O’Meara named Weatherford College Wise County dean


Dr. Daniel O’Meara

Dr. Daniel O’Meara has been named as the new dean at Weatherford College Wise County, the college announced Thursday. O’Meara will relocate to Wise County from Hastings, Neb., where he serves as the associate dean of instruction – academic education at Central Community College. His higher education career also includes work at Arkansas State University, Cochise College and Pima Community College. He completed his associate’s degree in his late 20s at Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz., before earning additional degrees at the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he completed his doctorate degree in education in 2012.  Former Dean, Dr. Matt Joiner, left the college a year ago to pursue a career with the Region 11 Education Service Center in Fort Worth. Becki Byrd has served as interim WCWC dean during the search. O’Meara will report for duty June 4.

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Chico board hears plan about arming employees


The Chico School Board Tuesday heard a presentation about a program that could arm certain school employees as defense against a school shooter.

Bill Cooper provided the board with information about the Guardian Plan and how it differs from the School Marshal Plan.

“The problem with Marshal Plan that I see is you can have one marshal for 400 kids, that’s it,” Cooper said. “ … And the Marshal Plan, anyone who has direct contact with students cannot have the weapon on them. It has to be in a locked safe somewhere within his reach.

“The Guardian Plan puts it in y’alls hands. The board makes that decision. You can have him lock it up, you can let him have it on him, the weapon can be loaded or unloaded, it’s totally up to you guys. Period.”

Board President Bill Hand asked how many guardians the school could have.

“As many as you can afford,” Cooper responded.

Cooper, who spent 14 years on the Brock ISD school board and has nearly 40 years of law enforcement experience, said the schools he works with require the school employee to carry the weapon on them along with a magazine, but the weapon is not loaded.

The guardians he works with are trained what to do when a school goes into lockdown. He said they are to lock the classroom door, load their gun and stay with their students instead of going after the shooter.

The plan also requires confidentiality, Cooper said. The only people who will know who the guardians are would be members of the team and the school board, since they will have to approve all guardians.

Training is the key part of the program, Cooper said. Guardians are required to attend shooting training at least once a month, but many he works with train weekly.

“They’ve got to be better than the police. They’ve got to be better than the military. They have to survive. They can’t let that gun go. So there is a huge amount of training that will go into whoever trains your people,” he said.

Hand asked if Cooper could provide the training, and he said he could. When asked how much it would cost to train 10 guardians, Cooper estimated $800 to $1,000. That includes a $500 stipend for the weapon and $50 a month for ammunition and training.

Cooper suggested about two or three guardians per campus to account for employees being sick or on vacation.

Following the presentation, the board opted to discuss the guardian plan in closed session. They took no action following the closed portion of the meeting.

Last month, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin spoke to the board about the school resource officer program. The sheriff would like to increase the numbers of SROs at local school districts.

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Abel sentenced to life in prison for murder


Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Jake Abel was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Soccorro Taylor, and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in 271st District Court in Decatur.

Jurors heard the closing arguments Wednesday morning on the 11th day of testimony and 12th overall day of the trial.

Throughout the trial, Assistant District Attorneys Patrick Berry and Lindy Borchardt had presented evidence of Abel’s abuse of Taylor, and they argued that the abuse escalated until it ended in Taylor’s death on Dec. 20, 2015, in Fort Worth.

“Everyone could envision how this would end, but no one could imagine the brutality,” Borchardt told jurors during the state’s closing argument in the first phase of the trial.

She went on to detail the medical examiner’s autopsy results that showed Taylor had been struck in the head with a blunt object at least twice with such force that it broke off a piece of her skull and penetrated her brain. And her throat had been cut so deep that it severed an artery and her windpipe.

Berry said that after the murder, Abel brought Taylor’s body to Wise County and buried her “like trash” near property owned by his aunt near Boyd.

Defense attorneys Christy Jack and Alex Boyd argued that prosecutors had not proven all the elements of the case and left too many questions unanswered.

Jack argued that crime scenes weren’t adequately searched, possible suspects not examined and evidence not properly tested.

“The absense of evidence does not mean evidence was absent,” she told the jury.

It took the jury about an hour and a half to return a guilty verdict.

During the punishment phase of the trial, the jury learned more about Abel’s actions both before and after Taylor’s death.

Berry provided evidence of Abel’s 2012 conviction in Tarrant County for injury to a child causing bodily injury. Because of this previous felony conviction, the punishment range for the murder conviction would be a minimum of 15 years rather than 5 years.

