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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Midway's Jazmine Gendorf crosses the plate on a sacrifice bunt by teammate Charlee Yourman in the fifth inning.


Elections
Texas to end botched voter citizenship review, rescind list of flagged voters
 
 04.26.19

Three months after first questioning the citizenship status of almost 100,000 registered voters, the Texas secretary of state has agreed to end a review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens that was flawed from the start.

The deal was announced Friday as part of an agreement to settle three legal challenges brought by more than a dozen naturalized citizens and voting rights groups against the state. The groups alleged that the voter citizenship review, which was launched in late January, was unconstitutional and violated federal protections for voters of color.

Secretary of State David Whitley — who has yet to be confirmed by the Texas Senate amid the fallout over the review — agreed to scrap the lists of registered voters his office had sent to county voter registrars for examination. Whitley’s office will instruct local officials to take no further action on the names of people it had classified as “possible non-U.S citizens,” and county officials will be charged with notifying voters who received letters demanding they prove their citizenship that their registrations are safe.

The state is also on the hook for $450,000 in costs and attorney fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The agreement must still be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case, and the state will have five days after the judge dismisses the plaintiffs’ legal claims to officially rescind the list. But the settlement amounts to a profound defeat for the state leaders who had defended the review even though it had jeopardized the voting rights of tens of thousands of naturalized citizens.

“Today’s agreement accomplishes our office’s goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized U.S. citizens,” Whitley said in a statement Friday. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the election community to ensure this process is conducted in a manner that holds my office accountable and protects the voting rights of eligible Texans.”

The original review had been mired in controversy since day one, largely because of the faulty methodology the state used to compile the list and the fanfare with which it was announced.

Top Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump, took to Twitter to falsely tout the list as proof of illegal registrations and voting in Texas. In reality, the secretary of state’s office matched the voter rolls with data it requested from the Texas Department of Public Safety for individuals who at some point in the last few years told the department they were not citizens when they obtained a driver’s license or ID card. But the review did not account for people who could’ve become naturalized citizens since then and weren’t required to update DPS.

The settlement does not prohibit the secretary of state from screening the state’s massive voter registration database for possible noncitizens, but state officials agreed they would rework their methodology to only flag voters who provided DPS with documentation showing they were not citizens after they were registered to vote.

It’s unclear how that will shrink the original list of voters whose citizenship was questioned. Officials agreed to provide the plaintiffs with that number as well as three more updates once the state begins compiling weekly lists to send out to county officials.


Education
editor's pick
Robinson ISD asks voters to approve $31.5 million bond for junior high overhaul
 Brooke Crum  / 
 04.26.19

{child_flags:editors_pick}Robinson ISD asks voters to OK $31.5M bond for junior high

{child_byline}By BROOKE CRUM

bcrum@wacotrib.com

{/child_byline}

The Robinson Independent School District is asking voters to approve a $31.5 million bond issue May 4, five years after voters passed a bond issue to build a new intermediate school.

This time, the school district of about 2,350 students is working toward a major overhaul of its multi-building junior high school campus, erected in the late 1960s, that serves students in seventh and eighth grades, school board President Laura Crawford said. The plan includes significant new construction, demolition of a classroom wing and renovation and repurposing of original buildings that will remain. The bond also would pay for expansion of the high school agricultural facility.

In 2014, Robinson ISD’s $19.5 million bond issue to replace the 50-year-old intermediate school for grades four through six passed by 19 votes, according to Tribune-Herald archives. That successful bond election came after two failed ones in 2011 and 2013.

The proposed 2019 bond issue would add about $303 per year in property taxes to the average home, valued at $187,095, in the Robinson ISD taxing zone, according to the bond issue website.

“This is an investment in our children’s futures,” Crawford said. “Yes, it’s going to hit our pocketbooks for a little while, but if we wait five years we would see construction costs go up. Let’s do this now, while it’s not as expensive.”

Crawford said construction costs have doubled since 2014 and she cannot imagine how much more they would increase in another five years. The school district is paying off two other bond series — one for the high school and primary school that will be paid off in 2024 and the intermediate school bond that will be paid off in 2039.

The 50-year-old junior high school is not equipped for class in the 21st century, with few electrical outlets in classrooms and limited capability for learning tools like laptops and overhead projectors, Crawford said. In addition to being more technologically friendly, the overhauled junior high would be more secure.

The campus has multiple buildings that students must travel between when switching classes or going to lunch, and the bond would enclose all corridors to keep students under one roof. It also would build a new entrance and front offices that would allow the school to ensure all visitors check in.

Crawford said the current classroom building would remain in use while its two-story replacement is built. The old classroom building would be demolished after the new one is ready. Renovations to other buildings, including the library and science wing, can be done while students are in class.

