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editor's pick
Mart chief's imminent departure to leave city without municipal police
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

Mart Police Chief Paul Cardenas officially remained employed with the city Tuesday but is expected to depart soon, after the city council voted Tuesday morning to accept his resignation pending a settlement agreement.

Cardenas, 42, has served as the police chief since March 2015 and has been the only peace officer in town since the department’s four other officers resigned earlier this month, citing dissatisfaction with various actions by city officials.

Cardenas appeared at a special city council meeting at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, and the council voted unanimously to accept Cardenas’ resignation. Cardenas’ employment was the only item on the agenda for the meeting, which was held the morning after Memorial Day. The agenda was posted after 5 p.m. the Friday before.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson, file  

Mart Police Chief Paul Cardenas works a traffic stop in this November 2017 photo. Mart City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to accept his resignation pending a settlement agreement.

City Manager Kevin Schaffer said Cardenas had not submitted a resignation letter, and a separation agreement with the city had not been signed as of Tuesday evening.

“Cardenas remains the police chief only because the separation agreement has not been signed by both parties,” Schaffer said. “The city council approved the agreement, but it has not been finalized.”

Once finalized, the resignation will leave the city of Mart with no municipal police presence.

“We are not concerned, because we have the (McLennan County) Constable’s Office and the (McLennan County) Sheriff’s Office who have bent over backwards to help us,” Schaffer said. “We’ve made contact with both, and they understand the situation and they understand there is a need for coverage and they are providing coverage.”

McLennan County Precinct 1 Constable Walt Strickland said his officers agreed to patrol Mart on Tuesday and Wednesday on a prearranged schedule allowing Cardenas to attend a training course. It is unclear if the resignation will affect the patrol agreement.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Mart City Manager Kevin Schaffer said he had received four applications as of Tuesday, as the city works to rebuild its police force.

Chief Deputy David Kilcrease said sheriff’s deputies will respond to emergency calls, but without a formal agreement, the county will not establish a regular police presence in the city.

City Attorney Charles Buenger said there is no requirement the city maintain a police department. Mart officials are working to meet any immediate needs for police protection, but an established police department is typically a better option, Buenger said.

“It is always safer to have a police presence, but it is not something that will happen overnight,” Buenger said. “It is going to take a little time.”

During a city council meeting two weeks ago, Cardenas addressed a complaint filed against him by Mart resident Elizabeth Andrews. Cardenas chose to have the complaint heard in an open meeting, rather than behind closed doors, and several residents spoke up in his support.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The city of Mart likely will have no municipal police presence soon. The city council voted Tuesday to accept a resignation from the police chief, though the resignation had not been finalized, and all four of the city's patrol officers resigned earlier in the month.

“He is just and fair to everybody. He doesn’t go with the ‘good old boys’ treatment like other communities do,” longtime Mart resident Rhonda McCoy Carpenter said during the meeting. “Since the chief has been here, I’ve liked all the officers, but when they started messing with their pay, that was not right.”

Some of the officers’ resignation letters cite a payroll error that resulted in them being paid double instead of time-and-a-half. Schaffer said at the time that he acknowledged the mistake was his error and would recommend that the city absorb the cost. But officers wrote that it was not the first payroll error and that they had lost compensation time to make up for other errors.

Schaffer did not comment on the status of the complaint Tuesday.

As police chief, Cardenas started an effort to collect on traffic citations that had long sat idle, some for more than a decade, which has brought in almost $1 million for the city, according to city records. He also started a National Night Out program and car seat inspection initiatives, and secured updated computers and digital radios for the department with help from the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office.

Schaffer said he had received three applications for patrol officer positions and one application for police chief as of Tuesday afternoon.

editor's pick
Historic former black church building up for National Register status
 Mike Copeland  / 

Lane Murphy had good news to ponder while wrestling pianos at the former St. James United Methodist Church building recently.

He and his wife are working with a Los Angeles businessman to create an Italian restaurant in the basement of the historic black church they bought in 2016. But he was even more excited about the news about a national honor in the works for the building at Second Street and Clay Avenue.

The Texas Historical Commission’s state board of review, meeting in Marfa earlier this month, nominated the building to the National Park Service for placement in the National Register of Historic Places.

Such inclusion means Murphy and his wife, Amy, must meet strict guidelines in renovating the church that a black congregation built in 1924. But that’s no sweat, said Murphy, who probably perspired more moving a Hammond C-3 organ and piano into the church sanctuary last Thursday, with several Baylor University students contributing elbow grease.

Lane Murphy is a Baylor Magazine editor and part-time English lecturer at the university. The Murphys bought the 13,000-square-foot church in 2016, after it had become a financial burden for the congregation. Attendance had fallen from more than 600 on Sundays during its heyday to fewer than 60.

The couple has secured $530,000 in Tax Increment Financing pledges, and are pursuing state and federal tax credits to bankroll a similar amount toward the project of $2 million to $2.5 million . Banks and private investors would finance the balance, said Murphy, adding that TIF money, for example, can’t be spent on amenities such as kitchen equipment, furniture or furnishings.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

A California-based company is planning an Italian restaurant in the former church, which has been nominated for a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic status

Historical designations are nothing new to St. James United Methodist Church, though federal recognition would top its list of achievements.

