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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Parkview Christian’s Braeden Arp made 96 catches for a nation-leading 1,901 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Pacers as a senior.


Hewitt
editor's pick
Hewitt report: Investigation faults former city manager in upheaval
 Cassie L Smith  / 
 01.11.19

Hewitt’s former city manager constructed a story line intended to smear the Hewitt City Council in an effort to save his girlfriend’s job, according to a newly released report prepared by the city attorney to summarize an external investigation.

City Attorney Mike Dixon released the summary Friday, which the council asked him to prepare based on findings from a Fort Worth law firm that investigated complaints against the council last spring and summer. An attorney with that law firm signed off on Dixon’s 12-page summary.

According to the summary, it was released to shed light on a largely one-sided story and to offer transparency on what has caused recent turmoil among Hewitt leaders.

When the council asked for the public summary from Dixon, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Fortenberry said he would prefer to hear a public presentation from Julia Gannaway, who conducted the investigation for Lynn Ross & Gannaway LLP. Gannaway provided a closed-door presentation to the council in June but did not provide a written report.

The story outlined in the new report starts in May with council members discussing the upcoming budget. Council members were considering cutting the position held by Belinda Kay “Katie” Allgood, the city’s managing director of administration. Shortly after the talks, Allgood and another city employee filed complaints against Mayor Ed Passalugo, now former council member Kurt Krakowian, and council member James Vidrine.

The contents of the complaints were not released, and “the public’s imagination ran wild and the individuals who questioned Allgood’s position and salary had their reputations tarnished regardless of the veracity of the complaints or whether there was support for any claims of discrimination,” the report states.

Former City Manager Adam Miles took actions against the council and the city’s interest and told employees he hoped the city would fire him so he would end up owning the city, the report alleges.

The document states the complaints were not credible. It alleges Miles told employees Allgood would make so much off her claims against the city she would never have to work again, and that he called council members derogatory terms.

The report also notes no complaints had been filed against the mayor or any council member before May 2018.

Though Friday’s report questions the complaints’ credibility, it states Gannaway concluded there was evidence some incidents happened as Muske and Allgood reported them. It would be up to their attorneys to prove whether the incidents included any violation of employment laws, the report states.

Miles could not be reached for comment.

The city separated with Miles on Nov. 5, agreeing to pay him an $88,000 settlement.

“Even if the councilmembers were bad people — no employee can constantly criticize and vilify his boss and expect to keep his job,” the report states.

Allgood’s attorney, Ryan Johnson, said Friday that Dixon went to great lengths to establish something well known to city employees and the council — that Allgood and Miles were in a consenting, adult relationship not prohibited by city policy.

“Clearly, Dixon has approached this so-called ‘investigation’ with the desired result in mind — denigrate the character of the female accuser, Katie Allgood,” Johnson said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Mike Dixon talks to the Hewitt City Council during a recent meeting.

The report was released with the council agenda posted ahead of a special called meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at Hewitt City Hall in which the report is to be presented.

Fortenberry said he was digesting the summary but that its content is as he expected.

“This is full of false statements, and it continues to blame the victims of Passalugo’s egregious acts,” Fortenberry said. “This is not what was reported to the council at the conclusion of the Gannaway investigation.”

Fortenberry said the report also does not include the audio recording he used in his complaint against the mayor, evidence he said shows Passalugo violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. Fortenberry’s Open Meetings complaint against Passalugo was outside the scope of the Gannaway investigation and therefore, outside the scope of Dixon’s summary.

Allgood also filed a discrimination complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division against the city alleging she received disparate treatment from Passalugo, Vidrine and Krakowian. Allgood’s coworker Cassie Rose Muske, former parks and media coordinator, filed a similar complaint. Muske resigned her position with the city Sept. 28 and received a $20,000 settlement form the Texas Municipal League Risk Pool, the city’s insurer.

The report

The council authorized Dixon Dec. 17 to compile the report released Friday. Several residents responded during a Jan. 7 council meeting by saying it would be a duplication of Gannaway’s effort.

Staff photo — Cassie L. Smith, file  

Katie Allgood speaks during a Hewitt City Council meeting.

Allgood’s and Muske’s complaints against Passalugo and Krakowian allege working relationships with female employees were “sexualized, inappropriate, offensive and discriminatory.”

Allgood also alleges men in similar positions before her were paid significantly more.

