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Dueling affidavits: Hearing Wednesday means removal, or trial, for Ross

Dueling affidavits: Hearing Wednesday means removal, or trial, for Ross

Suspended Wise County Commissioner Terry Ross next week will be either permanently removed from office or granted a jury trial.

District Judge Roger Towery is scheduled to rule March 19 on Wise County Attorney James Stainton’s Nov. 21, 2013, request for a summary judgment in the civil suit regarding Ross’ removal.

Fighting for His Office

FIGHTING FOR HIS OFFICE – Terry Ross listens intently to one of his lawyers after signing a plea agreement and pleading guilty Sept. 23 to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor. Next week District Judge Roger Towery will decide either to permanently remove Ross from office or grant him a jury trial in the civil suit regarding his removal. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The original petition for removal was filed by retired Texas Ranger Lane Akin in the 271st District Court in June 2012, after Ross was indicted for tampering with government records and abuse of official capacity. In the months following the original petition, Ross was also indicted for theft of $500 to $1,500. All of these charges were tied to the construction of a playhouse for his grandchildren in the Precinct 4 barn.

Towery temporarily suspended Ross without pay in August 2012. Following several delays in the criminal proceedings, the commissioner eventually pleaded guilty Sept. 23, 2013, to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor. The other two charges, both felonies, were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

He was also required to make restitution of $500 and sentenced to 180 days in jail, probated for one year.

If Towery grants Ross a jury trial and the jury were to reinstate the commissioner, the county would be required to pay Ross for the time he was suspended. As of March 15, it totals $146,453.12.

If Towery removes Ross from office, it would be for the duration of his current term, which ends Dec. 31, 2014. It doesn’t prohibit him from running again.

In fact, Ross did seek re-election in the March 4 Republican primary but finished third in a three-man race. Ross received 19 percent of the votes, compared to David Stewart’s 21 percent and Gaylord Kennedy’s 59 percent.

Just seven days before the primary election, Ross’ attorney David Fielding filed a response to Stainton’s request for a summary judgment and in an affidavit outlined Ross’ version of the events in the playhouse saga.

ROSS’ VERSION

In this part of the document, Ross is described as a “loving grandfather,” who wanted only to surprise his grandchildren with a playhouse for Christmas.

He decided to build it in the county barn because the grandchildren live in a home behind him and his wife, Kelly, and this was the only way to keep it a secret from them.

The affidavit says that in December of 2011, Terry and Kelly “went to a couple of stores and bought lumber, plywood, bolts, nuts, wood screws and other items to use in building the tree house …” On the weekend of Dec. 10 and 11, it says they started construction.

“When the county employees who work out of the barn came to work Monday morning, Dec. 12, the structure was already taking shape,” it says. “Ross did not ask any of the employees to work on the tree house, believing that they should handle the county’s business, rather than handling his personal business.”

The affidavit goes on to explain that one employee, Jeffrey Shaw, had been drug-tested and Ross didn’t think he could be allowed to drive heavy equipment until the issue was resolved, so Shaw remained in the barn Dec. 12-14.

According to the affidavit, Ross says he went to Fort Worth on the 12th and doesn’t know what Shaw did that day but doesn’t believe any work was done on the playhouse.

He also claims that although he consulted with Shaw on the electrical work necessary to complete the playhouse, Shaw, on his own, purchased electrical components for the playhouse and “charged it to the county without Ross’ knowledge or approval.”

“When Shaw returned [from purchasing the items], he pitched the sack on the table, and Ross asked him what he was going to do with that stuff because it was not to be used on the tree-house,” the affidavit says.

Shaw told Ross he would use it on the west wall of the county barn. The affidavit says Ross placed the electrical items that Shaw did not use in a box in his office, and after being temporarily removed from office, he took those items to his attorney for safe keeping.

The affidavit says, “Ross does not believe that anything purchased by Shaw on the 13th of December was ever used in the construction of the tree-house.”

It says the invoice that Shaw charged was for $72.89.

The document also says Ross signed the invoice from the 13th believing all of the items were used by Shaw in doing repairs for the county or were set aside for the county’s use.

Shaw resigned Dec. 15.

According to the affidavit, Ross doesn’t know whether Shaw did any work on the tree-house until Dec. 15, after which time he allowed Shaw to help.

The affidavit goes on to explain that at the end of each workday, employees return to the precinct barn to clock out and go home. According to the affidavit, it’s common for employees to reach the barn before their time to clock out, and while they were waiting to clock out each day on the week of Dec. 12, “if they saw Ross or Shaw working on the tree house, they might, on their own volition, lend a hand to hold a board or help chalk a line. Ross never asked any of them to help, but they sometimes did so for a brief period of time while waiting to clock out with nothing to do.”

On Dec. 22, the tree house was finished and loaded on Ross’ personal trailer and erected on his property, according to the affidavit.

On March 10, Stainton filed a response with objections to Fielding’s filing and maintains there is no reason to rehash the details of the criminal case because Ross pleaded guilty.

“The affidavit filed by the respondent is a sham affidavit that attempts to create a fact issue where none exists in this case,” Stainton says.

The county attorney says in his response despite the fact Ross admitted otherwise and signed under oath a judicial confession in district court to the allegations, he is attempting to claim now that he didn’t do it.

“(Ross) has displayed a consistent pattern of denying the allegations of criminal activity then later admitting to them,” he says in the response. “When questioned by Texas Ranger James Holland on Jan. 26, 2012, (Ross) initially denied ever using county property or personnel during the construction of the playhouse. Later on in the interview, Holland testified that (Ross’) story changed, and he admitted to using county materials on the playhouse.

“The same pattern of denying wrongdoing then later admitting to it continues in his response and affidavit. Respondent Ross pled guilty, was convicted, but now would like this court to believe he ‘didn’t do it.’”

OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT

Fielding says Stainton’s request for summary judgment brings up the following question: Can a county commissioner be removed from office for “official misconduct” without a jury trial when he was not convicted of “official misconduct,” but instead has pleaded guilty to a lesser offense?

In an amended petition for removal filed in October, Stainton says Ross’ guilty plea and misuse of government property “constitutes official misconduct,” which can result in removal from office according to Local Government Code 87.013.

The code says “conviction of a county officer by a petit jury for any felony or misdemeanor involving official misconduct operates as an immediate removal from office.”

Although Ross was not convicted by a jury, Stainton’s motion contends the guilty plea is enough to warrant the removal.

In the response filed by Fielding, Ross says when negotiating with the prosecutor Robert Gill last fall, he was “informed there was no evidence of the commission of any felony, and that if he accepted a plea bargain to the misdemeanor charge, he would be allowed to continue to hold public office.

“In fact, he engaged in negotiations with the prosecutor that, if successful, would have resulted in his reinstatement with full back pay at the time of his conviction,” the document says.

In Stainton’s response, he disputes this information and includes an affidavit by Gill stating such.

“I did not represent to Mr. Ross that he would be able to continue to hold public office,” Gill’s affidavit says. “I did not engage in negotiations with Ross that represented to him that he would be reinstated and/or that he would receive any back pay.”

Gill also says in the affidavit that he did not discuss the cases with Ross. All communication was through his attorney at the time, Jerry Loftin. Gill also noted that his discussions with Loftin were about only the criminal case, not the civil removal case.

Stainton included objections to most of what Fielding filed. In Stainton’s response, he asks the district court to strike Ross’ affidavit from Fielding’s response because it is an “attempt to introduce otherwise inadmissible information into this case without supporting affidavits.” Stainton says most of Ross’ affidavit is written in third person and does not indicate Ross has any personal knowledge of the information included.

“The entirety of the affidavit, each and every paragraph, covers issues which have been previously litigated … The affidavit is an attempt to create a fact issue in the civil case from facts previously litigated in the criminal case,” Stainton adds.

Since Ross pleaded guilty, Stainton says those facts should not be questioned or considered again in a court.

As of Friday, it was unknown if Towery would travel to Wise County to rule on the summary judgment or do so from his office in Henrietta. Information regarding the ruling will be posted on wcmessenger.com as soon as it’s available.