An onsite Texas Historical Marker states: “One of Waco’s oldest churches, St. James Methodist Church was organized in 1874 by Father Anderson Brack. From the first worship services, conducted in a house near the Brazos river that served as a school to the black community, the congregation built several sanctuaries before completing work on this building in 1924.

“Designed in a modified Gothic Revival style, it features decorative brickwork, pointed arch windows, and octagonal towers. For over a century the congregation of St. James has been active in missionary work, community service, and Christian education,” Texas Marker No. 4444 concluded.

The marker, dated 1986, declares the church a Texas Historic Landmark.

In 2017, the building was recognized for its historical significance by the Waco Historical Landmark Preservation Commission, Murphy said.

Murphy said state and federal entities apply similar guidelines in determining what changes can be made to historically significant buildings. With that in mind, he said, he believes the Murphys’ vision for St. James, as reflected in documents submitted to the Waco City Council, the board of Tax Increment Financing Zone No. 1 and the Texas Historical Commission will prove acceptable to the National Park Service for National Register listing.

Review process

Still, the review process does not pass quickly. Murphy said the timetable, as he understands it, gives the Texas Historical Commission up to 90 days to forward its nomination to the National Park Service.

The National Park Service then would have 45 days to review it.

Inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places offers an array of benefits, according to the National Park Service website. It can make grants available for securing easements or revitalizing property, and make tax credits easier to get. Some private funding sources look more favorably on projects involving federally designated historic locales, the website said.

Once the Murphys have cleared all permitting and financing hurdles, they will proceed with renovations. They have placed the project in the hands of local contractor Justin Jimenez, owner of JX3 Development.

“We hope to get started within a month, and we see a 9-to-12-month construction process for the restaurant and the exterior, a couple of months more for the sanctuary,” Murphy said. “The restaurant will be in the basement, in the old fellowship hall, which is where our partners in Los Angeles come in. They have experience in creating unique dining experiences. Everything food and drink related will be in the basement, including sit-down service and a bar to go with it. That will allow us to use the sanctuary for community events, concerts and weddings. We’re having many conversations, hoping to complement Waco’s growing creative element.”

‘Not standard Italian fare’

The restaurant, as now planned, will carry the name Chapter.

“It’s a new concept, a Waco original, definitely not a franchise or chain,” said Murphy. “I think it will seat 150 to 200. Is it upscale dining? Yes, but I don’t know if that’s the exact word to use. It is going to be a nice sit-down, full-service restaurant, something that will do justice to the building.

“It will be Italian, but not standard Italian fare,” he added.

Murphy told the TIF board during a tour of the building he is taking bids on restoring the church’s 84 stained-glass windows, one of which has been pierced by a gunshot. He said he well knows the building’s shortcomings and strong points, having shoveled out pigeon droppings and examined water damage. Termites have gnawed on the attractive window frames.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The former St. James United Methodist Church building is up for the National Register of Historic Places.

He vows to find a place for pianos and an organ visible in vintage photos from the 1950s. He’s archiving those photos, and placing members of long-ago congregations on Facebook in hopes of securing identifications.

He is working closely with J. Fall Group, a design and hospitality firm that has created restaurants in Los Angeles and Chicago, including Nighthawk Breakfast Bar, Paperboy and Easy’s, according to its website.

“We connected through social media,” said Murphy of his link-up with Los Angeles-based J. Fall Group. “We were exploring uses for space, for arts groups, law offices. We were having all kinds of conversations. We had four or five conference calls. They came out and looked at our space, the sight lines, and fell in love with the basement. They thought it could make something unique, a creative element that could add to what’s going on in Waco.”

Recently, Los Angeles-based trade magazines reported that J. Fall Group, founded by Jeremy Fall and Henry Costa, had been acquired by K2 Restaurants, another California-based hospitality company.

Fall, quoted in, said of the acquisition: “The vision for J. Fall Group was to create a family of Americana-inspired restaurants that didn’t follow any food trends and were nostalgic of our childhoods.”

“Having K2 step in will help pour gasoline on the fire and expand our playground across the country so that we can open our doors to more people,” said Fall. The story, meanwhile, mentions his Waco project, saying the acquisition “includes yet-to-debut concepts by J. Fall Group, which include the Waco, Texas, restaurant Chapter, described as old-school Italian with new-age face lifts in a historic church, and the 1970s-themed speakeasy called Jukebox, which will be inside Chapter.”

Fall could not be reached for comment by the Tribune-Herald. Murphy said he was aware of the buyout and feels good about the relationship with K2.

Staff photo —

Rod Aydelotte 

Construction workers start removing the Eighth Street pedestrian bridge connecting Baylor University to downtown Waco over Interstate 35 on Tuesday evening. Three more nights of road closures are planned to make room for the work.

editor's pick
Transformation Waco board hires new principal for G.W. Carver Middle School
 Brooke Crum  / 

The Transformation Waco Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to approve hiring a Temple educator to serve as principal of G.W. Carver Middle School next school year.

