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Houston Astros’ Robinson Chirinos celebrates his solo home run in the second inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit, Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Hewitt welcomes familiar face as mayor; schedules June 8 runoff
 Brooke Crum  / 

The Hewitt City Council unanimously voted Monday night to appoint returning council veteran Charlie Turner as mayor and Wilbert Wachtendorf as mayor pro tem, in the council’s first meeting since the May 4 election that turned over three seats.

The newly seated council also set June 8 as the runoff date for the at-large seat vacated by Erica Bruce, who now represents Ward 3. Michael S. Bancale, a Farm Bureau systems administrator, and Mike Field, a retired attorney, will face each other after winning the most votes in a five-way election.

Ed Passalugo stepped down as mayor Monday night, after a year of conflict and turbulence among the council and top city staff. Turner, fresh off his victory over incumbent Travis Bailey, will now ease into a 10th term as mayor. Turner, a nonprofit money management specialist, served 22 years on the council, dating back to 1981. He now represents Ward 1.

“Hewitt’s my baby,” Turner said after the meeting. “I love being in Hewitt. My wife and I moved here in 1977. I wanted to come back and work for the city, both city employees and the council.”

Turner said he wants to look toward the future and ensure that the city of 14,400 residents remains a good steward of the public’s tax dollars, while maintaining Hewitt’s streets and infrastructure. With budget season approaching, he wants to avoid a tax increase.

Newcomer Matthew Mevis, an environmental consultant, slid in unopposed to the Ward 2 chair after Councilman James Vidrine chose not to run for reelection. Bruce, who won a highly contested special election for another seat late last year, overwhelmingly defeated A.C. “Tony” Martinez for the Ward 3 seat that was held by Passalugo.

In the at-large race, Bancale led the pack with 245 votes, or 33.7 percent. Mike Field won 197 or 27.1 percent. Other candidates were retired Hewitt city secretary Betty Orton, former city manager Adam Miles and former councilman Kurt Krakowian.

Early voting in the runoff election begins May 28. Voters may cast ballots at the Hewitt Public Safety Facility, 100 Patriot Court, through May 31 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Early voting on June 3 and 4 is from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. at the same location.

Polls are open on Election Day, June 8, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hewitt Public Safety Facility.


editor's pick
I-35 widening continues with ramps coming down, bridges to follow
 Mike Copeland  / 

Contractors are juggling several projects in Interstate 35 work zone between North Loop 340 in Bellmead to near South 12th Street, knocking down elevated ramps and restricting lanes as they prepare to knock down the downtown pedestrian bridge and the 11th Street overpass.

Earth-moving equipment was busy Monday razing the direct ramps connecting Interstate 35 and Business 77 near the Texas Department of Transportation headquarters. Further south, more machines were excavating a deep gash around the base of the 11th Street overpass, which itself remained open to traffic Monday afternoon despite mobile signs indicating it was to have closed late Sunday.

TxDOT officials said such variations are to be expected in a $341 million project that is expected to take more than 4 years to build. TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said that the exact timing of the 11th Street bridge closure should be cleared up in meetings Tuesday.

Meanwhile, knocking down the high-profile pedestrian bridge at Eighth Street and I-35 “is still out there,” Roberts said. That project lost its place in line amid heavy rains and street flooding recently, but crews likely will return to that order of business within three weeks, Roberts said Monday.

“We’re working on a 24-7 schedule, and we needed to move on. We’ll come back,” said Roberts, assuring that leveling the walkway linking the Baylor University campus to commercial and restaurant development on the opposite side of the highway remains in the works, for better or worse.

Clay Fuller, an agent with the Turner Behringer Real Estate firm marketing the West Bay development, shrugged off suggestions lease prospects may reject deal-making overtures during the interstate’s massive overhaul, one that will change the way residents and visitors alike travel through Waco.

“I love it, to be honest. It’s going to be great,” said Fuller, a Baylor University graduate, who six months ago joined the real estate company founded by Shane Turner and Todd Behringer. Fuller said though vehicles are being funneled from three lanes to two within horn-hearing distance of West Bay, “I’m seeing more traffic, more interest, than I’ve seen since I got here.”

He said negotiations are winding down on deals that would fill another 15,000 square feet in West Bay, a center whose tenants now include MOD Pizza and Tropical Smoothie. A new La Quinta Del Sol opened nearby, and a 117-room Aloft hotel is under construction close to South 11th Street.

