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Polk County News

Voters decide city, school board races

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PolkCountyElectionElection Day at the Polk County Judicial Center. (Brian Besch Photo)

 

From Staff Reports

Big Sandy, Corrigan-Camden and Onalaska Independent School Districts and the city of Onalaska all had contested races that were decided Tuesday night.

There were two contested races in the city of Onalaska, one contested in Big Sandy and Onalaska ISDs each, and a trio of contested races for C-CISD. All eight Polk County positions that were on the ballot featured uncontested Republican candidates.

Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate remains in his seat as he won a challenge from Tommy Haddon. James W. Arnett defeated Paul Laverty for a position on the Onalaska City Council as well.

C-CISD had three positions on its school board up for grabs. Peter D. Burks defeated Lync Cavanaugh and Angela Rice for the Position 1 spot; Thomas Roberts defeated Carmen Vera for Position 2; and Lawrence Lee Jolly, Jr. defeated Matthew Cole, and Robert Poage for Position 3.

Big Sandy ISD had four positions on its school board up for election, but only one was contested. Position 4 featured a race between William Handy, Jr. and Kabe Murphy, which went to Murphy, while Darrell Murphy, Mark Duff and Quentin Matthews ran uncontested for Positions 2, 5 and 6, respectively.

OISD had two school board positions due for election with one being contested. Position 4 was contested between Johnny Byrd and Pobla Gallier with Byrd winning, while Candice Davies ran uncontested for Position 7.

The eight positions on the ballot for county offices were Sheriff (Byron Lyons), Tax Assessor-Collector (Leslie Jones Burks), Precinct 1 Commissioner (Guylene Rogers Robertson), Precinct 3 Commissioner (Milton Purvis), Precinct 1 Constable (Scott Hughes), Precinct 2 Constable (William R. “Bill” Cunningham), Precinct 3 Constable (Ray Myers) and Precinct 4 Constable (Darwon Evans). All eight candidates won their respective Republican primaries and did not face opposition from another political party.

A follow-up on these races as well as state and national races can be seen in the Nov. 8 edition of the Enterprise.

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FFA presents for Onalaska’s board

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FFAPHOTO BY EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA Onalaska’s FFA team gave their agricultural issues presentation over wild horse management to the board before they take it to contests.

By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula


ONALASKA — Onalaska’s board met earlier this month to go over their formal agenda, as well as receive a presentation from the ag issues team as they prepare to complete in upcoming contests.

Agricultural issues team
Onalaksa’s FFA team unveiled their agricultural issues presentation over wild horse management. Two students on each side of the argument presented on the pros and cons of the regulation of these animals.
The presentation included the history of how the horses were introduced to the United States, how Native Americans used them, their contemporary existence in the western U.S., and laws introduced to protect them. Pros included seed distribution and historical significance, while cons included hard packing of soil and over-population.

Elementary report
Elementary principal David Murphy informed the board that elementary UIL started meeting last week in the afternoons, but with after-school tutorials also starting soon, they are working to find ways to meet with both groups on campus in a safe manor.

Sixth grade currently holds the highest attendance with 95%, earning them a pizza party later this month. On Nov. 3, the district will hold its first Title I meeting virtually.

The presentation will go over what Title I is, requirements the school needs to meet, and what parents need to know. Questions and comments can be added to a chat box during the meeting to be addressed.

Junior and high school report
Robyn Thornton gave the junior and senior high school report.

Administration will start teacher observations soon with plans to be finished before Thanksgiving. With the first nine-weeks over, Math and English Language Arts teachers will start determining which students need educational interventions, including after-school tutoring.

The NHS and NJHS classes of last spring were inducted earlier this month, unable to do so last year due to Covid. Since the program started in 2006, 206 members have been initiated.

Student council will hold a Trunks and Treats event on Oct. 31. This drive-thru event will take place at the junior and high school campus with a drive-in movie being shown afterwards.

A copy of the school’s events calendar can be found at https://www.onalaskaisd.net/ under the “Events Calendar” tag at the bottom of the page.

Superintendent Report
Superintendent Anthony Roberts gave the enrollment report, stating the district had gained 37 more students since last year. Attendance has remained stable despite Covid, but the district is still held harmless for average daily attendance.