She was hired by the city as a part-time intern in February 2015. She graduated from Baylor University in May 2015, and was made special projects coordinator, a job that did not previously exist, according to the report. Allgood became the human resources director within six months having no experience or credentials, according to the report. Two months later, she was given the title managing director of administration, another position that had not previously existed. Allgood’s salary increased 78 percent between May 2015 and October 2018, according to the report.

“The trajectory of positions and compensation Allgood enjoyed is pretty much unheard of in municipal government and has never been seen in Hewitt city government,” the report states.

Allgood directly reports to the city manager, who oversees all city employees.

Relationship in question

The report states Miles never met with this city council and informed members of his relationship with Allgood.

“Indeed, one of his top department heads advised Miles repeatedly to come clean to the Council with no success,” according to the report.

This council learned about the relationship through an anonymous letter in November 2017, according to the report. Miles did not deny it but indicated the letter was from someone he fired, according to the report.

Staff photo — Cassie L. Smith, file 

Fortenberry

In June 2018, Fortenberry and former council member Alex Snider told the Tribune-Herald the council had long been aware of Miles and Allgood’s relationship and that no one raised an issue with it.

“We’ve known that Katie and Adam were dating, and he brought that out early on and all we did was speak to our lawyer and made sure everything was on the up and up,” Snider said at the time.

Snider, who served on the council six years, also said the council at the time reviewed Allgood’s compensation to ensure it was even with similar positions and there was no appearance of impropriety.

Though council members at the time decided it was OK, Friday’s report asserts the relationship did in fact violate the city’s personnel policies and the city manager’s code of ethics.

“It was contrary to all rules of common sense and created a nightmare for the management of the city,” according to the report.

Johnson, Allgood’s attorney, said the city council was unsatisfied with the Gannaway investigation which “found that Allgood had been subject to discriminatory conduct.”

He said that is why the council fired longtime attorney Charlie Buenger, who recommended hiring the firm for the investigation.

“Dixon’s criticisms of Allgood and her relationship with the city manager clearly qualifies as sexual harassment and discrimination in and of itself,” Johnson said. “Dixon’s plan for the city of Hewitt seems to be as follows: ignore the results of the original investigation conducted by real professionals, pay off the male city manager who was in a position of authority and crucify the female city employee who has been the subject of discrimination.”

Johnson said newly-elected Councilwoman Erica Bruce’s “personal observations and opinion on the subject would be worth more than Dixon’s pathetic attempts to dig up dirt on a female employee who made a discrimination complaint.”

Bruce could not be reached for comment Friday.

Before she was on the council, she emailed Miles on May 15 describing a council meeting in which she said Passalugo was demeaning, disrespectful, and discriminatory toward female employees.

Also before she was on the council, Bruce publicly called for Passalugo and Vidrine to resign.

The report ends with a “thoughts and recommendations” section that states the city needs more detailed employment policies, training for the council in interpersonal communication skills, and that is should address Allgood’s “title cluster.”

“Under the Incompatibility Doctrine, one cannot hold a position and at the same time hold additional positions that are supervised by the original position,” the report states.


Business
featurededitor's pick
Rapoport students help build entertaining pedal bike for local company
 Carl Hoover  / 
 01.11.19

It is unlikely that some future rowdy bachelorette party or high school reunion rolling through downtown Waco on a pedal tour would ever think some Waco high school students earned class credit for the vehicle enabling their rolling fun.

Nor is it likely that those same students thought, a year or so ago, that crafting a pedal-powered vehicle that seats 16 people, with table surfaces to facilitate drinking, would help them graduate and learn valuable skills.

That is the case, however, thanks to the common ground discovered by some Waco businessmen, a Rapoport Academy science, technology, engineering and mathematics coordinator, and Rapoport students.

Four Rapoport students are heading into their final months of work in building a custom-designed steel-framed vehicle for Waco Pedal Tours, with 10 pedaling seats and an electric engine, designed largely by their STEM instructor, Clay Springer.

This is not your father’s pedal bike, although if he prefers riding to pedaling, he might appreciate it.

Building from scratch enabled customization to meet specific needs Waco Pedal Tours encountered from real customers: seats farther from pedals for taller people; a step bar to aid seating; bench seating on the end for older customers, kids and those not into pedaling; adjustable suspension to ease road bumps; and more space for the driver and any tour helper.

