Police tell public they won’t pick fights over new guns law

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THE MESSAGE from the county’s first open-carry town-hall meeting was clear. The county’s law-enforcement agencies want as little to do with a person’s gun as possible.
District attorney Jack Roady, below right, and League City police chief Michael Kramm, left, and city attorney Nghiem Doan spent two hours last week telling a standing-room-only audience from around the county that they don’t want to interfere with the law.

“We don’t need to pick a fight if there’s not one there,” Kramm said. “We don’t arbitrarily disarm people just because we get a little queasy.”
More than 300 people packed the city’s auditorium last week to discuss the legislation. The city is known for having the “highest per capita rate for concealed handguns in the state”, according to several published news articles dating back to 2010.
That statistic caused police to hold the meeting to begin a dialogue with the public.
Reagan Pena, the public information officer who organized the meeting for the League City police department, said its officers want to prepare gun-permit owners for what to expect in their daily lives.
“We know there are hundreds of people in League City who have CHL permits and they have for years,” she said.
The new Texas law, which goes into effect on January 1, will allow every Texan who has a concealed-handgun license to display his or her weapon in a shoulder or belt holster. Anyone who doesn’t have the CHL permit when the new year begins will have to undergo training to be able to openly carry a handgun.
Kramm told the audience he doesn’t recommend open carry. “It shows your hand,” he said when asked by a member of the audience.
But he said he expects to see open-carry in the county and called for a tone of understanding and respect. He said many people who are not used to guns are moving to the area in and around League City. A displayed weapon could alarm them, he said, warning that people who decide to carry their weapons openly must regard themselves as responsible representatives of everyone who does so.
“For those of you who decide to open carry, you represent every open-carry person,” he said.
“If you act high and right when you encounter someone who is alarmed, how you act will be the first reputation that will be out there. You are ambassadors for each other. Be courteous. Be civil.”
Several people said they had read and heard in social media that anti-gun activists intend to provoke people displaying their guns and call police when they see them. The gun owners said they wanted to know the police would not “show up in SWAT gear.”
Kramm tried to calm their fears. If the establishment allows open carry, licensed gun owners can legally display their weapons, he said.
He sought to reassure the public that police officers will enforce the law in a common-sense manner.
“If we roll up and you’re shopping in the produce aisle in Walmart, and you’re not acting suspiciously, the chances are that we will turn around and go home,” he said.

EIGHTY-TWO people have been hit by an outbreak of a contagious bacterial stomach illness that has run rife in the county since October.
The number of shigellosis cases reported to the county health district varies each year but the 2015 total – 91 to date – is the highest in five years.
Last year, a dozen cases, caused by the bacterium shigella, below, were reported and there were five in 2012, six in 2011 and 28 in 2010, but the number jumped to to 84 in 2013.
Of the cases since October, 34 have occurred at a Texas City daycare center and a League City elementary school. Collectively, cases have hit 14 schools and eight daycare centers in the county.
“Shigellosis in schools and daycares is not uncommon and the most frequent cause is children not properly washing their hands after using the restroom,” interim county local health authority Abdul-Aziz Alhassan said.
“Our epidemiology staff has determined improper handwashing as the most probable cause of the increased cases we’re investigating.”Shigellosis
To combat the illness, the health district encourages parents and educators to teach children the importance of good hand hygiene.
Shigellosis is spread when infected people don’t wash their hands. Handling or eating the food or drink of an infected person can also transmit the bacteria.
Symptoms typically appear one to three days after exposure. They include diarrhea, fever, vomiting and stomach cramps. The symptoms go away in four to seven days but antibiotic treatment can contain them earlier.
Good hygiene is important because victims who have no symptoms are still contagious.
According to the federal centers for disease control and prevention, washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.
Hand sanitizers with an alcohol base can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but no sanitizer eliminates all types of germ.
“Although shigellosis is easily spread, it’s also easily preventable,” Alhassan said.
“That’s why it’s important for adults to talk to children about proper handwashing.”
Control measures have been implemented at the school and daycare with the worst outbreaks, the health
district says.
The measures include increased cleaning of frequently touched surfaces such as restroom fixtures, door knobs, water fountains and electronic-equipment keyboards. Hand sanitizer has also been made available in various areas.
The health district has also provided information to be sent to parents of the children at the affected facilities and a routine alert sent to medical-services providers encouraging them to test patients with symptoms of the illness.
“If your child has shigellosis symptoms, it’s important that you take them to a physician immediately to have them tested for the illness so that treatment can begin,” Alhassan said.
“Physicians report this information to our epidemiologists so they can investigate and address the sources.”

