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editor's pick
Crawford subdivision sparks controversy, lawsuit
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A proposed new development that would bring 92 upscale homes to Crawford has divided the community, cost the mayor her job and spawned a breach of contract lawsuit against the city.

David Cunningham and David Holy of DCDH Development thought they had gone through the proper channels for their new subdivision just northwest of Crawford on Prairie Chapel Road. Crews spent a week in mid-March cutting in roads and clearing land for lots.

That was when a horde of Crawford residents who previously had not been following City Council meetings and were unaware of the development woke up and flooded City Hall and former Crawford Mayor Marilyn Judy with complaints.

Many simply are opposed to change and growth. Some feared the new subdivision would overload the schools, despite a 90-student decrease in enrollment since the district peaked at 635 students in 2003-04. Others were concerned the development would tax the city’s water supply and wastewater infrastructure, although studies indicated otherwise and the developers agreed in March to kick in an additional $250,000 to help support the city water system.

City council members, who annexed the area containing the proposed subdivision in December, have since put approval of the final plat on hold, leaving Cunningham and Holy in limbo, holding a “developers agreement” with the city but wondering if the project will become a reality.

Judy, who taught in Crawford schools 24 years before serving as mayor for three years, supports the subdivision, not only for the needed tax revenues it would bring the city but also to boost attendance and funding at Crawford schools.

Judy attributes her defeat by Franklin Abel, a retired air-conditioning company owner, to the controversy over the development. Another council member who also supported the subdivision did not run for re-election and was replaced by a detractor of the project, further derailing plans for the subdivision.

Government code

With no action by the council on the final plat, Cunningham and Holy turned to Waco attorneys Jim Hering and David Deaconson to sue the city, alleging breach of contract and violation of the Texas Local Government Code that requires a municipality to act on a plan within 30 days after it is filed.

The code says a plat is considered approved by the municipal authority unless it is disapproved within that period.

Citing inaction by the council and its insistence that further infrastructure studies be performed since the developer agreement was executed, the developers’ lawsuit, filed May 22, asks 170th State District Judge Jim Meyer to declare the final plat approved.

The lawsuit also asks the judge to order the council to “perform its ministerial duty” to approve the plat and to declare that the plaintiffs have “vested rights” evaluated under the ordinances in effect at the time the final plat was filed and without the burdens of a citywide infrastructure study proposed after it was filed.

Hering, who has served as mayor in neighboring McGregor for 19 years, said he will seek a hearing in the case soon.

“My clients still believe that Crawford is made up of good people and they believe they can do some good for the city by bringing in quality houses that would serve their school district well,” Hering said. “And because it has been annexed, it would also generate significant tax dollars that the city needs. All they are asking is that the city abide by the agreement that DCDH believes they had all along, and that is to develop a subdivision of quality homes. They are ready to do it.”

Crawford City Attorney Charles Buenger did not return phone messages Tuesday, but his associate, Kathleen Dow, said the city is “prepared to vigorously defend the case.” She referred questions about the lawsuit to Buenger. Dow filed a response to the lawsuit last week with a general denial of the allegations.

The city will have to go forward without the financial backing of its insurance carrier, the Texas Municipal League risk pool. In a letter dated June 14, Susie Green, Texas Municipal League associate director of legal services, informed the city that the nature of the lawsuit exempts the risk pool from providing funds for a defense.

Abel, who won election as Crawford mayor in May, did not return phone messages Tuesday.

Planned subdivision

According to the lawsuit, Holy and Cunningham planned a subdivision with 92 lots, with 53 lots to be developed in the first phase featuring homes with an average price of $350,000. They presented their plans to the city council in June 2018.

The city annexed the property in December with the agreement that the city would provide services to the subdivision in exchange for Holy and Cunningham executing a development agreement that said they would pay for any additional costs of extending services and providing utilities.

With plans appearing to move forward, DCDH paid the city $3.9 million to cover all costs for a construction plan and plat reviews, the lawsuit states.

“As the conversations on the topic of water progressed, the city hired its second engineer, Miles Whitney of Cayote Consulting LLC to perform a study to determine the adequacy of the water supply and whether such supply could service the proposed subdivision,” the suit states. “This is the same study that (previous engineer) Johnny Tabor proposed in August 2018.

“Discussion surrounding the availability of water focused on the city’s surface-water reservoir that, in addition to two city wells, made up the city’s three sources of water. The reservoir had been inactive for several years and city leaders believed that the addition of plaintiff’s subdivision would be a good opportunity to revitalize the reservoir’s capabilities of providing water to the city,” according to the lawsuit.