Any delays are due to negotiations with national-brand tenants and not misgivings about construction along the interstate, Fuller said.

Buzzard Billy’s, the Cajun and seafood restaurant on I-35 near Lake Brazos, has bounced from the frying pan and into the fire, it might be suggested, having survived construction of McLane Stadium but now faced with years of lane closings, detours and heavy equipment digging near its patio.

Salve for the burn may come in knowing 140,000 vehicles pass daily.

“So far it has not been a major problem, though traffic does back up on the access road, and people don’t like that,” said manager Mel Wallace, speaking by phone. “The restaurant also sits kind of low, between the highway and the river, and some not familiar with the area say they have trouble seeing our sign. If you miss your exit, a turnaround is necessary.”

Such maneuvering, she indicated, will become more challenging.

But Buzzard Billy’s, said Wallace, is not waving the white flag.

“We always have new stuff going on,” she said. “In my two years here, we’ve expanded the kitchen, put in a big new bar and a patio outside. If you want to eat Cajun, we’ll serve it, and there are not many places like us around. We just added a new way to serve shrimp and grits, and this is crawfish season. I think we can take care of business no matter what the highway does.”

Roberts said business and travelers should expect traffic to ebb and flow as TxDOT and its contractor put the big slab through its paces.

It held up reasonably well during the Mother’s Day weekend. But Memorial Day, scheduled May 27, may represent a bigger challenge, Roberts said.

Meanwhile, the wheels of commerce continue to roll.

Bids are being solicited to build a 266-unit apartment complex at the Brazos Promenade mixed-use development at University Parks Drive and Interstate 35, deep in the heart of the interstate widening. The apartments are part of a multimillion-dollar development planned along the west bank of Lake Brazos that would include restaurants and retail venues, meeting space and an upscale hotel.

The local office of the Associated General Contractors of America listed the bid solicitation in its weekly newsletter. It said the apartment complex would include such amenities as a fitness club, private garages, a 6,100-square-foot retail shell and a pool built within a courtyard setting.

Also within the past two weeks, permits have been issued for minor remodeling within the H-E-B grocery on Interstate 35 in Bellmead; an estimated $50,000 upgrade to the refrigeration unit inside the Bellmead Walmart Supercenter at 1521 Interstate 35 North; and for a Napa Auto Parts store at 508 North Loop 340 in Bellmead, a $1.1 million project.

Photo gallery: I-35 project

Interstate 35 widening project through Waco: May 2019

Expert: San Francisco face ID ban would be warning to police

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco is on track to become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies, reflecting a growing backlash against a technology that’s creeping into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores, stadiums and home security cameras.

Government agencies around the U.S. have used the technology for more than a decade to scan databases for suspects and prevent identity fraud.

But recent advances in artificial intelligence have created more sophisticated computer vision tools, making it easier for police to pinpoint a missing child or protester in a moving crowd or for retailers to analyze shoppers’ facial expressions as they peruse store shelves.

Efforts to restrict its use are getting pushback from law enforcement groups and the tech industry, though it’s far from a united front. Microsoft, while opposed to an outright ban, has urged lawmakers to set limits on the technology, warning that leaving it unchecked could enable an oppressive dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel “1984.”

“Face recognition is one of those technologies that people get how creepy it is,” said Alvaro Bedoya, who directs Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “It’s not like cookies on a browser. There’s something about this technology that really sets the hairs on the back of people’s heads up.”

Without regulations barring law enforcement from accessing driver’s license databases, people who have never been arrested could be part of virtual police line-ups without their knowledge, skeptics of the technology say.

They worry people will one day not be able to go to a park, store or school without being identified and tracked.

Already, a handful of big box stores across the U.S. are trying out cameras with facial recognition that can guess their customers’ age, gender or mood as they walk by, with the goal of showing them targeted, real-time ads on in-store video screens.

If San Francisco adopts a ban, other cities, states or even Congress could follow, with lawmakers from both parties looking to curtail government surveillance and others hoping to restrict how businesses analyze the faces, emotions and gaits of an unsuspecting public.

The California Legislature is considering a proposal prohibiting the use of facial ID technology on body cameras. A bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate would exempt police applications but set limits on businesses analyzing people’s faces without their consent.

Legislation similar to San Francisco’s is pending in Oakland, California, and on Thursday another proposed ban was introduced in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Bedoya said a ban in San Francisco, the “most technologically advanced city in our country,” would send a warning to other police departments thinking of trying out the imperfect technology. But Daniel Castro, vice president of the industry-backed Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said the ordinance is too extreme to serve as a model.