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Sports medicine goes moto

Sports medicine goes moto

Tommy Maxey’s arms didn’t feel right after buzzing and roaring around the bumps, jumps and turns of the dirt track at the 38th annual FMF GNC International Motocross Final Friday morning at Oak Hill Motocross.

ON-SITE CARE – Crystal Montgomery with Fit-N-Wise works on Tommy Maxey’s arm pump right after the 16-year-old raced at Oak Hill Motocross Friday morning in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Located amid pastures between Decatur and Alvord, the track is miles from the nearest hospital. Fortunately for Maxey, who is a member of Team Horton’s amateur team, Wise Regional’s Fit-N-Wise had a complete sports performance and sports medicine team deployed at the racetrack throughout the event, which runs through Sunday.

Moments after stepping off his bike, Maxey was under the Fit-N-Wise tent receiving care for what physical therapist and trainer Tad Montgomery described as an arm pump, a type of compartment syndrome due to overuse of the arms.

Although Fit-N-Wise is an official sponsor of the five-man Team Horton, they are on hand to evaluate anyone during the race.

“We couldn’t ask for better people,” said Lexi Horton. “Fit-N-Wise works with our guys on training, nutrition and evaluating injuries. We want our riders to be 100 percent when they ride. If not, you can injure yourself even worse.”

Next to Maxey under the tent was a bi-lateral functioning knee brace by CTI. Knee injuries are notorious among motocross racers.

Health Team

HEALTH TEAM – Horton Racing’s amateur team is sponsored by Fit-N-Wise Sports Performance and Sport Medicine. Pictured (from left) are Cody Williams, Luke Renzland, Henry Miller, Tommy Maxey and John Short. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“About 80 percent of riders wear them,” Montgomery said. “Knees do so much of the work when you are on the ground and in the air.”

Behind the tent, the Fit-N-Wise team brought a small trailer complete with an X-ray machine. In just two days, they’d already looked at a couple of riders with broken clavicles.

“It’s a mini C-arm,” said Jake Plummer, an X-ray technician with Fit-N-Wise. “It uses almost no radiation, so it’s safe to use out here.”

Plummer demonstrates by placing his hand under the X-ray. The touchscreen displays his skeletal hand and even the motion as he makes a fist. Within a moment, it can print out a Polaroid-like photograph of the X-ray.

Such a complete medical station is normally reserved for professional motocross events.

“This is the first time there has been a tent like this at an amateur event,” Montgomery said. “And (Oak Hill) is the hub of youth motocross in North Texas.”

In a sport known for traumatic injury, any extra health care is boon for the young riders.

“In this sport, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to get hurt, but when,” Montgomery said.

At this event, at least, Fit-N-Wise sports performance and sports medicine is there when they fall.

Kicking Up Dirt

KICKIN’ UP DIRT – Tommy Maxey makes the dirt fly as he goes around a curve on the motocross track northwest of Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Candidates made early vote margins stand up

The vote totals tell the ultimate story of how an election went for candidates – but more stories emerge when you dig a little deeper into the numbers.

Last week, we broke down the county judge and Precinct 4 commissioner races. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the district clerk race and the Precinct 1 and 4 justice of the peace races in the Republican primary.

None of those candidates has a Democratic opponent in November.

District Clerk Graphic

DISTRICT CLERK

Incumbent Brenda Rowe won re-election as district clerk by gathering 58.27 percent of the vote. She also won 24 of the 25 individual voting precincts in the county. The only box she lost was Precinct 2-9 in Alvord. Her opponent, Callie Manning, won 63.4 percent of the vote in her hometown area.

Rowe’s strongest showing appeared to come from the south part of the county. She captured three out of every four votes cast in Precinct 3-25. Rowe also carried box 3-20, in Cottondale, with 70.59 percent of the vote. She topped 60 percent in 13 of the 25 boxes including all of the commissioner Precinct 3 boxes.

PRECINCT 1 JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

Incumbent Jan Morrow was re-elected as Precinct 1 justice of the peace with 69.18 percent of the vote over challenger Josh Reynolds. She won all seven voting precincts in commissioner Precinct 1. Her strongest showing was the 79.84 percent of the vote she captured in Precinct 1-3 in the Slidell area. She also earned more than 70 percent in Precinct 1-4 (Greenwood).

Reynolds did best in Precinct 1-22, located south of Decatur, with 46.09 percent of the vote.

PRECINCT 4 JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

Clay Poynor won re-election as Precinct 4 justice of the peace with 67.2 percent of the vote over challenger Teresa Graves. Poynor won all five voting precincts with more than 65 percent of the vote in each.

In fact, the percentage of the vote changed very little from precinct to precinct. Poynor’s strongest showing was 69.01 percent in Precinct 4-13, and his lowest percentage was the 65.15 percent he claimed in Precinct 4-16.

EARLY VOTING TOLD THE STORY

Early voting accounted for 44 percent of the total votes in the Republican primary election, and it proved a remarkably accurate predictor of the final results.

Rowe led after early voting with 58.03 percent of the vote, and she won with 58.27 percent of the total vote.

In early voting, Morrow claimed 70.52 percent compared to a final percentage of 69.18.

Poynor received 65.95 percent of the early votes and finished with 67.2 percent.

Similar patterns were seen in the county judge race where J.D. Clark’s winning early vote/election day splits were 57.17 and 55.33 percent. The only change from early to final vote totals was Kyle Stephens, who led Keith McComis 21.97 percent to 20.86 percent after early voting, but eventually finished third with 21.57 percent of the vote compared to McComis’ 23.1 percent.

In the county treasurer race, Katherine Canova Hudson’s numbers changed just over one-tenth of 1 percentage point between early and total votes, 73.8 to 73.69 percent.

The largest shift was seen in the Precinct 4 commissioner’s race. Gaylord Kennedy won the three-person race with 59.42 percent of the vote. He led with 65.66 percent of the vote after early numbers were released.

For more breakdowns of last week’s Republican and Democratic primary elections, visit the Wise County Election Department’s website at WCMess.com/gop14 and WCMess.com/dem14.

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County hits sales tax jackpot

Seven cities in Wise County showed a decrease in sales tax revenue for March, while five were up compared to last year.

But the big story for March is the county.

Sales Tax

Wise County is allowed to levy a half-cent sales tax to help offset property tax increases. That tax yielded $627,386 in March – up more than 72 percent compared to the $364,332 it brought in last March.

That windfall brings the county’s total for the year so far to $1,426,938, compared to $1,192,120 after three months last year – nearly a 20 percent improvement.

What’s behind that number?

Lauren Willis of the state comptroller’s office said it’s oil and gas related.

“The increase is due to large increases in taxable purchases reported by companies in the oil and gas industry,” she said.

State officials cannot disclose individual sales taxpayer information to the public, so that is as far as Willis could go.

The county’s windfall apparently has nothing to do with the $650,000 payback the state recently demanded from the city of Bridgeport due to an overpayment by a business there between 2005 and 2008. The city is still seeking additional information and weighing its options.

Willis did say that Bridgeport’s situation was also related to the oil and gas industry.

“The oil and gas industry is moving at such a torrid pace that the companies routinely accrue and pay tax on everything and then go back and re-evaluate the items for correct sales tax application later,” she noted. “This can result in companies filing for large refunds down the road. That is what happened in the Bridgeport situation.”

Meanwhile, the City of Bridgeport actually had a pretty good March.

The city took in $220,774 for the month, down just over 1 percent compared to last March. Bridgeport is still more than 21 percent behind last year’s pace but continues to budget sales tax revenue carefully to keep city operations on track.

In Decatur, the March payment was down 2.6 percent compared to last year, but the city is still up 2.4 percent compared to last year.

Rhome and New Fairview saw double-digit drops in March, but Boyd, Chico, Newark, Runaway Bay and Aurora were all up for the month.

For the year, in addition to Decatur, the cities of Rhome, Boyd, Chico, Alvord, Paradise, Runaway Bay and Aurora all show gains compared to last year.

Combined, however, the county’s 12 cities have collected 4.8 percent less in sales tax revenue this year. That’s a drop of almost $109,000.

