News

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

A DEVELOPER could be about to build a retail center on FM 2004 in Hitchcock after city councilmembers voted to rezone the land
this week.
Conrad Kerr applied for a change in the land’s zoning class from agricultural residential to general commercial during Monday evening’s council meeting.
He said the site, on the corner of FM 2004 and Jack Brooks Park Road, could become a “multifaceted development” but that he was not yet certain what exactly it will be.
He also said he would be paying for all of the work and drainage that goes along with the zoning change.
“We think it’s very suitable for commercial development, although we have not decided what type of development”, he said.
Kerr said he would consider putting in a multifaceted development and that he had spoken to the Galveston county commissioners to have a roadside gate removed.
“I could not lease any retail space that someone couldn’t access 24 hours a day”,
he said.
The councilmembers unanimously approved the application.

Hair and not now

TRAINEE haircutters were in luck in one city on Tuesday but anyone wanting to clean their vehicles will have to leave town after the city council voted in favor of a barber college and against a wash station.
Dickinson city councilmembers unanimously approved a request from Corsair Investments for a specific-use permit to place a barber school – K&G barber college – in a neighborhood commercial zone at 618 FM 517 West.
But they denied Mainland Bank a similar permit to operate a “car, truck and RV washing facility” on land next to its building south of FM 517 and west of Pabst Road after six citizens spoke against the request, which was submitted on the bank’s behalf by JJ Stanford and Joe Wilburn.
Traffic, noise and the risk of falling property values were cited as the main objections to their proposal, although the land is in a general commercial district.
Two people spoke in favor of the request during its public hearing but it was denied after the councilmembers split 3-3 on the issue.
Louis Decker, Bruce Henderson and Charles Suderman voted for the facility, with Wally Deats, William King and Walter Wilson against it, requiring mayor Julie Masters to cast a tiebreaker. She voted against, resulting in the denial.
No one spoke for or against the barber-college request during its public hearing before the council vote.

Citizens, you may speak now

THE PUBLIC is to be allowed to comment during
a city’s boards and commissions meetings after city councilmembers voted this week to let residents have their say on governmental issues.
To the delight of League City’s position-two councilmember Hank Dugie, his peers unanimously approved
a change of ordinance that will allow the inclusion of a public-comments section in the meeting agendas.
Afterwards, Dugie said: “I think good government is accessible to the people and, if a citizen comes in and wants to speak at any one of our meetings and functions, they should have the ability to do so.
“Some of our boards and commissions have already implemented something like this and have seen success in having a comments section for citizens – similar  to city council meetings – on their agendas.”

It’s hurricane Katrina!

A WOMAN whose whirlwind ideas have earned her city $75,000 has been named east Texas’ recreation professional of the year.
Recreation specialist Katrina Beecher was recognized by League City councilmembers on Tuesday after winning the accolade from Texas Recreation & Park Society.
The parks-and-recreation-department employee provides recreational opportunities to residents all over the city, including year-round homeschool physical education, school day-out programs and several special-needs programs.
The money generated by her efforts has enabled the department to add more programs to its services, including an outdoor education project and a bird-watching group.
Interim city manager John Baumgartner said: “Katrina is a model public servant who tirelessly serves our community.
“Our goal is to provide outstanding customer service while enhancing the lives of our residents and its programs and initiatives like this enables us to meet those goals.
“We are very fortunate to have Katrina on our team and appreciate everything she does for our community.”

Carry on, McCumber

JUDGE Kathleen McCumber was reappointed to preside over League City’s municipal court in a unanimous decision by councilmembers on Tuesday
The motion to reappoint her was put forward by position-six councilmember Keith Gross and seconded by position-two member Hank Dugie.

Old maid’s Moody gift accepted

A DILAPIDATED former Dairy Queen outlet looks set for a new lease of life after philanthropists offered a city $500,000 to help pay for its purchase.
Galveston councilmembers unanimously approved accepting the grant from Moody Foundation on Thursday.
The city wants to demolish the 2528 Broadway property and relocate Oleander Park – which is at 27th Street and Sealy Avenue – to the location.
The councilmembers are due to discuss the purchase of the property at next month’s meeting.