“It might find success in San Francisco, but I will be surprised if it finds success in a lot of other cities,” he said.

San Francisco is home to tech innovators such as Uber, Airbnb and Twitter, but the city’s relationship with the industry is testy. Some supervisors in City Hall are calling for a tax on stock-based compensation in response to a wave of San Francisco companies going public, including Lyft and Pinterest.

At the same time, San Francisco is big on protecting immigrants, civil liberties and privacy. In November, nearly 60% of voters approved a proposition to strengthen data privacy guidelines.

The city’s proposed face-recognition ban is part of broader legislation aimed at regulating the use of surveillance by city departments. The legislation applies only to San Francisco government and would not affect companies or people who want to use the technology. It also would not affect the use of facial recognition at San Francisco International Airport, where security is mostly overseen by federal agencies.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.

San Francisco police say they stopped testing face recognition in 2017. Spokesman David Stevenson said in a statement the department looks forward to “developing legislation that addresses the privacy concerns of technology while balancing the public safety concerns of our growing, international city.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin acknowledges his legislation, called the “Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance,” isn’t very tech-friendly. But public oversight is critical given the potential for abuse, he said.

The technology often misfires. Studies have shown error rates in facial-analysis systems built by Amazon, IBM and Microsoft were far higher for darker-skinned women than lighter-skinned men.

Even if facial recognition were perfectly accurate, its use would pose a severe threat to civil rights, especially in a city with a rich history of protest and expression, said Matt Cagle, attorney at the ACLU of Northern California.

“If facial recognition were added to body cameras or public-facing surveillance feeds, it would threaten the ability of people to go to a protest or hang out in Dolores Park without having their identity tracked by the city,” he said, referring to a popular park in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Local critics of San Francisco’s legislation, however, worry about hampering police investigations in a city with a high number of vehicle break-ins and several high-profile annual parades. They want to make sure police can keep using merchants and residents’ video surveillance in investigations without bureaucratic hassles.

Joel Engardio, vice president of grassroots group Stop Crime SF, wants the city to be flexible.

“Our point of view is, rather than a blanket ban forever, why not a moratorium so we’re not using problematic technology, but we open the door for when technology improves?” he said.

Such a moratorium is under consideration in the Massachusetts Legislature, where it has the backing of Republican and Democratic senators.

Often, a government’s facial recognition efforts happen in secret or go unnoticed. In Massachusetts, the motor vehicle registry has used the technology since 2006 to prevent driver’s license fraud, and some police agencies have used it as a tool for detectives.

“It is technology we use,” said Massachusetts State Police Lt. Tom Ryan, adding that “we tend not to get too involved in publicizing” that fact. Ryan and the agency declined to answer further questions about how it’s used.

Massachusetts Sen. Cynthia Creem, a Democrat and sponsor of the moratorium bill, said she worries about a lack of standards protecting the public from inaccurate or biased facial recognition technology. Until better guidelines exist, she said, “it shouldn’t be used” by government.

The California Highway Patrol does not use face recognition technology, spokeswoman Fran Clader said.

California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Marty Greenstein says facial recognition technology “is specifically not allowed on DMV photos.” State Justice Department spokeswoman Jennifer Molina said her agency does not use face ID technology, and policy states “DOJ and requesters shall not maintain DMV images for the purpose of creating a database” unless authorized.

Legislators also sought a face recognition moratorium this year in Washington, the home state of Microsoft and Amazon, but it was gutted following industry and police opposition. Microsoft instead backed a lighter-touch proposal as part of a broader data privacy bill, but deliberations stalled before lawmakers adjourned late last month.



editor's pick
Mart police chief confronts complaint that he leaked private info
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

Mart Police Chief Paul Cardenas, soon to the be the city’s sole police officer, publicly responded to a citizen complaint against him Monday, telling the city council that he did not release private information that was used in a social media fight.

Cardenas opted for an open hearing at the council meeting to allow resident Elizabeth Andrews to air her grievances. She said that Cardenas gave a Mart resident friend information that was used on Facebook to belittle her and upset her family.

Andrews claimed Cardenas belittles people in Mart in conversations around town, and she does not believe he is an honorable man. She said the conversations on Facebook reignited her fears about the man who previously assaulted her family before he fled the country.

