AUSTIN – State Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) has been appointed to the newly created Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
Along with the other committee members, Ashby's role will be to assess the economic benefit provided by state and local incentive programs and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of those programs.
"I'm certainly honored to have been selected to serve on this particular committee, as it deals with an issue that I know is important to rural Texas," Ashby said. "Economic development and job creation has been, and continues to be a priority across our district. I'm excited because through this appointment I will be able to roll my sleeves up and dig into our state's economic incentive programs to see which programs and policies are working as intended."
The committee will determine the types of economic development projects that offer the most benefit to the state and suggest opportunities on meaningful reforms. It will also discuss how to make programs more efficient.
"While other states are working aggressively to ramp up their own economies, Texas has become the frontrunner in job creation," Ashby said. "My goal on this committee will be to continue that success, while promoting programs that value taxpayer dollars, and making sure that rural Texas does not get overlooked."
Straus, who has prioritized efficiency and transparency so far during the interim, said taxpayers deserve to have incentive programs looked at carefully.
"We owe it to taxpayers to take a detailed look at what has worked and what can be improved," Straus said. "Some incentive programs may need retooling and others may have outlived their usefulness. I'm confident that this committee can supply the answers that will help the full House prepare to address this issue in next year's session."
Ashby added that the state's ability to attract businesses cannot be tied to inefficient or unproductive incentives.
"Taxpayers in Texas deserve transparency and efficiency," Ashby said. "I think everyone agrees that we have to continue to grow our economy and present a viable and appealing business climate that attracts job creators and fosters economic opportunity. But there is no reason we cannot do those things while eliminating wasteful spending on incentives that no longer produce or eradicating policies that do not prove to be worthwhile for Texas taxpayers."
In a recent interview, Houston County Veterans Service Officer Fred Newtz said about 2,700, or 10% of the Houston County population, veterans live in Houston County.
Earlier this month, Waymon Vest expressed dismay about an incident involving a 94-year-old WWII veteran in Houston County, a Pearl Harbor survivor. The Courier unsuccessfully attempted to contact the veteran's wife to confirm the visitor's account of the situation. The veteran passed away last weekend.
According to Vest, the veteran recently was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in Temple. He then was scheduled for an appointment the day after his discharge, requiring another trip to Temple and transportation arrangements.
Newtz was asked about this incident, and if he receives many complaints about the VA health system.
While he did not speak about the VA hospital in Temple nor the number of complaints he receives, Newtz did say that he works closely with the VA staff at the clinic in Lufkin. (It would be a violation of the HIPPA patient confidentiality law for Newtz or the VA Hospital to discuss a specific patient.)
Newtz said any problem he has addressed with the Lufkin facility has always been corrected within 24 hours.
He further said that many people do not understand that the VA functions similarly to a private HMO or PPO insurance plan.
Patients have primary care physicians, and if they require a specialist, the primary care physician makes the referral.
Houston County veterans may go to the Palestine VA Clinic for blood work, for example, which is sent elsewhere for testing, and then after about a week when the results are back, they are scheduled for another appointment.
He noted that the VA Hospital in Houston is a hub that sees thousands of veterans each year, and that there are a number of clinics and satellites that service veterans within its territory. Newtz frequently takes Houston County veterans to out-of-county medical appointments. If a veteran needs assistance, he or she may contact him at the Houston County Courthouse Annex on Goliad Ave. His phone number is 936-544-3255, ext. 315.
According to a recent audit by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the average wait time for an established patient to see a primary care physician is 7.60 days, while the average wait time for a new patient is 49.86 days at the VA Hospital in Temple. (The audit is based on data from May 15.)
The average wait time for a specialty care appointment for a new patient in Temple (Those who have not been seen there in the previous 24 months) is 54.25 days and the average wait time for an established patient is 5.46 days.
For a new patient (one who has not been seen before in Temple in the previous 24 months), the average wait time for a mental health appointment is 35.89 days; for an established patient the wait is 2.97 days.
The audit also showed Temple had 458 appointments were scheduled between 91-120 days of the reference date (i.e.; create date for new patients and desired date for established patients) and 146 appointments were scheduled beyond 120 days. Three patients had been on the Electronic Wait List for Temple more than 120 days, according to the VHA audit. By comparison, the VA Hospital in Houston had 103 appointments scheduled between 91-120 days and 110 appointments scheduled beyond 120 days. None had been on the Electronic Wait List for more than 120 days, according to the audit.