Statewide, sales tax revenue grew for the 47th consecutive month.

“Sales tax revenue continues its growth streak,” Comptroller Susan Combs said. “Growth in tax collections was seen across all major economic sectors including oil and gas, wholesale trade and the services sector.”

Cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts collected a total of $553 million in March, up 4.1 percent compared to March 2013.

The March sales tax figures represent January sales reported by monthly tax filers.

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New TxDOT area engineer begins work

Wise County’s new TxDOT area engineer got a cold welcome earlier this month.

David Neeley, P.E., officially took over his new job March 1. March 2, a snow-and-ice storm blew in through Oklahoma, bringing single-digit temperatures, freezing rain and sleet that packed highways in some areas with a 3- to 4-inch layer of ice.

On the Job

ON THE JOB – New area engineer David Neeley, P.E., is happy to see a little sunshine after starting off with an ice storm. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“It’s been different, right off the bat,” said Neeley, a 25-year TxDOT veteran. “Denton was really hit hard. This was the only area office in the Fort Worth district that really got hit.”

The icepack thawed after a day or so, and damage to roadways was not extraordinary. But Neeley is sure he will see more of that sort of thing here than he did in the south Tarrant County area office, where he had served as assistant area engineer since 2010.

There, he helped oversee $200 million in new construction, including the Interstate 30 Three-Bridges project in Arlington and the Texas 121 interchange at Interstate 20 and Texas 183.

Here, he inherits a $16 million project for an interchange at U.S. 81/287 and Business 287 (see separate story) – but most of the focus will be on smaller things like bridges, repair, resurfacing – and putting shoulders on rural farm-to-market roads.

“That’s the kind of projects I really like,” he said. “In the whole scope of TxDOT, no, it’s not one of these huge interchanges or a major freeway – but it’s a need. I get more satisfaction out of that, making a road safer.”

Neeley earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1988, then started full time with TxDOT as an engineering assistant. In 1993, after becoming a licensed professional civil engineer, he worked as a project inspector, chief inspector and project engineer.

In 1998, he was promoted to construction project engineer in the Hillsboro area office of TxDOT’s Waco District, where he led the $45 million main lane reconstruction of Interstate 35 from Abbott to Hillsboro. He returned to the Fort Worth District to serve as Johnson County assistant area engineer from 1998 until 2006.

There, Neeley helped manage and implement comprehensive development agreements that advanced the $2.5 billion North Tarrant Express and $1.1 billion DFW Connector. As a TxDOT project manager, he also worked with the city of Fort Worth and the North Texas Tollway Authority to negotiate a successful partnership to deliver the $1.4 billion Chisholm Trail Parkway.

Regardless of the size of the projects, Neeley said his focus is to leave an area’s roadways in better condition.

“My goal has always been, when I leave, to be able to look back and say I improved it – that I had a hand in improving transportation,” he said. “To say the least, I hope to be able to do that.”

Neeley replaces Bill Nelson, who recently retired after 31 years with the Texas Department of Transportation.

“I feel extremely privileged to be in this position, leading such a dedicated group of employees,” he said. “Maintaining a safe system, addressing congestion, connecting motorists around our community and being the best-in-class agency are my goals as the new area engineer.”

Safety – for TxDOT employees, contractors and the general public – is a particular emphasis for TxDOT right now, he said.

He used area Farm-to-Market roads as examples.

“You’re taking a 20-foot wide road, essentially two, 10-foot lanes, and we’re tacking on 5 1/2 or 6 feet on either side,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when we are finished, they’re going to have 12-foot lanes and a 3-foot shoulder.”

That’s not a big deal until a truck is coming at you and you need the extra room, he said.

Neeley hopes to continue to make the most of federal funding for projects like that.

“In Johnson County, we were very proactive about trying to get the federal funding,” he said. “We were able to get quite a bit down there, and I’m glad to say it’s active up here. They’ve done a very good job of proposing projects and actually getting them – proposing projects that do a lot of good for the safety of the traveling public.”

He said he’s more accustomed to being on the receiving end of Wise County’s infamous rock haulers.

“The mix of traffic up here is something I really haven’t worked with before,” he said. “I looked out my window the other day and saw the trucks, one after the other. It makes for a lot of different types of issues.”

Right now he has a roster of overlays and “off-system” bridges – bridges on county roads or city streets – scheduled to go in over the next three years.

“That’s a prioritized list, basically, essentially based on need and the condition of the roads,” he said. “It’s a federally-funded program, funded with 80 percent federal money and 20 percent state, with other local entities sometimes sharing in the cost also.”

TxDOT’s normal role is to handle the bid-letting for those projects, then inspect them as they go in.

The U.S. 81/287 project just south of Decatur is one Neeley feels very good about.

“That ought to be a really smooth project,” he said. “They’ve done some really good projects along there, some seriously smart projects. That, and the expansion of 380, show some real proactive thinking. It ought to be a lot better than blinking yellow lights at you.”

Currently the Decatur office, which serves Wise and Jack counties, has 15 employees. Neeley hopes to hire an assistant soon, but for now he’s the only engineer on staff here. But maintenance supervisor Ricky Tompkins and a veteran crew “make things easy,” he said.

Despite a few severe cold spells over the winter, he said ice damage is “not above and beyond what we would normally expect.”

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Youth Fair 2014

Youth Rodeo

YOUTH RODEO – Cameron Tucker grimaces as he attempts to wrestle a steer at the Wise County Youth Fair Rodeo Friday night. The rodeo was held at the end of the fair, which ran March 1-8. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Arena Action

ARENA ACTION – Jordan Lee of Fort Worth holds on for a wild ride in the bareback contest Friday night at the Wise County Youth Fair Rodeo. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Out of the Gate

OUT OF THE GATE – Ryder Taylor of Alvord continues to hang on even after his sheep sits down in the arena Friday night. Taylor hoped to win the mutton bustin’ title at the Wise County Youth Fair Rodeo. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Bucking Bronc

BUCKING BRONC – Jacob Smith of Paradse manages to stay atop a bucking horse as it jumps across the arena Friday night. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Picture of Perseverance

PICTURE OF PERSEVERANCE – Chase Sinks of Rockwall attempts to throw down a calf after roping it Friday during the Youth Fair Rodeo. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Saturday sale tops $229,000

The 2014 Wise County Youth Fair ended with a sale Saturday that saw 129 projects bring $229,600 to their young exhibitors.

The grand champion steer, shown by Haley Rector with Paradise FFA, brought $11,000. It was purchased by the Champions and Blue Ribbon Club.

Grand Champion Steer

GRAND CHAMPION STEER – Haley Rector with Paradise FFA walks the grand champion steer through the arena Saturday at the Youth Fair Sale. It was purchased by the Champions and Blue Ribbon Club for $11,000. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The organization spent $59,750 to purchase Youth Fair show champions and distributed another $42,800 to seven buyers’ associations to help with project purchases.

Reserve Champion Steer

RESERVE CHAMPION STEER – Seth Byers with Decatur 4-H enters the arena Saturday to sell the reserve champion steer at the Youth Fair Sale. He received $6,500. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The grand champion market hog, shown by Carson Read with Decatur 4-H, and the grand champion market lamb, shown by Rebecca Lambert of Paradise Jr. FFA, both brought $5,500. Miranda Dickens with Bridgeport FFA received $5,000 for the grand champion market wether, and Seth Hakanson with Decatur Jr. FFA sold his grand champion rabbit meat pen for $1,250.

Champion Market Lamb

CHAMPION MARKET LAMB – Rebecca Lambert with Paradise Jr. FFA brings the grand champion market lamb into the Wise County Fairgrounds arena Saturday. The animal sold for $5,500 to the Champions and Blue Ribbon Club. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The grand champion broilers, shown by Cale Laaser with Decatur 4-H, did not sell because Laaser chose to sell his market hog instead. Exhibitors are allowed to have only one item in the sale and must choose which project to sell if more than one makes the cut.

The grand champion agricultural mechanics project exhibited by Daniel McCurdy of Wise County 4-H sold for $2,500. Parker Griffeth with Decatur FFA sold the grand champion horticulture project for $750.

