LIVINGSTON – The creation of a public defender’s office in Polk County to replace the current court-appointed attorney system was examined Tuesday by the Polk County Commissioners Court but the idea was shelved for the time being pending further study.
Edwin Colfax, grant program manager for the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, presented a proposal under which the state would provide grant funds to pay 50 percent of the program costs over a four-year period. He estimated that the grant would provide about $1 million during the transition period.
Currently, criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney have one appointed by the local judges at county expense. Under the public defender system, a new county department would be set up in which the county would hire a full-time staff of attorneys to represent the indigent defendants.
Colfax noted a study in Wichita County indicated the public defender system that was put into place saved that county money but added there was no guarantee that it would be as effective in Polk County.
“And you would not be getting rid of the court-appointed aspect,” he said. “In cases where you have multiple defendants, legal ethics would prevent the public defender’s office from representing more than one of them. You would still have to appoint attorneys for the others.”
He did note that what the county would receive is more control over the process, which would help prevent criminal defendants from “falling through the cracks” and remaining in the county jail for longer than necessary.
County Judge Sydney Murphy noted that keeping people locked up in the county jail for extended periods can often not only be unfair to the defendant but a burden on taxpayers who must foot the bill for the jail inmate.
She noted that last year the county spent $786,000 on indigent defense, but noted that included expenses for Child Protective Service cases, interpreters, expert witnesses and other costs the county would have to cover regardless of which defense system is being used. It was noted Texas law would not allow the public defender’s office to be involved with CPS cases.
After Colfax’s presentation, County Court at Law Judge Tom Brown, 258th District Judge Ernie McClendon and 411th District Judge Kaycee Jones all voiced their opposition to creating a public defender’s office at this time.
Brown noted he and the other judges have been working to help control the indigent defense costs and are not convinced the public defender’s office is the way to go.
He added the current system allows the judges to utilized attorneys that are experienced in the type of cases they are being appointed to represent. He pointed out a defense attorney handling a sexual assault cases needs more experience than one asked to represent someone charged with simple possession of marijuana.
“If you have a public defender’s office, what you will get is one chief public defender with some experience and four or five assistants who are right out of law school,” he said.
Brown noted that one of the most common grounds for an appeal of a criminal conviction is the defendant was not adequately represented and without having experienced attorneys the chances of those appeals being granted could increase.
“I am not opposed to having a public defender’s office in the future, but I do think we need more study,” Jones added Murphy noted an indigent defense plan put in place by the judges in the fall seems to be working and helping to reduce costs. She did suggest a quarterly meeting between the judges, law enforcement officials, local defense attorneys and others be set up to review how things are proceeding.
After Brown, Jones and McClendon outlined the process they utilize in appointing attorneys and then how they follow up to make sure the lawyers are doing the work for which they are billing the county, Murphy and the commissioners expressed their gratitude. “This is information that we needed,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis said. “I had no idea how that was being handled.”
District clerk’s update In other discussion, District Clerk Bobbye Richards provided commissioners with an update on changes being made in her office since her appointment seven months ago.
She noted that with the exception of a few accounts dating back to the 1990s, all of the excess funds owed to local school districts have been paid and a new system has been put into place to make sure the payments are made in a timely manner in the future. The excess funds involve money collected on the sale of property seized for the non-payment of taxes. Any amount of money over the amount owed for taxes is classified as excess funds and is held by the district clerk to give the former owner of the property a chance to claim it. If after two years it is not claimed, it is divided among the various taxing entities that had an interest in that particular piece of property. Two years ago the local school districts complained the excess funds had not been issued to the schools for well over a decade. This complaint led to a Texas Attorney General’s investigation and the resignation of former District Clerk Kathy Clifton. Richards said Tuesday the accounts from the 1990s are still being traced because those records are all on paper rather than computer files and it is taking longer to identify if money is owned and to which taxing entity. At present, her office is holding $400,000 in excess funds seized over the past two years and Richards said they can begin disbursing that money to the schools starting in July. Richards also reported work has progressed in other areas, with $30,000 in old, expired bonds being returned and $47,000 in money held for minors being issued to them after they reached legal age. “The county also earned $9,700 in administrative fees for these accounts,” she said. Other business During the meeting, commissioners also: -- Received a report from Jerry Hathorn of the Polk County Health Advisory Coalition regarding the Healthy Polk County program. At present the program is seeking to reduce the number of hospital stays and costs for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure and diabetes. While the data on of hospital stays and costs will not be available from the state until March or April, Hathorn reported that the number of local clients taking advantage of the program increased last year. -- Authorized the replacement of old railroad culverts with Texas Department of Transportation approved culverts on the Plant Road project near Corrigan. The county and the City of Corrigan are currently working together to upgrade Plant Road into a farm-to-market highway, at which point TxDOT has agreed to take over its maintenance. -- Authorized the Precinct 4 road and bridge department to advertise for the purchase of a backhoe and front-end loader. -- Approved the sale of nine pieces of property seized for the non-payment of taxes. -- Approved a request to purchase a new security door for the Precinct 4 justice of the peace office.
