Guest writers

Criss, Lloyd                         Lloyd Criss

By guest writer Lloyd Criss

Local homeowners receive an automatic property-tax increase every year in which the county’s central appraisal district increases the assessment value of their property. In 2015, the average countywide CAD assessed property value increased by 12 per cent.
More affluent homes throughout the county received much higher assessment increases. Some on west Galveston Island increased by $150,000. Many others went up by $40,000, $50,000 or even more.
At the same time, carefully placed loopholes in Texas property-tax laws make it impossible for the CAD to accurately assess the fair market value of large corporate or industrial property.  These loopholes were placed into the state’s property-tax laws at the direction of influential lobbyists representing wealthy industrial clients.
Through the manipulation of these advantages in law, local industry has taken the local CAD to court and has been awarded multi-million-dollar property-tax refunds from local government coffers. In recent decisions, oil companies Marathon and Valero received reimbursements of $4.8m and $3.9m respectively.
Especially financially hard hit by these massive tax reimbursements were Texas City, Texas City independent school district, College Of The Mainland and Galveston County. Each of those taxing entities was left with the options of curtailing services or increasing the local taxpayer burden.
The Texas constitution provides for fair and equitable taxation for all. The city of Austin filed a lawsuit in state court requesting the state property-tax laws meet constitutional compliance.  Regardless of what or when the court rules, the issue must ultimately return to the state legislature for final action and correction.
In the last legislative session, several bills were filed seeking to create equity for the local property-tax payer. Former state representative Sylvester Turner, now the mayor of Houston, filed one of them. All conveniently died in committee.
Unfortunately for the local taxpayer the current Texas legislator seem happy to maintain the status quo. By ignoring constitutional responsibilities to the electorate, they are keeping powerful lobby representatives happy and qualifying for large re-election campaign contributions.
This taxpayer inequity cannot and will not be settled in state court. It must be corrected by an informed and irate electorate, one that votes to demand its constitutional rights for “fair and equitable” taxation.
Lloyd Criss, a former chairman of Galveston Democratic Party, lives in La Marque and is the party’s candidate for the state house of representatives’ district 23 seat in this year’s general election.

Colbert, Linda 2016Well informed
A new monthly article by Galveston County Coastal Health & Wellness specialists featuring topics to help you live a healthy life

In the first column of our series, Linda Colbert, left, tells how the county community health center is recognizing Mental Health Month

We often hear the clinical terms used by doctors and other professionals to identify the symptoms of mental illnesses – but, if someone hasn’t gone through it, would they know how to recognize it?
So often, clinical terms don’t do justice to what life with a mental illness feels like. We know that two people with the same diagnosis can experience the same symptom and describe it in very different ways.
Understanding the signs of a mental illness and identifying how it can feel can be confusing – and sometimes can contribute to ongoing silence or hesitation to get help.
May is Mental Health Month and, as the county’s community health center, Coastal Health & Wellness wants to make people aware of the talk therapy sessions available at our clinics.
We offer one-on-one confidential sessions for adults and children to teach coping skills and other tools to help deal with stressful life situations. We offer discounted rates for eligible uninsured and underinsured county residents.
It’s important for people to talk about how it feels to live with a mental illness. We know that mental illnesses are common and treatable – and help is available. But not everyone knows what to look for when they are going through those early stages and many people simply experience symptoms differently. We all need to speak up early – before stage four – and in real, relatable terms so that people do not feel isolated and alone.
CHW encourages people to help raise awareness of the importance of speaking up about mental health by tagging social-media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike. Posting messages with this hashtag is a way to speak up, to share your point of view with people who might be struggling to explain what they are going through – and to help others figure out if they, too, are showing signs of a mental illness.
Removing the shame and stigma of speaking out is vital so more people can be comfortable coming out of the shadows and seeking the help they need. Whether you are in stage one and just learning about those early symptoms or are dealing with what it means to be in stage four, sharing how it feels can be part of your recovery.
B4Stage4 means, in part, talking about what mental illnesses feel like and then acting on that information. It means giving voice to feelings and fears and to hopes and dreams.
It means empowering people as agents of their own recovery. And it means changing the trajectories of our own lives for the better and helping those we love change theirs.
So let’s talk about what life with a mental illness feels like, to voice what we are feeling, so others can know they are not alone.
Linda Colbert is a behavioral health counselor at Coastal Health & Wellness.

