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Officials Try To Extinguish ‘Firestorm’

Public Outcry Erupts Over Rumors Of Refugee Youth Detention Coming To Crockett

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

What Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows described as a "firestorm" erupted in Houston County Friday, July 11, as rumors spread that Cornerstone Programs was planning to contract with the federal government to temporarily house underage refugees from Latin America at the new Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility (DCRJF).

Joe Newman, president of Cornerstone Programs, assured the Crockett City Council on Monday, July 14, that his company will not enter into any contracts to house underage refugees at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Crockett. (Photo by Lynda Jones)Joe Newman, president of Cornerstone Programs, assured the Crockett City Council on Monday, July 14, that his company will not enter into any contracts to house underage refugees at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Crockett. (Photo by Lynda Jones)As the rumors and misinformation spread, public outcry increased, with many people getting downright ugly about the matter, according to elected officials who received phone calls from citizens.

When the Crockett City Council convened its regular meeting Monday night, July 14, Meadows said the item was not on the agenda, but he felt it was important to extingish the "firestorm" as quickly as possible. He then allowed Cornerstone Programs President Joe Newman to address the council and members in the council chambers.

Newman reiterated what he told the Houston County Courier on Friday, that Cornerstone has never intended to use the DCRJF as a detention center for youthful refugees.

Earlier in the day, Houston County Judge Erin Ford called together key stakeholders to discuss the issue.

Among those reported present at the meeting were Ford, Newman, Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows, President of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. Board of Directors (CEIDC) Chris von Doenhoff, CEIDC Executive Director Thom Lambert, Houston County Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt, HCSO Chief Deputy G. P. Shearer and others. Most also were present at Monday's City Council meeting.

As Newman addressed the city council, he said that representatives from the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) had visited the DCRJF the first of July to see what changes had been made since they visited shortly after the Crockett State School closed and if it would be an appropriate setting for the refugees flooding the Texas-Mexico border.

Newman reported that a major problem for ICE is the secure fencing and all the locks at the facility. In addition to two locked doors at the sallyport, all buildings and the detained youths' rooms are locked, he said.

The DCRJF is designed for detaining youth between the ages of 11 and 17 (mostly 15 to 17) who have been arrested for criminal offenses and are awaiting trial.

Removing locks is not an option, Newman said. At no time will any gates at DCRJF be unlocked or unmanned, he stressed.

Newman further reported that the officials present at the stakeholders' meeting unanimously agreed that the DCRJF will not be used as a detention facility for the refugee youth coming into Texas.

He declared Cornerstone Programs will not be applying for any federal or state grants to temporarily house any of the refugees.

Meadows said, "There's been some vicious things said. We've got to stop that now." He noted that people with misinformation "have gotten really ugly about this".

Newman also reported there currently are nine youth being detained at DCJRF, and that the goal is to have 80. Cornerstone Programs and elected officials still are attempting to get the blessing of State Sen. John Whitmire and his criminal justice committee to house adjudicated youth from the Texas Juvenile Justice Dept. The current youth are from counties that contract with Cornerstone for DCRJF beds. DCRJF opened in April.

Cornerstone President Says No Current Plans To House Immigrant Children Here

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

The influx of unaccompanied minors coming into Texas from Mexico has sparked concern among some residents that some of the immigrant youth might be housed at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility (DCRJF).

In response to that concern, both Houston County Judge Erin Ford and Cornerstone Programs President Joe Newman stated Friday, July 11, that currently there are no plans for using the DCRJF to house illegal migrant children.

"Houston County and the City of Crockett have been working to support the DCRJF. The focus for Cornerstone is to continue to work with Senator John Whitmire's office to obtain adjudicated juveniles for the facility," Ford said.

Newman confirmed that Cornerstone's goal continues to be to serve the county youth and the state youth in its programs. He said the Crockett facility currently has nine youth, and expects two more to arrive next week.

While confirming that U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has contacted Cornerstone Programs and the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. (CEIDC), he emphasized that the conversations were very general.

"This is so premature," Newman said.

ICE was familiar with the former Crockett State School property from when it considered the facility after the state school closed. Crockett was on a list, Newman said.

Newman explained the federal agency looked at the Cornerstone program, but there is no contract and nothing is in the works as far as he knows.

Newman said, "If there are kids and they're suitable for our program, if it works for us and if it works for the community, then we would be interested. We're comfortable working with delinquent children."

"When we came here, we wanted to give the city and county jobs," Newman said. "We were looking at 82 jobs, but we're not going to do it in a way that hurts the community or without community involvement and support."