With its release of the audit results, the Veterans Administration stated that it already has begun contacting and scheduling all veterans who are waiting for care in VA clinics or arranging for veterans' access.
On Tuesday, June 10, at the American Medical Association (AMA) annual conference, Texas and Florida physicians urged immediate governmental action to enable American veterans to access health care they need outside of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs system.
AMA's governing body passed the proposal.
According to a press release issued by the Texas Medical Association (TMA), "The resolution calls for "the President of the United States (to) take immediate action to provide timely access to health care for eligible veterans utilizing the health care sector outside the Veterans Administration" until (the) VA can provide health care in a timely fashion. The physicians also called for Congress to pass a bipartisan, long-term solution to ensure veterans can receive timely health care.
The AMA house also voted to "encourage all physicians to participate, when needed, in the health care of veterans."
"Our veterans have stepped up and served our country, so physicians want to be able to step in and serve them," said Austin I. King, MD, TMA's president. "It is tragic that our veterans have been forced to wait for the health care they need and deserve, so Texas physicians and our colleagues across the nation want to help care for them until the VA can right the ship."
During a special called meeting on Wednesday, June 11, the Crockett City Council first selected Mayor Pro Tem and Pct. 2 Councilmember Robert Meadows to be the next mayor of Crockett. As Meadows then assumed his new duties, the council took action towards filling the position of city administrator.
At the city council's regular meeting on June 2, council members discussed comprehensive proposals received from Dallas-based Waters & Company (W&C)and Keller-based Strategic Government Resources (SGR). A third proposal, one from Austin-based Ray Associates, Inc., was received the day of the meeting, so council members voted to table a decision on the issue until Wednesday's meeting to allow more time to study all three proposals.
After Wednesday's discussion, the council voted 3-2 in favor of contracting with Ray Associates, Inc. to lead the search for viable city administrator candidates.
Pct. 1 Councilmember Chris Gunnels and Pct. 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh voted "yes" while Pct. 3 Councilmember Larry Robbins and Precinct 4 Councilmember Muriel Williams voted "no".
Meadows cast the tie-breaking vote, in favor of Ray Associates.
The firm's professional fee will be $15,000 plus "reimbursement of necessary and reasonable expenses of the search". The firm expects the engagement to take three months to complete. If the successful candidate for the position leaves the City of Crockett within 180 days of the date of hire, Ray Associates will reinitiate the search and selection process without additional professional fees.
References included the cities of Boerne, Bastrop, Granite Shoals and Highland Village.
On Friday, June 6, shortly before midnight, officers with the Crockett Police Department were notified of a high speed vehicle pursuit that was heading toward Crockett, reported CPD Sgt. Clayton Smith. Officers with the department positioned their patrol units to help divert the driver around the West Loop 304 away from the populated areas of the City of Crockett.
"Due to the driver's erratic driving he blew through the road block nearly striking an officer and continued to flee," Smith alleged. "The driver and his passengers were able to gain some ground on the officers pursuing and later stopped the vehicle and fled on foot. Additional units from the Crockett Police Department were notified and responded to the location."
Smith continued, "The area was flooded with officers from the Crockett Police Department, Houston County Sheriff's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Crockett Fire Department and Huntsville Police Department." Approximately three hours later the suspects were located, after a concerned citizen called in reporting that two suspicious male subjects stopped him and asked, "Where are we at?"
That citizen called the HCSO to report the incident and that alerted officers to the suspect's location, Smith explained.
"Officers with the Crockett Police Department made contact with four black male subjects that were found hiding behind a residence in the 700 block of Terrell St. in Crockett," Smith said. The suspects later were identified as three male juveniles from Houston and one adult male (Derrick Patterson, 17, B/M) from Houston, according to Smith's statement.
Crockett Police Department detectives were called to the scene to interview the four suspects. After further investigation the three juvenile males were transported to the Anderson County Juvenile Detention Center in Palestine and Patterson was transported to the Houston County Jail.
Charges include Evading Arrest or Detention, Theft of Firearm, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle and Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. The suspects also have charges pending out of Walker and Trinity Counties.
