bond;

Appendix I “Subdivision and/or Road Name Add/Change Request Form” has been added to the application requirements—a completed and approved form must be submitted with the application;

“Proposed Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of the Homeowner’s Association or other entity responsible for road maintenance…” has been added to the documents required to be submitted with the application;

Subdivision Construction Agreement Form has been added to the documents required to be submitted with the application;

Section 13: “Roadways” has been amended as follows:

Publicly dedicated and to be maintained by Polk County, after Commissioners Court acceptance for maintenance, with construction in accordance with the specifications outlined in these regulations. If the proposed road is to be tied into at least one public road with an impervious surface, the minimum pavement surface of the proposed road shall be two-course surface treatment of asphalt and aggregate.

Private and to be maintained by a Homeowner’s Association or property owners in perpetuity (or until constructed to the then applicable county standards for acceptance of maintenance, and accepted for maintenance by the Commissioners Court) and constructed in accordance with the specifications outlined in these regulations. Impervious surface is not required.

Appendix R has been revised to reflect the new standards included in Section 13; and

Appendix 2A from the Model Subdivision Rules has been tailored for Polk County in line with the modifications listed above and inserted as “Appendix V”, which must be submitted as part of the subdivision application.

The proposed regulations with these modifications will be posted to the county website and available in the county judge’s office for review.

“Over the last few years we’ve been trying to address the disparities. We want to see what other counties do and see if we can come up with a more equitable system,” Murphy said, regarding the appointment of a committee to review and provide recommendations to revise the merit pool policy. Following some discussion, Commissioners approved the formation of a committee comprising Murphy, Precinct 1 Commissioner Guylene Robertson, the human resources department and either the sheriff or a designee of the sheriff.

The constable warrant service program quarterly report for the period ending September 30 was received.

County sick leave pool committee members were selected by random drawing. Those randomly selected included Adam McDowell, Glenn Edwards, Carla Simons, Tatum White and Karen Needham.

The county holiday schedule for 2022 was approved. Holidays will be observed by the county as follows: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 17; President’s Day, February 21; Good Friday, April 15; Memorial Day, May 30; Juneteenth, June 20; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, September 5; Columbus/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 10; Veterans Day, November 11; Thanksgiving, November 24-25; Christmas, December 23-26; and New Year’s, December 30.

The following requests for capital purchases to be paid from the general fund balance and included on the fiscal year 2022 reimbursement resolution for year-end issuance of legally authorized debt were approved: a request from Precinct 3 constable for MDIS software and support, not to exceed $3,155; a request from fire marshal for ballistic vest, Canon camera and drone, not to exceed $6,847.92; a request from environmental enforcement for ballistic vest and Canon camera, not to exceed $2,261.93; and a request from human resources for Neogov onboard install and training fees, not to exceed $1,500.

Personnel action form requests submitted since the last meeting were approved, as were fiscal year 2022 budget revisions, as presented by the county auditor’s office.

Commissioners approved the following items on the consent agenda:

Minutes of the September 28 regular meeting;

Schedule of bills;

Orders designating regular terms for county court at law and justice courts for fiscal year 2022;

The amended fiscal year 2022 contract extension between Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Polk County Aging for congregate and home-delivered meals;

A resolution in support of fiscal year 2022 indigent defense formula grant application;

Ratification of an agreement with Neogov for human resources onboard services included in the fiscal year 2022 budget;

Record listing of current members of the Polk County Safety Committee;

A Homeland Security grant program property transfer record agreement with San Jacinto County for two flat screen televisions and Hitachi starboard with projector;

An amendment to county school land surface lease with Cooper Ranches as of October 1;

Acceptance of a donation of office furnishings from Catholic Charities; and

Acceptance of monetary donations provided to the Polk County Fire Marshal for fire prevention education.

Sean Ferry, pastor of Pine Forest Baptist Church, opened the meeting with prayer.

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A HERO’S WELCOME HOME

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Hero's Welcome Home

Traffic downtown came to a halt early Wednesday as nearly 200 units from law enforcement, area fire departments and Sam Houston Electric Cooperative showed their respect for a hometown hero as the body of Yancy Williams, 54, of Livingston, was escorted home from a Houston hospital. Yancy died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with COVID-19. A graduate of Livingston High School, Yancy proudly served his country in the U.S. Marine Corp and in the U.S. Army Reserves. He served his community as a line technician with Sam Houston Electric Cooperative and as a firefighter with the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten | PCE

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Parents mourn loss of son

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Cole OverstreetCole OverstreetBy Brian Besch
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It’s been two weeks since the fatal vehicle collision that took the life of Livingston High School senior Cole Overstreet. The accident was a head-on collision with Roy Grant Wagner, 40, of The Woodlands, who fled the scene after crossing over the road’s centerline. 