Retired Fort Worth Police Detective Jeff Ross testified about an interview he conducted with Abel in 2011 regarding the injury to a child incident. The victim in that case was Abel’s 2-month old son.

The jury watched a portion of an interview between the two where Abel is heard admitting that he punched his son with a closed fist in the chest. Ross said that Abel told him the reason he did it was because the child had been crying and Abel “was going to give him something to cry for.”

The child sustained injuries including rib fractures from the assault.

Videos of three incidents involving Abel at the Wise County Jail were also shown to jurors.

In one video from August 20, 2016, Abel is seen repeatedly punching another inmate in the face, even as the other inmate is on the ground, in a recreation area.

A second video from April 11, 2017, shows Abel again repeatedly punching a different inmate in the face in another area of the jail.

The final video from December 14 of last year showed Abel fighting with multiple jailers who had to use a stun gun to bring him under control, Jail Cpt. Dan Armstrong testified.

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Abel’s mother, Annette Abel, also testified about Jake’s early life. She said that when her son was 14, he threatened her with a knife, which resulted in him being placed on juvenile probation. The next year, he violated his probation by stealing a car and was sent to a boy’s home in Oklahoma where he stayed until he was 18.

Jack asked her about Jake’s biological father, and Annette Abel said she was raped and living on the streets at the time. When asked if she would like the jury to show mercy to her son, she said, “I love him. I’ll always love him.”

In his closing argument in the punishment phase of the trial, Berry said because of her relationship with Abel, Taylor lost everything: her sobriety, her family, her friends and ultimately her own life, all because she didn’t want to give up on Abel.

“The reality is she kept going back to him, and ultimately he made her pay with her own life,” he said.

After only 10 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned the maximum punishment of life in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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Jury finds Abel guilty of murder


Former Wise County resident Jake Abel was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend after the jury deliberated for 1 1/2 hours Wednesday.
The two-week trial has taken place in 271st District Court in Decatur.
The jury will now hear evidence in the punishment phase of the trial. Abel could face up to life in prison for the 2015 killing of Soccorro Taylor.

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Fire Weather Watch issued for Tuesday, Wednesday


After a busy weekend battling grass fires, Wise County firefighters could potentially face another pair of challenging days.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth has issued a Fire Weather Watch for the county from 11 a.m. Tuesday through 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s more of the same — dry fuels, breezy winds, warmer than average temperature and low humidity,” said Jennifer Dunn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. “Conditions will be ripe for fires.”
Tuesday, winds are expected to be around 15 mph and temperatures in the low 60s. Wednesday, high temperatures are predicted to hit the low 70s with winds gusting to 25 to 30 mph. On both days, the humidity levels will be in the 20s.
“Locations to the west [of Wise County] will be in the teens,” Dunn said about the humidity level.
Decatur Fire Chief Mike Richardson said the forecast brings some uneasiness after several busy weeks. He said the department has responded to more than 200 calls this month. The department generally averages between 150 and 160 calls per month.
“We’re struggling to keep up,” Richardson said.
“Usually on a wildfire we try to get a lot of people there early. The problem lately is we’ve had them all at the same time.”
Wise County Fire Marshal Jeff Doughty said dispatch reported 29 calls over the weekend for fires. He cautioned that some of the calls were duplicates.
Doughty added that Paradise, Boyd and Bridgeport departments were staffing their stations Tuesday for the potential of fire.
Conditions will improve slightly with a cold front Thursday, Dunn said. But the county is not expected to see longterm relief from the current dry pattern. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday showed moderate drought in Wise County.
In the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which measures the wildfire potential by taking into account the soil moisture, the county average is 414 on a scale ranging from 0 to 800. The top end of the scale represents completely dry conditions.
“Unfortunately there’s no relief in the next seven to 10 days,” Dunn said.

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Citizen kicked out of county meeting


A citizen perceived to be unruly by county officials during a Wise County commissioners meeting Tuesday was removed from the room.

Ken Bateman, who lives outside Rhome in Strawberry Estates, stood to speak during community forum and was interrupted by County Judge J.D. Clark.

“Same issue, sir?” Clark asked, referencing Bateman’s two previous appearances at commissioners meetings. Bateman founded Wise County Citizens for Cleanup (WCCC), and he’s on a campaign to clear junk from private property and feels county officials are not doing enough to enforce nuisance ordinances.

Bateman did not answer Clark and instead continued talking.

“Sir, answer my question. Same issue we’ve discussed?” Clark asked again.