Significant tax cut

A DOWNTOWN dwelling is to have its city taxes frozen for 10 years after being accepted as a historically or archeologically significant site on Thursday.
City councilmembers unanimously approved a request by domestic limited partnership Honea Egypt Venture to redesignate the property, at 1414 Avenue C in Galveston,
According to meeting documents, the change in designation “freezes the city’s portion of the property tax at the pre-improvement value of the property, which is currently at $74,870”.

Janitor job is Julie’s now …

A CITY has shopped local to appoint its third cleaning company within a year following dissatisfaction with the work provided by the service’s two out-of-town predecessors.
Santa Fe councilmembers voted unanimously on Thursday to award the city’s janitorial-services contract to local company Julie’s Custom Floors And Cleaning Service after two Houston outfits failed to sparkle.
In July, after the city was displeased with the work being provided by C&S Janitorial, it turned to CML Commercial Cleaning, which started work on November 1. But the city is also displeased with that company’s service and its contract will be terminated on February 4.
Julie’s will begin work on February 6 in a 23-month contract ending on December 31 next year.

… and city job is still Joe’s

COUNCILMEMBERS unanimously approved an extension to Joe Dickson’s post as Santa Fe city manager on Thursday.
The extension, approved as an addendum to his employment contract, will keep Dickson in charge of the city staff until December 31 next year.

Nelson tasks county senator with education finance reform

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

LARRY TAYLOR is to chair one of two newly formed workgroups set up to examine the two largest slices of the Texas budget under the direction of senate finance committee chair Jane Nelson.
The Flower Mound Republican appointed senate education committee chair Taylor to head up an education finance workgroup and told him his goal is to find a better way of paying for the state’s public-education service.
Nelson, below, who had used the first meeting of the regular session to create the two panels, charged the other with getting a handle on skyrocketing state healthcare costs.  
She told the county’s district 11 senator his goal to come up with some mouthwatering potential replacements for the state’s current education funding structure.
“The proposals must be less complicated, innovative and, most importantly, meet the needs of our students”, she said.
Taylor, below, responded that the 85th session presents a unique chance to take a look at a massive and complicated system, saying: “Now we’ve got a very large structure that was not designed to be the large structure that it is.
“It is time for the new 21st-century school finance system, that we scrape it all off and design a system that includes 21st-century weights and measures… We have things in our current system that are 30 and 40 years old.”
In the past, education finance reform attempts have come under a court order following rulings that the finance system had failed to meet its constitutional requirements. Last May, the state supreme court upheld the current finance system but told legislators they should find a better way to pay for public education.
The court’s decision said that students “deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, non-sclerotic system fit for the 21st century.”
Nelson alluded to the statement in her directive to the newly formed workgroup, saying: “We need to have a whole new method of school finance. No more Band-Aids. We need to start over.”
To head up the state healthcare workgroup, Nelson appointed senator Charles Schwertner, who chairs the senate health and human services committee.
The new group will take a look at costs in Medicaid, the teacher and state employee pension programs and health care at state correctional facilities and seek ways to contain costs starting in the 2018-19 biennium. It is charged with trying to find ways for those programs to collaborate to seek best practices and cost-savings initiatives.
Schwertner also said this is the perfect time to tackle this huge portion of the state budget, referring to “opportunities” such as “instilling personal responsibility, accountability, cost containment, as well as long-term fiscal sustainability in the largest portion of our budget”.
The Senate finance committee was due to open agency hearings beginning with the Texas education agency at 9:00am yesterday, Tuesday. The hearings, in which officials from each state agency appear to present their spending needs for the next biennium, are scheduled for each weekday until February 15.
• See Richard Lee’s round-up of last week’s legislative action in Austin on page 7.