Grand champion baked goods each sold for $750. The winning exhibitors included Brittany Pritchard with Paradise FCCLA, FCCLA all-level grand champion; Savannah Richardson with Boyd 4-H, grand champion 4-H food ages 14 and over; Brianna Pewitt with Alvord 4-H, grand champion 4-H food ages 11, 12 and 13; and Madelyn Causey with Alvord 4-H, grand champion 4-H food ages 9 and 10.

Decatur exhibitors had the most items in the sale with 36, closely followed by Paradise at 33. Bridgeport exhibitors had 16 of the prize-winning projects, and Boyd and Chico had 13 each. Alvord exhibitors had 12 projects in the sale, and Slidell had three. Exhibitors showing under Wise County 4-H had three projects that sold Saturday.

A complete list of items in the Youth Fair Sale, as well as other results from the fair and rodeo, will be published in a special section of the Messenger next Wednesday, March 19.

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Scholarships honoring Young presented Saturday

Three scholarships honoring the late Roy Young were presented to exhibitors at the Wise County Youth Fair Sale of Champions Saturday.

Young was among the founders of the Youth Fair Champions and Blue Ribbon Club, and served as president of the group for more than five years. Since its inception, the club has awarded more than $1 million to Youth Fair champions and Buyers Clubs.

Scholarship Winner

SCHOLARSHIP WINNER – Ashley Pearson with Paradise FFA was presented a $2,500 scholarship in honor of Roy Young by the Youth Fair Champions and Blue Ribbon Club. Pictured are (from left) Brennan Williams with the Champions Club, Pearson, Young’s sisters Debra Walker and Linda Young, Walker’s granddaughter Bailey Boaz and Asa W. Johnson Jr., Champions Club president. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Two $2,000 scholarships were given by Young’s sisters, Debra Walker and Linda Young, along with Andrew Rottner of Wise County Challenger Charities, sponsors of the annual Professional Bull Riding event at the fairgronds.

Those scholarships were awarded to Clayton McGar of Decatur FFA and China Brattis of Chico FFA.

A $2,500 scholarship, sponsored by the Champions and Blue Ribbon Club was presented to Ashley Pearson of Paradise FFA. The scholarships were presented by Asa W. Johnson Jr., president of the Champions Club.

Financial Awards

FINANCIAL AWARDS – China Brattis with Chico FFA (second from left) and Clayton McGar with Decatur FFA (second from right) received $2,000 scholarships Saturday in honor of Roy Young. They were presented by (from left) Young’s sister, Debra Walker and her granddaughter, Bailey Boaz, sister Linda Young and Andrew Rottner of Wise County Challenger Charities. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Firefighters battle 8 grass fires over 2 days

A Cottondale volunteer firefighter was injured Monday while battling one of four blazes that broke out in the department’s jurisdiction that afternoon.

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said the firefighter was responding to a grass fire in the 400 block of Private Road 3675 when he sustained deep cuts on his legs from barbed wire.

The accident occurred while the property owner was attempting to remove the wire with a piece of farming equipment.

“He didn’t realize that he was dragging some behind him, and as he was pulling it, it pinned the firefighter against the firetruck,” Beard said.

The injured volunteer was transported to Wise Regional Health System in Bridgeport, where he was treated and released.

The blaze, which was started by a man welding on a fence, charred just under 10 acres.

“It was down in a ravine, so it was hard to get to,” Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis said. “Crews worked on it for several hours, fighting it mostly by hand.”

The largest of Monday’s fires burned 15 to 20 acres and several pieces of farming equipment on County Road 3657.

Firefighters also responded to two fires in the Rhome area – one of which involved a trackhoe, which was being used to move logs in a land-clearing controlled burn.

Another grass fire burned five to six acres on Farm Road 3433, across from Chisholm Trail Middle School.

The cause of that fire is still under investigation.

“All of those fires were started inadvertently either with torches or controlled burns that got out of hand,” Travis said. “It’s not really an issue until it crosses property lines. Then you’re responsible for the damage done to other properties.”

“People start the (controlled burn), and then they leave it unattended,” Beard added. “And then this is what happens.”

Firefighters were dispatched back to the Cottondale area Tuesday when a grass fire broke out in the 2000 block of County Road 3791.

Units from Cottondale, Salt Creek, Paradise, Boonsville, Bridgeport and Boyd responded to the blaze, which blackened between seven and eight acres.

It was believed to have started by cutting torch.

Later in the day, firefighters from Paradise, Bridgeport and Decatur responded to a blaze on County Road 3390 in Paradise.

As of press time, the fire was 75 percent contained to between 30 and 50 acres.

“Access is very difficult,” Beard said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s gotten into a heavily wooded area, so that will continue to burn for a while.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“With the conditions as they are, it doesn’t take much for a spark to take off,” Travis said.

At their meeting Monday, county commissioners approved a 90-day extension to the Red Flag burn ban.

Under that ban, burning is prohibited only on “red flag” days as designated by the National Weather Service. Several factors, including humidity level and wind speeds, are considered in the designation.

With wind speed expected to reach 40 to 45 miles per hour, officials anticipated Wednesday would be a Red Flag Day.

“But we won’t know that until the Weather Service issues that,” Beard said. “We may end up instating a total burn ban for 30 days. If the conditions continue as they have and if we keep having controlled burns getting out of control, it’ll be necessary.”

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Online orders make Sunday delivery debut

Last year the pressure was on the U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday delivery.

That proposal is still in the works, but last weekend local postal workers went another direction – they started delivering packages on Sunday.

The USPS has partnered with Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, to deliver items ordered through their website on Sundays.

The service premiered in the Los Angeles and New York City metro areas last November. It made its debut in the Metroplex – including Wise County – last Sunday.

Amazon spent billions building new warehouses around the world to deliver products faster. They built two of those massive fulfillment centers in the Metroplex cities of Coppell and Haslet. The company added a Sunday delivery option to generate more sales.

USPS welcomes the new source of revenue. And it’s still the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation – a total of 152 million homes, businesses and P.O. boxes.

USPS has hired several new employees locally to make the Sunday deliveries.

Amazon does not charge extra for the new service, so members of the company’s Prime service will be able to buy products on Friday and get them by Sunday for free.

The service also applies to non-Prime members, who can get free five- to eight-day shipping on orders of at least $35.

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Construction firm shares trophy, but no critters

”Do you have a raccoon in there?” Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns asked Jared Jones.

Jones, with Steele-Freeman of Fort Worth, walked into Monday’s commissioners meeting carrying a large, cardboard box. There was no woodland creature inside, but instead, a trophy.

Jones, along with Business Development Director Karen Benson and Assistant Project Manager Boyd Weaver, presented county commissioners with a first-place award that the construction company received in the 2013 TEXO Distinguished Building Awards for Weatherford College Wise County.

“We would like to give Wise County an award that we won for the college,” Jones said, as he held up the trophy. “This was for any project built in 2012 in all of North Texas for buildings in the $10 to $30 million range. It went up against buildings in Dallas, museums and the like.

“This is our first time to win first place,” he said.

Burns was perhaps suspicious of the large box because he anticipated a payback. The commissioner said when Jones first began work on the WCWC project, he put a raccoon in Jones’ portable office at the construction site “to welcome him to the country.”

Steele-Freeman received the honor at the TEXO awards banquet in December. Since then, they have also presented a trophy to the college to commemmorate the accomplishment.

SALVAGE YARDS

Only three people attended a public hearing prior to Monday’s regular commissioners meeting. The group invited citizens to comment on county regulations related to certain outdoor businesses.

At a Feb. 10 meeting, commissioners discussed the county’s salvage yard ordinance after a citizen inquired about local regulations. Commissioners discovered the county ordinance was not in line with state law regarding permit fees and needed to be rewritten.

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard suggested dropping the permit fee from $150 to $25.

“It would be easier to enforce if it was in line with state guidelines,” he said. “The state transportation code says we can impose a fee of $25. We impose a fee of $150, which goes with a county with a population of 1 million or more.”

County commissioners were on board with Beard’s suggestion and approved the measure.