In March, DCDH and the city executed the developer agreement, which the lawsuit states was approved by Buenger and focuses on the city’s obligation to provide water to the subdivision in exchange for DCDH contributing $250,000 to improve infrastructure in and around the city reservoir east of Crawford.

After the agreement was signed, Judy told Holy and Cunningham they could start construction. A week after they started “turning dirt,” Judy asked them to hold off until the final plat was approved, which she represented to them as “nothing more than a formality,” the suit alleges.

However, at a council meeting called to vote on the final plat, “a significant number of angry citizens” made it clear that they opposed the subdivision.

“The discussion between the citizens and their city council became so heated that at least a dozen citizens had to be escorted out of the meeting by the city’s chief of police,” the lawsuit states.

After the meeting resumed, the engineer reported there was a sufficient water supply to support the subdivision. The developers reminded the council that any concerns regarding water had been addressed in the developer agreement.

‘Clear division’

The lawsuit contends that subsequent discussion between council members showed a “clear division,” causing a vote to be delayed.

“The more obvious reason for the delay was that those opposing the subdivision were siding with the boisterous citizens in attendance and were hoping that the approaching city election would shift the support, and therefore, shut down the proposed residential development,” the lawsuit contends.

Judy said the subdivision controversy clearly caused her defeat.

“I think the public was misinformed on how this was going to benefit the school and the city and those rumors were spread throughout a closed Facebook group, social media, and people believed what they read on Facebook,” Judy said. “It was a closed account, and I couldn’t even address what was on there.”

editor's pick
The Minnow restaurant at Lake Waco Marina back up and running swimmingly
 Mike Copeland  / 

The restaurant at Lake Waco Marina has become The Minnow, shortened from The Slippery Minnow, and it has enjoyed hefty crowds since opening in mid-June after a two-year hiatus due to management problems and flooding.

Brett Swartz, a partner in Slow Rise Slice House pizzeria on Woodway Drive whose houseboat conversion courtesy of Chip and Joanna Gaines appeared on “Fixer Upper,” now manages The Minnow. During a visit Monday he downplayed his role, calling himself merely a “burger patty flipper royale.”

He said he has been heartened by public response to The Minnow’s fresh look and menu that includes catfish shipped twice weekly from Louisiana. Kids entertain themselves by tossing leftover food into the murky lake water and watching critters attack and chomp. Swartz said he is serving free beer to diners until his application for a beer and wine license gets approved.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

With a new look and menu since its recent reopening, The Minnow has lake-view seating for 150.

Waco businessman Rich Chatmas, who owns Lake Waco Marina and The Cove, a second recreational area on Lake Waco, as well as The Minnow, said he welcomes the good reports after weathering a string of bad summer seasons dating to 2016. Chatmas said he spent $15,000 remodeling The Minnow’s restrooms this spring, then lost those repairs to more high water. Six weeks worth of scheduled openings came and went before the water receded.

“We’re getting a late start, but, my gosh, we were busy over the holiday weekend,” he said. “That’s the most people I’ve ever seen in our RV park at one time. We have 100 sites, and this was our first opportunity to open after the flooding. That made a big difference. Then there were the docks with all the boats on them, people brought their family and friends.

“We are finally getting a good start to the summer,” he said. “I’ve owned the marina since 2005. We had a bunch of good years, then we had some bad ones, several bad ones in a row. It flooded a lot in 2007. We had a good nine-year run, and then it started happening again. You make money and then lose it. All we’re trying to do is stay above water. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my bank, and I keep on cooking. It hurts. I have no insurance because I operate on a flood-control lake within a flood zone. Even if there were someone out there to sell, there is no way I could afford it.”

But in the good times, owning the marina is fun, Chatmas said.

“We provide entertainment to the community,” he said.

Relaxing dockside

When the weather is pretty and the breezes warm, clients can relax on their boats dockside, fish or nap, or they can set out for a day on the water. Having a place to dine nearby is part of the attraction to boaters and to those spending the weekend at the RV park, so The Minnow’s absence was frustrating, Chatmas said.

“We lost business when we didn’t have it open,” he said. “We received a tremendous amount of feedback from people who wanted it back. I managed it myself for seven years. Another guy and his wife managed it, and it did well, but they went on to other things. My wife’s parents managed it a couple of years. They did a good job, but we had flooding one of their years. One manager just didn’t work out. Most of last year, I couldn’t find the right person. Finally, Brett said he was willing to come in and run it. He had a good reputation. He’s owned a couple of Shipley’s doughnut locations and sold those. His team had ties to Common Grounds, the Baylor-area coffee house, and now there is Slow Rise pizza. He is really good.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The Minnow restaurant at Lake Waco Marina has been back up and running since mid-June.

