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Sex offender given life sentence

LIVINGSTON — A 34-year-old Corrigan man was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child last week and was sentenced to life in prison.

A Polk County jury found Jeremy Antawain Jackson guilty during a trial before 411th District Court Judge Kaycee Jones. The now six-year-old victim testified before the jury regarding the sexual assault.

Kirsti Reese, a therapist with Polk County’s child advocacy center Childrenz Haven, testified the victim was receiving therapy from her through that organization. Ms. Reese identified a picture the victim had drawn during a recent therapy session that depicted what had happened to her during the sexual assault. The victim then explained to the jury what was depicted in her drawing.

Jackson must serve 30 years before he is eligible for parole.

At the time of the sexual assault, Jackson was on community supervision for the offense of evading arrest with a motor vehicle. The judge revoked that community supervision and sentenced Jackson to the maximum of 10 years for that offense. The sentences will run concurrently.

December jobless rate climbs to 5.2%

By Greg Peak
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LIVINGSTON – After hitting its lowest level in almost 17 years during October 2017, Polk County’s unemployment in Polk County continued to inch upward in December, climbing to 5.2 percent.

Asccording to latest figures released by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), the December 2017 rate was up only slightly from the 5.1 percent jobless figure listed in November 2017

While the December report saw unemployment rise, it was still the lowest rate posted for that month in more than10 years. The last time the end of the year rate was this low was in 2006 when an identical December number of 5.2 percent was recorded.

TWC frequently revises the figures as it collects additional data so it is possible that the latest figures could go up or down slightly in the next 30 to 60 days.

In addition to being among the lowest jobless rates of 2017, the 5.2 percent December rate is down 1.3 percentage point from the 6.5 percent rate recorded in December 2016.

The current 5.2 percent unemployment rate translates to mean that out of an estimated workforce of 17,409, there were 909 county residents looking for work during the month. One month earlier, TWC’s revised estimates put the local labor force at 17,322 with 891 people looking for jobs.

Statewide, December’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.9 percent was unchanged from the revised November figure and down from the 4.5 percent jobles rate posted in December 2016.

The December seasonally adjusted U.S. rate of 3.9 percent was unchanged from October and November but down from the 4.5 percent figure posted in December 2016.

According to TWC officials, the state added 400 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in December, or 306,900 during 2017. Annual employment growth for the state was 2.5 percent during the month, marking 92 consecutive months of annual growth.

“Texas ended 2017 with record-level job creation numbers during the fourth quarter, with 10 of 11 industries expanding over the year and an annual gain of 306,900 jobs,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “TWC looks forward to another year of strong partnerships with innovative Texas employers as they continue to create valuable opportunities for the Texas workforce and contribute to our state’s economic success.”

Industries adding jobs in December included Leisure and Hospitality, which added 6,800 jobs; Construction added 4,300 jobs; and Information, which added 3,600 jobs, and includes traditional and software publishing, data processing and hosting, and telecommunications companies.

“Private sector employers had a successful year in Texas, adding almost 270,000 jobs since December 2016,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “This growth is a great illustration of the value and opportunity that employers bring to the Texas economy.”

The Amarillo and Midland Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) recorded the month’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.5 percent, followed by the Austin-Round Rock, College Station-Bryan and Lubbock MSAs, which tied for the second lowest with a rate of 2.7 percent. The San Angelo, San Antonio-New Braunfels and Sherman-Denison MSAs also tied for the third lowest rate of 3.0 percent for December.
“The unemployment rate in Texas fell nearly a point over the year 2017, which is great news for workers in the Lone Star State,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “Positive economic growth means continued opportunities for the expanding labor force here in Texas.”

The MSAs with the highest jobless rate in December were the Beaumont-Port Arthur MSA and the McAllen–Edinburg–Mission MSA which were tied at 6.7 percent. The Brownsville-Harlingen MSA recorded a rate of 6.0 percent and was followed by the Corpus Christi MSA with a 5.2 percent rate.

Three-state I-14 Caucus taking shape

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Members of Congress from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have agreed to create a congressional caucus to promote the expansion of Interstate 14 and to introduce the necessary legislation to authorize that expansion.

Formation of the I-14 Congressional Caucus was one of the objectives of the first I-14 Day in Washington held Jan. 24-25. The caucus will work on expanding the I-14 congressional designation which is now limited to Central Texas and will seek to raise awareness of the strategic importance of I-14 in connecting military facilities and deployment ports.

Congressman Brian Babin (R-Woodville) has agreed to chair the caucus.

Polk County is one of the areas the east-west I-14 route is designated to cross. Current plans call for it to intersect with the proposed I-69 at Livingston.

A total of 25 community leaders from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi participated in I-14 Day events including meetings in the offices of six senators and a dozen House member. The I-14 delegation included mayors, county judges, county supervisors, aldermen, city staffers and economic development officials.