A bid from Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong out of Lufkin to repair roofs on the junior and senior high campus, ag and transportation barns, weight room, softball pavilion and a modified roof for the administration building for just under $300,000 was approved.

Sam Houston Electric Co-Op will lease a radio tower behind the high school to the district to improve communications around the district with the help of a safety and security grant. A tower in Livingston is currently used, but the more local tower will cost around $140 a month, less than half of what they currently pay.

District to add cyber security clause
With Senate Bill 820 passed, the district is required to adopt a cybersecurity framework and designate a coordinator to report all incidences should a breach occur. Technical support has already done so and has begun to establish procedures.

The board voted to amend the emergency operations plan.

For a calendar of future Onalaska ISD board meetings, visit https://www.onalaskaisd.net/, click on the “Superintendent’s Office” tab at the top, scroll to the bottom and click “School Board Agendas.”

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City makes tough decision, cancels Hometown Christmas

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carriage rideCARRIAGE RIDE FILE PHOTO - Livingston Hometown Christmas was canceled because of Covid-19 concerns. The annual event was scheduled to take place Saturday, Dec. 12.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — A popular annual event in Livingston will not take place this year.

Livingston Hometown Christmas, which was scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12, was canceled because of Covid-19. While there is public outrage over the annual event’s cancellation, Livingston city manager Bill Wiggins assures that he and his staff did everything it could to hold the event.

“We (City of Livingston staff) are just as disappointed about the cancellation of Hometown Christmas,” Wiggins said. “This is an event that me and my family look forward to every year. Me, my wife, our two children and our four (now five) grandchildren have all attended it.”

Wiggins said there were several alternate plans to save Hometown Christmas. But, after several talks with county health officials, the decision was made to cancel.

“This event brings in between 5,000-7,000 people, and we wouldn’t be able to control a crowd of that size,” Wiggins said. “There was nothing political about this decision. This decision was made with the safety and health of our citizens, vendors and staff.”

Hometown Christmas began in 2000, and had visitors from all over East Texas, according to Wiggins. Other events associated with Hometown Christmas, such as the Jingle Bell Fun Run and Lighted Christmas Parade have been canceled as well.

“We held off from making a final decision as much as we could,” Wiggins said. “But events like this require a lot of planning, and we couldn’t afford to wait until the last minute to make a decision.”

Although Hometown Christmas is canceled, Wiggins said the city still plans to put Christmas lights up around downtown, Pedigo Park and other parts of the city. The lighting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

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COVID CRUSADER: Retired physician taking stand against virus

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                               JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Retired U.S. Army Col. And Dr. Ronald Tolls is an advocate for Covid safety.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — Ronald Tolls has held a few titles during his 80 years of life.

Among those are U.S. Army Colonel and Doctor. Tolls has an unofficial title these days — Covid Crusader.

Inspired by friends who relocated from Houston to Livingston during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the retired doctor is taking it upon himself to help prevent the spread of the virus around the Livingston community. He believes it is easier to spread than other illnesses as well.

“The first thing that happened is we had a couple that I vaguely knew from our church who were displaced from Houston. They’ve been with us ever since,” Tolls said. “I became aware of it acutely that Covid had spread and was highly communicable. People who were in nursing homes have a high fatality rate. I’ve since been following the CDC recommendations and I think they were off track for a while because they thought it was spread like a common cold or the Spanish Influenza. But in fact, it can be spread via aerosol, which is akin to the smoke that we smell around a bonfire. In other words, it’s far beyond the six feet.”

Tolls has taken his mission to the Livingston Walmart. He believes the virus is more likely to be spread there as opposed to churches or schools.

“In our church, we have social distancing,” Tolls said. “But at Walmart, it has all fallen on the wayside. About a month ago, I did a tally at Walmart and I found that 50% of employees were wearing their masks improperly. I’m a staunch believer that the No. 1 spread of Covid is not in our churches or in the open marketplace. It’s in shops. Walmart is the principal retailer in town. A third of the people that come in are not even wearing masks. I am eager to raise awareness and what I’m proposing is that, with all respect to Walmart because next to (Livingston ISD) they’re our No. 1 employer in town, we get a systemized program at Walmart. They’re examples to the rest of our community. They can beat their chest and say ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re not killing you by selling cigarettes as much as we’re trying to save you from Covid.’ Cigarettes will shorten your lifespan by 10 years and those very same people have the audacity to go out and have a team on Relay For Life.”

