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San Jacinto New process for voting in place

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Vicki Shelley, elections administrator for San Jacinto County, provides an example of the new process for casting ballots. Photo by Tony Farkas/SJNTVicki Shelley, elections administrator for San Jacinto County, provides an example of the new process for casting ballots. Photo by Tony Farkas/SJNT

By Tony Farkas
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COLDSPRING — In order to comply with state mandates, as well as fulfill a mission of voting integrity, the San Jacinto Elections Office has implemented a new voting process.

Elections Administrator Vicki Shelley said the county has completed a conversion of its voting machines from DRE — direct record electronic — to PVR — print vote record.

Shelley said that previously, voters went to a touch screen voting machine, make their selections, get to the end and review them, and then press cast, which would record the vote. It was a one-step process.

Now, it is a two-step process, she said; while the voter still will cast votes using the same touch screen setup, instead of casting the vote electronically, it will instead print the votes onto a special, elections-office-only brand of paper. 

“It will print out their selections on the PVR (a brand of thermal paper available only to election offices), and the voter can then read exactly what the votes are,” she said. “Then they will go to a separate scanning device, and the voter will insert the printed record to cast the ballot.”

The election workers have received training to help anyone with the new process.

“It seems like it would be a difficult process, but it isn’t,” Shelley said. “This is something that has been on the mind of voters, that they wanted to have a printed copy showing their votes.”

Shelley said that even though the timeline for converting to a paper-verifiable system, as mandated by the state and federal governments, was 2026, she opted not to wait to get the new system in.

It will allow voters to get used to the new process through several smaller elections, and it also will help the poll workers acclimate to the new process as well, she said.

“It is my goal to make sure the election workers make the voter feel secure,” she said.

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One killed in two-vehicle crash near Shepherd

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081921 crash

Special to the News-Times

SHEPHERD — A Goodrich man died following a two-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 59 about one mile south of Shepherd.

Jaime Ortega, 47, of Goodrich, was pronounced dead at the scene by San Jacinto Justice of the Peace Harris Blanchette following the Aug. 11 crash.

According to information from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the two-vehicle crash on U.S. Highway 59 occurred at approximately 1:05 p.m. 

Reports indicate that a 2021 Dodge pickup traveling southbound swerved out of the lane and collided in the rear with a 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe that was stopped on the improved shoulder. 

The driver of the Dodge, Melissa Smith, 37, of Cleveland, suffered minor injuries. There were two passengers with Smith — a 14-year-old male an 11-year-old female, both of which suffered only minor injuries. 

All occupants in the Dodge were transported to HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe.

A passenger in the Hyundai, Francisco Becerra, 47, of Shepherd, was taken to HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe with serious injuries. 

The investigation into the crash is ongoing.

Photo by Jessica Corwin/SJNT

Law enforcement and emergency personnel investigate a two-vehicle crash that left a Goodrich man dead.

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Coldspring discusses old audit

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By Tony Farkas
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COLDSPRING — On its way to getting caught up, the City of Coldspring finalized its audit for FY 2016 at its regular meeting on Aug. 2.

Molly Abele of the auditing firm of Axley & Rode said that it was giving an unmodified opinion, meaning there were little to no problems with the city’s finances. 

Mayor Pat Eversole said that city audits were behind because of several problems over past years, but Axley & Rode has essentially done yeoman’s work getting the past-due audits completed.

Mayor Pro Tem John Benestante said that in regard to some of the operational deficiencies, he will draft policies to ensure that the city maintains proper record-keeping and retention. He also said that deficiencies will continue to appear until later audits, which will reflect any changes the city will make.

