News

Statistics drive commissioners to mull traffic-stop records

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A RACIAL profiling report shows that the county’s sheriff’s deputies are several times more likely to stop a white driver than one from a minority group.
But county sheriff Henry Trochesset says that’s because large swathes of the county contain far more white people among their population than Native Indians, African-Americans or Hispanics.
And the report does not break down the racial profiles of the drivers subjected to a search or arrest during traffic stops.
County commissioner Joe Giusti cited the report, which records statistics for last year, during a commissioners’ court meeting to discuss and applaud the sheriff’s deputies for using proper traffic-stop techniques when on patrol.
Trochesset said the results have much to do with the county’s residential population.
“I think the makeup of the unincorporated parts of the county is why the numbers look like they do”, he said.
Giusti pulled the annual report from the commissioners’ February 14 meeting consent agenda in order to applaud Trochesset and his deputies.
“I want to commend the sheriff and have him say a few words if he would”, Giusti said, adding: “Looks like Galveston County sheriff’s department has done a heck of a job of not profiling people”.
He said he wanted Trochesset to discuss the results because, as reported in The Post on February 22, the sheriff’s department had requested to enter into a new partnership with ICE, the US immigration and customs enforcement agency.
The ICE partnership, if begun, would allow deputies to identify suspected illegal aliens and subject them to extensive background vetting after they have been booked into the county jail. On February 14, the county commissioners approved the first step in that process and allowed ICE to begin an assessment of the sheriff’s department.
Racial profiling reports document the number of minorities and whites who are stopped for traffic violations in any given year.
According to the 2016 report, deputies stopped 185 drivers from racial minorities, including 102 African-Americans, 20 Asians, 62 Latinos and one Native Indian, while 1,144 white drivers were stopped.
The stops, the report states, resulted in a total of 157 searches, of which 56 were conducted without consent, and 102 arrests. It does not contain any figures for the racial makeup of the searches and arrests.
However, commissioner Stephen Holmes said he wanted to know the racial breakdown of the searches and arrests, telling Trochesset that, if he had that information, he’d like to see it.
Trochesset said he would research whether information is available.
In a letter to the commissioners, the sheriff said he had received no complaints for racial profiling during 2016.
“Since this type of reporting began nearly 16 years ago, this agency has never received any valid complaint or discovered any indications of racial profiling, a fact that speaks volumes of the high level of professionalism displayed by the men and women of the Galveston County sheriff’s office,” he wrote.

Lightning strikes again for jeweler John

JEWELER John Ford has done it again – winning a coveted international award for one of his creations one year after an Oscar winner made a point of showing off a pair of cufflinks designed by the islander.


This time, it’s a necklace in Ford’s Lightning Ridge black opal collection, a range of jewelry made of stones from Australia’s Lightning Ridge mining area, above.
His industry peers voted him winner of American Gem Trade Association’s Buyer’s Choice award during this year’s AGTA GemFair convention, held in Tucson, Arizona, this month.
AGTA chief executive Douglas Hucker said more than 5,000 buyer companies attended the show this year, giving Ford huge exposure for his collection, which includes pieces selling for many thousands of dollars.
His winning necklace, left, which was one of dozens of entrants in the contest for the industry award, is titled Electric Blue and features black opals weighing 197 carats accented with diamonds weighing 6.27 carats in a platinum setting.

Senate committees take up first education bills

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

The two senate committees that oversee Texas’ education-related bills held their first hearings of the state’s 85th legislative session this week.
The higher education committee considered a bill that would end the mandatory tuition set-aside policy, which critics call an unfair hidden tax on students.
And the education committee met on Thursday to hear a bill aimed at stopping the practice of “pass the trash”, in which teachers with histories of sexual misconduct fired from one school district are able to find work at another, sometimes with the full knowledge of the miscreant’s former administrators.
Higher education committee chair Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who authored the bill on mandatory tuition set-aside, said he was concerned about the policy’s effects on some needy students.
He said: “College affordability is an issue the legislature must address but we should not do it for some students on the backs of others that may very well be of the same financial status”.
When the state legislature deregulated college tuition in 2003, the lawmakers also passed a bill intended to help poor students cope with future increases in the price of public universities.
Under that law, public colleges must set aside 15 per cent of their tuition revenue and use it as financial aid for needy families.
According to higher education coordinating board chairman Raymond Paredes, those funds helped more than 100,000 students last year but added an average of $459 per student per year to the costs of university tuition.
If passed, Seliger’s bill, SB 6, would end the requirement that colleges set aside that money but they would still be able to voluntarily continue the program.
Representatives from nearly every public university in the state appeared before the committee to say they intended to continue to collect and reserve the 15 per cent but that, I the short term, it would depend on state funding levels for the upcoming biennium.
Some committee members expressed concern about those funding levels, worrying that insufficient state funding will force money intended for financial aid to go towards operating costs.
Austin senator Kirk Watson said: “We’re having enormous difficulty dealing with higher education and how we’re going to fund higher education and we’re facing potentially huge cuts into higher education. Candidly, I have zero faith that the state will step in and fill the gap.”
The bill passed the committee by four votes to two and will now go to the full senate for consideration.
During Thursday’s education committee “pass the trash” hearing, Houston senator Paul Bettencourt said the number of cases of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students is already up by 43 per cent this school year, with 93 reported cases between September and January, up from 68 in the comparable 2015-2016 period.
He said: “We’ve heard stories … where, unfortunately, sometimes, school districts, individual administrators, instead of coming to transparency on this issue, would appear to be going in the reverse. That’s really disheartening.”
If it becomes law, Bettencourt’s bill, SB 7, would carry criminal penalties for any school-district superintendent or school principal who fails to report to the state any cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers.
It would also automatically revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher on deferred adjudication for sexual misconduct or on the state’s sex-offender registry.
Bettencourt said: “We have to remove any possible obstacle to identify teachers or educators with this problem and pull their license”.
To prevent such cases occurring, the bill also calls for districts to be required to have clear polices about contact between teachers and students on the internet and social media, as well as teaching the avoidance of such relationships in regular continuing-education programs for teachers.
The bill remains pending before the committee.