But it will not be new territory for Phillip Perry, who previously served as assistant principal at Carver from 2013 to 2015.

Perry, principal at Fred W. Edwards Academy in Temple, will replace James Stewart, who is heading to Waco High School to become principal there next school year. Perry has led the Temple school since 2015.

Longtime Waco High School Principal Ed Love is passing the baton to Stewart, as Love moves into an administrative position with Transformation Waco, an in-district charter of five chronically underperforming schools in the Waco Independent School District. Love will be the executive director of school leadership, overseeing the campus principals.

Perry said he is prepared to continue the progress Stewart has made as principal at Carver.

“It’s a dream to come back and finish what we started,” Perry said.

The school lifted itself off the state’s “improvement required” list last year after meeting state standards, based primarily on standardized test scores, for the first time in recent years.

After serving with the Marine Corps, Perry went to work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He had ambitions of becoming a prison warden, he said.

Perry’s first job in education was in Aldine ISD, a school district of about 67,000 students in Harris County. He spent a year as a special education teacher at Caraway Middle School, according to his Temple ISD online biography.

From there, Perry transferred to Lamar Junior High School with Lamar Consolidated ISD, which has about 32,000 students. In 2011, he moved to Waco to become an assistant principal at Waco High School, and in 2013, transferred to become assistant principal at G.W. Carver Middle School.

In 2015, Perry was promoted to head principal at Fred Edwards Academy, a credit recovery school in Temple ISD.

The Waco ISD Board of Trustees also must approve Perry’s contract, which it likely will do at next month’s regular meeting.

Eminent domain reform died in the Texas Legislature this session

Texas state lawmakers looking to reform the eminent domain process were unable to find common ground this session, despite hundreds of hours of negotiation.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 421 sought to better protect property owners when private companies condemn their land — a nod to landowners in Texas who’ve grown accustomed to encroaching oil and gas pipelines. The bill would’ve required public meetings between property owners and industry groups and instituted measures to prevent low-ball offers to property owners, among other reforms.

But after the bill was markedly watered down in a House committee and approved in that chamber — a charge led by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland — the legislation couldn’t make it out of a joint House-Senate conference committee. The House version of the bill removed too many of the provisions Kolkhorst believed were critical, including measures aimed at restoring condemned land to as close to its original condition as possible.

“The language of the House version would have turned back the clock for landowners and greatly harmed them,” Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, said in a statement Sunday. “I cannot agree to the Craddick proposal, which would do the opposite of what we set to do: help level the playing field for landowners in the taking of their property.”

In a statement the day before, Craddick, who chairs the House Committee on Land and Resource Management, said the House version “corrected shortcomings” from the Senate original.

Kolkhorst’s bill, SB 421, was originally sponsored in the House by state Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, but Craddick took over the bill when it came to his committee. A spokesman for Burns declined to comment on Craddick’s move, but Kolkhorst’s statement suggested Craddick “seized the legislation” from him — a move that “weakened SB 421 to the benefit of condemning authorities.”

Craddick pinned the blame on Kolkhorst, writing that her office “made no effort to meet with me” on the version of the bill the House passed — or a potential compromise — ahead of a Saturday legislative deadline.

Earlier last week, Kolkhorst attempted to revive parts of her bill, adding some of SB 421 as an amendment to House Bill 2831. That legislation, by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would have expanded the notification process in eminent domain cases. But Canales’ bill didn’t advance either.

This is the third straight legislative session in which Kolkhorst has filed eminent domain legislation.

Kolkhorst — who owns Kolkhorst Petroleum, a fuel distribution company, with her husband — said at a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing in March that she would never be against fossil fuels but that she wants a fairer and more transparent process for landowners, especially those who may not wish to sell their land. She pointed to “hundreds of hours of negotiations between landowners and industry groups” that she hoped would lead to meaningful reforms.

After the House voted on Craddick’s version of SB 421 on Wednesday, groups like the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association said that despite “significant concerns,” they were glad to see the legislation advance. They were hopeful changes more significant for landowners would be added back in during the conference committee process.

And the Texas Farm Bureau — which represents agricultural producers across the state — said the House version simply did not go far enough to reform the eminent domain process.

But Dave Conover at Kinder Morgan, an oil and gas pipeline company, said the House version struck “a reasonable balance” between greater transparency and protections for landowners and energy infrastructure projects.

On Monday, after it was clear the bill would not advance, Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, sent a letter to lawmakers saying it was “regrettable that a balanced and functional” eminent domain bill didn’t pass this session. But he added that when statutory changes are being considered, “there is no room for error.”

“We remain committed to working with landowners and the Texas Legislature in the development of the infrastructure that all Texas communities and families rely upon every day,” Staples wrote.

Kolkhorst isn’t giving up. “This issue will and must remain a top state legislative priority,” she said.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, echoed that sentiment, tweeting Sunday, “Thank you @loiskolkhorst for all your much-needed hard work on eminent domain this session. We’ll get it over the finish line in 2021.”