CDC tips for proper handwashing
• Wet your hands with clean, warm or cold running water, turn off the tap and apply soap.
• Lather the soap by rubbing your hands together. Be sure to include the backs of your hands and the areas between your fingers and under your nails.
• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the song Happy Birthday from beginning to end twice.
• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
• Dry your hands either by using a clean towel or an air dryer.

PID 2 subject of public discussion

A HEARING on the tax assessment rate for League City’s public improvement district No 2 was due to take place yesterday, Tuesday.05813LeagueCity
City officials were hoping to receive public input about a proposed amendment to an ordinance that reduced the Victory Lakes PID’s assessment rate from $2.40 to $1.27 when approved during the city council’s November 24 meeting.
After the meeting, an error was found in the detailed assessment roll and, as a result, the council was due yesterday to consider an amendment to correct the roll.
If passed, the amendment would correct the number of annual payments remaining per account, slightly modifying the annual payment due, but would not change the total assessment due or the assessment rate.

Weber votes to extend government funding

THE COUNTY’S US congressman was among the house representatives who voted in favor of funding the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2016.
The government had been funded through stop-gap measures in the past several months, with the latest expiring yesterday, Tuesday.
Last week, Randy Weber was among the majority of representatives who voted to add the Consolidated Appropriations act 2016, also known as the omnibus spending bill, and the Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes act of 2015 into HR 2029 before sending it to the senate, where it was passed on Friday morning.

$1m for hospital endowment

THE SEALY & Smith Foundation has contributed $1m to University Of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to establish an endowment in honor of former surgery chair Courtney Townsend, who has been named president-elect of American College Of Surgeons.
Announcing the gift on Thursday, UTMB said Townsend earned his medical degree and completed his internship and residency in surgery at the Galveston Island hospital system.
He was its surgery chair from 1995 to 2014 and was named president-elect of ACS at its recent 2015 clinical conference in Chicago.UTMB_Galveston - Ashbel_Smith_Building_
John Kelso, president of the Sealy & Smith foundation’s board of directors described Townsend  as “an exemplary UTMB alumnus, teacher, scientist and surgeon” with “a strong legacy of service”.
He said patients “have benefitted from his skill and his research” while UTMB students and residents “have benefitted from his mentorship” and that the endowment “will ensure continued excellence in his name for generations to come”.
UTMB president David Callender praised Townsend for his commitment to the hospital system..
“This new distinguished chair is a most fitting tribute to Dr Townsend, who brings the UTMB mission to life with his long service to health-sciences education, discovery and compassionate care,” he said.
Townsend has served as editor-in-chief of the Sabiston Textbook Of Surgery: The Biological Basis Of Modern Surgical Practice since 2000 and is also a former editor of Surgical Oncology. He has served on the editorial board of the ACS journal, as well as The American Journal Of Surgery and the journal Surgery.
He joined UTMB, above, as an associate professor in the department of surgery in 1978 after completing a surgical oncology fellowship at University Of California-Los Angeles and spending two years at the national naval medical center in Bethesda, Maryland.


City mulls buying community baseball park for $1

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A CITY mayor is hoping a dollar is enough to buy a little-league park whose owners appear to have died.
Bobby Hocking would like La Marque to buy the city’s Bobby Beach park for the token payment.
“I played at Bobby Beach park and of course I want to see it thrive and improve,” he said during a recent council meeting.