The finished bike also will feature a video touchscreen for karaoke, LED lighting and a water mister system for hot weather.

“We’re going to nerd out on this thing,” Springer said.

It should be in action by late spring, but Springer and his students have several weeks’ worth of work ahead to install seats, the drivetrain, an electric engine assist, roofing, painting and trim.

In a case where a problem led to opportunity, Waco Pedal Tours found itself plagued with business interruptions last year when its one pedal bike broke down and parts were hard to come by. Company partners Cory Dickman, Jake Cockerill and Daniel Abarca met informally with Springer to see if he could help fix it locally with his design skills and mechanical expertise.

As he looked at it, he realized one could be built locally. And, a STEM teacher always looking for work-related, hands-on education for his students, he saw how building a pedal bike would mirror some of the hands-on learning in Rapoport’s robotics classes.

“Every little aspect of it is what we do in robotics,” he said.

Rapoport Academy Superintendent Alexis Neumann signed on, and a Capstone class required of Rapoport students was created for the pedal bike construction. Waco Pedal Tours covered the projected $30,000 cost of a new bike, lower than the $60,000 or so for a fully tricked-out new bike with electric assist, which enabled a paid internship for students and avoided the usual fundraising needed for $10,000 to $15,000 robotics projects.

Friday morning found Rapoport seniors Conrey Guy and Sydney Stallworth, both 17 years old and in Rapoport’s STEM/robotics sequence, in a West Waco shop continuing their work on the 20-foot-long vehicle. Both had to earn OSHA certification to work on their own — certification they can use professionally — and found pedal bike making a combination of extensive metal work, some design and lots of practical problem-solving and trouble-shooting.

The pedal bike features axles pulled from a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, steering linkage from a 2006 Ford Mustang, leaf springs from a Ford F-350 truck, a suspension system and custom mounting plates.

In addition to learning building skills and designing insights, the Rapoport students have learned about the business and customer side of things from Abarca, the tours’ personable and entertaining driver who brings years of experience working in Cozumel resorts.

There is the practical need for an electric motor assist, for one thing, Abarca said.

“It’s usually a two-hour tour and everybody gets tired pedaling after three minutes,” he said with a laugh.

As the driver, he usually ends up being the last one pedaling, he said.

The Rapoport team, incidentally, took their turn at a pedal bike this fall, driving Waco Pedal Tours’ bike in the Baylor University Homecoming parade and doing karaoke as they went.

The project has opened doors for all parties. Guy, armed with a McLennan Community College associate’s degree, wants to study manufacturing and engineering technology at Texas A&M University and go into engineering design. Stallworth will finish automotive tech at Texas State Technical College, then serve with the Air Force and possibly come back for automotive engineering studies at TSTC to enable his ultimate dream of auto building and design.

Springer is eager to find other Waco businesses open to student-public-private collaborations in any number of fields, be it electronics, construction, graphic design, writing or more.

“I do want to find more businesses to meet students’ passions,” he said.

Abarca sees new ways of entertaining Waco tourists, families and downtown visitors, while Dickman’s entrepreneurial mind is finding new directions of sales and distribution. Lessons learned and building designs created for this bike will enable the prospect of building, then selling pedal bikes to other companies or building different styles to meet specific needs.

“Having people in Waco riding a pedal bike that was Waco-built — that’s very rare,” he said.

And it’s something Stallworth said he would not mind signing after finishing. “Maybe on the frame on the bottom,” he said.


Politics
editor's pick
Effects of federal shutdown reaching some local operations as others keep watch
 Phillip Ericksen  / 
 01.11.19

The partial government shutdown has evoked a wait-and-see mentality from several McLennan County institutions, organizations and projects reliant on federal funding.

Congress’ adjournment Friday ensured it would be the longest federal shutdown in the country’s history. The standoff is based on border security and President Donald Trump’s $5 billion demand to fund a wall along the southern border.

Democrats call the concept of the wall immoral and unnecessary, while Republicans are standing by Trump as he toys with the idea of declaring a national emergency that could unlock Department of Defense money for use on the wall.

Local officials in a variety of sectors are closely watching the situation, some workers have been furloughed or working without pay, and some local federal offices have remained closed since the shutdown started Dec. 22.

Six to eight TSA agents at Waco Regional Airport have gone without pay during the shutdown, director of aviation Joel Martinez said. Several air traffic controllers who are Federal Aviation Administration employees are also working without pay, Martinez said.

