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Top Hewitt official drops lawsuit, takes $110,000 in separation deal
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

A top city administrator at the center of Hewitt’s political controversy last year parted ways with the city Monday, accepting a $110,000 settlement and agreeing to dismiss a lawsuit charging bias and sexual harassment.

All seven Hewitt City Council members agreed to accept the resignation of Belinda Kay “Katie” Allgood as the city’s managing director of administration. The separation agreement, which also gives her two months of insurance, assures that Allgood will dismiss all claims against the city and its former and current officials.

“The litigation between Ms. Allgood and the city of Hewitt has been resolved,” Mayor Charlie Turner said in a statement. “This includes a mutual agreement for Ms. Allgood’s separation from employment with the city of Hewitt. The city council looks forward to being able to focus solely on the business and needs of the citizens of Hewitt.”

Council members signed off on the agreement after nearly an hour behind closed doors at a special council meeting. Allgood did not attend the meeting Monday.

Allgood’s lawsuit earlier this year alleged sexual harassment and bias, primarily referring to actions by then-Mayor Ed Passalugo and former Councilman Kurt Krakowian, who resigned last summer. Her attorney, Ryan Johnson, said although he felt the lawsuit had merit, Allgood loved working in public service and her time in Hewitt.

“I believe the wrongdoers, the former mayor and former council member have been removed and the city and the terms of this settlement, which are fairly extraordinary for a city to pay in a case like this, we think this is absolutely a win,” Johnson said. “We think it’s an acknowledgement that discrimination occurred.”

The city’s insurer, Texas Municipal League’s Intergovernmental Risk Pool, will pay for the majority of the settlement with a $65,000 payout. The city’s share is $45,000, plus two months of insurance.

In January, City Attorney Mike Dixon prepared a 200-page report at the city council’s request shortly after he was hired as city attorney. In the report, Dixon blamed much of the tumult among city officials on Allgood and former City Manager Adam Miles.

Allgood, who has been in a romantic relationship with Miles for more than two years, has said their relationship was consensual and was disclosed to the council from the beginning.

Miles resigned in November and received an $88,000 settlement. The former city manager had filed complaints against Passalugo and former Councilman Kurt Krakowian prior to Allgood’s complaint.

Dixon declined to comment after the settlement Monday night. City Manager Bo Thomas said he believed the agreement was in the best interest of the city.

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14 new agencies funded as United Way grants $1.2 million under new model
 Brooke Crum  / 

The United Way of Waco-McLennan County announced $1.2 million in grant awards Monday, the first round of funding to be distributed to area organizations under a new grant application process that aligns with United Way’s global framework.

In all, 26 organizations received funding out of 38 applicants, and 14 of those 26 organizations have never received United Way funding before, CEO Barbara Mosacchio said. United Way considered $2.65 million in funding requests.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Attorney and Director of American Gateways Anali Looper (from left), intern Ericka Coronado and Krista Eades, legal caseworker, look over files. The organization received a grant from United Way on Monday for the first time

New funding recipients include two legal aid nonprofits, Greater Waco Legal Services and the immigration-focused American Gateways. Established organizations such as Grassroots Community Development and Habitat for Humanity are getting funds to teach financial literacy. Talitha Koum, Communities in Schools and The Cove will receive funds for their work with children and youth.

The decisions follow an overhaul of United Way’s grant funding process in recent years that has significantly changed how organizations apply for and receive funding. The funding no longer goes to the organization but to the specific programs each nonprofit offers. Out of 60 programs that applied for grant funding, 37 made the cut.

This year, United Way recruited community members from all walks of life to participate on Community Investment Councils to guide the funding decisions. The four councils are based on the organization’s four essential pillars: education, health, financial stability and safety net services. United Way created the pillars with the help of Prosper Waco based on what the community defines as the greatest areas of need, Mosacchio said.

“These are not United Way dollars but community dollars, so we are accountable to them,” she said. “It should be the community will that helps us shape and guide and direct where those dollars go, so we invited the community in through our Community Investment Councils.”

Jessica Juarez, admissions director at Bella Beauty College in Waco, served on the safety net council, reviewing grant applications for organizations that provide emergency services. She said many of the council members had “lived experience, not necessarily expertise, using different agencies’ programs.”

“There’s several of us at one time or another who have been in need of some financial assistance,” she said. “Sometimes you just need some help to get through some things and then get stabilized and keep on moving on.”

Juarez used public assistance when she first became a single parent. That experience allowed her to offer a perspective in the grant decision-making process that had not been there before. She said she gained some new perspectives, as well, among her council members.

“This is a new model for United Way funding,” she said. “Once people get a better understanding of how this works, they’ll appreciate the fact that it was actually community members instead of a board of directors making the decision. It’s setting a different pace for Waco, for not just being top-down. I think that there’s times in my experience whenever I’ve looked at an organization, trying to volunteer, there’s only certain individuals who might be considered. United Way is opening the doors for so many different people, not just the same individuals.”