Bateman said it was the same issue but the discussion wasn’t complete. He wanted to talk Tuesday about the death of a 14-year-old boy in a 2014 house fire on a junk-filled property outside Chico.

Bateman continued to stand and to attempt to talk over the judge at which point Sheriff Lane Akin stood and approached Bateman. Chief Deputy Craig Johnson, who was sitting next to Bateman also rose, as well as a uniformed deputy also in the room.

“Are you guys coming to apologize to me for slandering me?” Bateman said, referencing Akin’s comment about Bateman’s property in a Dec. 23 Messenger story.

Akin said he was preparing to take Bateman out of the room.

“You can not interrupt a meeting like this,” Akin said. “We’d be glad for you to sit and be quiet.”

Bateman did not sit down and was removed from the meeting room.

“What’s happening here, ladies and gentleman, undercuts everything the United States of America is about,” he called out as he was shuffled from the room. “You can’t stop citizens from addressing a governmental body.”

As defined on the commissioners meeting agenda, there is a three-minute time limit for speakers during community forum, and large groups interested in the same topic should select a spokesperson. Clark said since Bateman’s concerns had already been submitted to commissioners through a previous community forum for study and response, he did not need to go over the same information again.

Bateman sent a press release Tuesday afternoon to the Messenger and Metroplex TV station KTVT stating: “Today’s incident in the county courthouse again indicates that some people in county government are hell-bent on conducting law enforcement in a bizarre laissez faire manner, no matter how much decent people’s lives are affected negatively. I think some people here are convinced they are the law regardless of what the law says.”

The press release says “plans are now being formulated for the upcoming Feb. 12 meeting of the Wise County commissioners court.” WCCC also launched a direct mail campaign today to certain parts of Wise County, according to the release.

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Commuters to face delays on 114 over weekend


Wise County commuters into Denton County could face potential delays Friday evening through Monday morning on Texas 114.
The highway will be closed below the Farm Road 156 bridge, starting at 8 p.m. Friday. It is expected to be closed through Monday morning.
In an email to Northwest ISD, the Texas Department of Transportation did not provide an expected completion time Monday. But it is expected to last through rush-hour traffic.
FM 156 will remain open with limited flag crews to provide guidance if needed.
Northwest ISD schools and facilities will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Chance for snow arrives Thursday afternoon


Winter could make a return to Wise County Thursday afternoon.
After a seasonably warm day Wednesday, a strong cold front will arrive in Thursday morning with 25 to 30 mph winds. Moisture will follow in the afternoon after temperatures drop in the mid to low 30s, bringing a slight chance for sleet and snow.
“The strong winds will be the main story,” said Mark Fox, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth. “During the afternoon, a band of light snow and sleet could move through between 3 and 6 p.m. We’re not expecting much accumulation or travel problems because the system will be move through so fast.”
The wintry precipitation could cause a few issues on bridges and overpasses.
After the front arrives, temperatures will remain cool through the upcoming weekend. The high Saturday is expected to be in the high 30s.
Another round of wintry weather could hit the area Monday evening with another system arriving and low temperatures in the 20s. Fox said his office will be monitoring the developing system. The forecast currently calls for a 20 percent chance of precipitation Monday night.

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Sleet falls in Wise County


Wise County residents received a short surprise visit from Old Man Winter late Friday morning.
Even with temperatures in the low 40s, a few sleet pellets fell in Decatur and other portions of Wise County.
Matt Stalley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said a “small band of moisture in the mid-level of the atmosphere was producing a few ice pellets.”
The temperature was below freezing at 24,000 feet.
The moisture was not expected to stay in the area long.
Wise County is included in a freeze warning for Saturday morning with temperatures expected to be in the low 30s.
Stalley said following Saturday morning there will be a gradual warming trend with rain possible on Halloween Tuesday.

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No one attends public hearings


Not one citizen attended the county public hearings Thursday night on the college branch campus maintenance tax rate and the county tax rate.

Wise County commissioners have proposed keeping both rates the same — 4.618 cents per $100 property valuation for the college and 37.89 cents for the county.

Commissioners are slated to approve both tax rates and the county budget at Monday’s regular commissioners meeting.

It’s at 9 a.m in the third floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur and is open to the public.

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Granger talks health care, spending with Wise Republicans


U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger visited with a group of Wise County Republicans Monday afternoon in Decatur to chat with constituents and answer questions on health care, military spending, the press and education.