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

Commissioners approved updating the county’s employee handbook requiring Sheriff’s Office employees, Emergency Medical Services employees and road hands to have an eye exam as part of their physical prior to being hired.

Sheriff David Walker had requested the change after new deputies placed on night shift suddenly revealed they couldn’t see in the dark.

“It doesn’t bind us to buy their glasses or anything else like that,” he said. “But it does say that they have to pass an eye test.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said he found it “amazing that we hire someone who doesn’t realize they have trouble seeing at night.”

“There’s a lot of stuff people don’t tell you while they’re in the process of getting hired,” Walker said. “I think our testing will weed out a lot of that stuff.”

FAIRGROUNDS

White congratulated Public Works Director Tom Goode on his work to clean and prepare the fairgrounds for the Decatur Swap Meet and Wise County Youth Fair.

“We completed our first antique car swap meet and our first Youth Fair event, and I want to congratulate (Goode) on a fine job,” he said. “Everything I heard about the Youth Fair was ‘good job.’”

White said there were a few complaints from the car club, but he thought those issues had been ironed out.

Goode said he spoke with Zane Lasater, who organized the Youth Fair Rodeo, and Lasater told him everything went well.

“Any proceeds they had left over will be given back to the Youth Fair,” he said.

White said he thought the “county as a whole did a good job.”

“… we only had three months to prepare for this, and everyone pitched in and did a good job,” he said.

The next big event at the fairgrounds is the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge May 31.

OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners also heard a report on the Sheriff’s Office phone system, which is no longer working properly.

Walker said the system and its battery backups were “knocked out” when transformers on Market Street in Decatur blew up Jan. 24.

“When we tried to re-program the phones, we found out the software is no longer available,” he said. “It doesn’t affect 911. That’s a totally different system. This is the system for the office that we bought when we built the jail. Sometimes the phones work, and sometimes they don’t.”

Asset Manager Diana Alexander said insurance has agreed to pay $54,000 toward a replacement system.

Walker also requested canceling the county’s contract with Maxor pharmacy services and instead using S&J Pharmacy in Decatur to provide medications to Wise County Jail.

He said his department originally used Maxor because the company could provide medications in bulk, and it gave the jail credit for medicine it didn’t use.

Walker said he had talked with a pharmacist at S&J who said the local pharmacy could also give them credit for unused medicine and would give them a price break on commonly used medications. They will also deliver to the jail, eliminating a one- to two-day wait when medicine was shipped from Maxor.

“This will make it a whole lot easier on our staff,” Walker said.

Commissioners approved the change.

They also:

  • accepted a $10,135 grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which was awarded to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office in 2012. The money will partially fund a new voice/data recorder.
  • approved a project agreement between Precinct 1 and the city of Decatur for road work on Eagle Drive, Thompson Street and Deer Park Road. White said the work will start the second week of June.
  • approved a proof of loss form for insurance coverage of roof repairs due to winter ice storms.
  • approved moving capital expenditure plan money, including $60,000 designated for computers and equipment to mount them in the ambulances from fiscal year 2014 to FY 2015 for EMS; moved half of the money designated for a new CAD system for the Sheriff’s Office from FY 2014 to FY 2015; and $80,000 from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2014 for a roller in Precinct 3.
  • extended the county’s red flag burn ban for another 90 days.
  • approved the purchase of a new pickup for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Wise County.
  • approved seeking bids for one or more police sports utility vehicles and pickups for the Sheriff’s Office.
  • approved White’s request to purchase a truck tractor on state contract. The state doesn’t accept trade-ins so his current truck tractor will be sold.
  • approved again seeking bids for EMS uniform pants.
  • approved a re-plat for Jordan Addition, lots 1R1 and 1R2, block 1, in Precinct 3 with variances for measurements on the street and drainage.
  • approved a final plat for Forte Addition, lot 1, in Precinct 3.
  • accepted $264.81 for Cans for Canines.
  • approved a proclamation declaring April 2014 as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Wise County.

County commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, March 24, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The public is welcome.

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Deputies recover stolen goods, bust possible meth lab

Over the past month Wise County Sheriff’s Office investigators have recovered approximately $1 million worth of stolen property, busted a possible methamphetamine lab and arrested 10 people in cases throughout Wise as well as Parker and Jack counties.

Stolen items included vehicles, aluminum wire, tractors, guns, computers, oilfield equipment, lawn mowers and trailers. More than 430 grams of methamphetamine, along with chemicals to produce meth, have been seized in the arrests.

“It all started with an arrest back in January,” said Wise County Sheriff David Walker. “Our investigators made an arrest and the suspects started spilling their guts. That led to warrants and more arrests.

“It’s all about striking while the iron is hot,” he added. “If you wait for it to get cold you might never find them.

Walker said he hoped the arrests will have a real impact on crime in Wise County.

“The investigators have done and continue to do an amazing job on these theft and drug cases. We hope the success we have will filter down to our regional thieves, and they will no longer target Wise County,” he said. “The troops have put in many hours on these cases … I am proud of the teamwork we have within the department and the relationships we have with other area law enforcement agencies.”

The most recent warrant served was on Wednesday in Paradise. When officers entered a home in the 700 block of County Road 365, they discovered stolen firearms, a trailer and a tire-changing machine along with more than 300 grams of methamphetamine.

Criminals

Jennifer Carrell, 34, and Jennifer Arrant, 36, were both arrested at the scene and charged with possession of a controlled substance. Arrant was also charged with two counts of endangering a child and tampering with evidence.

A warrant served on Feb. 24 in the 100 block of County Road 3382 recovered stolen oilfield equipment, lawn mowers, trailers, generators and a John Deere tractor valued at $150,000. Rodney Hurdsman, 45, of Roanoke was arrested and charged with two counts of felony theft.

Walker said local merchants helped officers track down where some of the stolen goods came from.

When investigators served a warrant at a home in the 100 block of County Road 3791 on Feb. 14, they discovered items related to 15 theft cases.

William W. Cox, 50, of Paradise and Tad Z. Sawyer, 18, of Boyd, were both arrested in connection with those thefts. The same day, a huge cache of stolen items including a golf cart, welder and a trailer, were located in Jack County.

On Feb. 11, a man and woman were arrested at a home in the 100 block of Beachview in Runaway Bay. Officers found 100 grams of meth as well as large amount of chemicals used to manufacture meth. They also found a large spool of stolen aluminum.

David K. Smith, 52, of Runaway Bay and Bobbi J. Hill, 48, of Bowie were arrested at the scene.

Other theft arrests included Albert Silough, of Rhome, who was charged with theft and possession of a dangerous drug. Randy Nabors, 42, of Bridgeport and Michelle Combs, 37, of Bridgeport, were both charged with theft.

“Our investigators take it personally when people in their community are victims of theft,” Walker said. “That’s why they work so hard and put in so many hours to recover it.”

Investigators James Mayo, Mike Neagle, Clint Caddell and Chad Lanier worked on the above cases. More charges are pending in some of the cases, and related arrests are soon expected in Parker County.

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No way out: Kids, adults look for rescue from bullying

No way out: Kids, adults look for rescue from bullying

“I can’t take it anymore. I cannot take the pressure of being bullied anymore.”

A Decatur boy spoke those words to his mom recently – right after she had stopped his suicide attempt.

Fortunately, she was able to calm him down and get professional help. But the underlying problem of persistent bullying remains as real as ever – for him, and for other young kids at school, at home, and in their neighborhoods.

SURROUNDED – Bullying can make young teenagers feel as if they have no one to turn to. A support network of adults, family and friends is crucial. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Bullying has become a buzzword in American culture, particularly in schools. Almost all school districts now train their teachers and students, bring in speakers and mount concerted efforts to identify and stop the kind of systematic bullying that sends kids to the brink of suicide.

Bullying plays a role in as many as half of the 4,400 teenage suicides that occur each year in the U.S. It may have been a factor in the rash of school shootings that began with Columbine High School, near Denver, in April 1999.

Most of the time, it gets no where near that level. But it does push far too many children into a kind of desperate, fly-below-the-radar survival mode, leaving scars that can stay with them well into adulthood.

