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Commissioners further discuss open carry law, Trinity County

By Chris Edwards

The issue of the open-carry law and how it applies to county buildings was addressed again during the commissioners’ court meeting on Monday, January 25.

Trinity County Judge Doug Page said that he’d visited with district judges, and wanted to reiterate his original proposal, that weapons should be banned from all facilities associated with the court. “You can’t put a price on safety,” Judge Page said. County Attorney Joe Bell said that current law already prohibits the open carry of firearms within county courthouses, a law that was not retooled with the broad open carry law that went into effect, statewide, on the first of the year. Bell suggested a resolution be drafted to reinforce the existing law.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Neal Smith suggested consulting different county judges to see if they were also in unity with the stance. Smith said he was concerned with possible litigation costs if a weapons ban were implemented in the courthouse. 

The matter was tabled until the next meeting of the court, and Bell was instructed to pen a resolution pertaining to it.

Larry Grant with the Trinity County Crimestoppers was on hand and spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting. He told everyone present that January is “Crimestoppers Month,” and informed the audience of all that Crimestoppers does in the county.

Rev. Jack McMahon of First United Methodist Church in Groveton also spoke on behalf of the upcoming Civil War re-enactment in Groveton. He noted that over 800 area schoolchildren will come to Groveton to witness the event, and asked if the commissioners could see that the roads used to bring people into town could be as smooth as possible. Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said that the commissioners would do anything they could to help with the effort, but that the roads’ condition was an issue for the city of Groveton to see to.

Judge Page noted that tax collections for Trinity County were at 42%, when reviewing the monthly report from county auditor Bonnie Kennedy. The collection of taxes was also noted by treasurer Bob Dockens when he gave his specified activity report that the county had an excellent month in terms of revenue with the bulk of it coming from taxes collected.

Commissioners approved a budget amendment to move money from the contingency fund to pay Susan Waller, the director of the Trinity County Museum. Waller’s pay has been taken from the county’s hotel/motel, but a shortage in this fund was noticed. The amount of $16,500 was approved to be moved from the contingency fund for Waller’s salary.

Commissioners also approved another budget amendment for the purchase of a 2014 Caterpillar excavator for Precinct 4. Commissioner Jimmy Brown spoke of the need for the excavator in his precinct, which will cost $49,300. Judge Page asked if there were other avenues that could be pursued to acquire the excavator, such as rental. Commissioner Smith reaffirmed the need for the equipment and said that his excavator is used weekly in his precinct and that Commissioner Brown has had to borrow it in the past. Judge Page opposed the measure, which was ultimately approved by the commissioners.

In an addendum to the Monday morning agenda, the commissioners discussed bids presented by Sheriff Woody Wallace for three patrol units. Sheriff Wallace brought bids on both Fords and Chevrolets and said there was about a $2,000 difference between the two with Fords being the cheaper vehicle. Wallace said, however, that the aluminum frames in Ford vehicles was worrisome. The commissioners reviewed the bids that were presented and approved the financing of the patrol units pending more information.

With no other business to discuss, the court adjourned until its next scheduled meeting for Monday, February 8 in the commissioners’ courtroom of the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton.

Commissioners discuss open carry in county buildings

By Chris Edwards

With the recent implementation of the statewide open-carry law, counties in Texas are left to determine how to best adopt the law as it pertains to buildings where county business is handled. Trinity County commissioners discussed the law and the feasibility of allowing open carry inside the county courthouse at the Monday morning meeting of the commissioners’ court.

The consensus of the officials gathered was to not allow open carry of firearms inside the courthouse or county offices. Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said, “the last thing we want to do is to make our courthouse unsafe.” Worsham said he is respectful of gun ownership and the rights of gun owners, but said he doesn’t think the courthouse is an appropriate place for the open carry of firearms. The safety issue was reiterated by several others. County Treasurer Bob Dockens said, “I don’t want anyone with a gun in my office.”

Sheriff Woody Wallace referenced a Facebook poll he conducted through the TCSO Facebook page on the topic. “Almost unanimously [people were] against having guns in the courthouse,” Sheriff Wallace said. 

County Attorney Joe Bell explained the way the law works in reference to county buildings and offices and suggested that the commissioners and Judge Doug Page take the matter to the district judges to see how they would act on the issue. Judge Page agreed to confide with the district judges on the matter, thus no action was taken at Monday’s meeting.