VOTER VISIT — U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger visited Wise County Monday, escorted at the Decatur Conference Center by Wise County Republican Party Vice Chair Eric Marney.

Granger opened the meeting by pointing out Wise County is typically home to some of her strongest supporters. She netted 83 percent of the vote in Wise County in the November 2016 elections.

The congresswoman took responsibility for failed Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act early in the meeting.

“We just missed the boat,” she said.

Granger later answered an audience member’s question about that effort, called the American Health Care Act, admitting the House knew the bill was flawed, but they passed it on to the Senate with hopes it could come up with something better and the two legislative bodies could reach a solution.

Ideally, she said, a new bill would incorporate some of what the ACA did while mitigating what she referred to as its more destructive provisions.

“I’ll tell you exactly; we had to get it out of the House, Granger said. “We weren’t getting any better. The bill we had was not a good bill. It took some good steps, but it wasn’t what it should be. But we weren’t going anywhere.

“We, in the House, voted it and sent it to the Senate, knowing it would have to come back to us with a better bill that we would all vote on, but it wasn’t a good bill,” she said. “It was the only bill that was out there. We’d gotten to the point where we couldn’t come to the solutions, and the committee couldn’t either. So we went to the Senate, to see if they had a better one, and they haven’t.”

Granger said a new bill would also include a better finance plan and account for counties that had only one provider, which she identified as a major issue moving forward. Technology could also make health care more affordable, she said.

The original question, and several others, came from a group of Democrats who attended the event in hopes of getting a word with the congresswoman.

“We have questions for Kay. We’re her constituents,” said Jeanette Lockett, a representative from the Parker County Democratic Party. “[Granger] won’t hold town halls, so we felt this was a great opportunity to get to ask her some questions.”

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Granger has turned down town hall-style meetings this summer, citing security concerns and a confrontational political climate. Despite a law enforcement presence, the meeting Monday was pitched by the Wise County Republican Party as an “impromptu” social visit and Lockett said her group was asked to wait outside until organizers could be sure there was room for them to enter.

Before the meeting, unconfirmed rumors circulated that a bus of protesters with signs was en route, but Lockett confirmed her group, which included Parker and Tarrant County residents, wasn’t there to protest, just to ask questions. She said the group didn’t bring signs to the meeting.

“If I had wanted to have a sign, I would have gone out on the sidewalk and protested,” she said. “We never had signs.”

Eddie Burnett, who attended the meeting with the group from Parker County, said he’d called Granger’s office to ask questions in the past but hadn’t received satisfactory answers. Burnett asked Granger Monday why efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed, despite a Republican majority in Congress and seven years to work on a plan.

“I’ve called her office and I’ve gotten the same response, but I’m grateful that I got here tonight and was recognized to ask a question,” Burnett said. “I had held my hand up several times and got passed over.”

Granger also addressed press coverage of Washington politics, disputing claims that suggest elected officials aren’t working cohesively.

“I’m proud of what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re working very hard, and we’re working together better than we have in a long time.”

Granger also went after a report by the Star-Telegram that she agreed with President Donald Trump’s remarks that “both sides” were to blame for violence during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville a week-and-a-half ago. The congresswoman published an official statement on her website the day after the article ran online condemning “white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis that promote bigotry, antisemitism, racism, and violence.”

The congresswoman also discussed the stresses and rewards of chairing the House Subcommittee on Defense, citing proposed increases in military spending as a chance to keep legislative promises to the military.

The budget hike would include better equipment, raises for military personnel and funding to fight issues with opioid addiction in veterans, she said. In doing so, Granger touted her ability to reach across the aisle and work with members of other parties.

“When you’re talking about defense, Democrats and Republicans want to keep our nation safe,” she said. “It’s not that difficult because we always work from that position.”

When asked about federal funding for education and recent budget proposals in which the Trump administration would cut $9.2 billion from the Department of Education, Granger said she feels education issues should be decided by states and local communities.

“I’ve never felt the federal government should be in charge of the education of our children,” she said. “It should be the state and the local communities. We should all be involved in our schools.

“The budget in that department just doesn’t mean much to me,” she said. “It’s not very much, so they shouldn’t, then, not give the funding and try to make all the decisions. But that’s just where I am. I’m always for education to be decided by the local communities. That’s the budget I’m worried about.”

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Johnson sworn in as chief deputy


Craig Johnson in a ceremony Monday described the strange feeling of being “transformed [overnight Sunday] from Judge Johnson into Chief Deputy Johnson.”

