Sun shines brightly on county government finances

{{{*}}}Wise County has been named one of the most fiscally-transparent county governments in Texas by the State Comptroller’s office.

Wise was one of 10 counties and 36 governmental entities overall to be awarded the new Platinum Award through the Comptroller’s Leadership Circle Program, which recognizes local governments that provide online access to their expenses and revenue.

Before this year, the highest level a local government (which includes cities, school districts and other taxing entities) could achieve was the Gold Award.

Governments are scored on a points system. The entity must publish its adopted budget, annual financial report and check register on its website to meet the “major criteria” as well as a number of items listed as “minor criteria” in order to reach the Gold level.

After meeting that criteria, an entity can reach the Platinum level by posting detailed summary information about current bonded debt and how it will be paid off, providing a link to the Comptroller’s website about transparency in government (www.texastransparency.org) and posting a pledge signed by the chief executive about proposed bond packages and existing debt – and providing the Comptroller’s office with a link to that information no later than one business day after the public notice of the bond election.

Wise County’s website, www.co.wise.tx.us, includes all of this information, plus some information not required by the Comptroller’s office, such as financial information on Weatherford College and elected and appointed officials’ salaries.

Wise County Auditor Ann McCuiston said it’s important for citizens to be able to easily find this type of financial information.

“We feel it’s good for our citizens to be able to go to the website and look stuff up,” McCuiston said. ” … It’s the citizens’ money, and it’s there for them to look at.”

This is not the first time the county has applied for and received a Leadership Circle award. In 2010, the county received the Gold level award. Prior to that, the county posted some financial information on its website, but the award criteria and application process showed the county where it could improve its financial transparency.

McCuiston said financial information is given to information technology Director Randy Joy who quickly posts the information on the county website.

The award announcement was made during Sunshine Week, a week set aside to recognize the importance of open government and the public’s right to know.

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Hospital board to meet Monday

{{{*}}}Three days before a grand opening reception at Parkway Surgical & Cardiovascular Hospital, the Decatur Hospital Authority board will approve contracts to equip and operate the imaging center near the hospital at Interstate Highway 35 and North Tarrant Parkway in Fort Worth.

Those are two of the items on the agenda for a 6 p.m. Monday meeting at the hospital board room at Wise Regional Health System.

MVP Alliance, LP is the company that will lease the equipment to Wise Regional and provide services to operate the imaging center.

The board is also expected to approve the construction of an underground drainage system on the West Campus in Decatur – the former main hospital facility located across SH 51 from the hospital. Wise Regional will share the cost of that construction with Dr. Aamir Zuberi, who owns the building which is currently used for WRHS outpatient dialysis service.

The hospital’s share of the cost is $64,960.

The board will also consider the purchase of six monitors that will enable six of the ER patient rooms at the hospital to be used for higher-acuity patients. Pricetag for those is a total of $165,185, which was budgeted.

The hospital’s annual Infection Control and Quality Improvement plans are also up for approval, along with new medical staff appointments, reappointments and first-year reviews, administrative and financial reports and a proposed change to move the April meeting to the third Monday.

The board will also consider a nursing policy on patient transfers and appoint a member to the Wise Health Services, Inc. board to complete the three-year term of Lesa Warren, who resigned from the hospital board last month.

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Heroes night dinner planned for next weekend

{{{*}}}Last year, the patriotism and generosity of community members enabled WC Challenger Charities – in partnership with 1,000 Miles Till Home – to donate four homes to wounded veterans through the Military Warriors Support Foundation’s Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program.

This year, organizers hope to donate another.

Welcome Home

WELCOME HOME – Chico resident Troy Thornton gets a warm welcome home from his wife, Dorothy, and other members of the Wise County Veterans Group Thursday after a four-day trip back to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Thornton was 18 when he drove a landing craft bringing U.S. Marines to the beach on Feb. 19, 1945. The 36-day battle cost the lives of 6,800 U.S. military personnel and resulted in 27 Congressional Medals of Honor. The group returned to D/FW Airport Thursday morning. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

Organizers of the campaign on Friday said that $5,500 of the $20,000 had been raised, and they hope to close in on their goal during the 2nd Annual Military Warrior Heroes Night.

The barbecue dinner fundraiser is Saturday, March 29, at First Baptist Church in Decatur.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and dinner will be served at 6.

There will be a live auction and music.

Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, founder and chief executive officer of Military Warriors Support Foundation, will be present. He is a former deputy commander of the 49th Armored Division of the U.S. Army and former Commander of the Texas State Guard.