Security keeps thousands from witnessing oath of office as pro- and anti-Trump protesters vie for recognition

By Lora-Marie Bernard – the county’s only reporter covering the presidential inauguration

HOURS BEFORE Donald Trump took his presidential oath on Friday morning, thousands of people made the walk to Washington’s Mall lined by protesters who at times concentrated on protesting each other.
While viewers at home were watching the television and live-stream broadcasts, hundreds of thousands stood in line at various entry points along the inauguration area’s perimeter where handfuls of demonstrations occurred.
Many who wanted to witness the inauguration from the Mall did not make it inside the entry points. Security guards filled tents where they inspected every bag that each person carried. At the time Trump took office, many thousands were still outside, relegated to watching a jumbo screen through chain-link fences around the perimeter of the Washington Monument.
At the monument, a few passers-by chanted protests and vulgarities to Trump but most did not approach those watching the protest. Sometimes, however, opposing groups chose
to protest each other.
At the city’s L’Enfant Plaza metro stop, hundreds were in line watching protesters hoisting 10-foot signs into the air. The discontented proclaimed the need to seek forgiveness from Jesus, resist homosexuality and stop immigration. One sign read that Christ has a pressure-cooker for Muslims, a slogan that incensed another protester. “You are crazy for saying God has a pressure cooker”, screamed Will Menta of Michigan, a protester who walked with the crowd as he handed out election reform materials. “That is no God I want anything to do with.”
The challenge began a rebuke from other protesters, who said Menta needed to repent of his sins. He said after the exchange that he had traveled to Washington to protest the election system and to promote the need for social reform.
“This country is unhappy with the choices we had”, he said, referring to Trump and his presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Most American were not happy but these were the only two choices we were given”.
Menta said he wanted to spark a conversation about adding a third major political party. He advocated for the kinds of reform made in Maine that pave the way for a more integrated party system.
The line of inauguration watchers walked past the protesters while Menta stopped to talk to them about his reform ideas. As they reached the federal aviation building, they walked on the lawn and jumped over barricades to make their way to the court of the James Forrestal building, where an organized group of Standing Rock protestors held a rally titled It Takes Roots.
Spokesperson Dallas Goldtooth rallied a small group of onlookers with a reminder that they would fight for the nation’s national resources and the end of pollution. He also advocated for closing tax loopholes that allow big business advantages.
He said the stresses of Standing Rock and the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline had created post traumatic stress disorders but the fight to stop national political influences will not end.
“We are on the front line of the destitute”, he said. “But we are also on the front line of solutions”.
After his rally speech, Goldtooth said the It Takes Roots effort has become a national movement and that he hopes it will build momentum when it forges a collaboration with Black Lives Matter, Food Justice and other social-
reform organizations.
“What you will see is mobility across the board to make sure they do not do further damage to our communities”, he said.
“On critical points, like community projects, we will take action”.
As the crowd moved to Independence Avenue, a calmness filled the air as thousands of people waited patiently to enter the general admission checkpoint into the Mall. Protesters were ignored by many of the people in line.
Two Long Island teens silently held a six-foot Trump flag while protesters walked past them with signs that sent a death wish to the incoming president. The teens, who gave only their first names, said they had entered a contest at the island’s Longwood high school to win a chance to attend the Inauguration and were two of 40 students chosen.
Brendan, 17, said “I have been supporting him since he first ran”, while Jared, also 17, said he had thrown his support behind Trump after Libertarian-party rival Gary Johnson dropped out of the presidential election race.
• Read about the county connection with the inauguration in more on-the-ground reports by Lora-Marie Bernard in Sunday’s edition.

Top, the US Capitol from the National Mall shortly after the inauguration; above, a DC bus is used as a barrier to prevent free public access to the Mall – Photos by Lora-Marie Bernard

Richard Lee of Texas Senate News compiles a round-up of the key action in Texas’ 85th legislative
session in Austin last week

