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UPDATE: Crockett PD Asks For Public's Help In Locating Person of Interest

UPDATE: Arrested In Leon County
Crockett Police Chief David Cross reported at 3:15 p.m. that Scott was arrested in Leon County. Scott allegedly faces a charge of Evading Arrest/Detention in Leon County, and CPD will be interviewing him in reference to the alleged assault this afternoon in Crockett. Crockett PD is considering charges of Aggravated Assault With a Deadly Weapon and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, Cross said.

Original Story: Crockett school campuses were on lock-down this afternoon (Friday, Jan. 20) due to an assault in a nearby neighborhood, Crockett Police Chief David Cross stated. The lock-down has been lifted, but the CPD is asking for the public's assistance in locating a person of interest. The person of interest is believed to be Frederick Scott Jr., a black/male, who allegedly is driving a 2002 black Ford Taurus, 4-door sedan, with a" handicapped" license plate, 6JTCT. Cross said if you see this vehicle or this person, please call 911 immediately and do not approach the person. The person of interest currently is considered dangerous. The alleged assault with a deadly weapon (blunt object) occurred on Darius St. in Crockett. Cross stated the victim is in "pretty critical" shape and being flown to an area hospital.

City Calls Halt To Jake Brake Use

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Drivers of large vehicles -- such as 18-wheeler trucks and trailers -- may no longer use their noisy engine brakes within Crockett city limits, except in emergency situations.

The Crockett City Council adopted an ordinance at a regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, prohibiting most uses of engine brakes, also commonly known as jake brakes, in the city.

A motion to approve the ordinance, adding it to the city's motor vehicles and traffic code, was offered by Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson. It passed on a unanimous vote of the four councilmembers present at the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams, who is councilmember for Precinct 4, was absent.

According to the ordinance, an engine brake is "an auxiliary or compression engine brake which produces any noise in addition to the normal operating engine noise."

It is a braking mechanism installed on some diesel engines. When activated, it opens exhaust valves in the cylinders after the compression cycle, releasing the compressed air trapped in the cylinders, and slowing the vehicle. It makes a loud noise.

Although passage of vehicles equipped with these brakes through the City of Crockett is not prohibited, use of the brakes in the city is. And a person who violates the ordinance "shall be subject to a penalty of up to Five Hundred Dollars ($500) for each offense," it states.

The ordinance's prohibition against the use of engine brakes does not apply to "vehicles operated by the police department, fire department or any emergency ambulance vehicle," according to the ordinance, and use of these brakes in other vehicles in emergency situations "where there is imminent danger of collision with property, persons or animals" also is excepted.

In introducing the matter to the councilmembers for discussion and action, Mayor Robert Meadows said, "I asked our deputy city administrator (John Angerstein) and our interim city administrator (Mitzi Thompson) to look into this for us. I don't know if any of you all have had calls about this, but it apparently is more of a problem to the west of town, with trucks coming in off (SH) 21 and (SH) 7.
"Although I've had talks with folks at the top of the hill going out of town to the north, I haven't heard from anyone south. I don't know if that's as much of an issue because they have a longer straightaway that (allows them to) slow down. But, I've had a few comments from people out east of town about how trucker (drivers) are using the jake brake. They're not really considering what time of the night (they're passing through)."

Meadows added, "After consulting with our attorney (William Pemberton), it's not an issue for us to offer this for our citizens. And by penalty, prohibit truckers from doing that. In my opinion, it's in the best interest of our citizens who live in those areas to put a stop to it."

Police Chief David Cross said, police department personnel have received complaints about truckers using engine brakes in the city -- "here in town, as well."

In other business, councilmembers unanimously voted to accept a $5,995 bid from Lucas Roofing & Sheet Metal and award a contract to Lucas Roofing to replace the shingle roof on the Crockett Police Station building. Lucas Roofing was the only business to submit a bid for the job.

Deer Hunt Costly For Wells Man

By Lynda Jones
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A December deer hunt turned out costly for one man. Michael W. Pruett, 34, of Wells now faces a felony charge for allegedly intentionally and knowingly take a white-tailed deer without the landowner's consent.