In other business, the city:

  • approved a new nuisance ordinance dealing with dilapidated property or items;
  • discussed fencing at the Dixie Youth Ball Park;
  • approved a policy for street repair and maintenance, which states that roads will be maintained at a minimum of three times per year, and city right-of-ways will be mowed twice a year;
  • tabled any action on nuisance properties until the owners have been notified under the new ordinance;
  • approved an interlocal agreement with San Jacinto SUD regarding utility billing;
  • tabled action on setting up a city election in 2022;
  • discussed remodeling the front office of City Hall to improve security;
  • discussed a clarification on the sewer ordinance regarding multiple taps per property; and
  • approved a resolution requiring closing a street in the city for the annual fair and rodeo parade.
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San Jacinto County Commissioners seek to balance out sheriff’s budget and policy

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CountySealSJ 250By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula 
SJNT staff writer

COLDSPRING — Settling into the hot August temperatures, tensions inside the courtroom matched the temperatures outside when proposed policy changes at the hands of the San Jacinto Sheriff’s Office were addressed head-on by local business members.

Wrecker redistribution 

Prior to the agenda item, during public comment, several old-guard wreckers from the county, including GW Wreckers and East Texas Towing, spoke on behalf of historical practices, citing a 2008 policy in which the wreckers and previous Sheriff’s Office came together to get approved by the court, in which wreckers purchased permit rotation numbers that enabled them to buy into a rotation that the Sheriff’s Office used to distribute business between the entities.

Chief Tim Keen took the microphone, addressing the proposed changes that seek to remove the buy-in system altogether, citing that Sheriff Greg Capers doesn’t want to continue with the current system. 

The Sheriff’s Office was looking to start the system from scratch, noting that new businesses like Will Hall, also present at the meeting, aren’t able to compete with existing wreckers. 

GW Wrecker owner Becky Dupree pressed back, noting that businesses with the permits invested money in them years ago as a means of income security, and having the system cleared without compensation means their lifetime investments were worthless, a narrative Judge Fritz Faulkner appeared sympathetic toward.

A draft of the new wrecker policy was presented to the court, but not before being delivered to county wreckers, who claim they were asked to sign and return the proposed policy to the Sheriff’s Office. In the letter, it cites a portion of the 2008 policy in which the acting sheriff can add wreckers to the rotation as needed, something that has not been historically practiced and therefor was not widely known. 

This stipulation does not exactly mirror the policy written by the court in 2008. Reasons for these discrepancies as cited by Keen include the sheriff’s version being more detailed for the department’s own records. 

Faulkner still raised concerns, asking if they were starting new policy without the approval of the court.

Currently only five permit rotation numbers exist. Historically, East Texas Towing covered the south half of the county with three permits, two from previous mergers, and GW Wrecking having the other two covering the North half. 

Will Hall Wrecking was added to the rotation recently by Capers, who did away with the north/south agreement and helped lead to the push in policy change from his office. Both Keen and Capers have been in their positions less than eight years and were not active when the 2008 policy was implemented. 

Wanting to dive deeper into the legalities involved, Faulkner moved for the court to reconvene during a later meeting with more information in order to create a new policy that serves all parties involved. A workshop for the matter is pending.

County updates

  • With GLO grants recently getting doubled and DETCOG overseeing roughly $140 million in flood mitigation grants, San Jacinto County can expect to be assigned almost $22 million for projects around the county.
  • With the November 2021 constitutional elections already on the minds of county officials, residents can expect the minimum required voting times across all polling locations of Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

The only exception would be, in the case of a Shepherd City election, then pollls would operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at the main voting location. Early voting will also only be available at the Coldspring Election Office, citing cost concerns.

Currently, the county is seeking to create established voting locations so residents can be sure where to go, and to also help curb the historically low voter turnout during off-year elections. 

San Jacinto County offers county-wide polling locations, meaning all eligible voting county residents, with proper identification, can vote at any location. For a list of accepted IDs, visit www.co.san-jacinto.tx.us/page/sanjacinto.elections

  • Following a closed session, it was revealed that the county jail is running a negative budget through a series of compensation payouts to formers employees, while at the same time facing a hiring and employee retention crisis and being monitored by the Texas Jail Commission for chronic understaffing.

After frustrated exchanges between court members over concerns for the lack of balanced budget from the Sheriff’s Office and vows to prevent similar overdrafts into the general fund, the court approved the motion to pay the budget amendment in order to get the jail through the end of the fiscal year. 