With regards to the immigration crisis, Ford commented, "We have to secure our borders. The complication for us is that we're a compassionate people. Once the children are here, they have to be taken care of (until their situation is resolved)."

Houston County Attorney Defends Old Glory

Case Update

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highes court for criminal cases, has granted the Houston County Attorney's Office request to review the State of Texas vs. Terence D. Johnson case, County Attorney Daphne Session reported on Wednesday, July 2.

The case pertains to the incident in which Terence D. Johnson of Bryan allegedly desecrated a United States flag posted outside a Lovelady business.

Session provided this update to Houston County media:
"Last year, the Court of Appeals in Tyler issued an opinion in our Destruction of Flag appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Houston County Court at Law Judge Sarah Clark dismissing the case, but disagreed with Judge Clark's reasoning. In fact, the Court of Appeals found that Terence Johnson's behavior was not speech protected by the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals decided the Destruction of Flag statute is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional.

"The County Attorney's Office does not agree with the decision of the Court of Appeals. A Motion for Rehearing was submitted. The Court of Appeals granted the Motion for Rehearing. But, once again, the Tyler Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case.

"The County Attorney's Office filed a request with Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case (formally called a Petition for Discretionary Review). The Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's highest court for criminal cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted our request and has decided to review the case for a decision.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals receives approximately 1,500 requests to review criminal cases each year, but only grants approximately 85 each year to review. Our flag case is included in this small percentage of cases that will be reviewed by the state's highest criminal court.

"In May, the County Attorney's Office submitted our brief to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Terrence Johnson's attorney submitted his brief this week. The Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case, so now we wait for the argument to be set.

Holiday Charges Range From DWI To Assaulting Trooper

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

Jessica Kimberly McDonald, 29, was stopped while driving southbound on US 287 at about 2:31 a.m. Saturday, July 5 for suspected drunk driving.

Jessica Kimberly McDonald (HCSO Photo)By the time her encounter with a DPS State Trooper was complete, she was charged with Driving While Intoxicated/Open Container (third or more offense, Felony, Class 3), Assault on a Public Servant (Felony, Class 3), Resist Arrest Search or Transport (Misdemeanor, Class A), Criminal Mischief >=$500 <$1,500 (Misdemeanor, Class A) and Driving While License Invalid With Previous or Alcohol Suspension (Misdemeanor, Class B).

According to the Arrest Affidavit signed by the arresting trooper, McDonald's 2008 black KIA four-door sedan was observed traveling in the left lane when not passing, and it was observed making a lane change without using its turn indicator, prior to the trooper stopping the vehicle.
Additionally, "Numerous signs of intoxication were observed and McDonald performed the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests poorly," the trooper alleges in the affidavit. The trooper then arrested McDonald for the DWI offense.

While in transport to the Houston County Jail, McDonald became belligerent and began kicking items in the patrol car, including the windshield, camera and radar equipment, according to the arrest affidavit.

The trooper further alleged McDonald assaulted him by kicking him a few times.
Bond was set as follows: $10,000, Assault Public Servant; $4,000, Criminal Mischief; $8,000, DWI (third or more); $4,000, Resisting Arrest; $3,000, DWLI .

Ashby Appointed To Select Committee On Economic Development Incentives

AUSTIN – State Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) has been appointed to the newly created Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

Along with the other committee members, Ashby's role will be to assess the economic benefit provided by state and local incentive programs and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of those programs.

"I'm certainly honored to have been selected to serve on this particular committee, as it deals with an issue that I know is important to rural Texas," Ashby said. "Economic development and job creation has been, and continues to be a priority across our district. I'm excited because through this appointment I will be able to roll my sleeves up and dig into our state's economic incentive programs to see which programs and policies are working as intended."

The committee will determine the types of economic development projects that offer the most benefit to the state and suggest opportunities on meaningful reforms. It will also discuss how to make programs more efficient.

"While other states are working aggressively to ramp up their own economies, Texas has become the frontrunner in job creation," Ashby said. "My goal on this committee will be to continue that success, while promoting programs that value taxpayer dollars, and making sure that rural Texas does not get overlooked."

Straus, who has prioritized efficiency and transparency so far during the interim, said taxpayers deserve to have incentive programs looked at carefully.

"We owe it to taxpayers to take a detailed look at what has worked and what can be improved," Straus said. "Some incentive programs may need retooling and others may have outlived their usefulness. I'm confident that this committee can supply the answers that will help the full House prepare to address this issue in next year's session."