The new buildings would be designed to be expanded as the district grows. The new school would be able to house about 500 students. About 58 percent of the $31.5 million bond would go toward new construction, while the rest would be dedicated to renovations, according to the bond issue website.

“We’re not looking to build a Taj Mahal by any means,” Crawford said. “When you have nice schools, people want to come, which increases the tax base, which decreases taxes.”

{child_related_content}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Robinson ISD enrollment{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

2017-2018: 2,349

2016-2017: 2,300

2015-2016: 2,289

2014-2015: 2,316

2013-2014: 2,269

2012-2013: 2,244

2011-2012: 2,206

2010-2011: 2,135

2009-2010: 2,157

2008-2009: 2,190

Source: Texas Education Agency

{/child_related_content_content}{/child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Polling places and times{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Early voting will continue from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at the following locations:

  • Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Drive
  • McLennan County Elections Administration Office Records Building, 214 N. Fourth St., Suite 300, Waco
  • First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd., Waco
  • Crawford High School, 200 Pirate Drive
  • Bellmead City Hall, 3015 Bellmead Drive.

On Election Day, May 4, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Drive
  • Bellmead Civic Center, 3900 Parrish St.
  • Chalk Bluff Baptist Church, 5993 Gholson Road, Waco
  • Crawford High School, 200 Pirate Drive
  • First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd. Waco
  • Hewitt Public Safety Facility, 100 Patriot Court
  • Lorena First Baptist Church, 307 E. Center St.
  • Mart Community Center, 804 E. Bowie Ave.
  • Woodway City Hall, 922 Estates Drive

{/child_related_content_content}{/child_related_content_item}{/child_related_content}


Downtown_waco
spotlight
Second Silo District Marathon to bring thousands downtown
 Mike Copeland  / 
 04.26.19

Those counting at home, anticipating the second Silo District Marathon winding through downtown Waco this weekend, may want to keep in mind it is a numbers game with proceeds earmarked for cancer research.

The Magnolia-sponsored event, which will include Chip Gaines’ participation in the half-marathon, will attract more than 6,000 runners assisted by 400 volunteers and 200 law enforcement officers and other first responders.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people could line the streets, cheering on the competitors, celebrating at local dining and drinking establishments afterward and retiring to local hotel rooms. That is according to Will Phipps, executive director of the Waco Sports Commission, who applied a 2.5-to-1 ratio of friends and family to each participant.

Silo District Marathon: April 28, 2019

Last year, the inaugural Silo District Marathon raised $250,000 for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, named for Gabe Grunewald, a professional runner suffering from a rare salivary gland cancer whom Chip and Joanna Gaines met at an event in New York. Vowing to help, Chip set in motion his vision for a fundraiser.

Money raised will benefit cancer research and patients treated at the Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer Center in Waco.

Add it all up and the next two days could prove fun and financially beneficial to the community and a worthy cause. Toss in angst among motorists and business owners facing street closings, and the plot thickens.

“When all is said and done, we anticipate this year’s turnout will outpace last year’s by a small margin,” Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano wrote in a press release. “This year, we will be welcoming runners from all 50 states — Texas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Missouri will be among the six most represented states. Additionally, we are looking forward to welcoming runners from five other countries, including Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Panama and Australia.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Runners and spectators gather near last year’s Silo District Marathon stating line. This year’s race, along with a half-marathon and 5K, is set to start Sunday morning downtown.

The Silo District Marathon is the largest race held in Waco, said Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center. In contrast, Ironman 70.3 Waco in October last year drew 2,880 competitors and an estimated 12,000 visitors, “and that was a very impactful event,” Pendergraft said.

“We find the Silo District Marathon competitors tend to come to town and stay several days, getting used to the climate and looking around town,” she wrote in an email response to questions. “Some of them do visit our attractions, take tours, and many do some shopping while they are here. All of them go out to eat, of course. So there should be a very positive impact on our restaurant, hotels, attractions and retail shops.”

The city of Waco’s Jonathan Cook, who promotes special events and serves as interim parks director, said the marathon is an “all-hands-on-deck” event that involves law enforcement and first responders from 38 counties, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management, several city of Waco departments and crews from Dallas Lite and Barricade, a private company specializing in traffic control.

Traffic control, which includes blocking streets, has been an issue.

“This is a great example of a big event that showcases downtown, showcases Waco and brings a lot of people to the heart of our city,” said Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, which advocates for downtown development. “But these events have drawbacks as well, and sometimes fans of these events do not think about those drawbacks, just as those who experience inconveniences may not see the big picture.”

Getting customers in the door “is always a challenge,” and businesses puzzling over unique ways to attract the marathon-related masses may feel frustrated, Henderson said. If they do not see racers or their followers flocking to their door, they may become disenchanted with the event, she said.