The police chief denied releasing any information and denied any misconduct on social media or with police business. He said Andrews was not being truthful about their interactions.

Cardenas said he doesn’t have a social media account, but the online fighting is dividing members in the community.

“This is a social media storm that was created not by me, by everyone,” Cardenas said. “Both parties and we try to defame each other using negative rhetoric and proxy people, and I’m sorry that you want to link me to that, but you can’t.

“I’ve done everything fairly, honestly. I’ve abided by a lot of things and I’ve upheld that oath that you gave here tonight and I’ve done that faithfully.”

No action was taken on the complaint Monday. Mayor Len Williams said the council will listen to the advice of City Attorney Charles Buenger in moving forward with the complaint.

Discussion came after four of the police department’s five officers resigned last week, citing dissatisfaction with pay and interference of city leadership. One resignation will be in effect Thursday while three of the resignations take effect Sunday, according to the officers’ resignation letters.

The council on Monday agreed not to collect police overtime payments that were determined to be overpaid due to a miscalculation, which had been an issue in the resignations. The council also swore in Trevor Baize as a new councilman to replace Rhonda Honeycutt.

Also Monday, McLennan County Chief Deputy David Kilcrease said deputies met with city officials to discuss the possibility of county coverage while Mart lacks a police force.

Man accused of running over bar patron gets 20 years
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 


A man accused of running over a woman after an argument in the parking lot of a Lacy Lakeview bar was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday.

Scottie Wayne Spencer, 28, of Lincoln, Texas, pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter in the death of 49-year-old Anita Baker in the parking lot of the Spur bar in October 2015.

Spencer, who is severely hearing impaired and who had trouble understanding 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother during the brief hearing, had been indicted on a murder charge and faced up to life in prison in the woman’s death.

However, prosecutors dismissed the murder count and allowed Spencer to plead guilty to the second-degree felony second count of the indictment in a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office.

The plea agreement took some of Baker’s friends by surprise, including two friends who gave victim-impact statements and a third who said he came within inches of also being killed that night.

Boone Barnett told the court that Spencer should have been charged with murder and three counts of attempted murder and should be going to prison for life, not 20 years. He said he was standing near Baker when Spencer’s truck slid recklessly through the parking lot, narrowly missing Barnett by “a couple of inches.”

“We can’t get her back,” he said. “We lost that life and we miss her every day.”

Barnett’s wife, Kristy, who also was in the parking lot when Baker was killed, said she was “an amazing woman who loved endlessly.”

“I still have nightmares of that night every time I go to bed and every time I pass by where she was killed,” she said.

Spencer was arrested on a intoxication manslaughter charge after the incident. A McLennan County grand jury indicted him on a murder charge, on grounds that he committed an act clearly dangerous to human life. A second count charged him with intoxication manslaughter.

Witnesses told police Spencer was leaving the bar at 926 S. Lacy Drive around 2 a.m. with others when he and several other people got into an argument in the parking lot.

According to court records, Baker’s husband, Charles Baker, told police Spencer drove up in a green pickup truck and started screaming at his wife. Charles Baker said he walked over to the truck and asked Spencer what was going on.

Spencer told Charles Baker he was going to kill him, according to court records. Spencer put the truck in reverse and backed toward the Bakers, who were standing near a black Chevrolet, reports state.

Charles Baker said Spencer accelerated toward him and his wife. He told police he was able to jump out of the way of the speeding truck but his wife was pinned between the vehicles.

Spencer’s truck began sliding sideways toward the black Chevrolet, and the passenger side of Spencer’s truck struck the passenger side of the black vehicle, crushing Anita Baker, who was standing by the black vehicle, according to reports.

Another man also was struck by Spencer’s truck but was not injured seriously.

After striking Anita Baker with his truck, Spencer sped away from the parking lot but returned shortly and pulled up near a group of people who were trying to help Baker.

Several from the crowd pulled Spencer from his truck, beat him and held him until police arrived, according to police reports.

Russ Hunt, Spencer’s attorney, called the incident a “real tragic situation.”

“There are truly no winners because Scott did not intend to harm that lady,” Hunt said. “What happened was that the back end of his car broke loose and the lady was killed. He didn’t mean to harm a hair on that lady’s head. He feels terrible about it. We all do. There are no winners here.”

Hunt said Spencer left the scene and came back because he thought there was something wrong with his truck. He said Spencer can’t remember anything about the incident because of the beating he took at the hands of those in the parking lot.