The four councils reviewed the grant applications and made recommendations to the United Way board of directors, which decided which programs would be funded this year. The programs had to fit into one of the four pillars, and their applications had to clearly demonstrate how the programs would make an impact.

“The reason that the United Way organization has shifted the way they fund is primarily because they want to see what the impact of the dollars is,” United Way board president-elect Andrew Pick said. “Historically, they have funded a lot of great causes and a lot of great programs, but when they looked at what had the investments that had been made historically yielded, they couldn’t say with absolute clarity that they’d actually had the impact they thought they were going to have because they didn’t actually track any metrics.”

United Way plans to track how the programs its grants helped fund make an impact in the community in each of the four pillars: education, health, financial stability and safety net services. That way the decision-makers know if the funds are actually helping.

“We were obviously having a quantitative impact in that we were serving a lot of people, but we weren’t necessarily moving the needle for their trajectory in life,” Pick said.

The Cove, a safe space for homeless youth, received a $40,000 grant from United Way — the first time the nonprofit has gotten funding from United Way. The grant will offset about $52,000 in funding the city of Waco is withdrawing that has supported a full-time director of student services.

Executive Director Kelly Atkinson said The Cove applied for a grant under the education pillar because one of its main goals is to help homeless youth graduate high school. She said 1 in 4 homeless youth graduate from high school. The program is three years old and has already reached a 100% graduation rate among its clients.

“It’s a very extensive process, but I felt like the United Way team was very forthright and created a lot of opportunities to learn to the process,” Atkinson said. “We knew we were making a difference, so we knew we would make a competitive applicant.”

Mosacchio said The Cove’s application presented a clear framework for how it would use the grant and its mission.

“They are very clear on the importance of their work supporting homeless youth, and that really came out strongly,” she said.

Talitha Koum Institute is another new recipient of United Way funds. The institute’s mission is to lift up children who have experienced trauma out of poverty and help them become fully functioning young adults. United Way granted the institute $68,000 to hire an early childhood specialist who will help the institute’s teachers adhere to each child’s progression plan.

“It’s a major program grant,” Executive Director Susan Cowley said. “It’s not always you can get a new salary covered in a new program.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

The United Way announced its grant awards Monday, which included Talitha Koum Institute for the first time. The grant will cover the salary and benefits of Beth Hicks, an early childhood specialist.

The brain-mapping program allows specialists, including Beth Hicks whose salary the grant covers, to map out the trauma or damage in a child’s brain, from the brain stem to the prefrontal cortex. This brain map allows teachers and counselors to “fill in” those areas so the child’s brain develops and heals.

Not all previously funded organizations made the list. Community Cancer Association did not receive a grant this year, after having its United Way funding cut by 20% last year.

Pick said United Way experienced a reduction in donations several years ago, which resulted in the organization decreasing funds to several organizations. Despite this, United Way funded at the same level by reducing its own resources. It gave out almost $900,000 last year.

Although the change in funding has been long and arduous, United Way Executive Board Committee president Cheryl Gochis said she believes the new model ultimately will invigorate the community’s fundraising potential.

“I would think many times as we would leave meetings is ‘we’re going to go as fast as we can but as slow as we must to get it right,’ and that’s really what’s happened here,” she said. “The process, in general, I really believe is going to generate even more energy toward funding.”

Grant recipients are as follows, with asterisks (*) indicating newly funded initiatives.

Education, $366,120

  • Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children
  • Communities in Schools*
  • Family Abuse Center
  • Girl Scouts of Central Texas
  • Greater Waco Legal Services*
  • Heart of Texas Region MHMR
  • Talitha Koum Institute*
  • The Arc of McLennan County
  • The Cove*
  • YMCA of Central Texas

Health, $366,436

  • Baylor Scott & White Central Texas Foundation*
  • Care Net Pregnancy Center
  • Caritas of Waco
  • Communities in Schools*
  • Girl Scouts of Central Texas
  • Family Health Center
  • Heart of Texas MHMR
  • STARRY Counseling Inc.*
  • The Arc of McLennan County

Financial Stability, $222,103

  • Caritas of Waco
  • Christian Men’s Job Corps*
  • Christian Women’s Job Corps*
  • Compassion Ministries of Waco
  • Friends for Life*
  • Grassroots Community Development*
  • Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries*
  • Waco Habitat for Humanity*

Safety Net, $245,341

  • CASA of McLennan County
  • Family Abuse Center
  • American Gateways*
  • Meals on Wheels*
  • Greater Waco Legal Services*
  • Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children
  • The Salvation Army

Bible shortage? Publishers say tariffs could cause it

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Religious publishers say President Donald Trump’s most recent proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could result in a Bible shortage.