“There were a couple of hiccups I noticed last year related to this issue,” Henderson said. “I know of businesses rising to the challenge, trying to come up with cool things to do, a chalk project, for example, to highlight the work of local artists. If a business owner believes an impediment is unreasonable or unnecessary, that’s one thing. If organizers can communicate in a clear-headed fashion the long-term benefits, demonstrate how an event could create a positive impression and return business, that’s quite another.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Runners make their way through the course during last year’s inaugural Silo District Marathon. This year’s race, along with a half-marathon and 5K, is set to start Sunday morning downtown.

Nancy Goodnight, a veteran triathlon and marathon organizer and member of the Greater Waco Sports Commission advisory board, said organizers have stepped up their game to ensure residents living or doing business along the various routes know about detours and closings this weekend.

“I live on the route myself and I got a door hanger,” Goodnight said.

Phipps, the commission’s director, said the group is excited Chip Gaines decided to start the marathon.

“But anytime you try something of this magnitude, you will learn about the processes that could have gone better,” Phipps said. “The Magnolia brand is not necessarily a sporting event production company. It can do a lot of things and do them well. But other groups locally and outside have great experience in this area, with staffs willing to get in and get their hands dirty. I believe we’ll see this run more efficiently than in year one.”

New this year is a Health and Fitness Expo held in the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave., in conjunction with the marathon.

“The expo is designed to appeal to runners and visitors alike since many of the runners are traveling with friends or family and are planning to spend Friday and Saturday exploring all that Waco has to offer,” Marsicano said in an email response to questions. “Local businesses like Waco Running Company, Waco Tours and Redefine31 will have booths. Several niche, running-focused national brands like Bondi Bond, Iron Foot and Crazy Water will also be there.”

Church Under the Bridge, which has been meeting on Sundays at Magnolia Market at the Silos while Interstate 35 is widened, will gather Sunday at the Dewey Center, 925 N. Ninth St., pastor Jimmy Dorrell said in an email.

The marathon and half-marathon will start at 7 a.m. Sunday at Fifth Street and Webster Avenue, while the 5K run will start at 7:30 a.m. at Fourth Street and Mary Avenue.

Several race viewing locations featured in the marathon information packet include Indian Spring Park on Lake Brazos at University Parks Drive; Cultivate 7twelve and The Warehouse, both on Austin Avenue; the corner of Third Street and Austin Avenue; and Brotherwell Brewing at 400 E. Bridge St. in East Waco.


Courts_and_trials
editor's pick
Waco real estate agent arrested again on charges he exploited elderly man
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 
 04.26.19

A Waco real estate agent was arrested Friday for the second time in 21 months on allegations he improperly secured mineral rights on property owned by an elderly man.

Waco police arrested Re/Max Centex real estate agent Jody Glenn Scoggins at his office Friday morning on charges of theft of $150,000 but less than $300,000 from an elderly individual and exploitation of an elderly person.

Scoggins, 33, was jailed under $30,000 bond. He was arrested in July 2017 on similar charges. However, the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office under former DA Abel Reyna declined to pursue the charges.

First Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes said Friday that when District Attorney Barry Johnson took office in January, his office started reviewing the charges against Scoggins and decided to present the allegations to a grand jury.

A McLennan County grand jury issued a sealed indictment against Scoggins on Wednesday. The indictment was issued under seal because Scoggins had not been arrested on the new charges.

Waco attorney Phil Frederick, who represents Scoggins with attorney Rob Swanton, said they will “vigorously defend Jody against these false charges.”

“This case had been at the DA’s office for 18 months, and they declined to pursue it,” Frederick said. “We presented a significant amount of information to the DA’s office over the last 18 months that was not part of the police investigation. The information we provided contradicted much of the police reports. The decision to not prosecute the case was the right decision.”

The theft charge against Scoggins is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison. The exploitation of an elderly person count is a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

The indictment alleges that from January 2016 to July 2017, Scoggins unlawfully appropriated, by acquiring or otherwise exercising control over property, cash, mineral rights or a home, from David Menefee, the owner who is an elderly individual. The indictment alleges the property obtained was worth from $100,000 to $300,000.

Count 2 alleges Scoggins, for “monetary or personal benefit, profit or gain, caused the exploitation” of Menefee by “the illegal or improper use of the elderly person by having him sign over his mineral rights.”

According to court documents filed when Scoggins was arrested in 2017, Waco police allege Scoggins befriended Menefee, who at the time was 66 and suffered from dementia and blindness. He was living at a nursing home, and Scoggins reportedly started having the man’s mail forwarded to Scoggins’ office.