Ashby added that the state's ability to attract businesses cannot be tied to inefficient or unproductive incentives.

"Taxpayers in Texas deserve transparency and efficiency," Ashby said. "I think everyone agrees that we have to continue to grow our economy and present a viable and appealing business climate that attracts job creators and fosters economic opportunity. But there is no reason we cannot do those things while eliminating wasteful spending on incentives that no longer produce or eradicating policies that do not prove to be worthwhile for Texas taxpayers."

County’s Veterans Service Officer Available To Assist Those Who Need Help With VA System

By Lynda Jones
Editor-in-Chief

In a recent interview, Houston County Veterans Service Officer Fred Newtz said about 2,700, or 10% of the Houston County population, veterans live in Houston County.

Earlier this month, Waymon Vest expressed dismay about an incident involving a 94-year-old WWII veteran in Houston County, a Pearl Harbor survivor.
The Courier unsuccessfully attempted to contact the veteran's wife to confirm the visitor's account of the situation. The veteran passed away last weekend.

According to Vest, the veteran recently was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in Temple. He then was scheduled for an appointment the day after his discharge, requiring another trip to Temple and transportation arrangements.

Newtz was asked about this incident, and if he receives many complaints about the VA health system.

While he did not speak about the VA hospital in Temple nor the number of complaints he receives, Newtz did say that he works closely with the VA staff at the clinic in Lufkin. (It would be a violation of the HIPPA patient confidentiality law for Newtz or the VA Hospital to discuss a specific patient.)

Newtz said any problem he has addressed with the Lufkin facility has always been corrected within 24 hours.

He further said that many people do not understand that the VA functions similarly to a private HMO or PPO insurance plan.

Patients have primary care physicians, and if they require a specialist, the primary care physician makes the referral.

Houston County veterans may go to the Palestine VA Clinic for blood work, for example, which is sent elsewhere for testing, and then after about a week when the results are back, they are scheduled for another appointment.

He noted that the VA Hospital in Houston is a hub that sees thousands of veterans each year, and that there are a number of clinics and satellites that service veterans within its territory.
Newtz frequently takes Houston County veterans to out-of-county medical appointments. If a veteran needs assistance, he or she may contact him at the Houston County Courthouse Annex on Goliad Ave. His phone number is 936-544-3255, ext. 315.

According to a recent audit by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the average wait time for an established patient to see a primary care physician is 7.60 days, while the average wait time for a new patient is 49.86 days at the VA Hospital in Temple. (The audit is based on data from May 15.)

The average wait time for a specialty care appointment for a new patient in Temple (Those who have not been seen there in the previous 24 months) is 54.25 days and the average wait time for an established patient is 5.46 days.

For a new patient (one who has not been seen before in Temple in the previous 24 months), the average wait time for a mental health appointment is 35.89 days; for an established patient the wait is 2.97 days.

The audit also showed Temple had 458 appointments were scheduled between 91-120 days of the reference date (i.e.; create date for new patients and desired date for established patients) and 146 appointments were scheduled beyond 120 days. Three patients had been on the Electronic Wait List for Temple more than 120 days, according to the VHA audit.
By comparison, the VA Hospital in Houston had 103 appointments scheduled between 91-120 days and 110 appointments scheduled beyond 120 days. None had been on the Electronic Wait List for more than 120 days, according to the audit.

With its release of the audit results, the Veterans Administration stated that it already has begun contacting and scheduling all veterans who are waiting for care in VA clinics or arranging for veterans' access.

On Tuesday, June 10, at the American Medical Association (AMA) annual conference, Texas and Florida physicians urged immediate governmental action to enable American veterans to access health care they need outside of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs system.

AMA's governing body passed the proposal.

According to a press release issued by the Texas Medical Association (TMA), "The resolution calls for "the President of the United States (to) take immediate action to provide timely access to health care for eligible veterans utilizing the health care sector outside the Veterans Administration" until (the) VA can provide health care in a timely fashion. The physicians also called for Congress to pass a bipartisan, long-term solution to ensure veterans can receive timely health care.

The AMA house also voted to "encourage all physicians to participate, when needed, in the health care of veterans."

"Our veterans have stepped up and served our country, so physicians want to be able to step in and serve them," said Austin I. King, MD, TMA's president. "It is tragic that our veterans have been forced to wait for the health care they need and deserve, so Texas physicians and our colleagues across the nation want to help care for them until the VA can right the ship."