|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - January 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
YEAR IN REVIEW: Landmark election, prison lockdown make headlines
Polk County Enterprise - January 2009
Voters set a new record Election Day with Polk County bucking the trend across the nation. Barack Obama will become the fi rst black president but John McCain was the overwhelming choice for president in Polk County. McCain got more than 13,000 votes to Obama’s 6,000. Surprisingly, 118 ballots cast indicated no choice for president. Sheriff Kenneth Hammack swept back into offi ce by more than a 2-to-1 margin, beating opponent Gary McClendon by nearly 7,000 votes. Dana “Bubba” Piper won the close race for Pct. 4 Constable, defeating Bobby Key by less than 20 votes. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin Brady both managed to keep their respective seats, as well. Livingston I.S.D. trustees met with Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) to discuss the worsening fi nancial crisis facing Texas public schools. The devastation of Hurricane’s Ike and Gustav threatened to pull legislative focus away from education as lawmakers sought ways to compensate for the bankrupted Texas Windstorm Insurance Pool. Superintendent Darrell Myers said that conservative districts like Livingston got the short end of the stick because recent legislative changes had no contingency plans for unexpected expenses. In order to give faculty the state mandated step raises this year the board had to defer the purchase of a bus. Myers was quick to point out that the school’s already tight budget was balanced before Hurricane Ike roared into the area and left the district with mounting repair expenses. Polk County Judge John Thompson testifi ed before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee regarding the county’s and region’s experiences and response during Hurricane Ike. While Thompson had praise for every level of government, he tempered his testimony with constructive criticism of interagency communications, evacuation routes and the lack of fl exibility offi cials showed in adapting as situations changed. The Livingston High School theater department debuted “Little Shop of Horrors” complete with a growing Audrey II (the scenestealing carnivorous plant). Over 5,600 Polk residents had applied for hurricane relief assistance from FEMA by mid- November, but inspections and disbursements were slow coming as offi cials worked to keep up with the demand. Hard-hit Galveston Island and Bolivar peninsula were just beginning to clean up the massive amounts of debris while in Polk County cleanup was winding down. Two people were arrested for possession of methamphetamine at an Onalaska fast food restaurant after sheriff’s deputies investigated complaints of suspicious activity at the business. Laurie Gay Stephens and Anita Gay were both arrested in connection with the incident. The First Baptist Church of Onalaska celebrated its 100th anniversary with special homecoming services. The Onalaska City Council recognized the church for its many years of service to the community. The Order of the Rainbow Assembly sponsored its annual dog show at Pedigo Park during Trade Days. Hundreds of owners and their pets came out to participate and watch as man’s best friend competed for titles like “Most Hair,” “Best Kisser,” and “Best Costume.” Livingston’s Main Street program received national accolades as the Texas Historical Commission and the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Livingston as one of the 53 National Main Street Cities in Texas. The Livingston Main Street district has 71 storefronts in a 10-block area of downtown Livingston, many of which have undergone or begun major renovation in the last several years, with several more to begin this year. State Demographer Karl Eschbach projected that Polk County may surpass 70,000 in population by 2040. From 2000 to 2007, Texas added more people than any other state in the U.S. with Texas’ growth equal to the population of Iowa plus an additional 64,535 people. Texas Governor Rick Perry was “outraged” in late November when FEMA offi cials indicated that Texas wouldn’t receive the same level of federal assistance as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina because Texas has a budget surplus. Rep. Kevin Brady distanced himself from the governor’s comments and indicated that many cities and counties chose to take the more expensive route rather than wait on the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to handle the work at no cost to local government. A week later FEMA extended the time period for 100 percent reimbursement for debris removal by six months to April 26, 2009. Casper Lee Moore was sentenced to 70 years in prison for the sexual assault of his 7-yearold daughter. The abuse continued until the girl was 13 according to court testimony. Despite a three-week lock down of the Texas prison system and extensive searches of all 111 facilities, another cell phone was found at the Polunsky Unit on death row two weeks after the lock down was lifted. A cell phone charger and SIM card were also found hidden in a typewriter and a calculator in the inmate’s cell. In addition, prison offi cials recovered a cell phone that was found inserted in the rectum of another death row inmate. Florida’s Kitchen restaurant was listed among Texas Monthly’s 40 best small town cafes in the December issue of the magazine. A