The next Commissioner’s court meet will meet Aug. 11 at 9 a.m. at the Emergency Shelter in Coldspring, across from the courthouse. Public comment can be made at the beginning of the meeting.

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COCISD welcomes new administrators

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Dr. Terra SmithDr. Terra SmithSpecial to the News-Times

COLDSPRING — The Coldspring-Oakhurst ISD School Board met the districts newest administrators at its regular meeting on July 26.

Dr. Terra Smith is the new COCISD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. Smith has served as a high school social studies teacher, dean of instruction, a secondary assistant principal, an associate principal, a middle school principal, and a central office administrator within the Houston area. 

During the 2020-2021 school year, she worked as an independent education consultant with Houston-area school districts. 

"Professionally I have been in the field of education for 17 years," Smith said. "I earned a bachelor’s degree in History and master’s degree in Teaching from Trinity University in San Antonio. I earned my doctorate in Education from the University of Houston, and my dissertation topic was the importance of the campus principal as an instructional leader in building instructional capacity in teachers."

Smith will be bringing an increased focus on support and leadership to ensure teachers have the resources they need to help students thrive at high levels in the learning environment.

"My passion is instructional leadership and servant leadership to ensure that school leaders and teachers are well-supported so they are able to meet the needs of all students," Smith said, which includes a particular focus on making sure students can read at grade level and beyond.

"We will be working on crafting a district-wide literacy plan to focus on increasing literacy performance at all grade levels this year," she said.

Married to her college sweetheart, Jarrod, Smith said they will celebrate 12 years of marriage in November, but they have been together as a couple for 20 years in October. 

"We have two boys, Drew (11) and Dylan (6)," Smith said. "Drew will be in fifth grade this year and Dylan will be in first grade."

Dr. Matthew BessDr. Matthew BessColdspring-Oakhurst High School Principal Dr. Matthew Bess is a former COHS assistant principal and athletics coach, and served most recently in administration at Montgomery ISD.

"I am honored to be afforded the opportunity to serve the students, staff and community of Coldspring Oakhurst High School,” Bess said. “Coldspring has always been a destination I could see myself serving in long-term, and when presented the opportunity to serve as Principal at COHS, the decision was easy.

"Looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year, we are so excited to welcome back our students,” he said. “A clear, purposeful and intentional initiative to facilitate student success with an emphasis on campus culture will be our direct focus. I look forward to creating community partnerships, as well as meaningful relationships with students and staff members alike."

Bess and his wife, Stephanie, have been married for 10 years, and have two children, Avery (7) and Ty (4). 

"We love to attend school/community events as a family when possible, so if you see me or my family at an event, please say hi and introduce yourself,” he said.

LJH Principal Nikki Henderson with her daughter GeorgiaLJH Principal Nikki Henderson with her daughter GeorgiaLincoln Junior High Principal Sara "Nikki" Henderson is also a former COCISD staff member.

"I am starting my 12th year in education with a background of high school math, middle school interventions, and elementary administration,” she said. “I received my bachelor's from University of Houston-Clear Lake, master's from Lamar University, and I am wrapping up my doctorate from Lamar University," Henderson said. "Besides working in the suburbs of Houston, COCISD was my first ‘East Texas’ rural school district to work in and I am so excited to be back!  I look forward to returning to LJH!"



The COCISD Board of Trustees welcomed the new administrators at the regular school board meeting on Monday, July 26. 

In other business, the COCISD Board approved:

  • the 2021-22 board meeting dates;
  • the board operating procedures;
  • ESC 6 service contracts for the 2021-22 school year;
  • an agreement for the purchase of attendance credit and to delegate contractual authority to the superintendent;
  • the TASB insurance proposal;
  • the T-TESS appraisal calendar and appraisers for the 2021-22 academic year;
  • the revision of the high school student parking permit fee; and 
  • The 2021-22 Student Code of Conduct.

A public hearing was also held for comment on the COCISD Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan. This plan is posted on the district website at www.cocisd.org > About Us.

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