There is no cost to attend, but there will be an opportunity to make a financial contribution at the end of the program.

Seating for the dinner is limited. RSVP by calling Bree at 940-627-3235.

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Wise Regional earns renewal of Chest Pain Center accreditation

{{{*}}}The Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC) has renewed Wise Regional Health System’s accreditation as a Chest Pain Center with PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) it was announced this week.

SCPC-accredited facilities demonstrate expertise in dealing with patients who arrive with heart attack symptoms. The accreditation process includes rigorous evaluation of Wise Regional’s ability to assess, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack.

Wise Regional has been continuously accredited by the SCPC since 2011. Facilities are evaluated every three years to determine whether their accreditation will be extended.

Accreditation acknowledges WRHS works to provide its community with the best possible cardiac care, by:

  • reducing the time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment;
  • treating patients more quickly during the critical window of time when the integrity of the heart muscle can be preserved; and
  • monitoring patients when it is not certain that they are having a heart attack to ensure that they are not sent home too quickly or needlessly admitted to the hospital.

“This was our second time to be evaluated for reaccreditation. The bar is raised each cycle,” said Lee Ann Cummings, director of Wise Regional’s Emergency Department. “We are excited that the SCPC once again recognized the effort we’ve put into caring for our patients and educating our community.”

WRHS offers a comprehensive cardiac program with many of the same services and technologies patients would find at Metroplex facilities. In 2013 physicians performed nearly 1,000 catheterization procedures and more than 65 open-heart surgeries, including several minimally invasive procedures, at Wise Regional.

Wise Regional also continues to look for opportunities to improve treatment for cardiac patients. Earlier this year, WRHS became the second hospital system in the country to use the STOP STEMI application – a cellphone app designed to help efficiently contact and connect health care professionals when a patient experiences a heart attack known as a STEMI.

The recent SCPC accreditation survey emphasized community education. Wise Regional is engaged in a campaign focusing on Early Heart Attack Care (EHAC). The national EHAC campaign was developed by Dr. Raymond Bahr, who is also the founder of SCPC and aims to educate community members about the early symptoms of heart attacks, so they can seek medical intervention sooner.

In February, Wise Regional hosted the third annual Heart Health Expo with an emphasis on Early Heart Attack Care.

“People tend to wait when they think they might be having a heart attack, and that’s a mistake,” said Cummings. “The average patient arrives in the emergency department more than two hours after the onset of symptoms, but what they don’t realize is that the sooner a heart attack is treated, the less damage to the heart and the better the outcome for the patient.”

Staff members from the admissions and emergency departments, critical care unit, cardiac catheterization laboratory, cardiac rehabilitation, and medical and surgical unit, as well as Wise County EMS, were actively involved with preparing for the accreditation visit. Even the hospital’s mascot, Hooty the Healthwise Owl, participated by handing out EHAC-themed magnets on March 7, the day of the survey.

Wise Regional will be up for its next renewal in 2017.

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New assistant DA on the job

{{{*}}}Wise County District Attorney Greg Lowery didn’t waste any time filling the vacancy created by the retirement of assistant DA Tim Cole.

Cole retired last Friday.

Patrick Berry started Monday.

Patrick Berry

Berry, who has been serving as a prosecutor and assistant DA in Hood County for the past six years, is a graduate of Southwestern University and Baylor Law School.

He started his law career in Burleson, but quickly moved into the public sector when he took a job as a misdemeanor prosecutor with the Denton County District Attorney’s office in 1993. He handled more than 80 jury trials with a 90 percent conviction rate before moving up to serve as a felony prosecutor.

In two years, he handled all types of felony offenses from indictment through jury trial, helped streamline the tracking procedures and was on the team that had the most jury trials two out of three years.

Berry then moved over to head up the office’s Family Violence Unit, where he prosecuted five life-sentence jury trials and two additional maximum sentences in one year. He supervised a small group of prosecutors, support staff and student interns and developed a new, streamlined offense report for use in family violence investigations.

His last four years at the Denton County DA’s office, he served as felony domestic violence prosecutor – compiling a 100 percent success rate in jury trials – and was also a trainer on family violence issues for police, prosecutors, judges, medical responders and social workers.

After leaving the Denton County job in 2002, Berry worked in ministry for several years and earned a master’s of divinity degree at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,

He re-entered the law profession in January 2008 when he signed on as an assistant district attorney in Hood County. There, he handled all types of felony cases, serving as the lead prosecutor in approximately 150 trials in six years.