NEW JOB — Sheriff Lane Akin presents new Chief Deputy Craig Johnson with his badge Monday morning.

The Precinct 2 justice of the peace officially stepped down from his post Monday and was sworn in as Sheriff Lane Akin’s chief deputy.

“As I woke up this morning and was going about the business of trying to make this presentable,” he said, gesturing to his clean-shaven face, “I was thinking about what this badge means. There’s a lot of trust placed in the holder of this badge, the sheriff’s badge and those that belong to the good men and women of this department that represent Wise County so well.

“But for me personally, it goes back to the early ’90s.”

SWEARING IN — County Judge J.D. Clark Monday issues the oath of office to interim Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Callie Manning. “We know she’s going to be a great member of the county team and this community, and we look forward to working with her,” he said.

He recalled his start with the sheriff’s office under newly-elected Sheriff Phil Ryan, and one of his first assignments working undercover in narcotics, which was less glamourous than he hoped.

“I have a picture of me on mounted patrol when I was a brand new, baby rookie at Wise County Park, and I looked at that last night and thought, ‘my word, how did I get so old?’ he said. “And secondly, I realized the vast amount of terrain I’ve been able to cover and the experience I’ve been able to get since then.”

Johnson went on to become an investigator with the sheriff’s office. He worked at Grapevine Police Department from 1994 until he retired in 2013 and briefly worked as a private investigator before, in 2014, being named interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace, the position held by his wife, Terri, at the time of her death. The Wise County Republican Executive Committee picked Johnson to replace his wife on the 2014 general election ballot.

It was an uncontested race, and he was elected to a four-year term.

Johnson said his career in law enforcement has prepared him for this position, and he’s proud to be part the Wise County Sheriff’s Office again.

“All of that has led me to a point where I feel very capable of making a huge contribution to this department that’s already running at an extraordinary level under that banner of trust that the sheriff talked about,” he said, referencing Akin’s comments earlier in the ceremony. “I’m proud to be a part of it, and I look forward to every day, every minute, every second of it.”

Callie Manning, who was appointed to fill Johnson’s vacant seat, was sworn in Monday during the same ceremony. She will serve as JP until someone is elected to the position in 2018.

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Tales from the trail: Although exact route uncertain, Chisholm Trail part of local history


For almost 20 years, ranchers drove cattle from San Antonio to the stockyards of Abilene, Kan., where they would be shipped north via train. Though it went by many names, the Chisholm Trail, as it’s popularly known, helped lift Texas out of the post-Civil War depression.

Whether the trail south of the river should be called the Chisholm Trail at all is still a matter of debate.

The name was taken from Jesse Chisholm, a Scottish-Cherokee trader who ran a route from Wichita through Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) and down to the Red River beginning in 1864. As the Texas Historical Commission notes, Chisholm’s last name sounds a lot like Texas cattle baron John Chisum’s surname. Part of the confusion over whether Chisholm’s route extended into Texas may have been caused by those familiar with Chisum’s cattle drives.

Some historians say the trail that runs through North Texas should actually be called the Eastern Trail.

“I won’t take responsibility to change history,” Tom B. Saunders, a historian and curator of Fort Worth’s Longhorn herd, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2001. “I want people to know this is actually the Eastern Trail.”

Saunders’ great-great-uncle, George W. Saunders, was a member of the Old Trail Drivers’ Association, a group made up of retired ranch hands who actually drove cattle along the trails through Texas to Kansas. In 1931, the group wrote a resolution claiming that what the public was already calling Chisholm Trail was actually the Eastern Trail.

“…[we] offer this resolution obtained by knowledge of men who first drove cattle north,” it read, “merely in the interest that Texas history may be properly preserved to posterity.”

Local historian Rosalie Gregg agreed. She wrote a letter to the senior editor of the Handbook of Texas, Roy Barkley, in 1986 asking him to change all references to the Chisholm Trail to the Eastern Trail.

Wise County Historical Society President Kerry Clower said much of the credit for the popularity of the name Chisholm Trail goes to historian J. Frank Dobie, who labeled the trail as such in his writings. Clower also noted that there were several other trails in the area called by different names, and sometimes they blended together.

“So many trails would feed into the Chisholm, and they would change, too,” Clower said. “They weren’t static. Brush would grow and water would wash them away.”

Chisholm Trail, by that name or any other, likely cut through Wise County near the Denton County line. Some accounts say it went through Audubon, a ghost town just northeast of Alvord.