Wagner was charged with failure to stop and render aid resulting in death, along with unlawful carrying of a weapon and possession of marijuana. 

His criminal history reflects multiple arrests for DWI, and alcohol has been suspected to play a role in his most recent troubles. According to documents received by the Enterprise, his first DWI was in August of 2001, when he would have been 20 years of age. He received six months of probation from Harris County.

His second DWI charge was 10 years later by the Pasadena Police Department, where he received a year of probation. In March of 2018, Wagner was charged with DWI and was convicted on a lesser charge, receiving two years and three days probation. Just 10 months ago on Dec. 12, he collected a DWI charge for the fourth time. He served eight days in jail. 

Wagner quickly made the $251,500 bail in Polk County and is free once more. Cole’s parents, Tad and April Overstreet, have a fear that their worst experience could be shared by others. 

“I don’t want anyone to forget our son. I don’t think they would, but he didn’t deserve this,” April said. “For this man to be out there, it can happen to somebody else and we don’t want that to happen because it is the most painful thing we’ve ever been through in our lives.”

Without Wagner present at the scene of the crash, he could not be tested for alcohol.

“This guy ran after four priors and it benefits him to run from the scene,” Tad said. “Instead of getting harsher punishment for fleeing like it should be, it is the other way around. It is harder to punish him and harder to make anything stick. It should be the complete opposite. There needs to be something in place where if someone has a history — I mean, four? That is a long history of doing the same thing again and again and again. Whenever they flee, there needs to be some sort of automatic maximum punishment of whatever charges. The way our system is set up now, it is geared toward him having an easier time by doing the wrong thing and it benefits you.”

The Overstreets said they have heard reports that Wagner has received lenient sentences in the past because he is a veteran and the incidents have been blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What the parents do not understand is why Wagner is allowed to drive if his mental issues are so troubling.

“I don’t think they have the proof they need because he knows how to work the system,” April said.

Earlier reports that Wagner turned himself in two days later may not be the case. The Overstreets have heard information suggesting law enforcement knew of Wagner’s location and gave him the option to surrender.

Tad said he has tremendous respect for those who have served in the military, but that it should not exempt anyone from committing crimes.

“I say ‘thank you’ whenever I see someone with a veteran hat on, but where is the honor and where is the integrity in killing someone — an innocent person — and running away? There is no honor in that,” Tad said. “I am thankful for his service a long time ago, but he needs to pay for his crimes. He hasn’t served much jail time so far and that is the problem. He hasn’t learned any lessons.”

The parents have asked officials if Wagner still has the right to drive. They have yet to be told he cannot. Instead, it was relayed that there was a breathalyzer in Wagner’s truck at the time of the accident. However, it had been disabled, as he was no longer required to submit a test. Tad and April were told law enforcement wasn’t sure there was enough evidence to convict Wagner’s fourth incident in Montgomery County, but felt Harris County would revoke his license because he was still on probation there from his third incident. In Montgomery County, law enforcement was said to have found him passed out on the side of the road in the early morning hours with the engine cool.

“This guy is not somebody who has made a little mistake and turned himself in,” Tad said. “It doesn’t seem like there had been any results because all he was looking out for was himself. Our son is gone and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Something we really talked about is how we can make a difference, and No. 1 is we can protect other people and their families from this guy doing the same thing to them.”

On Wednesday, Tad and April were presented Cole’s induction certificate for the National Honor Society. Cole had plans to attend college at Sam Houston State University to study engineering.

“He was a follower of Jesus,” April said. “He always walked the walk and didn’t just talk the talk. He loved everybody. It didn’t matter if you were a football player or a band kid or everybody in between.”

Tad said many of Cole’s classmates have told them he would always be the one to turn situations around by remaining positive when something negative occurred. 

“He was a really good, respectful young man,” Tad said. “He had his whole life ahead of him. He was a better man than me. I learned from him through watching the way he acted. It was just amazing to me how he was mature beyond his years.”

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