The commissioners heard a report from Ron Hufford, the executive director of Texas Forestry Association about the state of Jack Schaeffer Road in Trinity. The timber harvesting and hauling activity along the road has been addressed in commissioners’ court in the past, with concerns about the condition of the road coming from both property owners concerned about heavy equipment and vehicles operating along the road and from timber producers concerned about the ease of access to loggers. Hufford referred to an article he penned in an industry periodical that pertains to permits and the timber industry as it relates to benefits for counties in the region. Hufford encouraged the commissioners to meet with foresters, an idea that Judge Page encouraged, which could bring about a “happy resolution between the county and the logging industry.”
 
In other business, the commissioners discussed three agenda items for the Sheriff’s Department. In one item, Mike Loftin was officially recognized as the chaplain for the staff of TCSO. The recognition was something Sheriff Wallace wanted to officially bring before the court and explained that Loftin’s role as chaplain is an honorary title that allows him to minister to the department any time anyone within its ranks is in need of spiritual guidance. Loftin was present and said of the honor, “This is my county, I love this county and I’d be honored.”
 
Sheriff Wallace also presented a request to accept donations to place decals reading “In God We Trust” on patrol units, a request that was approved. Before he brought the next item before the commissioners he said with a chuckle “Now I need some cars to put this stuff on.” The item, which was a request for three new patrol units for TCSO, was discussed and passed on Monday, pending some estimates from Sheriff Wallace at the next meeting. The Sheriff explained that some of his department’s vehicles are getting in bad shape and he estimated the total price to be around $120-130K  for the project, not counting a DETCOG grant for radio equipment he is anticipating. Some recommendations for dealerships were discussed and Judge Page said the court needs some numbers before it can act on the issue.
 
The court also approved payments to Apple Springs VFD to be delivered in a quarterly fashion. Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Rod Blair was on hand to speak to this issue. Judge Blair said the payments from the county to the fire department as quarterly sums would cover expenses better than some of the fundraisers that they’ve attempted as of late and that money was needed for insurance premiums and supplies. County Treasurer Bob Dockens said that the quarterly disbursements would not be problematic and the payment schedule was approved.
 
Without further business or discussion, Monday’s meeting was adjourned until the next Trinity County Commissioners’ Court meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday, January 25 in the commissioners’ courtroom at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton.
 

Early voting venue relocation voted down

By Chris Edwards

A hot-button issue for Trinity County was voted down on Monday when commissioners’ court held its regular meeting.

The proposal to relocate the early voting poll location of Trinity City Hall to Dorcas Wills Memorial Baptist Church was heard and summarily disapproved with a 3-2 vote against the proposal. Before County Judge Doug Page presented the topic for discussion and approval, he warned citizens who wished to speak on the issue that rules of decorum, as well as time limits for brevity’s sake, applied to whomever wished to speak. 

Trinity County Republican Chairman Corey W. Rapp was the lone member of the audience speaking on behalf of the issue. Rapp, who has staunchly advocated moving the polling location, referenced a petition that was presented to the court. According to Rapp, over 240 residents signed the petition. Rapp has maintained that the Dorcas Wills location would provide a greatly improved experience for voters, sentiments he reiterated at Monday’s meeting. 

In an opinion piece written by Rapp and published in the December 3 edition of The Groveton News, as well as the Trinity Standard, he came upon the idea for relocating the early voting location to the church due primarily to “lack of space to accommodate sit down voting and access to an election machine for disabled voters.” Rapp also wrote that “[c]onditions in the room are also dark for voters due to limited lighting,” among other issues with the city hall venue.

Rapp said the signers of the petition represent all four precincts. “Also [signers] represent 14 of the voting boxes…70 percent of the voting boxes represented,” he said.

Rapp said that out of the signers, 14 are serving or have served as election workers. “It is important to notice this because they are the ones that are fully aware of the deficiencies that occur currently at the city hall,” he said.

“This request is a perfect example of our governmental system at work,” Rapp said. 

Precinct 2 Commissioner Richard Chamberlin brought a motion to the table for the proposal and Judge Page seconded the motion. Commissioners Neal Smith, Grover “Tiger Worsham” and Jimmy Brown voted against.

In other business addressed by Trinity County Commissioners:

•An advance partial payment was approved to 365 VFD in the amount of $3,000. The funds are to go toward an aerobic sewer system which needs to be paid for.

•Commissioners approved a two-year extension on the data processing services agreement between Trinity County and Indigent Healthcare Solutions.

•A service agreement proposal was approved between the county and Pax-Sun, Inc. for HVAC maintenance for the Trinity County Courthouse.

With no further items of business to discuss, the meeting was adjourned after a motion from Commissioner Smith and second by Commissioner Worsham.

TISD school board hires athletic director

At the last T.I.S.D. regular school board meeting, the board approved hiring Eric Droddy as the new athletic director and head football coach. 