“I couldn’t be happier with the conversations and commitments of support we received in meeting with all the congressional offices representing the I-14 route,” said Mayor Brenda Gunter of San Angelo. “This new interstate highway will bring our economic development efforts to a new level. Transportation improvement is one of the most important priorities we have.”

I-14 Day participants met with the staff of their respective congressional representatives along the proposed I-14 route running from West Texas through Central Texas, Central Louisiana and Central Mississippi. In each case the delegation received commitments that members will co-sponsor legislation to be developed which will expand the authorization of I-14 across the three states.

Meetings were held in the offices of: TEXAS – Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Mike Conaway, Rep. John Carter, Rep. Kevin Brady, Rep. Brian Babin and Rep. Randy Weber; LOUISIANA – Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. John Kennedy, Rep. Mike Johnson, Rep. Ralph Abraham, Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Clay Higgins and Rep. Garret Graves; MISSISSIPPI – Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Roger Wicker, Rep. Gregg Harper and Rep. Steven Palazzo.
In 2015, the Congress created the Central Texas Corridor generally along U.S. 190 and designated it as future I-14. The first 25-mile section of I-14, near Fort Hood, became part of the Interstate Highway System in 2017.
Members of the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition are seeking a designation expansion starting at the Texas-Louisiana border and generally following LA 8, LA 28 and U.S. 84 eastward in Louisiana through Leesville, Fort Polk, Alexandria, Pineville and Vidalia where it would cross the Mississippi River. In Mississippi it would follow U.S. 84 eastward from Natchez to Brookhaven and Laurel where it would terminate at Interstate 59.
In Texas the corridor would be expanded to the west so that it will serve San Angelo, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Midland-Odessa and the Permian Basin. At Midland-Odessa the corridor will connect to Interstate 20 which runs westward to join with I-10 and leads to El Paso and Fort Bliss, completing the linkage between six military facilities across three states. Spur routes in Texas would extend southward to provide better access to the seaports at Corpus Christi and Beaumont.

Steve Floyd, County Judge of Tom Green County in West Texas, came away from I-14 Day meetings optimistic that the three-state designation can get done this year.

“The importance of connecting West Texas oil, gas and sand production to the Port of Corpus Christi and the value of greater safety and connectivity was fully understood by the congressional offices we met with. It was easy to see the value of taking this step forward. There is optimism for congressional action very soon,” he said.

Floyd also pointed to the benefit of Texas community leaders meeting with local officials from Louisiana and Mississippi who strongly support the proposed route expansions in Texas and agree that route additions in each state will provide obvious value to the nation.

Coalition Chairman John Thompson, formerly a Polk County Judge, said the expanded corridor will provide greater efficiency in the movement of freight in each of the three states and nationally.

“It will bring economic development opportunities to communities in all three states. It will provide an important high-elevation alternative to storm vulnerable sections of Interstate 10 and will provide greater hurricane evacuation capacity for growing coastal populations. Expanding the route to include San Angelo and Midland-Odessa will provide significant connectivity benefits for these growing population and commercial centers. It will also provide an all-freeway route connecting West Texas energy producing regions with manufacturing centers and global shipping connections on the Texas Coast,” Thompson said.

The three-state corridor concept grew out of the efforts of local governments to improve the east-west highways and bridges linking the central parts of the three states. For more than a decade this concept has been described as a “Forts-to-Ports” strategic highway system.

Early voting schedule for primaries adopted

By Greg Peak
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LIVINGSTON — The early voting for the March 6 primary elections will kick off Tuesday, Feb. 20, and continue through Friday, March 2, according to the schedule approved Tuesday by the Polk County Commissioners Court.

Early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at three locations: the Polk County Judicial Center in Livingston, the Onalaska Sub-Courthouse and the Sechrest Webster Community Center in Corrigan. In addition to weekday voting, all three locations will be open from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25.

During the early voting period, voters registered in Polk County may cast ballots at any of the three locations.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties will be conducting elections on March 6 with the winners advancing to the November general election.

On election day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 21 locations throughout the county. On that day voters will be required to cast ballots in the voting precincts in which they reside.

Polk County Clerk Schelana Hock also noted two of those locations have been changed since the 2016 primary election. Box 16 voters who once used the Livingston VFW Post as their voting place will now go to the First United Pentecostal Church at 404 E. Church in Livingston while the Box 14 voters who once used the Indians Springs Property Owners Association Building will cast their ballots as the Soda Baptist Church at 8135 U.S. Highway 190 West.

The reasons for the location changes are the VFW building has been sold and is now privately owned while the Indian Springs POA building is still being repaired following a fire. Both locations are in Polk County Commissioner Precinct 4.