PUBLIC DOMAIN
A regular roundup of local-authority activities by Trishna Buch

A CHILD CARE center near Galveston’s Salvation Army headquarters could soon make way for a tow-truck yard.
The center’s director and the company that owns its property were granted a change of zoning to enable the transformation during the city council’s meeting on Thursday.


City resident Renee Pruns, who is a director of Island Kids Child Care Center, applied for the change along with Four N Group, which owns the property at
706 51st Street.
The child care center and the company share the same agent, Meghann Nash, who is also president of Four N as well as a director of the care center.
In order for the site to be used as a towing facility, the councilmembers had to approve a zone-change request from urban neighborhood to neighborhood commercial to put it in line with the surrounding area as all its neighboring properties are either commercial
or unoccupied.
When no one spoke against the request, the councilmembers approved it unanimously.

Here’s to you, fire chief Robinson

LONG-SERVING firefighting chief Gilbert Robinson was feted by city councilmembers upon his retirement from Galveston’s city fire department this week.
Robinson, who had been chief of the department’s fire prevention and arson divisions since 2001, was presented with a proclamation during the council’s meeting on Thursday.
His career with the fire department began in 1981 and he was promoted to assistant fire marshal in 2000 and to fire marshal in 2001.
He is a former Texas fire commissioner and, in 2005, he organized the Greater Houston Fire Marshals Council, becoming its board chairman for 60 regional fire investigators and marshals.

City leaders learning leadership

LEAGUE CITIZENS should be able to look forward to renewed vigor in the leadership of their city hall when everyone turns up for work tomorrow, Monday.
That’s because today the city’s councilmembers and city manager are hunkered down in a governance and leadership retreat, learning all about team building, developing good governance, goal setting and understanding the different roles people hold in the city government.
Mike Conduff, chief executive of consulting firm Elim Group, is conducting the retreat
at the South Shore Harbour resort and conference center.

Nothing to say for two weeks

THIS WEEK’S meeting of Santa Fe city council was cancelled because of a lack of immediate business. The next regular meeting is scheduled for March 9.

If settle your warrant you do not do, the boys in blue are looking for you

By Trishna Buch  

IT’S ANNUAL warrant round-up time. Texans convicted of misdemeanors who haven’t paid any fines or fees associated with their conviction have just jumped to the top of the state’s active search list.
All across Texas yesterday, Saturday, local law-enforcement agencies in more than 260 jurisdictions were actively looking for scofflaws to force them to pay up or suffer the consequences.


Among the agencies are the police departments of both League City and Texas City, whose officers started their active search yesterday, while La Marque’s officers will follow suit in a one-day blitz next Saturday, March 4. The state program ends the following day.
Some agencies began the search as early as February 10, the day the annual Great Texas Warrant Round-Up program began.
Officers from each participating jurisdiction are now knocking on doors at miscreants’ homes, schools, places of work or anywhere else they might find them.
In Texas City, a township with a population of around 46,000, the number of outstanding warrants on February 7 was in the region of 30,000, about the same as just before last year’s round-up.
In 2015, the body responsible for keeping the record, the city’s municipal court, was more precise, saying the outstanding number was then 29,702.
Whether some people owe money for more than one warrant has not been stated but, in any case, the court’s officers are busily sending notices to the holders of all the outstanding warrants.
If they don’t pay up beforehand, they could find themselves arrested under the round-up program at anytime until next Sunday.
In League City, meanwhile, warrant coordinator Gina Vega has sent round-up notices to almost 5,000 delinquents who are responsible for 5,872 outstanding warrants.
In a statement announcing the city’s participation in the event, she said: “Outstanding warrant notices were sent to more than 4,906 individuals and we have also placed phone calls to anyone with an active warrant”.
In similar vein, La Marque’s municipal court is hoping to make a significant dent in the amount of unpaid fees associated with outstanding warrants – which currently stands at $1 million, according to the city’s PR specialist, Colleen Merritt.
Court director Rosemary Bell said: “We encourage those who have active warrants in La Marque to make contact with the municipal court and make arrangements for payment”.
She said her city’s scofflaws could avoid being arrested at home or at work by calling the court to find out or going online to texaswarrantroundup.org/galveston-county-arrest-warrants-search.html to check their status.
To find out if you have a warrant in any jurisdiction, contact its court. In Texas City, you can visit the court at 1004 Ninth Avenue North or call it at 409-643-5800.
If you discover that you have a warrant, you can avoid arrest either by paying the fine and court costs or posting a bond and resetting your case for a new court date.
You can make a payment for a Texas City warrant online at texas-city-tx.org/page/court.pay, by phone at 1-800-444-1187 or by mail or in person at the city’s municipal court. Payment can be accepted in terms of cash, credit card, debit card and money orders.
To make a payment for a League City warrant, either go online to municipalrecordsearch.com/leaguecitytx/cases or call the court at 281-554-1060.
For La Marque payments, go online to court.cityoflamarque.org, call 409-938-9245 or visit the city’s police department at 431 Bayou Road.