Droddy, a Trinity native and 1990 graduate of Trinity High School, currently works at Crocket High School. Previously, Droddy worked as the head football coach and athletic director in Queen City, TX. 

Droddy’s wife, Lisa, is also a Trinity High School graduate and currently serves as a cheerleading coach at T.H.S.

Droddy says he is a Texans and Astros fan who enjoys coaching and spending time with his family. He and his wife have four children ranging from a first grader to a college student. Easton, 18, plays football at Lyon College in Arkansas; Jaiden, a high school freshman at T.H.S. participates as a cheerleader; Kieran, a seventh grader, plays basketball and football; and Teagan, a first grader, attends Lansberry Elementary. 

“I want to give credit to Coach Smith and the job he’s done with the football program. I know four consecutive years of playoff birth is the first time I believe in school history – it certainly is, as far back as I can remember. I know that’s something to be proud of, and he did a great job,” said Droddy. “As far as the athletic director role, we just want to continue strengthening really all the sports -- boys and girls, both sides. With a daughter in the program, it’s important that those sports are treated justly… I know sometimes coaches get a bad rap for not spending enough time with the girls, but I can assure everybody that’s not gonna be the case.  Then finally, we’re really excited about being home and being in this role, and just seeing what kind of excitement we can bring to the program…” 

At a special board meeting held earlier in December, the board approved hiring John Reynolds as interim superintendent of Trinity I.S.D., until a permanent replacement is found. 

Reynolds has experience as a head coach/athletic director, as a principal, as a superintendent, as a field agent for ESC Region 6, and as an interim superintendent. 

Reynolds’ resumé reads: “I have a working knowledge and an overall feel for what it takes for a good school system – attention to individual needs, to stand for right, adherence to the rule of law, and fair and equal treatment to all.”

Reynolds and his wife, Patricia, a retired Kindergarten teacher, have been married 46 years. The couple is from Groveton, TX and have three adult children and several grandkids. 

Reynolds said his main priority at T.I.S.D. will be to assist the board in finding a new superintendent, and to improve on what he can. 

“A school district is made or broken by what goes on at the elementary school. The key to success is having a great elementary staff and great elementary principal,” said Reynolds. 

The board also recognized several students, including Jesus Garcia for winning first place in the Lions Club’s Share Peace art contest. Next, Coach Vander Stucken recognized several volleyball students including: Brittani Vander Stucken, Jailyn Edwards, Breanna Morris, Kinley Searcy, A’Rhyan Samnford, and Tai’Quilla Lewis.

“I’d like to introduce y’all to some of the best volleyball players in our district,” said Vander Stucken. “

He went on to explain that the players were voted on by other coaches in the district based on their tremendous accomplishments. 

The last group of students recognized served on the superintendent’s advisory council including Kiara McDaniel, Blake Hunter, Trenton Meredith, Katy Wells, Micah Brock, and Matthew Jackson.

Each semester, two students from each campus serve on the council and are taken to a local restaurant once a month to tell the superintendent how to improve their schools. 

“This group is one of the best groups we’ve had,” said Plymale. 

Three employees of the month were recognized, including Ira Nell Rodgers, Tahtiana Clinton, and Christine Thornton. Employees of the month are chosen for doing an exemplary job, and are each awarded with a certificate and $25 gift card. 

The board voted to approve access control additions recommended by Plymale, which consist of card readers being used on school doors instead of traditional keys. 

“We’ve talked about having a more secure system with access control,” said Plymale. “What this does is, there will be certain doors at each campus that will have card readers for entry.” 

He added that the new system would allow school officials to know the times employees enter the school buildings and that the new system could be beneficial during emergencies. 

“If there’s ever a lockdown, all the principal has to do is punch in a code, and all doors will lock down on the campus[es],” said Plymale.

Other business: 

-Consider/approve Bank Signature revisions.

-Consider/approve hiring of teacher(s).

-Consider/approve Superintendent search and timeline.

-Consider/approve negotiation with the City of Trinity on property of old baseball field.

School board meetings are held the fourth Monday of each month in the Board Room of the Administration Building at 6 p.m.

 

SR20 Holdings enters into option agreement

Trinity County commissioners and other officials present for last Monday’s meeting of the commissioner’s court heard a presentation from county treasurer Bob Dockens concerning the proposed biofuels plant.

The plant, which has been in the works for about a year, is moving forward. The Oklahoma-based firm SR20 Holdings, which is responsible for the proposed facility, has entered into an option agreement with a Trinity County property owner. The update is good news for Trinity County, for the plant could produce an upwards of 60 full-time jobs, along with jobs for loggers and other workers during the construction phase.