US 1 Dollar
Bobby Beach was the gathering place for the La Marque community for decades. Hocking even played there as a child but, over the years, the park, which is still used today, has decayed.
Little League officers have said it has become difficult to keep it up and that simple maintenance like mowing has become a problem.
The idea that the city could purchase the privately-owned park was broached after La Marque high-school graduate T’Liza Kiel said veterans’ groups The Mission Continues and Give An Hour had chosen it for volunteer renovation after searching for a mainland project to support.
“Bobby Beach park came to our attention a lot,” the eight-year veteran said about the search.
“As a native to this area, I know that Bobby Beach is not the best-kept baseball park in the area. However, it is still well utilized by both our youth and our adult kickball league.”
Because the private park is a community resource, Kiel said the two groups would volunteer to renovate it if the city could guarantee that their work is maintained afterwards.
“We have a lot of things we’d like to do,” she said. “We know there are issues with the lighting, overgrown shrub and brush on the outside.
“We know that there’s not really much of a press box. And we also know there is some leveling on the field that needs to be done.”
The veterans’ groups also said they want to order new swings for the play area and build new benches and Kiel said they would hire an electrical contractor to investigate what is causing the lighting problems.
Councilmember Chris Lane, who arranged for Kiel to speak to the council meeting, said he hoped the city would step up to the plate and that the Bobby Beach volunteers were not looking for a handout.
“They are not asking for monetary resources,” he said. “We have an organization with $20,000 that they will put into the park. They need the city to buy in.”
City staff are now investigating whether a reimbursement system can be arranged for mowing the park on a regular basis. Lane said that would be the biggest relief for the few volunteers who are maintaining the facility now as they don’t have mowers that can handle the job.
“We don’t want a situation where a great organization will come down and waste their time, energy and talents into improving the park and, once the smoke clears and everybody goes back home, six months later we are back to square one,” he said.
Purchasing the park, however, remains the biggest hurdle. Two major problems exist. Mac McGaffey, who serves on the city’s parks board, said the issue of city ownership of the park comes up every few years. He said he was concerned that the city does not have enough resources to take on another park, even though he supports the idea of buying it.
But the one issue it seems the city can’t overcome is the existence of legal documents saying that, if the park fell into disrepair after a sale, it would revert to the original owners, who appear to have died.
No one at the city meeting was sure if that knot could be undone but Hocking said he was sure there has to be a way.
“I remember when Bobby Beach park was perfect and pristine,” he said. “It is a reflection on a community when a facility like this is in disrepair.”

By Lora-Marie Bernard

FORMER US senator Kay Bailey Hutchison might never see a park named after her in her hometown.
That’s the view of mayor pro-tem Keith Bell, who made the comments during a city council debate about the adoption of a new policy stating guidelines for honoring residents for their service to the city.
The revered La Marque native who went on to grace the steps of Washington DC as one of the most influential women in Texas history would probably not meet the narrow criteria contained in the policy, Bell said during Monday’s council meeting.
His objection was so strong that the city’s councilmembers agreed to add a clarifying amendment before unanimously adopting a park-renaming policy that they agreed excludes civic contributions that stretch beyond the limits of La Marque.

park sign
The policy came on the heels of complaints that Geraldine Sam, a former La Marque mayor, had received arbitrary treatment from the city’s parks board. Sam told a November city council meeting that the board had denied a 205-signature petition to rename Bayou Park in her honor.
“The same procedure that was used to name Highland Bayou Park after Mac McGaffey was the same procedure we used to name Bayou Park after myself,” she told the council members.
Bayou Park is a pocket park near city hall. Highland Bayou Park is a large special-use park alongside I-45 and the site of the city’s BayouFest annual landmark event.
Sam said she wanted to know what the procedures are to have a park renamed to honor her. She said that, when the parks board approved the renaming of Highland Bayou Park after McGaffey, the council had agreed to rubberstamp it because a petition was attached.
After the November meeting, Bell asked the parks board, which is now chaired by McGaffey, to draw up a renaming policy as the city did not have one. The board studied the procedures of ten cities and drilled them into one local document that McGaffey presented at Monday’s council meeting.
“We hassled it out,” McGaffey told the meeting. “And we tried to comply it all into something that could be reachable.”
The policy’s criteria include a requirement that the honored resident must have a positive city image.
Bell questioned what that phrase meant and asked how a council or board would qualify it. Even presidents could be called a hero or a villain, depending on which version of history one adheres to, he said.
The criteria also include a supporting petition signed by 10 per cent of the city’s total registered voters, requiring about 1,000 signatures at present.
Bell argued that a petition stands as testament to a candidate’s image.
“Anybody in this city who can get 1,000 signatures and get them verified is going to have a mandate for a park,” he said. “It’s hard to get a thousand signatures.”
McGaffey agreed that the city-image requirement is qualified by the voters but said the policy also rates the impact the candidate has had on local parks.
Referring to Hutchison. Bell said: “She has made an impact on this nation and this world. She may not have made an impact on this city’s parks but if she walked in here tonight and said, ‘I want this park named after me,’ I am going to be the first one in line to do whatever it takes to do it because she has been that impactful in this world.”
McGaffey said that, under the policy, a candidate’s district council member must agree to sponsor the candidate and that other criteria include a review of the candidate’s local volunteer record.
“You can always tell a person that has high impact if [that person] volunteers on different committees and volunteers to come to city council meetings and does things for the city and works with city employees,” he said.
“That’s another process you can judge them by.”
He said renaming candidates must not meet just one of the policy’s criteria but all of them, which Bell said is too rigid to allow the honoring of candidates whose reach is outside local service. That includes La Marque’s favorite daughter, Hutchison, he said.
“So under those criteria, she may be excluded,” he said. “How do we accommodate those situations? It is a question.”
At that point, McGaffey said the review board was only suggesting a policy and that its members expected the council to vet their work. He said that, if the parks board did reject someone like Hutchison, he expected that the council would reject the board.
“We don’t have the last say, we had to have some start,” he said. “We had no policy whatsoever. I was blessed to have a park named after me and I’m grateful but we needed to get a rein on this.”
The council unanimously adopted the policy after including a housekeeping amendment from Bell to clarify the process. At that point, the audience erupted in applause.
Sam, who was silent throughout the public comments, looked straight ahead and remained still.