And it’s everywhere – from big, inner-city schools to the small, rural districts that spread across Wise County.

It can be overcome, but first it must be defined, identified and dealt with.

AN OVERUSED TERM

Psychologists agree that real bullying contains three elements:

  • physical or verbal abuse,
  • repeated over time, and
  • involving a power imbalance.

“It’s about one person with more social status lording it over another person, over and over again, to make him miserable,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor of Slate and author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy,” in a New York Times article last year.

Certainly every clash among students is not bullying. The circumstances surrounding the Decatur boy who attempted suicide do seem to fit the definition, however.

The part about “power” is often hard for adults to grasp – but adults must realize that at a certain age, the perception of power is reality.

“You’re talking about a 13-year-old kid,” the Decatur boy’s mother said. “He doesn’t realize that these people are going to move out of his life. It’s hurting him, and that’s all he feels.”

Bazelon said defining bullying – and distinguishing it from normal teenage behavior – is crucial to helping combat it.

“Bullying is a particular form of harmful aggression, linked to real psychological damage, both short- and long-term,” she wrote. “There are concrete strategies that can succeed in addressing it – and they all begin with shifting the social norm so that bullying moves from being shrugged off to being treated as unacceptable.

“But we can’t do that if we believe, and tell our children, that it’s everywhere.”

The factors of repetition and power are crucial elements in real bullying.

“Most teenagers can identify bullying, but they can also distinguish it from what they often call ‘drama,’” Bazelon wrote. “Researchers have shown that is an accurate and common name for the ordinary skirmishes that mark most children’s lives.”

Drama, she said, is fairly common. Real bullying is far less common, and much more dangerous.

A group of Decatur High School students, interviewed under the condition that they would not be named, recounted incidents that would mostly be defined as drama. But one noted a friend had been systematically singled out because he is different, smart, not athletic – “weird.”

“I didn’t know until I saw him walking out of school one day,” she said. “He was coming out, and these guys who were like a year ahead of us were yelling these derogatory comments at him, cussing at him, saying all these bad things – like how he’s weird.”

She said his response is just to avoid them, even crack jokes.

“When you’re in the situation, it’s hard,” she said. “You don’t really have a voice when you have multiple people telling you these bad things, knocking you down over and over again.”

Like most kids who are bullied, he tries to just fly low, hide his true personality and hang out with different people. As an older student, he is almost out of the culture where the opinion of others matters so much to him.

For younger students, it’s often impossible to see that light at the end of the tunnel – and many do not have the kind of support from adults and friends that can help them through the toughest times.

THE SCHOOL’S RESPONSE

The Decatur boy’s mom (both she and her son were willing to be named, but the Messenger chose not to) looked to school officials for help, and felt the response was inadequate.

“I’ve been sidestepped this whole year,” she said. “Every time I’ve come and talked to them they say we’ll handle it, we’ll deal with it, we’ll let you know the outcome. I’ve never found out an outcome. I’ve called; they’re always in a meeting.

“There’s always something more important going on.”

Her son suffers from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is bi-polar and experiences severe mood swings. He also has a defiance disorder, she said, and low self-esteem. The only father he knows is his mom’s boyfriend, who just moved in with them last month.

He has a caseworker at Mental Health/Mental Retardation, a state agency that provides treatment and support services for those with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Being a teenager isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. For this young man and others who seem especially vulnerable, it can be a living hell.

“He came home from school one day and said kids were picking on him,” his mom said. “He’d sleep during class and stuff, because of medications. They would call him a fag and say he’s gay, push him down, knock his book-bag out of his hand – things like that.”

A few weeks ago, he was even stabbed in the hand with a pencil.

She said school officials told her they would talk to her son and handle it.

Decatur ISD policy spells out the steps educators will take to deal with bullying when it is called to their attention. Teachers undergo training and most administrators make it their business to spot these types of situations and intervene before they get out of hand.

Dewayne Tamplen, principal of McCarroll Middle School in Decatur, said in this case, some of the warning signs may have been missed.

“I see this young man every day,” he said. “It just breaks my heart over what has occurred. I don’t know the extent, all the pieces – she didn’t share that with me – but I think the world of this little boy. I’m just not seeing the level of what she’s saying this has risen to.”

Decatur Middle School is split between two campuses, with about 740 kids – 240 at the sixth-grade campus and another 500 at the seventh- and eighth-grade campus. Tamplen has one assistant principal at the sixth-grade campus and himself and another assistant at the seventh- and eighth-grade campus.

“I have students come report bullying, that someone was mad at someone, said something to them, and they report that as bullying,” he said. “It may not truly be the definition of bullying – they just have a problem with someone. But that’s how they report it now.”

Tamplen said his staff takes it seriously.

“We talk to the kids about it, we bring in speakers. We have several different types of things we do throughout the year. Our teachers are also trained, how to identify it and watch for it,” he said.

BRINGING PROBLEMS HOME

So how did this youngster get pushed to the point of a suicide attempt? The apparent trigger was not a school incident, but one that occurred near his home – when a group of kids he thought were his friends started picking on him.

The Friday before the attempt, his mother said he came home from school upset and disturbed, but he and his mom “talked it out.”

The next day, he was playing outside with a group of boys, and they wanted to play a game he didn’t want to play. They started teasing him.

“I don’t think this group of boys meant any harm because they are actually his friends,” she said. “But they were calling him names – and him already being sensitive because of the bullying at school, it came to a head.”

Later that afternoon, her son went into the bathroom, put a belt around his neck and was trying to find a way to harness it up when she walked in.

“I saw what he was doing, and it took every ounce of strength I had to restrain him,” she said. “He told me, ‘Mom, I just want to die. Let me go.’ He fought me, and I held on with everything I had.”

He finally got tired and went to sleep, she said. He slept most of Saturday and into Sunday afternoon. Monday, she called his caseworker, who urged her to get professional help at a nearby mental health facility. After a brief evaluation they decided to keep him. It’s undetermined how long he’ll stay.

“Within the first 10 minutes of a psychologist walking into the room and saying just a few words, she looked at me and said, ‘He is severely depressed.’” the boy’s mother said. “She could see it right off the bat.”

INTERVENING: IT TAKES A NETWORK

Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend said it’s a mistake to think school personnel don’t care.

“Everyone up here cares, and there’s not one person up here who would intentionally neglect a situation like this,” he said.

But knowing when to let normal “drama” run its course, and when to step in, is a fine line.

Tamplen said he usually tries to keep it low-key to avoid making a situation worse – especially for the kid who may be bullied.

“If a kiddo comes to me and says, hey, they’re having issues… I may grab [the bully] on the side and say hey, I’ve been hearing …” he said. “I never put that kid [the victim] in harm’s way. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

He said he tries to put potential bullies “on notice.”

“I’ll say, ‘Hey, I saw you in the hallway the other day, you know, bothering this kiddo or whatever.’ That lets them know somebody is watching, keeping an eye on the situation. It lets them know we’re not going to have that anymore.”

He said they also train students on how to react to what they perceive as bullying – who to go to, who to talk to, how to remove themselves from a situation.

“At some point they have to self-advocate,” Townsend said. “We talk to them about that as well. If there’s an issue there, then don’t hang around those people.”

The superintendent said society puts expectations on schools that are sometimes unrealistic.

“We can’t raise their kids 24 hours a day,” he said. “We have them seven hours, and we keep them safe during that time. It’s not just happening here.”

The high school students who talked about bullying all came back around to that support network that includes not only school personnel – teachers, coaches and administrators – but parents, siblings, friends and other adults. Those people can be crucial links in getting a younger child through the difficult times and out the other end as whole, healthy adults.

“People rescued me,” said one girl. “My friend, my sister, my coaches, my teachers. Having people to come to your rescue is important.”

BULLYING AND SUICIDE

There is a strong link between bullying and suicide, as suggested by recent bullying-related suicides in the U.S. and other countries.

Parents, teachers and students need to learn the dangers of bullying and help students who may be at risk of committing suicide.