CORRIGAN – Construction contracts have been signed and work on the football stadium stands will get underway during spring break, Corrigan-Camden School Superintendent Sherry Hughes reported last week.
During last week’s meeting of the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District’s board, Hughes provided an update on upgrades being made as a result of last’s years voter approval of a bond issue.
She said all the cameras have been installed on the busses and the new system has both front and rear-facing cameras. The handicap lift for the stage also should be ready in time for the graduation ceremonies.
Hughes also announced the formation of a committee of citizens, educators and paraprofessionals that will meet with facilitators from Region VI for the purpose of determining a mission statement and goals of the district. In addition, a community outreach effort will now have students cleaning up a section of Highway 287 quarterly.
During principals reports, the primary school named Aleta Meshell as teacher of the second six-week grading period and Susan Hubbard paraprofessional of the period. TPRI and OWL assessments are compete and student needs in specific areas identified before the spring testing.
On Feb. 25, the school will participate in “Read the Most Coast to Coast,” a yearly event where students read all day long and log their book numbers on a national data base. It is sponsored by the Accelerated Reader Program.
Corrigan Elementary School reported enrolment of 209 students. The Homework Help Program has increased the number of participants serving over 20 students every Tuesday and Thursday, with two certified teachers stay each time to help students.
The fourth grade attended a play in Crockett about Rosa Parks and the fifth grade attended a re-enactment of the Civil War Battle of Blackjack Grove in Groveton. This is the first time the classes have attended either of these events.
Report card pickup will be March 3 and spring beak will be March 7 to 11.
The Junior High had 11 students in ISS, the second highest month of the school year. A total of 43 students made the “A” honor roll and 21 made the “AB” list. There are 106 students that are active in athletics and 55 in the band program, and a total enrolment figure of 206 for the sixth week reporting period.
The high school reported enrollment of 260 students. The winter flu brought attendance down to 93.85 percent. There were 21 students that made the all “A” honor roll with over 60 making the “AB” (more “A”’s than “B”’s for the six-week reporting period).
The band enjoyed its trip to San Antonio to participate in the Texas Music Educators Association conference where they joined fellow musicians from around the state viewing and playing some of the finest instruments made.
Teacher of the six weeks is Angela Purvis, a sophomore English teacher.
State Representative James White was in Corrigan at a citizen town meeting at city hall and dropped in to the board meeting. He told board members that the state legislature is working to sustain and improve the current educational system.
He said he reminds fellow lawmakers that they all received their education under the present system and it has served them well. They just need to fix and improve what we already have in place.
White’s comments were germane since Hughes reported to the board that the district has completed the Charter School Statement of Impact forms. There have been only one or two known withdrawals to attend programs such as Harmony or other Home School systems.
Under action items, the board approved the minutes of the January meeting, ordered an election for May 7 for trustees, appointed Linda Parrish as election judge and passed an interlocal agreement for voting equipment with the Polk County clerk’s office.
The board also approved the sale of two properties in the Chester area from the delinquent tax rolls. Both were above the 25 percent of appraised value as required by local policy.
They discussed the re-alignment of UIL teams for 2016-18. Hughes said Frankston is asking to be removed from the zone due to the travel distance and that Corrigan may have difficulty finding an opponent for an open fall date with both Groveton and Diboll not scheduling their usual games for the coming year.