During Tolls’ time at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, University of London, he learned about a man named Sir John Snow. During the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854, Snow figured out a way to slow down the spread of the disease.

“In the social area of London (in 1854), there were 500 fatalities in 10 days,” Tolls said. “Somebody asked John Snow what they should do about it. He said to take the handle off of the Broadstreet Pump. He had a box of pins and a map of that region. Essentially, in 1854, John Snow was a couple of generations ahead of his time. I will never be able to prove things like he did. I will never be able to prove with pins like he did. What I would like to do is promote a program at Walmart and other businesses will follow suit. I would like to see them do it in good face. I want our Walmart to be an example to the community.”

Tolls retired from practicing medicine three years ago. In addition to Walmart, he is interested in talking to other high-traffic businesses in Livingston.

“I think there’s something people need to know about and I think they need to know how to stop the spread of Covid,” Tolls said. “It’s killed 200,000 Americans. It behooves us to do something about it. I’d be quite willing to talk to other stores as well.”

He’s staying on the crusade.

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County commits funds to regional communications infrastructure

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                               JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Byron Lyons addresses commissioners about an agenda item that he wants tabled during Tuesday morning’s Commissioners Court. The item was tabled.

By Jason Chlapek

LIVINGSTON — Polk County commissioners approved a measure that will help not just their own county, but other counties as well during Commissioners Court Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

The measure is a resolution authorizing the commitment of county funds and participation in a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project by the Deep East Texas Council Of Governments (DETCOG) for regional interoperable radio communications. Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy believes this is a good move.

“A few years ago, one of our Sheriff’s deputies was shot at and he was unable to get out and his radio wasn’t working so he couldn’t get help,” Murphy said. “What we’re trying to do is get interoperable communications with the entire 12-county DETCOG region and build a network across those counties that will allow us to have interoperability for emergency management, law enforcement, first responders or anybody that needs to be in communication in a crisis situation or circumstances. If we can get this done, then they’re asking for a commitment of 1 percent from the cog, which is huge. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these counties to be able to get good interoperability.”

The DETCOG region consists of 12 counties that include Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties. The project calls for some communication structure.

“It’s going to be upgraded technology where towers will be placed strategically,” Murphy said. “For example, let’s say Polk County ends up with a tower. That tower will be powerful enough to cover part of Liberty County, part of Trinity County or part of Tyler County depending on where the tower is located. The idea is to put ‘umbrellas’ over the entire DETCOG region to where everybody is covered regardless of where the location of the tower is. It’s a regional plan.”

Commissioners also approved a measure to submit a CDBG grant application for flood and drainage improvement in a subdivision in Precinct 1. The Precinct 1 Road & Bridge Department will match the funds.

“What happens when you receive these grants, there’s a matching portion,” Murphy said. “They don’t just give you the money. You have to have ‘skin in the game.’ It’s a matching grant. Some of the HUD requirements that those people be low to moderate income. To be LMI, it’s based on the average income for that county. The average income for Polk County is lower than the average income for Montgomery County based on the businesses and what people make. The cost of living is also higher in Montgomery County. The LMI is what qualifies certain areas. Let’s say you live by the lake and you have a home with a low monetary value, but it’s right next to a mansion. The mansion skews it and does not allow the person living in the smaller home to receive as much funding or assistance because the value for that area is so high. HUD has set up requirements for LMI and that gives you points for when you apply for those grants. The lower the income, the more assistance you will be providing and the more points you get when you make application. The LMI is what qualifies that subdivision based on the conditions and the amount of money the people living in that area make.”

Also approved was a measure for county transportation infrastructure. The Texas Department of Transportation is partnering with the county.

“Our agreement with TxDOT is to help replace some bridges and culverts or things like that,” Murphy said. “Our agreement is to allow them to proceed and each commissioner will communicate with TxDOT engineers to get what those precincts need. We’re trying to streamline the operation as much as possible and allow it to be simplified.”

The next Commissioners Court takes place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.

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