Game Warden Brian Heath Bragg reported the incident in a complaint filed with Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Clyde Black.
Bragg stated that Jason Sebasta, manager of the Temple Foundations North Boggy Slough hunting area, called him on Dec. 12, 2016, about finding a hole in the fence and a fresh drag mark, apparently from someone dragging a deer through the fence.

"He also advised me of a picture on Facebook of a man later identified as Michael W. Pruett with the deer in habitat that appeared to be in the same area where the hole in the fence and drag marks were," Bragg stated.

Bragg further stated that when he went to the scene the next day, he discovered hair in the fence and a heavy imprint that appeared to be where a deer was dragged from the fence into the road and onto adjacent property owned by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The USFS property is open to public hunting.

Blood also was found on some grass. Bragg reported the hair and blood were taken for DNA analysis.

On Dec. 14, 2016, Bragg stated, he made contact with Pruett at his residence in Wells.

"He (Pruett) denied killing the deer inside the fence and said he would take us to where he killed the deer," Bragg reported. "Mr. Pruett took me to an area that was obviously not the same habitat as the picture he had posted on Facebook with the deer."

"He stated that was his story and he was sticking to it," Bragg reported. "On the way back to Mr. Pruett's home, Mr. Pruett decided to tell me that he did in fact kill the deer. He gave a written confession and verbal recorded confession."

The alleged offense took place on Dec. 6 and is a State Jail Felony. Pruett was arrested on Saturday, Jan. 7, booked into the Houston County Jail and released.

Crockett Council v CEIDC Board

By Alton Porter, Courier Reporter
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After considerable discussion, Crockett City Councilmembers decided not to act at a meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, to remove any members from the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) Board of Directors.

The matter was an item for consideration and approval on the council's agenda at Monday's regular meeting. However, after discussing it at length, the councilmembers felt they needed more time to thrash it out and come to a decision.

Therefore, Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson offered a motion to table the matter and Precinct 2 Councilmember Ray Bruner seconded the motion. It passed on a unanimous vote of all four councilmembers present at the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem and Precinct 4 Councilmember Muriel Williams was absent.

In bringing the matter of possibly "removing one or more members" of the CEIDC board before the councilmembers for discussion, Mayor Robert Meadows said, "This is an item that the majority of the council has requested to be on the agenda, and it now is."

Bruner initiated the discussion, saying, "I think the question that the council is faced with is that when Mr. Flint (Flint Brent, recently resigned CEIDC executive director) and Mrs. (Suzanne) Steed (former CEIDC executive assistant) left employment with the CEIDC, they were given severance pay.

"This severance pay was reviewed by the city council. And, under the circumstances, we felt like those payments were not due. And we returned the checks and the explanation from our lawyer to the Crockett Economic Development.

"And, a couple of days later, they (CEIDC officials) decided to pay this $27,000 out of their own fund, it is my understanding. Now, you all can explain to me if I'm misquoting that, or what's going on. But, that's what's troubling the council."

Jackson chimed in, "One of the things I had an issue with was the fact that a severance package is the norm for employees. We had our department. We phased out. They received severance. But, the issue that I have with it is when employees terminate their positions, their jobs. And then, they're given money as a severance package. And, according to our city attorney, that money was not due them, due to the fact that they separated from employment themselves."

Speaking on behalf of the CEIDC board, its president, Chris von Doenhoff, said, "The employment contract that we had with the two employees – which was all we had, just two employees – was something we talked about early on when Mr. Brent got here. It took us a while before we ever did it. We were fortunate we were busy doing other things at the moment. We took care of those things."
von Doenhoff added, "We had him (Brent) enter the contract with it. And with Suzanne Steed, who had been there for 16 years or so. And yes, we submitted that for payment when they terminated. And you (Bruner) are correct. The city did not pay it. We, then, issued checks to each one of them, and they were paid. And then, Mr. (Brent) returned his money. So, 100 percent of that, we got back.