“At this time, we have not experienced any delays or inconvenience due to the shutdown,” he said by email.

The IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center at 6801 Sanger Ave. has been closed for the shutdown. The Trump administration has said tax refunds will be sent out, but lawmakers and experts have said it is not clear whether the IRS will have the authority to do so during a shutdown, Vox reported.

Delivery of services at the Salvation Army in Waco have not been affected, but the shutdown has delayed payment of federal grant money to the organization, according to a Salvation Army statement. The grants that have been delayed are paid out as reimbursements as the Salvation Army provides services and documents the costs.

“While the receipt of funding has been delayed, The Salvation Army Waco remains steadfast in our commitment to continue providing these services, in anticipation that funds will be reimbursed retroactively,” according to the statement. “We join the nation in prayer that our government leaders will find resolution soon.”

Despite the closure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center at 5040 S. Loop 340, local farmers are not yet feeling the burdens of the shutdown, Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall said.

Deadlines to sign up for federal programs and apply for loans will be extended by the number of days the shutdown lasts.

“That’s not to say at some point this could get serious,” Hall said. “But right now, it hasn’t risen to the level of a crisis.”

The Waco Mammoth National Monument, which is operated in part by the city of Waco, remains open to the public. One of its two National Parks Service rangers was already on leave, and the other has been furloughed because of the shutdown.

The monument’s website, along with other national parks’ websites, will not be updated during the shutdown, according to a notice on the site.

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone has laid out an academic plan that will require the university to dramatically increase its federally funded research, but the shutdown has not affected ongoing faculty research, spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said.

The Central Texas Veterans Health Care System is already fully funded for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, so its operations have not been hit by the shutdown, spokeswoman Deborah Meyer said.

However, veterans make up an estimated one-third of the 800,000 federal workers furloughed because of the shutdown, ABC News reported this week.


AP
Texas set to remove Confederate plaque from state Capitol
 
 01.11.19

AUSTIN — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott agreed Friday to remove a plaque in the state Capitol that rejects slavery as the underlying cause of the Civil War, bending after years of resistance by state Republican leaders in the face of Confederate monuments falling nationwide.

A unanimous vote by the State Preservation Board, which Abbott chairs, ordered the removal of the 60-year-old plaque that pledges to teach “the truths of history,” adding that “one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The plaque is among nearly a dozen Confederate markers in and around the Texas Capitol. It’s the first slated to come down since the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the removal of a string of Confederate monuments nationwide .

But Abbott and state leaders resisted acting on similar calls in Texas, and the governor made no comment after Friday’s vote. Texas Republicans had been resolute after the Charlottesville rally that tearing down Confederate markers wouldn’t change history, but pressure intensified after a black lawmaker from Dallas began condemning the plaque that hangs near his Capitol office as historically indefensible.

Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson appeared unsure after Friday’s vote whether efforts to remove other Confederate symbols at the Texas Capitol would become easier.

“Why shouldn’t we be able to talk about the monuments on the Capitol grounds or anything else,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s a conversation we should be afraid to have, not in 2019 in America, in Texas.”

The State Preservation Board is governed by Texas’ three most powerful Republicans — Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and newly chosen House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. They quickly voted to remove the plaque with no discussion and left without speaking to about a dozen reporters in the room. None of their offices immediately returned messages for comment.

The only other lawmaker on the board was Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach, who tweeted after the meeting: “The plaque should never have been installed — and it has been there for far too long. We celebrate because today is the day that ends.”

The plaque was first hung in 1959. It remained mounted to wall next to a staircase in the Capitol after the vote, and it was unclear when it would be removed.

Texas has taken down Confederate plaques before. In 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush’s administration removed two Confederate memorial plaques in the state Supreme Court building following pressure from the Texas NAACP.

But Texas Republican leaders since then have stood firm as scrutiny over Confederate monuments intensified in recent years. Following the Charlottesville rally in August 2017, Abbott said racism and hate-filled violence was never acceptable, but that “tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past.”

Two months later, Johnson and Abbott discussed the plaque in a private meeting, which ended with both sides offering conflicting accounts of the conversation. Abbott’s office pushed back on Johnson saying the governor indicated support for taking it down, but later said that “substantially inaccurate historical statements” don’t belong on display at the Capitol.