The district has made preliminary plans to attend the Texas Association of Rural School Districts meeting in Fort Worth this summer for board training. It is more in line with the needs of Corrigan than the Texas Association of School Boards, which they have attended for the past two summers.
The early resignation incentive program has resulted in 10 teachers accepting the terms, seven to retire, two moving to other districts, and one leaving the profession for the business world.
This announcement will allow staff to make selections and searches to replace those where necessary.
After an executive session, the board instructed Hughes to enter into an earnest money contract for approximately three acres that borders the north side of the campus. Pending the survey and title search, they will complete the transaction. Junior high students who participated in UIL academic events in Livingston last week were recognized and awarded their medals and ribbons.
They were: Lazoria Miles - fifth place Ready Writing - sixth grade Gisele Martinez - first place Maps Graphs and Charts - sixth grade Maritza Heredia - sixth place Maps Graphs and Charts - sixth place Jackson Kilgore - first place ArtSmart - seventh grade Micah Hughes - sixth place Calculator Applications and sixth place Number Sense - seventh grade Cole Casper – first place Calculator Application and fourth place Mathematics -seventh grade Kylie Hight - third place Editorial Writing - seventh grade Angelina Alvarez – second place Editorial Writing and second Spelling - seventh grade Myranda Mercado - fifth place Editorial Writing - seventh grade James Hight - fifth place Maps Graphs Charts and fifth place Number Sense - seventh grade Aleah White - fourth place Number Sense - seventh grade competed at eighth grade level Analysa Caskey - second place Ready Writing - seventh grade Marissa Acevedo - fourth place Ready Writing - seventh grade Kanaisha Moore - sixth place Listening Skills - seventh grade Felicity McGinnis - sixth place Spelling - seventh grade Cameron Scott - first place Dictionary Skills - seventh grade Javier Gallegos - sixth place Dictionary Skills - seventh grade Jorge Vargas-Venegas - second place Dictionary Skills - seventh grade Avery Miller - fourth place Social Studies - seventh grade Mykal Vera - fifth place Calculator Applications - eighth grade Zaya’Tron Thomas-Tucker - second place Calculator Application - eighth grade Kobi Poage - fourth place Listening Skills and first place Science II - eighth grade Brianna Monroe - sixth place Number Sense - eighth grade Riley Fisher - first place Spelling - eighth grade Richard Thomas - fifth place spelling - eighth grade Abigail Anastacio - fourth place Dictionary Skills - eighth grade
GOODRICH -- After each side had an opportunity to speak in county commissioners court over the past month, the Holiday Lake Estates Civic Club and Holiday Lake Estates Volunteer Fire Department met to discuss the possible renewal of a lease.
Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy attended the meeting with the hopes of addressing an ongoing problem in Polk County.
“What I’d like for you to think about is where you want to be in 10 years,” Murphy said to a gathering of approximately 40 people. “In 10 years, where do you want to be as a community? I can tell you where you want to be, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want your civic club, but you want to have a volunteer fire department also.”
Murphy told those in attendance that the decision was theirs to make, but did offer suggestions. The volunteer fire department needs one acre of land. Murphy suggested that everyone in the community pool their resources to purchase what is necessary. Murphy also suggested the civic club offer a 99-year lease on one acre so the two could remain independent from one another. “If you find a way to be separate and independent, and allow the volunteer fire department to operate however they choose, that will allow the civic club to proceed as they see fit. Either way, you need both. You want both organizations to be healthy. My hope would be that you start thinking of good positive solutions instead of rehashing.”
The civic club and volunteer fire department have drawn up several leases, none of which have been agreed upon. Civic Club Chairman Jeff Anderson said the original lease that was signed by he and Fire Chief Bobby Bidwell two years ago had wording that some people, including the club’s attorney, did not like.
The volunteer fire department and civic club are separate entities and the only thing that held the two together was the lease. One of the leases previously presented was a triple net lease that the fire department refused, and a spokesperson for the fire department said they would never sign.
Anderson said the largest reason for the problems have been insurance.
According to Murphy, a 99-year lease on a one-acre plot of land would solve the problem, allowing the fire departments to operate separately. The civic club would retain ownership of the land if the fire department were to ever dissolve.
