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Early voting off to slow start


Early voting got off to a slow but steady start this week as voters began to trickle into the polls to decide local elections including a Nacogdoches City Council seat and a $13 million bond proposal from Garrison ISD.

Monday at the courthouse annex, 79 voters cast ballots while 45 did so at Garrison ISD. An additional 15 voters turned out for the Chireno ISD Election.

“Chireno ISD does not include any voters from San Augustine County,” Nacogdoches County elections administrator Todd Stallings said.

A small portion of the district lies within the neighboring county.

The hotly contested race between incumbent Garth Hinze and challenger Kathleen Belanger in Nacogdoches’ Northeast Ward drew the highest tally with 56 voters.

The race centers mostly around an ongoing dispute between Logansport Street residents, including Belanger, and the City Council over a zoning change that allows for high-density housing development on the north end of the street near the entrance to Pecan Park.

Hinze supported the change, but residents of the surrounding neighborhood say they were not properly notified of zoning hearings.

City officials have since changed the way residents are notified of zoning changes.

Nacogdoches ISD’s District 5 school board contest between incumbent Mindy Winslow and challenger Tammy Spake unsurprisingly drew the second most voters of any race — 48. The district encompasses part of the most of the city council’s Northeast Ward as well as a portion of the Northwest Ward. It also includes a small number of voters outside the city limits.

In the Northwest Ward, the election is moot though incumbent Amelia Fischer has a challenger on the ballot. City officials declared Albert Thomas Lasater ineligible to hold office after discovering his permanent address is outside the city limits. Lasater chose not to challenge the decision. Only 23 voters cast a ballot in that race. Voters may still cast a ballot in favor of Lasater, but he will not be able to serve on the City Council.

Early voting in the Nacogdoches and NISD elections continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the week in the elections office at the courthouse annex, 203 W. Main St., Room 113. Early voting Monday and Tuesday will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Garrison’s bond proposal and school board race drew 45 voters. The $13 million bond package includes the construction of a new high school and multi-purpose facility.

GISD board candidates are Jennifer Honea, Matt Harris, Jackson Sheffield and Bart Reneau. Voters may select up to two candidates on the ballot. Reneau and Sheffield are incumbents, and Reneau currently serves as board president.

Early voting in Garrison continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the week at the Garrison ISD administration building, 459 U.S. 59 North. The same voting hours are set for Monday and Tuesday.

The first day of early voting in Chireno drew 15 voters. There voters will decide on two seats on the school board and may select up to two candidates. Candidates are Gerrie Dee Lockett, Michael Sanford, Jake Higginbotham and David Smith. Smith and Sanford are incumbents, and Smith currently serves as board president.

Early voting in the race continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the end of the week at the Chireno Community Center, 715 Main St. Voting also takes place during those hours Monday and Tuesday.

Local DAR marks 95 years

Highlighted by a reenactment detailing hottest happenings of 1926 Nacogdoches, the 95th anniversary meeting of the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter emphasized how times have changed.

“Can you believe I paid $4 for these shoes — but I am a fashion person,” quipped Leisha Bridwell during her portrayal of local DAR charter member Edna May Wilkin.

The skit depicting the planning of the chapter’s organization was flavored with everything from the advent of talking pictures to a new college exam to be known as the SAT: “I just don’t think that’s going to go over very well,” Bridwell’s character said.

Despite the changing times, the DAR’s focus — historic preservation, education and patriotism, still holds steady, agreed members who assembled Monday at the Fredonia Hotel.

Spearheaded by the late DAR regent Angela Key, the anniversary tribute had been in the works for almost a year.

“Our first meetings were by Zoom, and none of us knew how to do Zoom but we learned,” said chapter vice regent Pattye Greer.

Monday’s program was dedicated in memory of Key, who died April l0.

“We must express our thanks,” program chairwoman Rachel Underwood said, “to the 23 charter members were interested enough in their patriot ancestors to become a member of the Nacogdoches chapter.”

“At that time, anyone who joined DAR in the first year of organization was considered a charter member,” Underwood said. “There were four sets of sisters, who accounted for 11 of those 23.”

After the luncheon at the Fredonia Hotel, a group of members went to the Oak Grove Cemetery to pay tribute and lay a wreath on the final resting place of the chapter’s organizing regent, Mabel Barham.

A native of Belton, Barham had lived in Nacogdoches for 56 years at her death in 1964 at the age of 86.

City identifies streets for upcoming repairs

Work crews will move through a prioritized list of rough roads in coming months after city leaders on Tuesday approved a new round of street repairs.

Thirty-four city streets are slated for crack sealing and surface work, while six others — Fourth, Maybell, Stewart, Lewis and Cardinal streets and Swann Drive — will get more significant repairs.

“We have just over $1.2 million to spend between the street maintenance fund and the general fund (capital improvement plan) for these improvements and we want to utilize every dollar we can for that,” assistant director of Public Works Case Opperman told City Council Tuesday.

A street maintenance fee that began appearing on resident utility bills in 2018 has since roughly doubled annual funding for street work. The monthly fee — which ranges from $2.50 for apartment residents to $15 for industrial customers — came with the stipulations that council receive regular reports on completed and upcoming street repairs.

Prioritizing which streets get attention involves keeping tabs on where potholes are addressed combined with a complete street inventory done every five years.