He compiled an impressive conviction rate, securing more than 30 life or life-equivalent sentences and 34 other maximum sentences. He was co-lead on five capital murder trials and four other murder trials, all resulting in life sentences.

He also prosecuted numerous felony drug cases and worked closely with police agencies, adult and juvenile probation and Child Protective Services to manage caseloads, investigate crimes and prosecute them.

“We started working to fill this position when Tim let us know a few months ago that he was leaving,” Lowery said. “There were a couple of finalists, but Patrick stood out.”

Berry joins two other assistant DA’s – Lindy Borchardt and Jay Lapham – on Lowery’s staff in the 271st Judicial District, which covers Wise and Jack counties.

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Filling bowls: Business owner donates piece to hunger-ending initiative

{{{*}}}For about a dozen years, Creed Minnis has quenched the thirst of many patrons with the products on his store shelves in Rhome.

GENEROUS DONATION – Myrt Totty commissioned this bowl for Creed Minnis, owner of Wise Liquors in Rhome and Bridgeport. After deciding to close his Rhome store, Minnis donated the bowl to Empty Bowls, the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s trademark fundraiser. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Thanks to a generous donation, he will now help feed some neighbors in need.

Three years ago, Minnis asked Myrt Totty of Newark to create a piece to be used during wine tastings at his business, Wise Liquors.

So Totty, a self-proclaimed lifelong artist, crafted a fluted weeble bowl.

“It is perfectly balanced,” said Totty, a Newark resident. “If you try to push it over, it will rock back and forth before eventually finding its way to a balance.”

To make the bowl, Totty said she cut two pieces – a clear layer and a colored piece.

She fired the two pieces upside-down for 24 hours. Then she slumped and shaped it before putting the combination in the kiln for another day.

When the glass was set, she used powdered paints to add bunches of grapes to the inside of the bowl, then she fired it again.

In all, it took the artist about three days to make the piece, which was displayed in the store when it wasn’t in use at social events.

But when Minnis, who has since opened a second store in Bridgeport, elected to close the Rhome location, Totty asked if he would consider donating the bowl to the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s 12th Annual Empty Bowls fundraiser.

He agreed.

This year’s event is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at the Amon G. Carter Exhibit Hall in the Will Rogers Memorial Center, 3401 W. Lancaster, in Fort Worth.

As a member of the Texas Glass Artists Association, Totty has created several pieces for the event, which attracts 2,000 guests.

For the cost of $50 – or $130 for a VIP ticket, which includes early admission – attendants receive a bisque bowl, handcrafted by a North Texas artisan, and the opportunity to sample soups and desserts from Fort Worth area restaurants and caterers.

Patrons can “upgrade” to a “celebrity bowl” in a live auction. The pieces are signed by an array of stars, including country singers Miranda Lambert and Trisha Yearwood, actor Bob Newhart, internationally acclaimed concert pianist Olga Kern, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach.

There will also be a raffle. Prizes include an iPad Mini; a handmade quilt; and a suite for 10 at a Texas Revolution game at Allen Events Center. Tickets are $10 each or three for $25.

The large bowl Totty created for Minnis will be an item in the silent auction. Other items include airfare on Southwest Airlines, breakfast or lunch with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, four Texas Rangers baseball tickets, three-dimensional art, TCU football season tickets, a cooking class for eight with Chef Manny Vasquez and cultural, entertainment, dining and spa packages.

“I’m so glad we’ll be able to pass this on,” Totty said. “It’s very generous of Creed.”

While the Bridgeport store will remain open, the Rhome location is expected to close sometime in the next two weeks – but not without first quenching some thirst… and hunger.

AN ARTFUL WAY TO END HUNGER

The 12th Annual Empty Bowls Fort Worth is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Thursday, March 27 at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth.

Tickets are $50 for general admission or $130 for VIP. They are available at secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=6cb1e8, by phone at 817-332-9177 ext. 137, or by check mailed to:

Tarrant Area Food Bank Attn: Empty Bowls 2014, 2600 Cullen St., Fort Worth, TX 76107.

Tickets not sold the day of the event.

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Brown wants to change perception of ‘cronyism’ on TRC

{{{*}}}Texas Railroad Commissioner candidate Steve Brown has a problem with the way the commission has handled the earthquakes in the Barnett Shale.