At meeting’s end, the volunteer fire department presented Anderson and the civic club with a proposed lease agreement for their review.
LIVINGSTON -- Janan Moore presented the Texas Academic Performance Report, which showed Livingston schools just behind the state average in a few areas. Livingston is also a bit behind the state average in sending students to college.
The problem has been addressed, as students are receiving additional help in subjects they have fallen behind. Students will also receive extra education when starting school, as the pre-K classes have gone to all day.
"I know that change is difficult and some of the initiatives we are engaging in are challenging, but when you look at the data, you can't argue with it," Livingston Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said. "It is the right thing to do. Our kids deserve to be at or above the state average. The kids a graduate from Livingston High School have the opportunity to graduate with 60 college hours. We have a lot of work to do and it's not going to be easy. It goes back to the curriculum audit that we had. We know what the problems are. Are we willing to pay the price and make the changes?"
The Roy O. Martin Lumber Company has begun a program at Corrigan-Camden High with plans that will soon extend to Livingston, Diboll and Jasper.
The name of the program is "woodworks" and is an educational opportunity for students to get a job interview after graduation. The program has been in place for nearly a decade in Louisiana, with around 10 schools participating.
A 30-week lesson will expose students to forestry, safety, employability skills, tools and equipment, product development and basic math. The students that complete the course will receive a certificate. Right now, 30 percent of employees at the plants are going through the program.
In other business, Kip Robins discussed phone needs for the district. The technology department has taken over the phone system. In the past, the district received discounted rates for the phones through E-Rate, however, those savings will be cut in the future. Robbins said the district could save money by using technology available instead of all the phone lines that exist today. The school currently has
One solution is to install an in-house system where it is managed by the school. The cost savings would be around 60-75 percent. Another solution would be using digital lines, decreasing the number of phone lines, with a cost savings of around 25 percent. The district currently has 208 phone lines.
CORRIGAN – The base bid and one alternate were approved by the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District's board for security and handicapped access upgrades approved last year by voters.
During their January meeting, the board met with Mark Strong,with Gallagher Construction for the discussion and action on bids for work covered by the bond issue.
Superintendent Sherry Hughes explained there was a base proposal covering the majority of the electrical, fire monitoring, handicapped upgrades, new stands and covered walkways, plus the security systems and monitoring equipment.
In addition to the base bid, there were three alternate bids to be considered after the final costs are realized with the remaining bond funds. The first project had a preliminary bid of $60,000, which came in at $120,000 when finally submitted and has been set aside for more research. The second alternate was the repair and reworking of the door between the cafeteria and gym and third was the remodeling and necessary upgrading of the faculty restrooms at the high school.
After discussion, the board voted to fund the base proposal and alternate three as essential. Other items will be evaluated after the major work is complete and the board determines that funds are available for the work.
Strong said they would work on the stands during the spring break.
The total bids are $2 million and will leave some funds after completion to be used for the other projects, and depending on some costs, there may be additional savings realized.
In other action, with the purchase of school busses now an eight-month process to have one built and ready for delivery, the board authorized ordering a Thomas bus for the bid price of $95,000. Funding will be determined when delivery time arrives in August or September. Whether it comes from fund balances or bond money will be decided by the board.
Hughes also reported that they now have a second special needs student bus. The district had students stranded last semester when the special needs bus broke down and the transportation department was offered a used two-passenger fully equipped bus for $7,100.
In principals' reports, the high school reported that the gifted and talented class is starting an "Hour of Code" program to explore simple computer programming.
The Tech Team traveled to the Apple Store in the Woodlands and learned about becoming an Apple team member and possibly an Apple employee. They played with the newest Apple products and new Microsoft products. Upon returning to campus, they installed iMacs in the Primary school, which had been given to the school for free.
In the UIL competition in January, current issues was won by the team of Jorge Felix, Mary Duran and Reed. Spelling and vocabulary had second-place team of Kathryn Suittle, Marianna Venegas and Maria Farfan. Calculator applications team took second place and was composed of Gladys Felipe, Jessica Anastacio and Shelby Walker. In ready writing, Bradley Cavanaugh took sixth.