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  • For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts.
  • More than 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Bullying victims are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying.
  • 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

  • Showing signs of depression, like ongoing sadness, withdrawal from others, losing interest in favorite activities, or trouble sleeping or eating
  • Talking about or showing an interest in death or dying
  • Engaging in dangerous or harmful activities, including reckless behavior, substance abuse or self injury
  • Giving away favorite possessions and saying goodbye to people
  • Saying or expressing that they can’t handle things anymore
  • Making comments that things would be better without them

SOURCE: www.bullyingstatistics.org

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Clark 25 for 25 in county judge win

The primary elections are over, and the (almost) final numbers are known.

But there are still plenty of interesting numbers to be found among the results.

This week, we’ll review two of the most closely-watched races: county judge and Precinct 4 commissioner.

Election Graphic

REPUBLICAN BREAKOUT – A closer look at a couple of races from Tuesday’s Republican primary election reveals more detail on how those final results came to be. The chart at left shows the county judge totals broken down by commissioner precinct while the chart below shows how voters in the five individual voting precincts in commissioner Precinct 4 voted in the county commissioner race. Messenger graphic by Jimmy Alford

COUNTY JUDGE

J.D. Clark avoided a runoff by defeating his two challengers in the Republican primary with more than 50 percent of the vote. He was also the top vote-getter in all 25 voting precincts.

Of those 25 precincts, Clark won more than 50 percent of the vote in 19 of them. He was over 60 percent in six precincts (2-7, 2-8, 2-9, 2-11, 2-12 and 3-25). Not surprisingly, his “home” precinct, 2-12 which votes at Chico City Library, gave him the highest percentage of votes with 77 percent.

The vote was closest in Cottondale’s 3-20 precinct. Clark received 35.71 percent, narrowly edging Kyle Stephens who had 34.92 percent of the vote. Keith McComis had 29.37 percent in that precinct.

McComis, Bridgeport’s mayor, finished strongest in the two Bridgeport voting precincts, 4-13 and 4-14, with 35.48 percent and 37.84 percent, respectively.

Stephens’ best showing was in the Cottondale precinct mentioned above and the New Fairview box, Precinct 1-6, with 34.65 percent of the vote.

The Democratic challenger for county judge, Jim Stegall, could have his work cut out for him in November. If everyone who voted for him in the Democratic primary (540) and everyone who voted against Clark in the Republican primary (2,423) were to vote for him in November, he would still be 38 votes short of the 3,001 total votes Clark received in the primary.

PRECINCT 4 COMMISSIONER

Like Clark, Gaylord Kennedy managed to earn more than 50 percent of the vote in a race that featured two other Republican candidates for Precinct 4 commissioner.

Kennedy won each of the five voting precincts in the Precinct 4 commissioner precinct, and won more than 50 percent of the vote in three of them: 4-13, 4-14 and 4-17, the Bridgeport and Paradise boxes. He won the highest percentage of the vote in 4-13 with 83.57 percent. His lowest total came in 4-16 (Boonsville) with 45.2 percent of the vote.

The runner-up, David Stewart, had his strongest showing in 4-15 (Runaway Bay), where he received 37.54 percent of the vote. His weakest showing was 7.98 percent in 4-13.

Incumbent Terry Ross found the most success in Boonsville with 37.77 percent of the vote. Like Stewart, his lowest vote total came in Precinct 4-13.

With contested races for both commissioner and justice of the peace, it was no surprise that Precinct 4 had the highest number of Republican voters among the four commissioner precincts – 1,721.

Democratic challenger Kristina Kemp is in the same situation as Stegall. She received 148 votes in the primary. If she took all of the Ross and Stewart votes in the general election, she’ll need to convince at least 163 more people to vote for her to be the next Precinct 4 commissioner.

The final numbers from Tuesday’s primary elections will not be available until next week after the ballot board meets to determine if 11 provisional ballots will be accepted. The 11 votes are not enough to change the results of any race.

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Public hearing set Monday

Wise County commissioners have a public hearing and regular meeting scheduled for Monday, March 10.

The public hearing is set for 8:45 a.m. at the courthouse to discuss and receive comments on county regulations related to certain outdoor businesses, including salvage yards. At a Feb. 10 meeting, commissioners discussed the county’s salvage yard ordinance after a citizen inquired about local regulations.

Commissioners discovered the county ordinance was not in line with state law and needed to be rewritten. Any action on the ordinance will take place in the regular meeting that starts at 9 a.m.

They will also discuss the capital budget for fiscal years 2014 through 2016, as well as updates to the Wise County employee handbook, and a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality waiver for stormwater discharges from small, municipal storm sewer systems.

Both meetings will be held in the third-floor conference room of the county courthouse in Decatur.

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Livestock producers affected by severe weather urged to keep good records

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Juan M. Garcia this week encouraged livestock producers affected by natural disasters such as the drought in the West and the unexpected winter storm in the upper Midwest to keep thorough records.

This includes livestock and feed losses and any additional expenses that are a result of losses to purchased forage or feed stuff.

“The 2014 Farm Bill provides a strong farm safety net to help ranchers during these difficult times,” said Garcia. “We’ll provide producers with information on new program requirements, updates and sign-ups as the information becomes available. In the meantime, I urge producers to keep thorough records. We know these disasters have caused serious economic hardships for our livestock producers. We’ll do all we can to assist in their recovery.”

In addition to western drought and the early-winter snowstorms, there are a variety of disasters from floods to storms to unexpected freezes. Each event causes economic consequences for farmers and ranchers throughout the United States.

FSA recommends that owners and producers record all pertinent information of natural disaster consequences, including:

  • documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died, supplemented if possible by photographs or video records of ownership and losses;
  • dates of death supported by birth recordings or purchase receipts;
  • costs of transporting livestock to safer grounds or to move animals to new pastures;
  • feed purchases if supplies or grazing pastures are destroyed;
  • crop records, including seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records;
  • pictures of on-farm storage facilities that were destroyed by wind or flood waters; and
  • evidence of damaged farm land.

Visit www.fsa.usda.gov or an FSA county office to learn more about FSA programs and loans. For information about USDA’s Farm Bill implementation plan, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

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Wise County Youth Fair

Granbd Champion

GRAND CHAMPION – Haley Rector with Paradise FFA won grand champion steer Friday at the Wise County Youth Fair. The European cross will be sold today at the auction. A complete list of show results will be published in a special section March 19. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Afternoon Nap

AFTERNOON NAP – Makaya Wakefield of Paradise sits in the pen Thursday with her show pig, Wilbur. While the duo was waiting for their turn in the arena, Wilbur napped to ease any pre-show jitters. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Visiting the Fair

VISITING THE FAIR – Whitney Lamance of Boyd and her daughter, Harper, take a closer look at a lamb at the Wise County Youth Fair this week. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

No Horsing Around

NO HORSING AROUND – Carsyn Bailey (left) and Tanner Baker, both of Decatur, take off in the cattle penning competition Tuesday at NRS Arena. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Family Project

FAMILY PROJECT – Sydnee Mowery, 9, of Alvord shows off her ribbon and prize-winning goat with her mom, Buffy. Mowery showed Tuesday morning. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Constant Care

CONSTANT CARE – An exhibitor waters her heifers Thursday at the Wise County Youth Fair. The beef cattle show was Friday, concluding the 2014 Wise County Youth Fair. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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No runoff needed; Clark gets majority in 3-man race

No runoff needed; Clark gets majority in 3-man race

The Decatur Visitors Center erupted in whistles and cheers as the final numbers in the Republican primary were posted Tuesday night.

Chico Mayor J.D. Clark decisively won the Republican nomination for county judge with 55.33 percent of the vote, defeating Kyle Stephens and Bridgeport Mayor Keith McComis – with no runoff required.

Decisive Win

DECISIVE WIN – Chico Mayor J.D. Clark gives a thumbs up to his supporters after winning the Republican nomination for county judge. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Clark fist-bumped Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson as he wrote his vote total on the board – 3,001. Stephens received 1,170 votes, and McComis had 1,253.

“I don’t teach math, but that number’s a lot bigger than the two below it!” said Clark, who is also a history teacher at Bowie High School. “This is Wise County saying we believe in Wise County and that we can be better.”