The cattle trails all started to die in the 1880s, killed by a combination of more railroads, barbed wire fences crossing what used to be open land and a quarantine placed on cattle by the state of Kansas.

“It wasn’t a long period of time that it was done,” Clower said of the Chisholm Trail. “By the time they started the railroads, they didn’t need the trails anymore.”

The lives of the herders are still celebrated in Decatur with Chisholm Trail Days, a festival honoring the county’s roots in ranching. Regardless of the trail name controversy, the celebration continues.

“A lot of people called that part of the trail the Chisholm,” Main Street Program Director Frieda Haley said. “It’s tied directly in because of the history of the Waggoners. They came here because of the cattle.”

The Waggoners, a famous Texas ranching family who built the El Castile mansion in Decatur, were just one (wealthy) example of those whose lives were impacted by cattle trails in North Texas. Thousands of cowboys worked the trail during its peak years, and some of them might have stopped by Decatur on their way north. A historical marker denoting that the trail came across Wise County sits outside the courthouse.

“It doesn’t mean the cows came across the square because they didn’t,” Haley said. “But the trail did pass within 10 miles of here, and the cowboys did come to town.”

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Johnson sworn in as chief deputy


NEW JOB — Sheriff Lane Akin presents new Chief Deputy Craig Johnson with his badge Monday morning.

Craig Johnson in a ceremony Monday described the strange feeling of being “transformed [overnight Sunday] from Judge Johnson into Chief Deputy Johnson.”

The Precinct 2 justice of the peace officially stepped down from his post Monday and was sworn in as Sheriff Lane Akin’s chief deputy.

“As I woke up this morning and was going about the business of trying to make this presentable,” he said, gesturing to his clean-shaven face, “I was thinking about what this badge means. There’s a lot of trust placed in the holder of this badge, the sheriff’s badge and those that belong to the good men and women of this department that represent Wise County so well.

“But for me personally, it goes back to the early ’90s.”

He recalled his start with the sheriff’s office under newly-elected Sheriff Phil Ryan, and one of his first assignments working undercover in narcotics, which was less glamourous than he hoped.

“I have a picture of me on mounted patrol when I was a brand new, baby rookie at Wise County Park, and I looked at that last night and thought, ‘my word, how did I get so old?’ he said. “And secondly, I realized the vast amount of terrain I’ve been able to cover and the experience I’ve been able to get since then.”

Johnson said his career in law enforcement has prepared him for this position, and he’s proud to be part the Wise County Sheriff’s Office again.

“All of that has led me to a point where I feel very capable of making a huge contribution to this department that’s already running at an extraordinary level under that banner of trust that the sheriff talked about,” he said, referencing Akin’s comments earlier in the ceremony. “I’m proud to be a part of it, and I look forward to every day, every minute, every second of it.”

SWEARING IN — County Judge J.D. Clark shakes hands with Callie Manning after swearing her in as Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace.

Callie Manning, who was appointed to fill Johnson’s vacant seat, was sworn in Monday during the same ceremony.

Read more in the midweek Messenger on newsstands Wednesday.

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Eclipse experience: Libraries plan viewing parties


On Monday, Aug. 21, the United States will experience its first total eclipse since 1979, and several local libraries are holding viewing parties.

Though Texans won’t be able to see the total eclipse — we’ll get about 75 percent coverage — the moon’s path in front of the sun will still be visible in Wise County as the path of the totality passes from Oregon to South Carolina.

Alvord, Decatur and Rhome public libraries will host viewing parties. Alvord’s begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m, and Rhome’s runs at the same time.

Decatur Public Library will host their viewing party from noon to 2 p.m. Free viewing glasses will be supplied on a first come, first serve basis. There will also be a time capsule, Kona Ice truck and food truck. Attendees are asked to bring items they believe represent 2017 to place in the time capsule.

Weatherford College in Weatherford will also offer a public lecture on the eclipse in room 104 of the Academic Building. Attendees will hear a short talk from physics instructor James Espinosa, participate in a pinhole-viewer activity and watch a live video of the eclipse as it crosses Oregon. The event starts at 11:30, and the moon will be at maximum local coverage at 1:06 p.m. The first 20 attendees will receive free viewing glasses.

Teacher travels for eclipse
The lucky students in Tammy Rainey’s science classes at Decatur’s Young Elementary will get to Facetime with their teacher as she experiences the total eclipse with her family in Nebraska.