Chatmas said he personally has eaten at the restaurant six times.

He said he has spent about $75,000 overhauling The Minnow, installing new kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, a point-of-sale system and coolers. He’s taking steps to increase the speed and bandwidth of internet service.

“It’ll take a year or two to pay for it,” he said.

Local marinas

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The Minnow at Lake Waco reopened in Mid-June after remodeling interrupted by lake flooding.

Chatmas said he has contracts with almost 400 boat owners using his Lake Waco Marina and The Cove, formerly Airport Park Marina. The charge is $200 to $300 per month for smaller boats. Those with houseboats pay by the foot, with monthly rates typically ranging from $280 to $500, Chatmas said.

For that, they get boat storage, treated water, electricity and sanitation services. Chatmas said he employs 12 at the restaurant and four staffers to keep Lake Waco Marina and The Cove operating at peak efficiency.

“That does not include my wife and me,” said Chatmas, who stays busy, especially when he is trying to get a new restaurant venue open.

Swartz, 38, a Waco native, said he enjoys traveling and has worked in several restaurants outside the state. He said Cameron Park and Lake Waco, where his houseboat has been parked 15 years, always bring him back.

The Minnow seats 150 people, including service areas inside and outside, and the public is invited for dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with lunch hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Karaoke nights start July 17, and live music is in the works for Fridays and Saturdays, weather permitting, Swartz said.

The catfish plate, a popular menu item, includes the fish and sides for $10.99. Burgers are made from a brisket-chuck blend and are going over well. Salads, appetizers, wings, jalapeno poppers and avocado bites also dot the menu.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The Minnow, Lake Waco Marina's restaurant, has reopened after a two-year hiatus because of flooding and management problems.

H. ROSS PEROT: 1930-2019
H. Ross Perot rose from poverty to self-made billionaire

DALLAS — H. Ross Perot rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty to become a self-made billionaire who twice ran for president with a mixture of folksy sayings and simple solutions to America’s problems. His 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the last century.

Perot died of leukemia Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his family, family spokesman James Fuller said. He was 89.

As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he set out on his own — creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.

The most famous event in his storied business career didn’t involve sales or earnings. In 1979, Perot financed a private commando raid to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.

‘American dream’

“I always thought of him as stepping out of a Norman Rockwell painting and living the American dream,” said Tom Luce, who was a young lawyer when Perot hired him to handle his business and personal legal work. “A newspaper boy, a midshipman, shaking Dwight Eisenhower’s hand at his graduation, and he really built the computer-services industry at EDS.”

“He had the vision and the tenacity to make it happen,” Luce said. “He was a great communicator. He never employed a speechwriter — he wrote all his own speeches. He was a great storyteller.”

Perot first attracted attention beyond business circles by claiming that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War.

Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam’s government. Looking out for health care needs of veterans became a long-time concern of Perot.

Perot’s wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. In June of that year, a Gallup poll showed Perot leading his major-party rivals.

Perot dropped out in July, however, saying later that he did so to prevent Republicans from sabotaging his daughter’s wedding. He rejoined the race less than five weeks before the election, but his popularity had fallen. Critics said he had a penchant for embracing conspiracy theories. He finished third in the popular vote and was shut out in the Electoral College.

Still, Perot recorded the highest percentage for an independent or third-party candidate since President Theodore Roosevelt’s second-place showing in 1912. Some Republicans blamed Perot for causing Bush’s defeat by splitting the anti-Clinton vote, although exit polls were inconclusive.

During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money. He bought 30-minute television spots during which he used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catch phrase: “It’s just that simple.”

Perot’s second campaign four years later was far less successful. He was shut out of presidential debates when organizers said he lacked sufficient support. He got just 8% of the vote, and the Reform Party that he founded and hoped to build into a national political force began to fall apart.

Political landscape

However, Perot’s ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape. He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and supporting trade deals that allowed American jobs to be sent to other countries. The movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico, he said, created a “giant sucking sound.”

Perot continued to speak out about federal spending for many years. In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation’s debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog and a chart presentation.

Perot’s themes — that Washington is corrupt, wastes taxpayer money and ignores the working class — have been repeated by other candidates since and helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016.

In Dallas, Perot left his mark by creating the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, helping finance the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, and being a major benefactor of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He also provided help to families dealing with medical expenses or other challenges, according to those who knew him.

“He gave a lot to other people in public ways, but he also did it in private ways that nobody saw. There were thousands of stories just like that,” said Meyerson, a longtime senior executive in Perot’s longtime companies.

Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930. His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary. Perot said his family survived the Depression relatively well through hard work and by managing their money carefully.

Young Perot’s first job was delivering newspapers in a poor, mostly black part of town from his pony, Miss Bee. He said when the newspaper tried to cut his commission, he complained to the publisher — and won. He said he learned to take problems straight to the top.

From Texarkana, Perot went to the U.S. Naval Academy even though he had never been on a ship or seen the ocean. After the Navy, Perot joined International Business Machines in 1955 and quickly became a top salesman. In his last year at IBM, he filled his sales quota for the year in January.

In 1962, with $1,000 from his wife, Margot, Perot founded Electronic Data Systems. Hardware accounted for about 80% of the computer business, Perot said, and IBM wasn’t interested in the other 20%, including services.

Many of the early hires at EDS were former military men, and they had to abide by Perot’s strict dress code — white shirts, ties, no beards or mustaches — and long workdays. Many wore crewcuts like Perot.

The company’s big break came in the mid-1960s when the federal government created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for seniors, the disabled and the poor. States needed help in running the programs, and EDS won contracts — starting in Texas — to handle the millions of claims.

EDS first sold stock to the public in 1968, and overnight, Perot was worth $350 million. His fortune doubled and tripled as the stock price rose steadily.

In 1984, he sold control of the company to General Motors Corp. for $2.5 billion and received $700 million in a buyout. In 2008, EDS was sold to Hewlett-Packard Co.

Perot went on to establish another computer-services company, Perot Systems Corp. He retired as CEO in 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Ross Perot Jr. In 2009, Dell Inc. bought Perot Systems.

Forbes magazine this year estimated Perot’s wealth at $4.1 billion.

It was during the Nixon administration that Perot became involved in the issue of U.S. prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. Perot said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked him to lead a campaign to improve treatment of POWs held in North Vietnam. Perot chartered two jets to fly medical supplies and the wives of POWs to Southeast Asia. They were not allowed into North Vietnam, but the trip attracted enormous media attention.

After their release in 1973, some prisoners said conditions in the camps had improved after the failed missions.

In 1979, the Iranian government jailed two EDS executives and Perot vowed to win their release.

“Ross came to the prison one day and said, ‘We’re going to get you out,’” one of the men, Paul Chiapparone, told The Associated Press. “How many CEOs would do that today?”

Perot recruited retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons to lead a commando raid on the prison. A few days later, the EDS executives walked free after the shah’s regime fell and mobs stormed the prison. Simons’ men sneaked the executives out of the country and into Turkey. The adventure was recalled in Ken Follett’s best-selling book, “On Wings of Eagles,” and a TV miniseries.

In later years, Perot pushed the Veterans Affairs Department to study neurological causes of Gulf War syndrome, a mysterious illness reported by many soldiers who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. He scoffed at officials who blamed the illnesses on stress — “as if they are wimps” — and paid for additional research.

Perot received a special award from the VA for his support of veterans and the military in 2009.

Clinton and former President George W. Bush praised Perot’s patriotism and support for veterans.

Clinton said Perot wanted to tackle budget deficits and rising national debt that kept interest rates too high for middle-class Americans. Bush said he “epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit” and “gave selflessly of his time and resources to help others in our community.”

In Texas, Perot led commissions on education reform and crime. He was given many honorary degrees and awards for business success and patriotism.

While he worked at Perot Systems in suburban Dallas, entire hallways were filled with memorabilia from soldiers and POWs that Perot had helped. His personal office was dominated by large paintings of his wife and five children and bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington.

Several original Norman Rockwell paintings hung in the waiting area. Perot told a visiting reporter that he tried to live by Rockwell’s ethics of hard, honest work and family.

City budget proposal heavy on streets, infrastructure work almost ready for council review
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

As the city staff closes in on a preliminary 2019-20 budget for city council consideration, all roads lead to roads.

The city’s budget and audit committee met Tuesday to continue reviewing the city’s budget proposal, which will be filed Friday before the city council takes it up for consideration. The council typically approves a budget in late August and a property tax rate in early September, ahead of a Sept. 29 state deadline.

Capital Improvement Program Manager Jim Reed recapped streets projects and lessons learned from the 2018-19 budget year and gave the budget committee an overview of proposals for the upcoming year.

“We still center our goals around preservation,” Reed said. “When we talk about pavement condition index, preservation is what gets us there.”

Reed said his department’s goal is to attain a pavement index rating of 70 out of 100. Waco currently sits at a 45.5 rating.

