News

By Ian White

THE COUNTY’S top judge, Lonnie Cox, called on the state’s supreme court to refuse to consider a petition by county judge Mark Henry’s when he filed his response to the appeal in the so-called Bonnie Quiroga case on Monday.
Cox, who sits in Galveston’s 56th district court, had been given 30 days to file the response after declining the opportunity to do so when Henry and his colleagues on the county commissioners’ court filed their petition in February.TX-Supreme-Court-logo
The petition seeks the supreme court’s review of a decision by a three-judge panel of the state’s first court of appeals that upheld an injunction against the county issued by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood in July last year.
The injunction forbids the county from taking any action to reconstruct its justice administration department, whose director Quiroga served both the legislative and judicial branches of local government before being fired summarily by Henry in July 2014.
In her ruling on the case, which began when Cox issued an order declaring the termination illegal and void, Wood also ordered Henry to face trial on a charge of contempt for refusing to comply with Cox’s declaration.
In his 55-page response, Cox argues through his counsel, Galveston-based Mark Stevens, that Henry has misrepresented both the trial and appellate court’s decisions in the case.
In the latter, all three judges signed their order, although one wrote an accompanying opinion in which he partially dissented, holding that Wood had exceeded her authority when ordering the county to reinstate Quiroga at her former salary.
Affirmed
Stevens further maintains that to grant a review would be a grave disservice to the principle of the separation of powers between the executive and judicial arms of local government even if it affirmed the trial and appeals court’s decisions.
The supreme court also received an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Texas Conference Of Urban Counties on Monday.
The Austin-based nonprofit organization, which represents 38 counties claimed to house some 80 per cent of the state’s population, calls on the supreme court to grant the county’s petition and reverse the appeal court’s judgment.

State set to raze beach and bay petrochemical hazards

By Ian White

ABANDONED oil wells in Galveston Bay and on Bolivar Peninsula have been earmarked for removal by the state as part of a coastal-cleanup project costing more than $11m.
The wells, pipes and other debris have been placed on a list of more than 200 derelict structures identified for removal from the Texas shoreline by the state’s general land office because of the danger – including possible explosion – they pose to people and watercraft.160424 Bolivar beach hazard 1
The GLO has requested $6.9m from the federal government and will put in $4.4m from its own coffers to undertake the project, which will concentrate on hazards in the Corpus Christi area as well as those on Bolivar in its first phase.
If the structures are not dealt with soon, the state agency says, they could degrade, making it much more costly to the state’s taxpayers for their removal.
The GLO selected the structures requiring urgent removal after conducting an aerial survey of the state’s waters, including the Gulf shoreline and bays, in 2014 and following up with a 16-month program inspecting more than 1,000 known hazardous sites. During the inspections, another 357 came to light, with more expected during the cleanup project.
Among the hazards are wells, production platforms, docks and pilings, some of which are visible while others lurk beneath the sands and waters along the shoreline and could destroy vehicles and boats passing immediately above them.160424 Bolivar beach hazard 2
The land office said the abandoned structures “pose a hazard for recreational and commercial boaters, surfers and others navigating along the Texas coastline and in bays or estuarial areas. Some structures have become partially buried in the sand and could be hazardous to vehicles driving across the beach.”
Some of the structures were created illegally but a GLO spokeswoman said that’s not the case with those on Bolivar Peninsula.
“The wells on Bolivar were properly plugged and cut decades ago but, due to erosion, have washed up on the beach and are a potential hazard,” she told The Post on Thursday.160424 Galveston Bay oil platform hazard
According to the GLO, derelict wells and platforms that are not plugged properly could leak oil or other chemicals and there’s also a risk of explosion should pressure build in an improperly plugged well.
Speaking about the hazards generally, land commissioner George said: “These obstructions pose a navigational hazard for commercial boats, recreational fishing and other maritime activities.
“Efforts to remove these structures now will help ensure that Texas taxpayers will not pay more later. If left untreated, they may endanger the bays, wetlands and estuaries that are critical to the environment and economy of the Texas Coast.”
He also said the project will help restore the coastal wetlands that slow the storm surge caused by hurricanes when they push walls of water before them as they approach from the Gulf.160424 Galveston Bay well stub hazard
• In another coastal safety program, the GLO has also discovered a sunken 75ft commercial shrimp boat off the coast at Sabine Pass and is making plans to remove it in a $200,000 operation using money from a separate fund.