In a 3-1 vote during a special called meeting Wednesday morning, June 11, the Crockett City Council voted to appoint Precinct 2 Councilmember and Mayor Pro tem Robert Meadows as Mayor of the City Council. Meadows will serve the remainder of the term vacated by former Mayor Wayne Mask on Monday, June 2. That term will expire in May 2015. Precinct 1 Councilmember Chris Gunnels nominated Meadows for the position and Precinct 4 Photo by Lynda JonesCouncilmember Muriel Williams seconded the motion. Precinct 3 Councilman Larry Robbins cast the dissenting vote without comment. In addition to Gunnels and Williams, Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh voted in favor of Meadows. After the vote, Meadows said, "Thank you, Council, for your confidence. I'll do my best." After the meeting was adjourned, Interim City Administrator Mitzi Thompson administered the Oath of Office to Meadows in her office at City Hall. The city council will appoint someone during its regular meeting Monday, June 16, at 6 p.m. to fill the remainder of Meadows' term as councilman for Precinct 2.
(Additional action taken at Wednesday's meeting will be reported in the Sunday, June 15 Houston County Courier.)
After an insurance adjuster from Frankston made contact with high power electrical lines in downtown Crockett Wednesday afternoon, June 4, the Crockett Volunteer Fire Department sped to the scene with Ladder 1 and successfully brought the man down. The large view above shows the yellow arm of the elevated cage that contained the man. The inset shows three CVFD firefighters stablizing the man for transfer from the bucket down the ladder. ETMC EMS paramedics were waiting below with a stretcher. (Photos by Kim Duhon)
A Frankston man is in Parkland Hospital in Dallas recovering from a harrowing experience in downtown Crockett Wednesday afternoon, June 4.
Richard Watson, 63, is an insurance adjuster who was attempting to inspect damage to a roof when he made contact twice with a high voltage electrical wire above the building.
The insurance company reportedly no longer allows its adjusters to use extension ladders, so Watson was in an elevated cage above the roof. Witnesses said that as Watson stood up, his head made contact with the live wire that reportedly was carrying about 7,200 volts of electricity.
One eyewitness said she saw flames shoot up as Watson made contact. Another eyewitness reported the bucket actually made the first contact.
A third eyewitness reported she saw an orange and red glow, like the sun, around Watson and then he began shaking.
At one point Watson fell, drawing screams from the crowd of onlookers that had gathered on the east side lawn of the Houston County Courthouse. foot and lower leg apparently caught on one of the bars of the cage, preventing him from falling all the way down to the concrete ground below, but leaving him suspended upside down until Crockett volunteer firefighters could reach him and pull him back into the cage.
Before the firefighters could get to the man, the power in the live wire had to be shut off.
Personnel from the Houston County Electric Cooperative came and turned off the power while waiting for Oncor to arrive.
When it was safe to do so, three firefighters made their way up from Ladder 1. According to witness reports, Watson had received two jolts of potentially deadly electricity. It appeared that at least one jolt exited out the lower part of one of Watson's legs.
Onlookers said they feared for the man's life and they feared for the lives of the firefighters who rescued him. There was concern that any or all of them could fall out of the cage while they were stablizing Watson and securing him to the sled that would carry him down the ladder.
As they all reached the ground, onlookers cheered and applauded. Watson was transferred onto a stretcher and into a waiting ETMC EMS ambulance that took him to the helio-pad outside ETMC Crockett. He was flown directly to the hospital in Dallas for treatment of his burns.
Watson was upgraded from Critical to Serious Condition Thursday afternoon, but he remains in ICU. Current reports suggest Watson's injuries are not as severe as first thought, that there was no apparent muscle damage and the burns to his face are superficial. Sources say Watson is "progressing remarkably".
Ellen McCreight, who owns the business with the roof damage, has stayed in contact with Mark Taylor, who is in Dallas. Taylor is Watson's regional supervisor, she explained.
McCreight relayed a message from Taylor. She said Taylor wants to thank everybody in Crockett, including the CVFD, all other responders and the business owners for all of their work during the rescue.
Agencies, businesses and officials responding to the scene, in addition to the fire department, included the Crockett Police Department, the Houston County Sheriff's Office, ETMC EMS, Culpepper Electric, Houston County Electric Cooperative, Oncor, Constable Precinct 2, Houston County Judge Erin Ford and Crockett City Councilman Chris Gunnels.
As the crowd dispersed, onlookers declared the Crockett firefighters were true heroes during the crisis.
One said she was going to go home and bake cookies to take to the CVFD on Thursday. She also suggested a fundraiser so the fire department can purchase an inflatable landing device to catch someone if they are not so lucky in the future and fall.