Proposed pavement projects for the next fiscal year include just over $1 million for crack sealing and filling on 28.3 miles of street, $1.5 million for slurry seal on 21.3 miles, $659,000 for microsurface work on 4.2 miles and $156,000 for seal coat work on 2.8 miles.

In addition, more than 60 individual streets projects of all sizes will be added to the 2020 pavement program. The preliminary budget sets aside $21 million total for street improvements in 2019 and $28.4 million in 2020.

“What we learned from the ’18-19 exercise is that we need to get ahead of these projects,” Reed said. “We’re bidding them a little bit too late.”

The department also budgeted $1.1 million for the second phase of an ongoing Elm Avenue project for utility and reclamation work.

“We’ve got some engineering that we still need to do, but we think we can meet the September deadline,” Reed said.

Director of Water Utility Services Lisa Tyer gave a presentation outlining $22.3 million in improvements to the city’s overall water system, the Lake Brazos Dam, and water lines in downtown, as well as $16.3 million budgeted for wastewater improvements. Tyer said water rates for the city would increase, estimating an average residential monthly bill would come to $96.85, an increase over this year’s average bill of $91.43.

Tyer also said the department is budgeting $23 million for waterline replacement to match the pace of street projects.

“That’s important because the waterlines typically are in the streets,” Tyer said. “We have, in some cases, stalled street projects because we didn’t have the water funds to replace those waterlines.”

Public Works Director Chuck Dowdell said solid waste rates are slated to increase slightly as well to cover the cost of services including curbside recycling.

“We want to hang on to our services because they’re very popular with our citizens,” Dowdell said.

Dowdell said one addition, a brush truck, was added after summer turned into an endless backlog of brush calls.

“It turns out the brush service is pretty popular with our folks, and because of the great rain that we’ve had, we have a lot of brush to collect,” Dowdell said.

The department also budgeted $1.2 million for the design and planning of a solid waste facility and $500,000 for infrastructure improvements on the city’s existing landfill.

The current solid waste rate of $14.20 per month would increase to $16.10 in 2020, then to $18.20 in 2021. The landfill gate fee would increase to $35.25 for McLennan County residents and $43.01 for nonresidents. Dowdell said even with the increase, Waco’s services would still remain more affordable than other Texas cities.

Marlin ISD hires Austin law firm to investigate ‘district affairs’ and ‘superintendent duties’
 Brooke Crum  / 

The Marlin Independent School District Board of Managers voted 4-0 Tuesday to hire an Austin-based law firm to investigate district affairs and superintendent duties, with one board member absent from the vote.

The state-appointed board of managers hired the Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle law firm as “special counsel for matters pertaining to investigation regarding the affairs of the district and superintendent duties,” according to the agenda for the board’s meeting Tuesday.

Board member Danny Vickers was absent for the vote but arrived in time to meet in closed session.

Members of the board of managers declined to comment on what exactly the law firm is investigating or whom, deferring comment to board President Billy Johnson. Johnson declined to comment, as well.

Many Texas school districts hire Walsh Gallegos to investigate school matters or to conduct superintendent searches. It is unclear if the firm or hired investigator Ann Dixon is conducting an inquiry into suspended Superintendent Michael Seabolt.

Board members met behind closed doors for more than two hours Tuesday with Texas Education Agency conservator Jean Bahney, Dixon, Godfrey and school board attorney Pete Rusek. Dixon was not in closed session the entire two hours.

The five-member board of managers voted 4-1 on June 5 to suspend Seabolt and launch an investigation into his performance and the district. Vickers cast the sole dissenting vote.

Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey is serving as the district’s acting superintendent.

The vote to suspend Seabolt came a week after a similar motion made by board member Eddie Ellis failed. Bahney directed the board May 29 to place Seabolt on paid administrative leave, “pending further board action,” after the motion failed.

Meanwhile, Marlin ISD faces closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state intervention in the form of a state-installed board of managers. The district has failed state academic accountability standards based on standardized exam scores for seven consecutive years.

As a result, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 school year in February, according to a letter from Morath. He also appointed Bahney as conservator.

Morath states in the letter that the district could have closed as early as July 1. The closure of the district depends on the results of an informal review of its accreditation status by TEA. Marlin ISD requested this review, a remedy available to school districts in this situation. The results of the review are still pending, according to the TEA.

The district faced the possibility of closure the past three school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA.

TEA installed a board of managers at Marlin ISD in February 2017, in response to the district repeatedly failing state accountability standards. The board of managers effectively replaced the district’s elected board of trustees.

In January, Morath extended the appointment of the Marlin ISD board of managers for another two years, citing a “lack of improvement” at the district.