Rainey’s classes will watch the eclipse in Texas with teacher Danielle Scroggins while also seeing the total eclipse in Nebraska via video. She said the fourth graders have been learning about phases of the moon, and the fifth graders are learning about Earth’s rotation around the sun, so this fits with their classwork.

“This is all a part of their TEKS,” Rainey said. “They get the treat of seeing the eclipse on a school day. Hopefully they’ll take note of how fast it moves.”

And when the next total eclipse crosses over Texas in 2024, maybe they’ll remember the experience.

“Hopefully they’ll think back in April of 2024 to the first time they saw one,” Rainey said.

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Necessity of interim constable questioned


Wise County commissioners may not appoint an interim constable in Precinct 3, a position left vacant last week when Doug Parr resigned as a condition of his criminal plea deal.

In Monday’s regular meeting, commissioners formally accepted Parr’s resignation and discussed what would happen next. If an interim constable is appointed, he or she would serve only until someone is elected to the post in 2018. Whoever is elected will serve the remainder of Parr’s unexpired term, which started January 2017.

“We’re appointing someone just to get us through an election so people seeking that office won’t have to wait until the end of this four-year term,” County Judge J.D. Clark said.

Since a constable must be a licensed peace officer, Clark suggested Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance, a former police officer, and Sheriff Lane Akin screen applicants and make a recommendation to commissioners.

“But if y’all want to do it another way, you can,” Clark said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White suggested not appointing an interim constable and having the sheriff’s office and other constables serve Precinct 3 papers until the election.

“I think a lot of that’s been done in the past, and it would probably simplify things, instead of appointing someone for only a 15-month period,” he said. “If we appoint someone, I’d like to appoint someone who’s not going to run for the office, so that might limit your applicants.”

Akin spoke up, reminding commissioners the election could be decided in the March primary if there are not candidates from both parties. So far, Cary Mellema of Aurora is the only person who has announced he’s running for the office. He’ll be on the Republican ballot in the March primary.

Akin said his department could help serve the papers.

“It would put a little additional burden on the office, but talking to the guys in civil, I think that’s a doable option for us,” he said.

Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy reminded his colleagues that Precinct 4 has reserve constables that could be utilized. No action was taken Monday, but the issue will be discussed again at the Aug. 28 commissioners meeting.

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Build it, and they will come: Home builds booming in South Wise


UNDER CONSTRUCTION — As South Wise towns grow, more and more new homes are being built.

Rhome and Boyd have seen more residential home growth than Decatur and Bridgeport so far this year.

South Wise towns are keeping on track — or going beyond — the biggest cities in Wise County when it comes to new homes being built. Rhome saw 10 new homes built this year, including three mobile homes. The city of Boyd issued eight new residential permits. Rhome also recently approved a zoning change for an 1,100-home development to be built over the next 10 years.

Two new single-family homes were built in Newark, another south Wise city. Paradise, in southwest Wise, issued four permits for new single-family homes.

The cities of Aurora and New Fairview did not respond to requests for residential permit information.

Meanwhile, Bridgeport saw four new residential builds, one of which was a duplex. While Decatur issued 10 building permits from January to the beginning of August, only two were for new homes. The remaining eight permits were for add-ons, remodels, or auxiliary buildings. Chico, in north Wise, has issued only one new residential permit in 2017.

The higher number of permits issued in South Wise matches the growth the county is seeing. Wise County engineer Chad Davis said the county has around 4,500 homes in the platting stage, and 2,200 of those are in a large development in the northern tip of Fort Worth’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, which reaches into Wise County. Platting does not equal new buildings, however, as many developers plat a lot but don’t build right away. The county uses plats to determine where homes will be built.

And although the towns of Decatur and Bridgeport aren’t seeing many new homes built this year, there is a large subdivision of around 90 homes planned between the towns.

Davis said between 15 and 20 developments are in the platting stage within the county this year, outside of any city limits.

“There’s a lot of growth going on between Cottondale and Springtown [in the southwest],” Davis said, “and a lot in the southeast, in New Fairview, Rhome.”