THE FIRST DRAFT of the state’s next biennial budget was filed last week by Flower Mound senator and finance committee chair Jane Nelson, setting the baseline for budget negotiations in the senate.
One week earlier, lawmakers had found out that they had $104.9 billion in projected revenue to spend for the 2018-2019 biennium and the senate budget came in just under that, appropriating $103.6 billion in state revenue.
Nelson said after filing her committee’s proposals that declining oil and gas revenues coupled with strong population growth will present challenges to budget writers in the coming months.  “We have difficult decisions to make this session, and we will work tirelessly to address the needs of the state in a responsible manner”, she said on January 17.
Nelson named three areas of particular concern – education finance, mental health services and growing costs in Medicaid and the state pension system. The senate base budget for education includes $2.65 billion to cover an expected enrollment growth of 80,000 students in the next two years, as well as $32 million for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
For mental health, the budget starts at $1 billion to improve the state hospital system and other state facilities and $63 million to clear waiting lists for community mental-health services.
Other key line items include fully funding border-security measures approved last session with $800 million, $260 million to address the state’s beleaguered child-protection-services system, and $25 million for a program to purchase high-caliber bulletproof vests for police officers, a program unveiled by lieutenant governor Dan Patrick the previous week.
Patrick praised Nelson for her initial budget proposal, saying: “This budget is well within the available revenue and upholds our commitment to continue to live within our means and not spend more than the growth of our population times inflation”.
Meanwhile, a panel of senators and representatives met to hear a progress report on the monumental task of consolidating the state’s five health and human-services agencies into three.  A bill last session directed the transformation after state auditors found that the five agencies were difficult to navigate for clients, were rife with compartmentalization, lacked inter-agency communication and suffered from too much confusion over authority at management level.
The plan passed in 2015 would eliminate the departments of aging and disability services and of assistive and rehabilitative services and move their duties to the health and human service commission in order to have all client services managed by the same agency.
The commission, which manages the state’s Medicaid program, and the department of family and protective services, which oversees children’s and seniors’ protective services, will remain independent.
HHSC executive commissioner Charles Smith said the first step, launching a new, better website and moving assistive and rehabilitative services was completed on time by September 1 last year but the next phase will be a much bigger task.
He said: “Our progress here is in getting ready for the next phase, which is undergoing the transformation in bringing in 24,000 new employees into the system. That represents six times the number of employees we moved in September.”
Smith added that the move, which is scheduled for completion by September this year, will take the total number of HHSC employees to about 40,000.

Crimewatch with Walt Candelari

I ONCE WATCHED a news blurb that showed an incredibly rich and incredibly crooked individual going before a judge to face numerous charges as the result of a Ponzi scheme. He pled not guilty to each charge and was still pleading it when I switched channels.
I landed on a channel featuring the houses and lifestyles of the very rich. It blew me away to think of the transition this guy would be going to make if he was found guilty and sentenced to federal imprisonment. Was he ever going to be in for a well-deserved shock!
I have been involved in investigating burglaries in which a housebreaker literally trashed a home and stole very little. In one particular case, the offender was identified, charged, arrested and ended up in court.
His attorney almost cried before the jury in an attempt to have them be merciful and not “ruin” the future of this fine upstanding young man, who had had a momentary lapse – or two – in judgment.
In spite of the prosecution’s case, the defendant was given probation. Outside the courtroom afterwards, he rejoiced and gave the police officers present a middle-finger salute. Another momentary lapse?
I don’t comprehend how one individual can wipe out the entire savings of so many people, live an extravagant life and appear remorseless over the pain inflicted. I also don’t comprehend how a person can break into a house and steal someone else’s property and rationalize the act away.
But people do and it would appear that counseling, rehabilitation programs, therapy and so on are not going to make a difference, especially when they habitually return to the same environment with the same expectations.
You can’t always take things at face value. You must do your homework and verify your facts. Ponzi schemes work because they appeal to our desire to live a life in which we can travel to our heart’s content, have a more comfortable retirement or simply live the good life.
They work because they have a very dynamic person at the helm, tons of data verifying the effectiveness of the program and a personable connection with their victims. They work because there is always an initial period in which, at least on paper, your investment is successful and you think “If I’m doing this well at this amount, think how much better I will do with a greater amount”.
Not so fast, Kemosabe! Don’t waste your last silver bullet.
I have known people who could sell an ice machine to an Eskimo. I have known others so good looking that you had to wear sunglasses just to look at them. That doesn’t make them a good person on the inside or whatever they do always morally or ethically correct.
Please take the time to think, check and evaluate all your proposed investments. Do the same with all “free” offers and “money-saving” investments.
Scams work because we allow ourselves to be snookered. We believe in the best of a person or situation and, in reality, are dealing with the worst.
Remember: Think, plan and execute crime-prevention design. Don’t be a crime victim.
Walt Candelari is a crime-prevention specialist and community-policing officer with Dickinson police department.