Steve Brown

Independent researchers place blame for the earthquakes that have rattled south Wise and north Parker counties on wastewater disposal wells, which are regulated by the TRC. Brown was in Wise County Monday visiting with local leaders about the issue.

“There is no evidence that they’ve handled it at all,” Brown said. “I understand they’ve put out a search to hire a seismologist to do a study at some point. But the way I would have handled it would be to enact a moratorium on injection wells clustered together in those counties. Then it puts an urgency on the agency to discover the answer.

“They wouldn’t be dragging their feet on this if they were getting calls every day from those operators wanting an answer.

“When we ignore these types of circumstances, we limit our ability to problem-solve. There is a solution there somewhere. Proximity to fault lines, proximity to homes, amount of water being injected – there’s an answer there somewhere, and we need to find it to apply best practices across the state.

“These issues will surface again in the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin. We need to find an answer. We’ve done ourselves a disservice by sticking our heads in the sand instead of finding solutions.”

Brown, who is from the Houston area, easily won the Democratic primary over Dale Henry. His Republican opponent in the November general election will be either Wayne Christian or Ryan Sitton – whoever emerges from the runoff.

“I think this position is one of most important in state government,” Brown said. “It’s easily one of most powerful state agencies. With Texas’ boom in oil and gas production, we’re on pace to produce more than some OPEC nations by next year. There’s clearly a lot of influence this position provides in shaping our energy policy moving forward.”

Brown started as a campus organizer for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, who challenged North Carolina’s Jesse Helms in 1996. He founded the North Carolina A&T State University chapter of College Democrats, and was later awarded an internship in the Clinton White House.

He has since worked on several campaigns and in the legislative offices of key local Democrats including U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, State Rep. Sylvester Turner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

If elected to the three-member Railroad Commission, he hopes to balance the economic benefits of the oil and gas industry with environmental stewardship.

“Our goal is to think in terms of long-range forecasting, to create a sustainable environment where we can continue to benefit from this bounty of natural resources, but at the same time do that in a responsible manner – in a manner that protects the environment for now and the long-term and public safety,” he said. “Finding that balance in the agency is critical.”

While campaigning across the state, Brown has learned that many Texans identify the TRC as a crony of the oil and gas industry. He hopes to dispel that image, starting with campaign finance reform.

“The irony is the agency, when it was created in 1891, was one of first consumer advocacy agencies in the nation,” Brown said. “It was created to protect Texas landowners from overreaching by powerful railroad companies. It’s actually rooted in consumer and public advocacy and landowner rights.

“At some point, we’ve shifted this continuum all the way to the opposite side. The influence of the public in shaping policy goals and regulatory outcomes is lost. It’s been caught up in this web of cronyism in Austin. The way the organization is set up, the deck is stacked against regular Texans.

“We have to figure out a way to decentralize the agency and make it more accessible to people across the state. There is nothing partisan about a community not wanting an injection well located there if they have a case. But if they aren’t lawyered up, they are going to see a permit rubber-stamped nine times out of 10.

“I think common perception is that it’s a good-old-boy network,” he said. “It’s very crony-riddled.”

He said lax campaign finance laws have allowed TRC candidates’ campaigns to be funded by the very industry they are charged with regulating.

“I think that’s the case now, and that reinforces that idea of cronyism. Whether it has merit or not, it’s the perception – and you can’t change that until you have campaign finance reform.”

In the next few years the agency will go through the sunset process. Brown said this is good chance to implement some positive changes.

“In the term of the next commissioner, this will happen,” Brown said. “So the chance to improve some of the deficiencies through the legislative process is an opportunity I’ll have as a railroad commissioner.”

One of those deficiencies is funding. The agency has long been criticized for not having enough agents in the field to properly monitor the oil and gas industry.

“It is still funded as if no boom had ever existed,” Brown said. “We have the same amount of staff on hand today as before the shale boom.

“We are trying to regulate a 21st-century industry with 20th-century resources.”

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Ross ruling expected Wednesday

{{{*}}}Suspended Wise County Commissioner Terry Ross Wednesday will be either permanently removed from office or granted a jury trial.

Terry Ross

Terry Ross

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

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 totaled $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 would not prohibit him from seeking the office again.

Ross finished third among three candidates for the Republican nomination for his old job in the March 4 primary, effectively eliminating him from contention in this November’s election.

As of press time Tuesday, it was unknown if Towery planned to issue a ruling in the 271st District Courtroom or from his office in Henrietta. His decision will be posted on wcmessenger.com as soon as it’s released.

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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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