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Judge proposes holding tax rate steady


Wise County commissioners Monday proposed keeping the tax rate the same as last year — 37.89 cents per $100 property valuation for fiscal year 2018.
It will fund the $64.1 million budget, which was also proposed in Monday’s meeting.
“It’s very similar to our current budget,” County Judge J.D. Clark said. “It didn’t change much. I guess in terms of most significant changes … I’ve got someone retiring out of the maintenance department, and we’re not going to fill that position.”
Clark said his goal was to adopt the budget at the Sept. 11 meeting. He asked commissioners in the meantime to review the numbers for discussion at the Aug. 28 meeting.
Wise County’s effective rate dropped slightly since property values increased this year. The effective rate, 37.56 cents per $100 valuation would raise the same amount of tax dollars as fiscal year 2017 with the property values for 2018.
Because the proposed tax rate is higher than this year’s effective rate, more tax dollars will be raised, and commissioners must hold a series of public hearings on the tax rate and budget.
Allocation of the tax dollars was proposed to also stay the same with 34.64 cents per $100 valuation going to general fund and 3.25 cents to road and bridge.
The road and bridge allocation was slashed last year from 6.5 cents per $100 property valuation to 3.25 cents in an effort to boost the general fund.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White expressed concern about doing this for a second year.
“My budget is going down $100,000 this year, if I accept it,” he said. “I’m doing all I can right now to keep my guys working because of the money situation.
“If I take another $100,000 off that next year, what can we do for our taxpayers?” he asked. “I know the tax rate looks good, but whenever they want us to re-do their roads, how can we explain to them we can’t? It’s hard to do year after year.”
Clark said citizens are already paying more in taxes because most property values increased, and that’s why he wants to keep the tax rate flat.
“None of us have said it’s pretty,” Clark said. “We’re just trying to …”
White interrupted him.
“And it’s getting uglier every year,” he said.
Clark said everyone needs to “think big picture.”
“We have to look at other things that are going on and that we are making a $3 million debt payment [for capital expenditures] and that’s soon going to go away and give us an opportunity to do a few things differently,” he explained. “What are we going to do for capital? What are we going to do for you guys?” Clark said these issues have been discussed this summer with plans being made for the future and how to make the road and bridge fund “whole again.”
Read more in the midweek Messenger on newsstands Wednesday.
The first public hearing on the county tax rate and budget will be 8:30 a.m. Aug. 28, just prior to the regular commissioners meeting. The second public hearing is 7 p.m. Sept. 7. Both will be held at the Wise County Courthouse.

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Sheriff’s office homes in on DWI


The Wise County Sheriff’s Office has been approved for a $10,000 grant that will help the department better enforce DWI laws during some holidays.
County commissioners last week approved Sheriff Lane Akin applying for the impaired driving mobilization grant issued by the Texas Department of Transportation.
The money allows the S.O. to pay deputies time-and-a-half to work extra shifts ranging from four to eight hours during which they will be on the watch for drunk drivers. The push will be only four times per year — spring break, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas/New Year’s.
“It’s a select traffic enforcement program so that we can see impaired drivers,” Akin said. “It’s a one-year opportunity, and if this is successful, then we would have a yearly grant that would possibly be more.”
Akin said the grant is 80 percent TxDOT money with the county matching 20 percent.
“But our 20 percent can be made up from the use of vehicles, the fuel, as well as the time in the office using the equipment,” he said, “so there would actually be no money being matched by the county.
“It would be time-and-a-half pay to the deputies who are out there enforcing the DWI and DUI laws.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance was worried it would pull deputies off the street and prevent them from answering domestic calls, but Akin assured him the officers would still be able to respond to those calls if needed.
Akin said sheriff’s office Sgt. J.T. Manoushagian will oversee the program and keep statistics on its success rate.
Read more in the midweek Messenger on newsstands today.

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Cude to seek ninth term


By Kristen Tribe

County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Melton Cude announced Thursday he will seek a ninth term in office.

“I have served Wise County for 31 years in this capacity and am looking forward to continuing to serve our citizens as the judge of this court,” he said.

Cude said he has felt called to be a judge. He will run as a Republican in the March 2018 primary.

“Being a judge, you’re part of a conflict resolution system, and I like being in the middle of resolving conflict,” he said. “It’s a peace-making function.”

Cude said his office has an “excellent rapport with other county offices,” and he’s “pleasantly excited with the direction of the sheriff’s office under the leadership of Sheriff Lane Akin.”

“We have also always strived to make our court user-friendly to the large number of private attorneys who practice law in this court so that they conduct their business in a quick and efficient manner, conducive to justice,” Cude said. “I can’t thank my staff enough in making this office so efficient and productive.”

Between Cude and his staff, they have more than 100 years experience in the county court-at-law.

“I want to thank the citizens of Wise County for entrusting me with this office for all my previous years, and I promise to continue serving the citizens to the best of my ability for years to come,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to have had such a long and rewarding career in this office.”

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