"We felt that it was a contractual obligation (and gave) them some job security, as you have with some of your department heads.

"I know, talking with Mr. Brent, after all the time he was here – six months – he was left with the feeling that you asked for him to be here, to report to you, keep you advised, keep things in the newspaper, which he did. Not once did anybody say, 'Good job. I like what you're doing. Keep it up.' He got run out."

To that, Meadows responded, speaking for himself for the record, that it isn't true that he himself ran Brent out or that no one commended him on his job performance.

"I'm telling you how he felt," von Doenhoff said.

Jackson said, "For verification, I was stunned when he (Brent) left and handed in his resignation. He and I had talked extensively about things, and I was very optimistic about his leadership (at CEIDC)."

Bruner added, "I spoke to him twice ... prior to his leaving – once up town and once in my office. We discussed things, and I was appreciative of what he had done, and I told him so.

"As I remember, we had council meeting (the evening before Brent resigned) ... and Flint was here that night. And we discussed affairs, but this was the night before he turned in his resignation. And when he spoke to us, he never mentioned anything about leaving in open session.

"We also had an executive session that night, specifically with economic development, and nothing was spoken then. So, the next morning, when he resigned and Mrs. Steed resigned, it kind of came as a shock to me that they would not even explain anything or their intentions the night before this event took place."

After further discussion by Meadows, Bruner, Jackson, Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh, von Doenhoff and City Attorney William Pemberton, during which Meadows noted that there is one vacant position on the CEIDC board, the councilmembers took their unanimous vote to table the matter.

The open position on the CEIDC board was left vacant by former Vice President James Gentry who was hired as CEIDC executive director on Dec. 5, 2016, replacing Brent whose resignation became effective on Oct. 5, 2016.

In a somewhat related matter, the councilmembers unanimously voted to appoint two new members to the CEIDC board. Those appointees are Gene Glover, who resides in the city's Precinct 5, and Kenan Noble, a resident of Precinct 3. The motion to appoint Glover and Noble to the board was made by Marsh and seconded by Jackson.

New Life Ahead For ‘Old Nursing Home’

 The “old nursing home” in Grapeland is the beneficiary of a $350,000 grant recently bestowed upon the City of Grapeland.  Once considered as a potential site for a new city hall, the grant funds will allow city officials to begin restoration of the building for sale -- which would put it back on the tax rolls -- or lease.  (Photo by Alton Porter/HCCourier) The “old nursing home” in Grapeland is the beneficiary of a $350,000 grant recently bestowed upon the City of Grapeland. Once considered as a potential site for a new city hall, the grant funds will allow city officials to begin restoration of the building for sale -- which would put it back on the tax rolls -- or lease. (Photo by Alton Porter/HCCourier)

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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The former Grapeland nursing home will see new life –- possibly serving as an assisted living facility, office building or for some other purpose –- in the not too distant future.

The now vacant building, known to city officials as "the Church Street property," located at 205 Church St., is about to undergo restoration and could be used in the future for any one of a number of purposes, according to Mayor Balis Dailey.

In its heyday, the 18,000- square-feet facility housed Grapeland Nursing Center, Inc., according to Dailey, who said the solid structure could be used for a similar purpose or some other unrelated function when restoration is completed. "It's a good piece of property, and it's very strong," Dailey said. "We want to put it back into activity. It's a building we want to make into something wonderful for the community."

The first part of the restoration will involve replacing the building's roof, which was considerably damaged by the severe rainfall and flooding last spring. Then, other repairs would need to be made to the building's air conditioning system and plumbing, Dailey said.
He said the nursing home ceased operations in the early 2000s, and the city took possession of the property around 2011.

After housing the nursing home, the building was occupied by Talent Sharing, Inc., and Texas Conservatory of Church, Dailey said.
"We tried to use it as a civic center at one time," he noted. "We tried to use it as a little training center where people had it and did such things as teach music lessons in it. And then, it just got in disrepair, and they took all the things out of it. So, it was just an abandoned building...."