“(The victim) is an heir to mineral rights in Hood County, Texas, which has been passed down through his family,” the documents state. “On 09/27/2016, Scoggins, along with … a public notary for the state of Texas, went to (the nursing home). While at the nursing home, Scoggins had (the man) sign a mineral warranty deed granting his wife, Kimberly Scoggins, and he all interest in all oil and gas that may be produced from (the man’s) original mineral warranty deed for the amount of $10.”

The notary told investigators the full form was never read to the victim, only explained by Scoggins, according to the documents.

“After speaking to (Menefee), he told me he would never sign his mineral rights over because they have been passed down through his family and are his main source of income,” an arrest affidavit states. “Scoggins was deceptive by tricking (the man) due to his disabilities into signing his mineral rights over to him for his pecuniary gain.”

Scoggins told investigators in 2017 he knew the man suffered from cataracts but was unaware of any other medical conditions, according to the affidavit.

Menefee and a family member filed a civil lawsuit against Scoggins, his wife, Kim, and his mother, Debbie, in July 2017, alleging they committed a civil conspiracy, misappropriated and stole the Menefee family’s property, used a fraudulent signature to deed over assets and fraudulently obtained power of attorney to gain access to Menefee’s financial information.

Waco attorney David Dumas, who represents Scoggins in the civil suit, told the Tribune-Herald in 2017 that Menefee is a lifelong friend of the Scoggins family.

“Based on our investigation, the allegations will ultimately be proven to be false,” Dumas said. “It is unfortunate that these unsubstantiated claims have the potential to damage their reputations simply because they have been made. The truth is that Mr. Menefee has been a lifelong friend of the Scoggins family and their attempts to help him through the years have been twisted into this fabricated story and turned against Jody and his family.”

The lawsuit remains pending.


City_of_waco
editor's pick
Public Health District director retiring after 37 years with city
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 
 04.26.19

After 37 years of working to keep McLennan County healthy, Sherry Williams is officially retiring.

The director of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District started out as a public health nurse in 1982. She said while her role has changed just as much as the role of the public health district itself, she has always loved her line of work.

“I see some of the clients that I took care of today, and they say, ‘You’re still at the health department? My baby is 30 years old!’,” Williams said. “They remember, and that makes me feel good.”

Williams, the first black woman to hold the director position, knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was a high school student.

“I know it was God leading me to do the things I needed to do, but also the things I wanted to do,” Williams said. “My mother always told us, ‘You know you’re going to have to work, because we’re not rich. You might as well find something you like to do.’ So we have.”

She said her mother, Bennie Clay, raised her and her siblings alone, but still found time to start food pantries and other projects to support her community. Three of her siblings went on to be social workers, and two others are nurses as well.

“She cared about her community, she cared about her neighbors,” Williams said. “We always saw that in her, so all of us have gone down the road of service to a community. We saw that, and it just permeated our being.”

When she first became a public health nurse, the district offered prenatal care, child health care and home health care along with the tuberculosis treatment and immunizations it offers today. In the late 80s, they incorporated HIV testing, prevention and education.

“I really enjoyed taking care of the patients and clients,” Williams said. “I think we gave some of the best care in the city, because we took the time to talk to them, listen to them and work with them.”

However, Medicaid requirements changed in 2000, and the district shifted its focus to other services, hiring its first epidemiologist in 2001 and starting a new health education program soon after. Williams was promoted to director of nurses, a role she held until she became director of the district.

“I have seen so many nurses come through and have enjoyed working with the staff, and even just seeing the changes in how we provide those public health services,” Williams said.

Janet Emerson, a previous director, took her under her wing, inviting Williams to sit in on meetings and planning sessions. Williams served as interim director for six months before she was permanently hired seven years ago.

Today, the needs of Waco and McLennan County are different than they were when Williams started. The district works with Prosper Waco, a collaborative initiative to address chronic disease, obesity, access to care, women’s health and mental health.

“We realize that we cannot do this work alone,” Williams said. “We only have like 83 people, and we cannot do everything for everybody. We’re trying to bring in other voices to hear what they think is important and how we as a community can address those issues.”

Nursing Division Program Manager Margaret Cowart said Williams saw the health district through countless changes and challenges as a director.

“She’s able to figure out what the health department needed to do to continue to serve the community,” Cowart said. “There wasn’t exactly books on how to do that.”

HIV-STD-Lab Program Manager Laurel Churchman described Williams as someone who leads by example and is always looking to innovate where she can.

“We could have stayed still and stagnant, but she did push us along and out of our comfort zone,” Churchman said. “We’re going to miss her a lot.”

Carol Davis, a deputy regional director with the Texas Department of State Health Services, presented Williams with a letter during a retirement party Friday thanking her for her public health service.

“She’s led the health district through so many things, from disease outbreaks to leading the response to the explosion in West,” Davis said. “She was very supportive of Public Health Region Seven staff.”


Scoggins


Re/Max Centex photo 

J. Scoggins