“Really, it’s more often than that,” Opperman said. “We note streets as we drive around on a daily basis. We also get a lot of phone calls as you can imagine.”

In addition to the six streets identified for major repairs, those slated for work in the upcoming year are: A, Blount, Cardinal and Castleberry streets; Chimney Rock Lane; Cobblestone, Eliza and Fourth streets; Gasaway Road; Goldsberry, Granite Hill, Jordan and King streets; Lake Forest Drive; Lampkin, Lewis, Logansport and Lola streets; Maroney Drive; Martinsville, Marty, Maybell, Nash, North Stone, Pat, Pebble Creek, Piping Rock and Queen streets; Raguet Street from King to Hospital streets; Rock Ridge, Rudolph, Stone’s Throw and Stewart streets; Terry Crawford Drive; Thomas, Wade, West Cox, West Parker and West Pilar streets.

Collier speaks in favor of tribal casino

Editor’s note: Read more about The Daily Sentinel’s conversation with Mike Collier in the weekend edition.

Democrat Mike Collier, who is preparing to challenge Lt Gov. Dan Patrick again in 2022 after losing by 5 percentage points in 2015 in a tight race that surprised Republicans and some Democrats, said he supports efforts by the Alabama-Cousthatta Tribe of Texas to keep the Naskila gaming facility open outside Livingston.

“I’ve always felt pretty good about Texas letting Indian communities have casinos but the rest of the state is not into gambling,” Collier said. “I’ve never felt good about that. I don’t think Texans want to legalize gambling broadly. If the Indian tribes want to have casinos and folks around here like it, I’m fine with that.”

The tribe has been working to gain support from the Gulf Coast to the Red River for Naskila gaming after years of opposition from state leadership, including Patrick.

Since 2016, the tribe has run the Livingston-area gaming facility, which they say provided $15.3 million in annual wages and had a total economic impact of $139.6 million on East Texas in 2018. Naskila is the second largest employer in Polk County, and economic impact studies show it supports hundreds of jobs around East Texas.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, introduced legislation late last month to allow the Livingston-based Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Tribe, also known as the Tigua, to continue to offer electronic bingo at casinos that state officials have long sought to shut down. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, introduced similar legislation in a previous session. It passed the House unanimously but died in the senate after facing opposition from Sen. John Cornyn.

During a campaign stop in Tyler in 2020, Cornyn said tribal officials needed to look to Austin to solve their problems.

State officials for years have been trying to shutter Naskila and the Tigua tribe’s Singing Rock casino in El Paso. The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas also runs a gaming facility in Eagle Pass, though it has not been the subject of injunctions or lawsuits.

Collier spoke on a wide range of topics affecting Texans during private lunch with a Daily Sentinel reporter last week at the Fredonia Hotel.

“We literally have had one failure after another that’s going to catch up to Dan Patrick. You can lay a lot of these things at his feet,” Collier said. “I campaigned in ’18 saying here’s all the things that are going to happen if you keep this guy. Sadly in 2022 it’s going to be me saying ‘I told you and look what has happened.”’

Patrick has presented himself during his tenure in the state capitol as a firebrand conservative.

Extension agent: Time to trim after winter storm

As a record-breaking East Texas winter gives way to spring, phones are ringing at the County AgriLife Extension office.

“People have been calling about their trees and grass and tulips,” County Extension Agent Ricky Thompson told members of the Nacogdoches County Chamber during its weekly conference call. “There’s a lot of brown still out there.”

For those left wondering how much of their losses to cut, Thompson advises, “I wouldn’t say that it’s dead, and I wouldn’t say that it won’t come back. Nobody knows really.”

What he does advise at this point is a good trimming.

“Now would be the time to get a lot of that dead debris off of it and go ahead and fertilize it,” he said. “They’re feeble right now, and need as much nurturing as possible.”

Especially while dealing with a pandemic, when Texas A&M AgriLife’s regular programs have been impacted and amended, Thompson said he never thought he would be dealing with a genuine snowstorm in southeast Texas.

“We’ve had snowfalls at different times, but this year we had an actual snowstorm, and we’re not built that way,” he said. “Our plants are not built that way. Our animals are not used to those kind of temperatures.”

On top of that, a predicted cold snap this week could be more bad news for growing season.

“We get a little trigger happy with putting those plants out,” Thompson said, adding that tender plants should be covered with a coffee can or milk jug to keep frost off leaves. “If there are soft tissue plants and you have recent set those out, I would cover those.”

The extension office is perhaps best known for 4-H and youth programs but also encompasses adult education and training such as the Nacogdoches Master Gardeners. Plants propagated by Master Gardeners will be on sale May 8 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Demonstration Garden at Main Street and University Drive.

The pandemic has taken its toll, as events have shifted online and livestock shows have been held with limited attendance. But there has been a silver lining.

“We’re an agency of educating. We started doing a lot of our programs virtually,” he said. “And we’ve found some audiences that we haven’t had access to.”

An annual fruit and vegetable conference that normally draws 100 to 200 in-person visitors was held virtually this year, and drew more than 600 participants.

“As we go back into our normal way of doing things, we will continue to do some programs virtual and have a hybrid,” he said. “There will be face to face as well as online programs. That’s something Extension has got hold to and is not going to turn loose of. For people who can’t get out or like to have the comfort of sitting in their home, to learn about some of these programs and things we have to offer — they’ll have that opportunity.”