That’s because millions of Bibles — some estimates put it at 150 million or more — are printed in China each year. Critics of a proposed tariff say it would make the Bible more expensive for consumers and hurt the evangelism efforts of Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing President and CEO Mark Schoenwald recently told the U.S. Trade Representative that the company believes the Trump administration “never intended to impose a ‘Bible Tax’ on consumers and religious organizations,” according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the publisher.

The two largest Bible publishers in the United States, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, are owned by HarperCollins, and they incur close to 75% of their Bible manufacturing expenses in China, Schoenwald said. Together, they command 38% of the American Bible market, he said.

The full size of that market is difficult to gauge. A spokeswoman at HarperCollins said they believe around 20 million Bibles are sold in the U.S. each year.

The NDP group, which includes NPD BookScan and PubTrack Digital, captured 5.7 million print Bible sales in the U.S. in 2018. But that figure doesn’t capture all sales, including the large number of Bibles sold by publishers directly to congregations.

Regardless, it’s clear the Bible is the top-selling book in the U.S. By comparison, the next best seller in 2018 was Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” which BookScan estimates sold 3.5 million copies.

The proposed 25% tariff would apply to all books, but critics say it would disproportionately affect Bibles and children’s books. Both tend to have specialized printing requirements that Chinese printers are set up to meet while many domestic printers are not.

“U.S. printers moved their Bible printing facilities abroad decades ago, leaving no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives,” Schoenwald said.

Stan Jantz, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said in a phone interview that over half of worldwide Bible production takes place in China. The tariff would hurt organizations that give away Bibles and also make it difficult for publishers to sell the Bible at a price people can afford, he said.

“Traditionally, historically books have been excluded from tariffs,” Jantz added.

Biblica, the International Bible Society, is a charitable religious organization that gives away Bibles to people in 55 countries. China represents 72% of the group’s investment in Bible publishing, according to Biblica President and CEO Geof Morin.

A Bible tariff would “dramatically affect the number of Bibles we are able to print and give away, impacting the religious freedom of individuals in countries where Bible access is limited and often nonexistent,” Morin said in testimony to the Trade Representative, according to a transcript he provided.

The critics also argue that a tariff on books would not advance the purported goals of the tariff, to stop the Chinese from acquiring American technology, trade secrets and intellectual property.

“The printing of books does not require significant technology or know-how that is at risk of theft or appropriation by China,” Tyndale House CEO Mark Taylor said in written comments on the tariffs.

For now, the publishers and other Bible distributors must simply wait to see if their pleas will be answered.

Trump and President Xi Jinping of China agreed at a recent meeting of the Group of 20 major economies to resume trade negotiations, a decision that puts all the proposed tariffs on hold. Forecasters warned, however, the two sides still face the same differences that caused talks to break down in earlier this year.

editor's pick
Man who tumbled into Brazos sues cruise company, Baylor University
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A Waco man who was injured when he fell into the Brazos River at McLane Stadium while waiting to board a tour boat has filed a lawsuit against Baylor University and Waco River Safari.

Damiun Stillwell, whose lawsuit says he is legally blind, is seeking more than $1 million in damages in his premises liability lawsuit, filed last week in Waco’s 414th State District Court.

Baylor spokesman Jason Cook and Waco River Safari owner Ryan Helm both said they were unaware of the lawsuit and declined comment Monday.

Houston attorney Marcus Spagnoletti, who represents Stillwell, also declined comment, saying the petition speaks for itself.

Stillwell, 43, and his wife were at Baylor’s McLane Stadium April 27 waiting to board the Waco River Safari boat for a “romantic river tour on the Brazos River.” Stillwell and his wife were walking onto the dock in front of the stadium when he stepped to the side to avoid a young boy walking by, according to the lawsuit.

While trying to avoid the boy, Stillwell fell over the side of the dock into the river.

“The location where plaintiff was required to board the vessel failed to have railings that would have prevented the incident,” the suit alleges.

Stillwell sank to the bottom of the river and blacked out when he struck the bottom, the suit claims. He suffered a fractured right leg and “severe injuries” to his left eye.

“His physical and psychological injuries have been severe, and medical treatment is currently ongoing,” the suit says.

The suit claims Waco River Safari was negligent for failing to warn patrons of the dangerous conditions on the dock; failing to limit the number of people allowed onto the dock at one time; and by failing to provide a safe ingress onto the vessel.

The lawsuit alleges a premises liability claim against Baylor because the Baptist university owns the property and the premises “posed an unreasonable risk of harm” and lacked adequate safeguards to prevent invitees from falling over the edge of the dock into the river below.

The lawsuit also charges that both defendants were negligent by violating provisions of the International Building Code as required by the state of Texas and a city of Waco ordinance that protect patrons from unsafe or inadequate conditions.

Stillwell seeks damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement and medical expenses.