Coastal Health & Wellness is Galveston County’s community health center, offering high-quality primary medical, dental and counseling services to county residents. CHW accepts Medicaid, Medicare and many major insurance plans. Discounted rates are available for eligible uninsured or underinsured county residents. CHW has clinics in Texas City and Galveston. Call 409-938-2234 for information
or appointments.

Allen, Nikki 2016 minimized           Nikki Chargois-Allen

By guest writer Nikki Chargois-Allen

As Texas celebrates its first Jury Appreciation Week, State Bar Of Texas’ jury service committee wants not only to honor the individuals who give of their time to participate in the judicial process but also to educate the public on how to avoid jury-duty scams.
As chair of the committee, I want Texans to be aware that people are being targeted by scammers through phone calls and e-mails that threaten them with prosecution for failing to comply with jury-service requirements in federal or state courts. These calls and e-mails are fraudulent and are not connected with US or Texas state courts.
During a typical scam call, victims are told that a warrant has been issued for their arrest because they have failed to appear for jury duty. The caller asks the victim to “verify” personal information such as their date of birth and social-security number. In other cases, scammers insist that the victim pay a fine over the phone to avoid arrest. They put pressure on their victims to provide a credit-card number or other payment information.
According to a recent notice from Southeast Texas Better Business Bureau, this is just the latest in a series of identity-theft scams in which criminals try to persuade people to reveal personal information over the phone. The victims are often caught off guard and unfortunately provide the information to the scammers. To help protect Texas residents, the jury service committee has compiled the following tips from federal and state courts, Better Business Bureau and the magazine Consumer Reports. Please remember that:
• Courts will not call you about jury duty. Legitimate jury notices will come by mail, even if you have miss your assigned time to report to jury duty;
• Courts will not ask you for personal information over the phone or require you to provide sensitive information such as social-security or credit-card numbers by phone or e-mail;
• Scammers can mask their identity – be aware that criminals may use software to disguise their phone numbers and make it appear that their calls are originating from your local courthouse or police department;
• Courts will not call you asking for money – if you receive a call from someone claiming to be a court official asking for money for missing jury duty, hang up and report the scam to your local police department.
If you receive a phone call or e-mail of any of these types, report it to your local police department. If you have any questions about a request for jury service, ask your local district clerk.
Jury Appreciation Week, which Texas is to observe during the first week in May each year, was created by senate bill 565 and passed by the state’s 84th legislature. The week honors the men and women who form the foundation of our justice system because, without juries, the judicial process would grind to halt. If you have served on a jury or responded to a jury-duty request but weren’t selected, you have performed an integral and valuable role in our justice system.
I thank you, the jury service committee thanks you and State Bar Of Texas thanks you for your hard work and participation.
Nikki Chargois-Allen is an attorney in Edinburg, chair of State Bar Of Texas’ jury service committee and a past president of Hidalgo County Bar Association.

Candelari, Walter                     Walt Candelari

Crimewatch with Walt Candelari

IF SOMEONE wants to break into your house or other building, they will usually find a way. What we are trying to do is make it so difficult that they will go somewhere else to find an easier target.
One of the easiest ways for a burglar to gain entry into a residence is simply by kicking the door in. It doesn’t have to be a power karate kick or use a Sledge-O-Matic. Several repeated kicks, properly placed, and the door lock is defeated. SOC2_CarSafety1
When you look at what gives way, surprisingly it isn’t the lock itself but the striker plate on the door frame that usually breaks loose.
In a normal installation package of a door lock purchased from a hardware store, the strike plate that installs on the door jamb or frame might be secured by screws that are one or one-and-a-half inches long. Texas Crime Prevention Association recommends replacing them with stainless-steel screws that are three-and-a-half inches in length and installed at a slight angle. When you install a door lock, be sure to see how far the bolt extends into the striker plate. It will usually tell you on the package. Don’t install anything with less than a one-inch “throw” or extension into the wall.
Something with a one-and-a-half-inch throw would be even better. The deeper that the bolt extends into the wall and the more secure the plate is that holds it the more difficult it will be to kick in.
When a burglar sees an ornate entry door featuring lots of stained glass or glass panels, he sees an opportunity to gain entry without even having to huff and puff. If he is lucky, he just has to break a small portion of the glass by the lock, reach in and hope that there is either a thumb bar or another key in the lock on the inside.
This will hold true for any exterior door that has a glass panel in it. Ideally, the lock should be at such a distance and location from the glass that the burglar can’t get to it by simply reaching in.
Remember: Think, plan and execute crime-prevention design. Don’t be a crime victim.
Walt Candelari has been a crime-prevention specialist and community-policing officer with Dickinson police department for almost a decade and is a former Galveston County sheriff’s deputy and principal at Clear Creek intermediate school.