Clark took command of the race early, leading 1,387 to Stephens’ 533 and McComis’ 506. Early voting numbers included absentee votes, which Clark also led with 209 votes to Stephens’ 101 and McComis’ 85. The margin barely fluctuated throughout the night.

“I feel completely incredible. I’m proud of the county, and it’s clear that the majority of us are on the same page,” Clark said. “They’re ready for fresh ideas and positive leadership.”

Stephens said “the voters have spoken.”

“(They) said what they wanted, and that’s what they’re going to have. I wish him all the luck in the world,” he said.

The former county commissioner wasn’t ready to commit to another race Tuesday night, but he didn’t rule it out.

“This is something I always wanted to do, even when I was commissioner, so we’ll have to see in four years,” he said.

McComis also said he might consider running for office again.

“I’m going to leave all those options open … it just depends,” he said. “I do appreciate the support I had, and the best part of this whole thing is I met some great people.

“The county has spoken, and that’s the way it is,” he said.

Clark will face Democratic candidate Jim Stegall in the November general election.

“I’m looking forward to good healthy debates,” Stegall said Tuesday night after congratulating Clark. “I’m just pleased that there were four good candidates for county judge.”

Stegall said since both he and Clark are educators, he expects they’ll both be skillful at informing voters. He noted that he did appreciate those who supported him in the Democratic primary, even though he had no opponent. He received 540 votes.

Clark’s Facebook page blew up as the final numbers were announced.

“So proud of the voters of Wise County. They put a great man in the judge’s office,” posted Clint Mercer.

“I have to say that I am honored to know each person that ran for county judge,” posted Victoria Holder. “I am so proud of J.D. for all of his hard work that he put into his campaign! Congratulations, J. D. Clark!”

Ready for November

READY FOR NOVEMBER – Republican county judge nominee J.D. Clark (left) gets a handshake from his Democratic counterpart, Jim Stegall, after Tuesday primary results were in. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“Congratulations to all the primary winners this eve. Had the pleasure of joining a fine young man and his friends this evening as he waited patiently to see if his hard work paid off,” posted Sabrina Easley. “Congratulations to the Wise County Republican candidate for county judge, Mr. J.D. Clark! Proud to call you a friend!”

Clark’s smile grew wider as he shook an endless stream of hands.

“A lot of people say I make a lot of speeches, but I’m pretty speechless right now,” he said, sinking onto a nearby table and taking a deep breath. “I’m just tickled that 3,001 people want me to work for them.”

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Local voters have say in state races

Statewide results were still being tabulated as the Messenger went to press late Tuesday, but we know how Wise County residents voted.

REPUBLICAN PRIMARY

John Cornyn was the clear favorite among local voters for U.S. senator. He received 59.92 percent of the local vote. The next closest candidate was Steve Stockman with 19.56 percent. None of the other six candidates reached 10 percent.

Mac Thornberry got just more than half of the Wise County votes cast in the District 13 U.S. representative race. The incumbent finished the night with 50.79 percent of the vote. Former Bridgeport resident Elaine Hays received 30.37 percent and Bowie resident Pam Barlow received 18.84 percent.

With 97 percent of the districtwide totals reported late Tuesday, Thornberry held a commanding lead with 67.86 percent of the vote.

For governor, local residents overwhelmingly chose Greg Abbott, who finished with 90.28 percent of the vote over three other candidates. Abbott was cruising to victory late Tuesday with a similar percent of votes statewide.

State Senator Dan Patrick was the local choice for lieutenant governor, taking 43.3 percent of the local vote. David Dewhurst got 24.31 percent, Todd Staples 22.97 and Jerry Patterson 9.41 percent. Statewide, it looked like Patrick and Dewhurst would be in a runoff.

In the race for attorney general, Ken Paxton received 47.61 percent of the Wise County vote. Dan Branch received 40.11 percent and Barry Smitherman 12.28 percent.

In local unopposed races:

  • County Clerk Sherry Coursey Lemon received the most votes with 4,893;
  • District Judge John Fostel had 4,870;
  • County Court-at-Law Judge Melton Cude polled 4,844;
  • Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns received 1,460 votes;
  • Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Lynn Johnson got 1,469;
  • Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Mandy Hopkins Hays received 857 votes;
  • and Republican County Chairman Allen L. Williamson chalked up 4,884.

In other unopposed races, Kay Granger received 1,457 votes for District 12 U.S. representative; Craig Estes received 4,819 votes for District 30 state senator; and Phil King received 4,911 votes for District 61 state representative.

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

David M. Alameel was the local favorite for U.S. senator as he received 46.43 percent of the Democratic vote over four other candidates. Kesha Rogers received the second-most votes with 20.52 percent.

Wendy R. Davis was the clear choice for governor as she pulled in 89.77 percent of the Wise County vote compared to 10.23 percent for Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal.

James “Jim” Stegall was the only Democratic candidate for county judge and received 540 votes.

The lone Democratic candidate for Precinct 4 commissioner, Kristina Kemp, received 148 votes.

Matthew Britt of Decatur was unopposed in his bid for the Democratic nomination for District 61 state representative and received 546 votes.

Tracy A. Smith received all 544 votes for Democratic party chair.

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Kennedy wins Republican primary, Ross finishes 3rd

Kennedy wins Republican primary, Ross finishes 3rd

Three ballot boxes from Precinct 4 were the last to trickle in Tuesday night.

But even before they were tallied, Gaylord Kennedy had built up a large lead over his two opponents in the Precinct 4 commissioner’s race. The trend that showed up in the early vote held true as Kennedy ran away with the race once the election-day votes were all in.

Kennedy Wins

KENNEDY WINS – Gaylord Kennedy won the Republican primary race for Precinct 4 county commissioner outright over David Stewart and incumbent Terry Ross. Kennedy talks with Ann Williams after his victory. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I’m looking forward to November and the general election – I’m ready to go,” Kennedy said. “It makes me feel really good and that I have a good start for the fall. I’d like to thank all the voters and citizens of Precinct 4 that supported me.”

Kennedy received 981, or 59 percent, of the votes cast. In order to avoid a runoff election, Kennedy just needed 50 percent plus one of the votes.

“I was hoping to win outright,” Kennedy said. “I thought I might have a good chance. But there are other factors. It’s a race with two other guys, and you never know. But I feel good that so many people gave me their support.”

Although suspended from office since August 2012, incumbent Terry Ross still had some support from the voters. He received 319, or 19 percent, of the Republican votes in the precinct.

Candidate David Stewart received 351, 21 percent, of the vote.

“I was really disappointed with the voter turnout,” Stewart said. “I thought the numbers would be higher. I also thought more people would vote against Terry (Ross).

“It was my first time to run. I learned a few things. I’ll be back in four years, and I plan to do a lot better.”

Ross was unavailable for comment.

With the primary in the past, Kennedy can now look forward to the general election and what he can bring to the county.

“I was in the construction business my whole life,” said Kennedy, who already works for Precinct 4. “I know the county. I know the roads. I’m ready to step right into that.”

Kennedy also said his 12 years as a member of the Bridgeport school board would help him in the position.

“My experience on the school board is going to help me with work in the courthouse,” he said. “Some of the work I did there, such as bond issues and setting the tax rate, runs parallel to the office. I can do this.”

Kristina Kemp, the sole Democratic candidate for the position, ran unopposed in the primary. She said she’s looking forward to the general election in November.

“I was ready regardless of who the winner was,” Kemp said. “I had a feeling it was going to be Gaylord. He’s been a part of the community for a long time. I think it’s going to be a good race, and I’m looking forward to it.

“I’m glad the voters came out in the Republican race and voted for who they thought would be the best candidate for them.”

With the vast majority voting Republican, Kemp garnered 148 votes in the Democratic primary.

“Hopefully I’ll get a chance to get out there and talk with more voters – let them know I have what it takes to get the job done,” Kemp said.

“Honesty, integrity and accountability,” is what Kemp said the voters in her precinct are looking for. “It’s everything that always should have been required of the position. And I think it was, but at some point it just slipped through the cracks.”

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