The site that interests SR20 is a 250-acre piece of land adjacent to the City of Groveton’s sewer plant.

The biofuels plant would convert timber waste into diesel and jet fuel, while bringing revenue to the county.

Putting the option agreement in place is a big step for the potential facility, as it secures the right of the firm, SR20 Holdings, to purchase the property that is of interest to construct the plant upon. 

In other business discussed at the meeting, the county commissioners and Judge Doug Page received reports from Keith Shelley of Ventura EMS and Groveton EMS owner David Robison. 

A bond for the new Trinity County Auditor Bonnie Kennedy was approved.

The next meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners’ Court will take place at 9 a.m. on Monday, December 28 at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton.

Paws of Trinity County addresses City Council

Paws of Trinity County president, Terry Waller, was on hand during last Thursday’s City Council meeting to speak about his vision for Paws and ask for the City’s financial assistance in building a new facility.

 Paws of Trinity County is a no kill, 501c3 nonprofit animal shelter located in Trinity, TX at Waller’s place of business, Trinity Discount Tire & Auto. Waller and his wife, Michelle, started the shelter in April 2013 and have found homes for 741 dogs as of Dec. 11, 2015.

 Waller used the public forum portion of the meeting to speak to the Council and crowd, many of whom had gathered in support of Paws. He said he and his wife purchased 3 ½ acres of land at 304 Calvin St. in Trinity in hope of building an independent facility for the shelter. They expect the new facility to house around 500 dogs, with 50 to 100 to start. 

 Waller pointed out that Paws is currently the only shelter in the county and could contribute greatly to decreasing the amount of stray dogs in Trinity with a larger facility. He explained the new shelter as a potential asset to the city, comparing it to Rita B. Huffman in Huntsville, TX.

 “We want to turn it into a really nice facility,” said Waller. “Something that’s going to really show off Trinity. If you look around and listen to people talk, Trinity’s got a bad rap everywhere. Is that something we really want? I don’t think. You know, I mean, I think we can do better than that.”

 The Wallers have been raising money for the new facility on gofundme.com for the past 16 months, where community members have chipped in $3,195 as of Dec. 12. The goal, however, is $300,000, which would go toward building the new facility and its operating expenses, including having the animals spayed/neutered, and providing them with shots and wormer.

Waller also said he’d like to have new veterinarian graduates of A&M stay at an apartment in the facility when available for visits, and spay and neuter the animals for minimum wage. He also mentioned the possibility of working with the City to use convict labor to keep the area clean.

 Although the end goal is higher, Waller told councilmembers that with the help of convict labor, he could probably get something started with $100,000. He mentioned the economic development committee, hoping they could provide the assistance needed. He added, “I had this idea to create this place over here and donate the property to the city once my wife and I die, so anything that’s put into it by the city, they will receive back in the end.”

 After Waller’s presentation, Mayor Pro-Tem Wayne Huffman responded by saying, “I think this, Mr. Waller – we’re gonna have to take this into consideration… our budget here just started in September and there’s nothing in there for that, what you’re talking about. It’s not in there.”

 Councilman Phillip Morrison said he didn’t think the economic development committee could help with the project due to strict guidelines. Later, Huffman mentioned an animal shelter being built in Groveton that Waller said he was unaware of.

 Waller said dog lovers have come from as far as El Paso, TX to adopt from Paws, and he thinks it would be good for Trinity to have a shelter in addition to the one in Groveton.

 Councilman Clegg DeWalt thanked Waller for his presentation, and said the Council couldn’t make a final decision on his request because it wasn’t an item on the agenda, ultimately tabling the discussion for later.

 In other business, City Administrator Jo Bitner gave an update on the nursing home and said property is still being cleared. The City is also waiting on written permission from the owner of a nearby residence to clear that property. Mayor Billy Joe Slaughter said Kenneth Newton pressured the owners to clean up their property, and they agreed to donate the land to the nursing home. The stipulation of the donation is that the nursing home has to put up a sign with the name of the donors.

 The Council also accepted a $7,500 bid on salvage equipment that belongs to the City of Trinity. Last month, Mayor Slaughter suggested rejecting lower bids, and said the equipment could be sold for more.

 Councilmember DeWalt presented a request to the Council that the City continue their annual $1,000 donation to Lois Saldana’s community Christmas luncheon, slated for Dec. 20. The Council agreed.

 In other business, the city manager provided her monthly report, the November minutes were approved, and bills for payment were approved.

 With no further business to discuss, the meeting adjourned.

Trinity City Council conducts its regular meetings the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.