Then, "what happened was that we started getting those floods" which "started coming down in it and made it unusable," he said.
Dailey added, "the roof let go on it. It was an old, old roof" on the building, which was built back around 1967. "That made it pretty bad, with all that rain that came in and flooded it," he said.

As a result, Dailey said, "We were able to get ($350,000 in) disaster relief funds. And those funds are about enough to allow us to put a new roof on it. And then, we're just going to work on it and restore it.

"We're going to have two options, and we're going to pursue both of them. The first option is to put (the property) up for sale to get it back on the tax rolls. And the second one is to lease it. Either way.

"We would love for somebody to come back in and pursue putting it back into use, maybe as an assisted living facility because it's made for that. It has all the things set up. It has the call centers and all the things still intact that are pretty much used for assisted living."

Another possible use of the facility could be converted for is that of an office building, Dailey said. "That was one of the options of leasing it," he explained. "Those rooms (in the facility) would lend themselves for nice offices. We would entertain that if somebody wanted to have an office in there.

"We would love to have people come in and lease the rooms as offices. We could do any of those things. If we had people wanting to do it, I think we could make them a good deal. We could work with them and fix their office space up and get it ready and have good tenants. The wings also make it absolutely a super place for offices, and the hallways are huge. Every room has a window in it."

"We would love for people to contact us if they want to have their business here in Grapeland. We would be excited."

Dailey added, "It would make wonderful office spaces for people who want to come in, or even governmental agencies that would like to have satellite offices. It would be great for a college for night school. Of course, we already have that in Crockett, but the rooms are set up in that way. They are individual rooms and they are perfect for little classrooms. And then there's a larger area where they had their dining room and recreational area. That makes it convenient for something like that."

"We hope to have the roof replaced by June or July," Dailey said. He said an architectural and environmental study must first be done. Then, an engineering assessment must be completed to make sure there's no problem with the roof structure. "And then, we'll get started, he said. "I'm thinking just in my estimation – I don't have a schedule from anybody – we'll get started replacing the roof in March. There are a number of things we have to do, and it takes a little time getting them all checked off."

"That (replacing the roof) is our main project right now. And then, we have a scheduled list of projects that we want to go through, which will include revamping the air conditioning system, revamping the electrical and revamping the plumbing. Then, we'll redo the floors. We'll do these when the funds become available. Or, if we get a tenant in there, then we'll go and do those things we need to do."

Dailey said the source of the grant funds for the project is the federal Community Development Block Grant program administered in Texas by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

He said Grapeland city officials applied for the grant within just four days after being given a heads up on the availability of the funds by former Houston County Judge Erin Ford in October. And the city received its grant award letter in December.

"It normally takes a long time (to apply for and receive such grants)," Dailey said. "It came under our disaster relief funding. So, we were able to get them to look at that. And were able to get it in, and it was one of those things where funding came available at a late minute. In other words, it was like we had already missed (the application filing period).

"And so, we kind of missed all that stuff. And then, all of a sudden, they ended up with a little bit of extra money. And that money became available, but you had only a short period of time to apply for it. Normally, it takes you a lot longer, but fortunately we were able to get the engineering done and do all the other aspects required to get the application in, and we were lucky enough (to get it done).

"I think there were 16 applicants or so, and I believe they chose three or four to fund. And we were one of those that got chosen."

Thanks, But No Thanks

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
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Judge-Jim-Lovell-for-webAfter receiving advice from the county's delinquent tax attorney, Houston County commissioners revisited the matter of whether to accept an offer from Zilkha Biomass Energy Crockett LLC (Zilkha) to donate its Crockett facility to the county and unanimously voted not to accept the offer and property.

The commissioners took the action at a regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 27, reaffirming a position they were leaning toward at the previous meeting on Dec. 13, when – after discussion – they tabled the matter for further research to obtain more information.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen offered the motion to decline the offer at the Dec. 27 meeting, and County Judge Jim Lovell seconded it, after the commissioners heard from Attorney Tab Beall of Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott LLP, who spoke at the meeting.
Zilkha executives recently extended the offer to donate the company's 13.125-acre wood pellet fuel manufacturing facility to the county in lieu of paying its 2016 property tax bill. Zilkha owes more than $290,000 in 2016 property taxes to Houston County, the City of Crockett and the Crockett Independent School District. More than $75,000 of the total is owed to the county.