The board also learned the band instruments are being delivered and the musicians are elated. They will participate in the TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) conference, one of the largest in the United States, where they will collaborate with other musicians and play some of the finest instruments made and played with world-class musicians.
The junior high reported attendance of 209, down from 215 at the start of school. There are 56 girls and 55 boys competing in athletics, 64 in band there were 36 "A" honor roll students and 38 "AB" honor roll students. Seven are in ISS (in school suspension) and two in DAEP (alternative education program), attendance was at 97.26 percent.
The elementary school had one first place in UIL competition. Eva Perez won in dictionary skills. Second place winners were Sabine Snyder, Aden Stanley and Anthony Harrell. Third place went to Kathryn Fisher and Michael Sullivan. Fourth place was earned by Gavyn Bradford, Shaun Chancellor, Morgan Rayborn, Lauren Woodard. In fifth place was Corbiltt Brogden, Braylan Harrell, Gabriel Vera, Omar Vera and sixth place was Carrie Burns, Julio Guerrero, Daliyah Reagie and Kallen. Leslie Ricks was campus coordinator. Primary school student Klaridy Vera was fourth in story telling and Andrea Ramirez placed fourth in creative writing. They are administering the OWL (Ontology Web Language) to pre-K students assessing their skill level. Staff development is using the Fundamental Five, Framing the Lesson, Power Zone, Recognize and Reinforce, Small Group Purposeful Talk and Critical Writing to improve classroom instruction.
The board approved the December minutes and also approved the third reading the contents of update 103 BF (Local) board policies. They also approved the final amounts for 2015-16 Notice of grant award.
Results of the early retirement program show that eight teachers will be leaving C-CISD after the term ends in June, six are retiring, one moving closer to family and one leaving the profession to try the private sector. These announcements will allow the administration to either fill or re-designate teachers to fill positions.
After an executive session the board extended the contract of Superintendent Sherry Hughes for one additional year and authorized her to continue to negotiate for certain real property discussed in that session.
CORRIGAN -- Mike Wilson and Sonny Hubbard with Pineywoods Sanitation presented a plan last week to the Corrigan City Council that would allow the company to take over the garbage collection and service for both residential and business customers within the city.
The plan calls for Pineywoods to buy the current vehicle and all collection cans, paying the city nearly $150,000.
One major change would be the collection of residential trash only one day a week, down from the twice-weekly service now offered. Business pick-up would not change. When asked about rates, Wilson said they have several customers they bought out over the last four to five years and prices have not been increased.
Wilson also pointed out they have a fleet of trucks and if one broke down they could have a replacement in town picking up within a matter of an hour or so. Council will take the matter under consideration and seek input from residents.
City Manager Darrian Hudman asked council to approve the employment of Carrie Casper to serve as city secretary. Hudman said she has been handling those duties for training and evaluation and he feels she is the right person for the task. Council approved hiring Casper.
Council called for a general election to be held May 7. Positions open for election include those currently held by Mayor Jonathan Clark, and Position 2 Councilman Bill Safford and Position 4 Councilman Earlie C. Baldwin. Filing began Jan 20 for those positions.
When it was time for the city department reports, Hudman said he has asked both the municipal court and library to furnish updates to council monthly in addition to the reports that have been presented by the police and fire departments.
Judge Wayne Yankee reported that his court, since Nov. 15, has handled 1,799 cases including 1,684 traffic, six city ordinance complaints, 100 misdemeanors and five alcohol related matters. The librarian reported that they had almost 4,000 patrons with cards and a large collection of material. She will furnish monthly reports.
Council member Johnnie Marie Brooks said she is in the library often and that it needs some updating and improvement. Specifically she said the exterior lighting is woefully dim and that she and other women do not feel safe going at night. Hudman said he would review the situation.
Police Chief Darryl Gibson reported 17 arrests, 1,025 citations issued, 179 calls for service and 1,685 building checks between Dec. 16 and Jan. 18. They worked 21 cases referring three to the district attorney's office and there were seven accidents with no fatalities.
The volunteer fire department responded to 12 calls including two each of structure and grass fires, one each of vehicle wreck with life flight, medical assistance, vehicle fire, control burns, a burn victim and one lift assistance.