one-car crash early Thanksgiving morning took the life of Trinity County Sheriff Brent Lee. Lee was investigating a shooting incident in the Pinecrest Estates Subdivision off FM 3453 when his 2006 Crown Victoria patrol car left the highway and struck a pine tree. Polk County’s jobless rate continued to climb as the economic woes of the nation trickled down to main street. Unemployment in the county outpaced the state by 2 percent and the East Texas region by 1 percent. At the same time, sales tax revenues slipped for October, decreasing by 13 percent over the same period in 2007. Overall, the county’s sales tax income was up just 1.8 percent for the year. Texas Department of Transportation engineers assured attendees of a TransTexas Corridor/ I-69 meeting that there are no plans to take land from residents and the new preferred route is along existing corridors such as U.S. Highway 59. The Trinity-Neches Sub- Regional Planning Commission, which was formed to stop the project from coming through Polk and Trinity Counties, had members present who voiced doubts about the sincerity of TxDOT engineer’s comments and requested they be put in writing. As the holiday season got into full swing the cities of Onalaska and Livingston held their annual Christmas events, complete with parades, lighting and decorating contests, vendors and fun and games. Goodrich and Big Sandy school districts received national recognition from U.S. News and World Report in their annual list of “America’s Best High Schools.” The two schools ranked among the top 10 percent of schools in the nation. The Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) held the first in a series of meetings, starting with Deep East Texas and continuing south to the coast, to accept comments and feedback concerning the best way to divide the $1.3 billion in hurricane relief funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 12-county Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) will receive the third largest distribution of the funds, $59 million, behind the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission with $139 million and the hardest-hit Houston-Galveston area to receive $814 million. City, county and regional officials in attendance at the meeting voiced their disagreement with the proposed plan which would give ORCA oversight of the funds rather than allowing local entities to make those decisions. County officials honored Pct. 3 Commissioner Buddy Purvis for a half-century of public service as he prepared to retire from his position on the court. Pct. 4 Constable Marvin Taylor was also recognized as he retired after 20 years of county service. County Clerk Barbara Middleton sought help from the District Attorney’s office in collecting more than $15,000 owed to the county by the Polk County Democratic Party for the primary election held in March. Despite claims by Chairman Sharon Teal that the required documents had been filed with the state, officials with the Texas Secretary of State’s office said that nothing had been received from Teal. Probably the most extraordinary event of the year was the snow fall that blanketed much of the area. Livingston received as much as 2 inches in some areas and snowmen popped up around town as kids young and old were out before the sun could melt the rare fluffy stuff. Livingston, Goodrich and Corrigan schools started late to give any ice on the road a chance to melt. City of Livingston and county officials seized two Colita Street properties as part of a two-year operation to shut down a near constant stream of narcotics and illegal weapon sales that have occurred there. The undercover investigation began in August 2006 as agents began working to target mid-level and higher narcotics and weapons dealers. By mid-2007 a federal grand jury handed down indictments for several suspects charging them with distributing narcotics and illegal firearms in Livingston. 411th District Court Judge Robert Trapp awarded the property to the Livingston Police Department after a seizure hearing Nov. 12. Livingston I.S.D. trustees voted to delay the demolition of the old auditorium and annex building on the Intermediate School campus after it was determined that a gas line runs under the building but its exact location is unknown. The work will be put on hold until summer when no students will be on campus. Onalaska I.S.D. officials agreed to end Superintendent David Kennedy’s contract early. Kennedy was arrested in the spring of 2008 for failure to report allegations of sexual assault of a child. Onalaska Police Chief Ron Gilbert was named Citizen of the Year by the Onalaska City Council. Carl Mann was named Fireman of the Year at the same awards ceremony. Governor Perry appealed a denial by FEMA to extend for 18 months the 100 percent reimbursement of emergency protective measures and debris removal for those areas affected by Hurricane Ike. FEMA notified the state that the 100 percent reimbursement period would extend six months from Nov. 26 and would only apply to debris removal. County commissioners approved the relocation of the county maintenance building from Leggett to Allie Bean Drive in Livingston. The facility will also be used for the county’s record storage and is being considered as a future site for an animal shelter. Local school districts received ratings of Academically Acceptable for the 2007-2008 school year. Corrigan-Camden Elementary, which received a rating of Academically Unacceptable.