Zilkha previously attempted to donate the property to the city, but city officials also declined to accept the offer.

The county commissioners first took the matter up for discussion and possible action at the Dec. 13 meeting, and it was at that time that County Tax Assessor-Collector Danette Millican informed them of the amount of Zilkha's 2016 tax bill.

After discussing the matter and leaning toward declining the offer, the commissioners felt they needed more information before they could make an informed decision and unanimously voted to table the matter.
Bringing the matter back before the court on Dec. 27, Lovell said, "We were all going to kind of research this a little more. We tabled it at the last commissioners court meeting.

"I talked with a gentleman who was wanting to buy (the property), which would solve everything. I talked with him again this morning and he doesn't think he's going to get it done. But, he thinks they're about to sell it to someone else. All of that's hearsay, not fact. All we're looking at is whether or not to accept it as a donation. Does anybody have any discussion on that?"
Noting that he was the one who offered the motion to table the matter at the Dec. 13 meeting in order "to gather more information," Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum said, the information he wanted to gather pertained to what it would take to lay a rail spur to the facility (to enhance its usefulness). But, a rail spur would cost way more money than the county wants to spend, after I got to checking it out, he said."
Lovell added, "And there are $290,701.09 in taxes owed on it for the year 2016, of which $75,726.74 are county taxes. So, (if) we were considering accepting (it), that (the taxes) would have to be taken care of, as I understand it."

Beall explained that there are two statutes in the Texas Tax Code that deal with this matter. The first one, he said, provides for a "medium of payment, and the medium of payment is money." "You really aren't supposed to accept property in lieu of taxes," he said.

"The idea being that your county budget is based upon paying your employees and your vendors with money, not giving them bartered goods or whatever property you may have. So, that's the reason for that provision in the Tax Code."

Beall added, "There's a second section in the code that allows for you to accept property. But, procedurally, it has to go to the district with the biggest levy, which in this case, would be Crockett ISD. So, Houston County shouldn't even accept the property.

"But, the school (district, if it accepted the property,) could then convey it to the county. And then, you'd have to essentially buy the property from the city and the school (district)....

"So, I guess my legal advice to you is if you want to acquire the property, buy it outright. Go into executive session and discuss the purchase of real estate. Don't accept it as a gift because it poses all kinds of problems."
Beall continued, "Separately, and it's kind of related, they (Zilkha representatives) filed a suit against the (Houston County) Appraisal District challenging the market value of the property. And that's just another X factor out there in terms of them deeding the property to you (and) what it does to that lawsuit. And it would have the potential for a worst case scenario, setting a standard that would allow them to recover attorney fees from you for the suit that they filed against the Appraisal District. So, you don't want that to happen.

"Finally, the nightmare scenario is, you don't want somebody with toxic waste property to deed it to the county to get rid of a problem that they don't want to deal with.

"So, my advice to you is, if you want to buy the property, separately negotiate with them to buy it. But, don't accept it in lieu of taxes because it creates all kinds of problems. Not to mention the fact that the Tax Code doesn't allow it just as a wholesale quip pro quo acceptance of the property in lieu of paying taxes."

After Beall concluded giving his advice, Lovell thanked him and commented, "Well, that pretty well says it for us, unless we want to go into executive session and consider buying it. I don't think that we're there. This might be off the table anyway if they're negotiating with someone to buy (the property)."

At that point, Kitchen chimed in, offering his motion, reaffirming the position the commissioners appeared to be leaning toward at the Dec. 13 meeting, suggesting that the commissioners not accept Zilkha's donation offer and ending discussion on the matter.

After the motion was seconded by Lovell, all four commissioners and Lovell acted in unison in a show of hands vote to pass it, finalizing their decision to decline to accept Zilkha's offer to donate its property to the county in lieu of payment of property taxes.