Board of managers takes over for ISD’s last semester

By Lora-Marie Bernard

OUTGOING superintendent Terri Watkins had already left the building when La Marque independent school district’s state-appointed management board members filed into its administration HQ meeting room to take command of the beleaguered system on Friday.
The members were silent as they walked in one by one. They did not greet the standing-room-only crowd and their first words came when some asked for direction about the seating. Others just sat. The smiling faces of the trustees they had just replaced stared at them from photos that lined the room’s back wall.
After they were seated, the district’s also-state-appointed new superintendent, Willis Mackey, walked from the audience to a seat at the end of the board desk.
He appeared relaxed but never spoke during the proceedings and declined to comment afterwards, saying he was still coming to terms with his new appointment. “I will,” he said while greeting the new administrators. “But not today.”
Texas education agency representative Ronald Rowell quickly introduced the new managers and then instructed Leeann Fuller of the Texas City-La Marque chamber of commerce to administer the oath of office. After a few false starts, the new board took their pledges and sat down.
Within 15 minutes, the community leaders who have been asked to guide the state takeover of La Marque ISD began their half-year reign. Their first meeting will be on January 22. In February, they will resume the district’s standard meeting schedule until Texas City ISD takes command on July 1 next year.
The board members quickly elected Houston transplant Jack Christiana as president and former La Marque ISD trustee Mable Pratt as vice president. Sandy Belcher, who directs College Of The Mainland’s collegiate high-school program, was elected secretary.
The board also includes David Rac, who once served on the LMISD school board and is also a former associate vice president of finance at COM.
Longtime Texas City community volunteer and education advocate José Boix is a member and so, too, is Emma Stewart, who graduated from Lincoln high school and had a long career in the petrochemical industry.
An unexpected addition to the list of board members was Doris Delany, a longtime educator, who had previously been named the district conservator.
Rowell explained that TEA had decided at the last moment to “promote her to the board of managers” and appoint LeRoy Saleme, who was not present, as conservator to replace her.
After the meeting, Boix, who said he was selected from a pool of Texas City candidates, hoped the board would be able to calm some of the public fears surrounding the district’s annexation by Texas City ISD .
“The good thing is that we are very diverse,” he said. “We have no allegiance to any political affiliations and the benefit of this board is that we are consultants to the district in our own areas of expertise.”
Christiana serves on the Texas school boards association’s legislative advisory council. He bought a house in Tiki Island in 2010 and moved permanently into the scenic canal community after serving several rough years on the Lamar Consolidated school board.
“We were operating in the red and our board had an interim superintendent,” he said, alluding to the similarities between Lamar and La Marque.
“Our first order is to get our arms around finance, instruction and other areas. Like any board, we have duties we must perform until Texas City takes over.”
Former La Marque superintendent Thomas Randall, who is now head of Lamar Consolidated ISD, recommended Christiana. The two worked together to rebuild the district and straighten out its finances. Christiana said his name came up in a conversation Randall had with TEA commissioner Michael Williams about La Marque.
“That’s how I was nominated,” the relative county newcomer said.
Former La Marque trustee Richard Hooker watched the new board’s induction from the second row.
His sentiments revealed the tension that will face the board of managers as they begin their work. He said La Marque ISD residents will have to assume debt to pay for the “new shiny buildings over in Texas City”.
Speaking flatly from his seat, he said: “This is not about the children. This is about control and increasing the tax base for Texas City.”
After the pomp and ceremony died and the new board managers left the meeting, a crowd of residents stood in a circle, held hands at the steps of the administration building and prayed.