Photos courtesy Texas General Land Office

Money move makes musical high note for Hamilton fan

By Ian White

A GALVESTON homeowner who was outraged when the US treasury announced plans last year to remove the portrait of Alexander Hamilton from $10 bills was cock-a-hoop this week when he learned that his hero’s head is not for the chop.Harriet Tubman on $20 bill
George Laiacona promptly praised a smash-hit hip-hop Broadway show for putting pressure on treasury secretary Jacob Lew to reverse his decision.
Laiacona, who has residences in Galveston and Houston, spoke exclusively to The Post on Thursday after hearing that it will be seventh president Andrew Jackson who will no longer be keeping an eye on the nation from the $20 note, as his portrait is to be replaced by that of slavery abolitionist and women’s rights activist Harriet Tubman.
His comments came shortly after Lew announced that he had foregone a plan announced last June to replace Hamilton’s portrait and had instead opted to send slave owner and anti-suffrage advocate Jackson into oblivion in favor of escaped slave and Underground Railroad heroine Tubman.
It’s the back of Hamilton’s note, meanwhile, that will be given a makeover, with suffragettes Susan Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth depicted.
Another bill being revised is the $5, the front of which is graced by Abraham Lincoln’s portrait. African-American classical singer Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and civil-rights leader Martin Luther King are to adorn its reverse side.
Laiacona, the founder and director of Galveston Chess Club, paid tribute to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow and musical playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda for their parts in raising public awareness about the importance of their subject’s contribution to the formation of the American way.
Miranda took inspiration from Chernow’s biography of the treasury’s first secretary to write the Broadway show Hamilton, a musical featuring rap lyrics that has drawn rave reviews for the way in which it has made a key part of America’s history exciting for today’s generations.
Laiacona said: “I am much pleased that the efforts of Chernow and Miranda have reached enough Americans able to convince Lew to keep the great American patriot and founding father on the face of the $10 bill.”
He added that it is important “for future generations to discover that there was more than Washington, Adams and Jefferson who founded this great country of ours.
“The reason why Hamilton was placed on the $10 bill in the first place was because he established the treasury department. His legacy should continue and it will as more people discover just what he did for the start-up of America.”
Speaking on the same day that Republican-party presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted the treasury for the “political correctness” of its U-turn, the retired contractor said he does have one fear about the latest proposals.
“The next administration, if it is a feminist one, will most likely not change Lew’s decision,” he said.
“But a chauvinist one will most likely repeal it and keep the racist slave owner Jackson in place.”

Body in Houston field confirmed as Tiki teen missing for 19 years

By Ian White

A BODY recovered from a field during a criminal investigation near Hobby airport last month has been identified as Jessica Cain, county district attorney Jack Roady announced on Friday afternoon.
The 17-year-old Tiki Island resident, top left, had been missing since August 17, 1997, when she disappeared while driving home from a school party in Clear Lake.Cain, Jessica
Shortly after she had joined other members of the cast in a celebration of their performance of a musical at their Roman Catholic high school, her truck was found beside I-45.
The investigation into her disappearance went cold until February, when William Lewis Reece, below left, a convicted rapist and kidnapper, led investigators to what Roady described as several tracts of land on East Orem Drive in southeast Houston.
In late March, after weeks of excavation, he said, human remains were discovered buried in the field, a horse pasture, and sent for forensic analysis to University Of North Texas, which delivered its findings on Thursday.
After Harris County Institute Of Forensic Sciences reviewed the report, the recovered remains were positively identified as those of Jessica Cain.
Roady said the news brought mixed feelings to everyone concerned with the investigation, which included personnel from the Texas Rangers, the FBI, the La Marque and Friendswood police departments, Galveston County sheriff’s office, Texas Equusearch and Lighthouse Charity Team, as well as the district attorney’s office.Reece,William Lewis
“We are relieved at the news that Jessica has been found,” he said. “But, while this news brings confirmation, it also brings new sorrow to Jessica’s family, friends and those in law enforcement who have mourned her loss.
“We ask that everyone be respectful of her family and friends’ need for privacy during this time of grieving.”
Roady said no charges had yet been made in the case as investigations are still in progress both in Texas and Oklahoma, where Reece, 54, once lived and where he is suspected of the murder of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnson three weeks after Jessica Cain’s disappearance.
He is currently serving a 60-year sentence in Texas for a 1998 aggravated kidnap in which the female victim managed to escape.
Early this month, he led investigators to the body of 20-year-old Denton resident Kelli Cox in a field in Brazoria County.Cox, Kelli
The University Of North Texas student, left, had just left Denton police department after completing a tour for a criminology class when she disappeared on July 15, 1997.
Roady said a charging determination will be made on the completion of the current investigation.

Study calls for big boost to Texas’ teaching of financial literacy

By Ian White

AN EDUCATION study in which a fifth of the respondents were Texas teachers has found that huge majorities have no faith in the state’s ability to teach financial acumen to its
K-12 students.
The study, by international accountancy and financial consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, found that 80 per cent of Texas educators say they lack the classroom tools needed for financial education and 73 per cent say they also lack take-home materials for the task.
Altogether, 2,000 teachers throughout the nation, of whom 401 teach in Texas, were polled last year for the study, whose findings have just been released to coincide with National Financial Literacy Month.
PwC concluded: “there is a lack of basic financial education in Texas’ schools, setting the stage for major problems in the future for individuals, families, businesses and communities.”
The researchers found that only 37 per cent of Texas teachers feel “completely comfortable” in their qualifications to teach financial literacy, while 49 per cent feel “moderately comfortable” and 14 per cent feel “not comfortable at all”.
Such is the lack of confidence throughout America that “only 12 per cent of teachers nationwide address personal finance in their lessons”, the study says.
In Texas, 64 per cent “feel that financial education still isn’t seen as a critical skill for college readiness and 66 per cent “believe it should start in elementary school”. According to the study, the state’s teachers say the main benefits of financial education are learning money management and budgeting, planning for the future, understanding debt and decision-making.
But they say they can’t provide such education because they lack curriculum materials, professional development, release time and funds to attend related professional development.
The full report is online at pwc.com/us/financialeducatorstudy and the Texas report is at pwc.com/us/financialeducatorstudy/texas.
Read a PwC executive’s plea for better financial education for K-12 students on pg 4