Washington watch with Lee Hamilton

For more than three decades in the US congress, I had the chance to question a lot of federal officials. Most of the time I wasn’t after anything dramatic – I just wanted to understand who was responsible for certain decisions. Want to know how often I received a straight answer? Almost never.
It was easily one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to ensure robust oversight of the federal government. Our representatives’ job, after all, is to help make government work better. And you can’t do that if you don’t know whom to hold accountable for important decisions.
I don’t want to be unfair to officials in the executive branch, many of whom are dedicated public servants who work long hours to serve the rest of us, but they have raised to an art form the ability to dodge responsibility.
This is a problem. Accountability is essential to good governance. I’m not just talking about “transparency” – citizens’ ability to know what’s being done in our name. That’s important but equally so is holding accountable those who make the decision to do it – ensuring that they are accountable to policy-makers, adhere to their obligations and follow the law and that their actions are appropriate and responsive to the needs of the country.
This might be part and parcel of good governing but it’s elusive. Accountability requires that officials step up and take responsibility for their decisions and that they do not try to shift that responsibility to others or to some ill-defined group.
It requires unambiguous performance standards, clear codes of ethics, timely reporting and acceptance of responsibility, especially with regard to budgetary or spending decisions.
It’s sustained by procedures that encourage responsible stewardship of public funds and a focus on correcting inefficiencies and poor performance. And, above all, it rests on robust oversight and review of officials’ performance, not only within the executive branch but also by congress and the media.
So how do we get there?
The first step is to make information available to the public, especially when it comes to budgeting. Government performance rests on how it spends the public’s money.
Yet making sure that people see and hear what government is doing does no more than promote transparency. It’s taking the next step, ensuring that there’s a clear command and control structure, that promotes accountability. Without clarity on who’s in charge of what and who’s responsible for which decisions, it becomes too easy for government officials to remain unanswerable for their actions.
Clear lines of authority mean nothing unless the deciding officials are identified and measured against what actually takes place. No official, in other words, should be without accountability for his or her decisions, which means that executive agencies and congress alike need to perform regular and robust oversight. Regular audits focused on inefficiencies, waste and poor performance are critical. Officials need to give a full account of what they do and the decisions they make.
As a nation, we face a growing issue on this front when it comes to federal contractors – the private workforce doing jobs for federal agencies. The government itself doesn’t know how many contract employees it has but the Washington Post reported last year that federal spending on contracts grew by 87 per cent – or about 5 per cent a year – between 2000 and 2012.
This is a problem because it creates an accountability vacuum. There are very few mechanisms for holding contractors responsible for their errors, abuses and missteps.
Which is why I have noted above that the media is as important as congress and internal government overseers. We as citizens depend on the media to tell us what’s going on in the entire system – within the bureaucracy, in the behavior of contractors and among legislators who ought to be overseeing both but often don’t.
This is a key public responsibility and the press needs to be staffed and have access to the resources to do a good job – which, these days, is increasingly rare.
Accountability, in other words, is key to good government. All I wanted to know in those congressional hearings was who had made decisions about the public’s business. Is that too much to ask?
Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years, is a distinguished scholar at Indiana University’s school of global and international studies and a professor of practice at the university’s school of public and environmental affairs.