Tribe releases survey showing public support for Naskila Gaming

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas will seek congressional approval of their Naskila Gaming operation in an effort to end the federal court challenge initiated by the state of Texas. Tribal leaders released a survey taken in a 10-county area which indicates strong public support for the facility. (Albert Trevino | Enterprise GAMING CENTER)The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas will seek congressional approval of their Naskila Gaming operation in an effort to end the federal court challenge initiated by the state of Texas. Tribal leaders released a survey taken in a 10-county area which indicates strong public support for the facility. (Albert Trevino | Enterprise GAMING CENTER)

By Albert Trevino
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INDIAN VILLAGE -- The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas officially announced that it will seek congressional action this year to address potential challenges to continue operating Naskila Gaming on tribal lands.

The tribe is citing an extensive survey that reflects a high percentage of regional public support for both the Alabama-Coushatta community and the Naskila Gaming facility. Tribe officials believe the level of approval leads the way to seek congressional support and action to ensure the gaming facility can remain open long-term.

The state currently is challenging the Tribe’s right to operate the gaming facility in federal court.

The study, conducted in August by Ragnar Research Partners, represented an overwhelming support among likely Republican primary voters for the tribe to continue its electronic bingo operation without interference from the state.

Overall, 76 percent of respondents said they support the electronic bingo games on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston. The survey focused on the 10 counties in Congressional District 36.

Tribe officials are seeking federal legislation that will affirm its standing under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.)

In a public statement released last week, Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said it was important for the tribe to conduct a scientific survey before moving forward with its efforts in Washington.

“We want to be a good neighbor, and we needed confirmation from the citizens of the area that they liked what they have seen in the last two years,” said Battise in the official statement. “We have been overwhelmed by the show of support, and we’re very grateful.”

The survey reflects approval across all categories of Republican voters, from “very conservative” to “moderate.” A similar showing appears with different denominations of Christians.

While 66 percent of respondents support electronic bingo on Indian reservations, those numbers spike up to 76 percent when asked specifically about the Alabama-Coushatta’s gaming facility.

Similar numbers are reported in approval for federal legislation that would allow the tribe to continue operating electronic bingo games on its reservation.

“We are pursuing a federal solution in a very thoughtful, deliberative fashion.” said Battise. “From the very beginning, we’ve had significant support from our immediate neighbors. We wanted to confirm that there is wider regional support. This is why we commissioned this poll last summer. We are very pleased with the results and want to kick off 2018 by releasing it publicly.”
Battise added, “We have continued a very active community outreach program and I would not be surprised if those numbers have climbed even higher since the poll was conducted.”

The poll further represented the following levels of support for Naskila:
East Texas (including Polk and Tyler counties): 75 percent support, 13 percent oppose
Liberty-Chambers counties: 82 percent support, 6 percent oppose
Harris County: 73 percent support, 6 percent oppose
Very Conservative: 73 percent support; 12 percent oppose
Moderate/Liberal: 85 percent support; 6 percent oppose
Baptist: 76 percent support, 8 percent oppose
Catholic: 79 percent support, 6 percent oppose

Naskila Gaming, opened in May 2016, currently provides 330 jobs, with more than half of the employees being non-tribal members. The annual payroll reportedly exceeds $10 million, with healthcare benefits for employees and their families.

The company has reportedly invested more than $14 million in capital costs and estimates it will spend upwards of $17 million every year in the future for operations and capital investment.

“We have been blessed with great success at Naskila Gaming.” Battise said. “Every quarter the number of visitors from all over the start increases. Just as we predicted, given the chance, guests will spend their entertainment dollars in Texas. This has truly been a transforming venture for the tribe because the new revenue stream allows our Tribal Government to increase the budget for all of the health, education, housing and social services for our people.”

AC names coordinator for Polk County center

FlanaganLUFKIN ­— Susan Flanagan has been named as the new coordinator of Angelina College’s Polk County Center.

She is responsible for managing all aspects of the center, including community development and distance learning.

“Community development supports the establishment of strong communities and helps to improve the quality of community life. My involvement is with virtual communities, geographic and special communities of interest in the Polk County region,” she said.

Flanagan earned a bachelor’s degree in Surgical Technology and Health Care Administration from Siena Heights University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and E-Learning from Northcentral University.

She has worked in higher education and management for more than 10 years with a diverse medical background and successfully established several highly effective educational programs using an evidence-based approach.

“My goal is to facilitate and promote the actions that help people develop their abilities and potentials for a healthy community,” Flanagan said.

In addition, the Lufkin-based college system has named Mike Sandlin as Angelina College’s new coordinator of grounds and transportation. He earned bachelor’s degrees in landscape architecture and park administration from Texas Tech University.
Sandlin has 40 years experience in the green industry and previously worked for Custom Landscape Design.