Sunday, October 5, 2008

     

 

 

 

United Way kicks off ’09 campaign
Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS--The Henderson County United Way hopes to get the community “Hooked on Helping” as it aims at raising $172,000 this year to assist 24 agencies, meeting sometimes critical needs of those who are most vulnerable.
Recently, the group was able to respond to five local food pantries with bare shelves with $21,000.
Newly added to the list of those agencies seeking help is the Tyler-based Meals on Wheels program. Currently, the program provides hot meals to about 250 of the county’s most needy citizens every day.
“We asked for help this year, because the rising fuel costs have also driven up the price of food,” Meals on Wheels executive director Mike Powell said.
“We spent $170,000 in raw food this year,” Powell said. Serving six counties, including Henderson and Van Zandt, Meals on Wheels leans heavily on volunteers, who use their own cars, to deliver calorie dense meals to the elderly and shut-ins.
“We figure our volunteers save us $170,000 a year,” he said. “They also provide personal contact with the lonely and isolated. A visit and a meal sometimes is all that stands between some folks and the nursing home, he said.
“Our goal is to prevent a waiting list. I believe when someone needs a meal, they need it today and every day, not next year or six months from now,” he said. “With United Way’s help, we hope to never have a wait list for service.”
Powell was one of three agency spokesmen who shared a little about what they do and the challenges they face in meeting their goals.
The United Way is calling on companies, large and small, to encourage their workforce to give a “fair share” to helping their neighbors in need. A fair share consists of one hour’s wages per month.
One of the largest employers is Solar Turbines. Its employees gave $43,000 last year with Catepillar Corp. matching every dollar, United Way board president Kim Hodges announced.
This year, Solar Turbines employees have surpassed last year with a $49,000 pledge.
They also responded to the food bank’s need by filling a van with bags of groceries, bringing it to the kick-off luncheon held Wednesday at the Athens Country Club.
“What you’re teaching children in need is that the world they live in has people in it, who care about them. That’s a valuable lesson children need to learn,” Rev. Eston Williams said.
Williams represented the Habitat for Humanity, an international organization that has built $300,000 clean safe houses for 1.5 million people worldwide, all from donations.
United Way got the Cedar Creek Lake Habitat chapter off to a start with $10,000. Since then, the organization has built four houses, the last two ready to be dedicated in the next few weeks, he said.
One of those houses was built by Mabank student labor and funds raised during Mabank High School’s annual Spirit Week.
The 2008 effort raised $41,000 in cash and $20,000 in in-kind services, Williams reported. That house will belong to one of the teacher aids working at the high school.
“These aren’t handouts. They’re hand-ups. The recipients put in 300 hours of labor to build their house. They then buy it (at real value, no profit) and pay an interest-free mortgage,” Williams explained.
Community volunteers get to build alongside these families, get to know them and see closeup how they are making a difference, he added.
When Child Protective Services has to go into a home or school and remove children from a harmful environment at home, they go directly to The Rainbow Room for clothing and other essentials, Jay Eckert from the Henderson County Child Welfare Board.
“You’d be surprised what some parents will withhold from their children when CPS comes to take them away,” Eckert said.
“They come to us with just the clothes on their back. We make sure they each get clean clothes and shoes and anything else to help them,” he said.
In 2001, there were 53 children in the county with foster parents, now there are 266 children in foster care.
“All agree it is directly related to illegal drug use,” he said. “But that’s another discussion.
“We can’t all be foster parents and we can’t be on every board, but we can all make a difference. United Way gives us all an opportunity to give and be the difference,” he said.
In his prayer to begin the luncheon, Williams prayed, “Help us inspire others to share so they will know the blessedness of giving.”
It was obvious that the banquet hall was filled with people who know the joy of giving.
“The needs are greater now than ever before,” Hodges said.

City applies for $250K
Council Oks $12.5K match for roads
Monitor Staff Reports
SEVEN POINTS–The city of Seven Points said yes to a chance at a $250,000 grant to pave streets in Nob Hill subdivision.
The Texas Community Development Block Grant was brought before the council during a special meeting Wednesday morning.
The resolution the council approved obligates the city to a 5 percent match, or $12,500 should the full amount be approved.
Nob Hill has already been identified by the last U.S. census as a low-income area and so falls within the grant’s criteria, Wanda Vance of Traylor and Associates explained.
This will be the first time the city has applied for this type of a grant.
The resolution was passed unanimously.
Streets in Nob Hill are very badly worn. If the grant is awarded, the work may commence as early as 18 months from now.
The city has been making street repairs a priority, following citizen approval to use half of the sales tax collected for economic development to go for street maintenance last May.
In a second piece of business, the council resolved that only one official tape recording be made of executive sessions and that it be labeled and kept in a locked box, subject to opening upon the issuance of a court order.
The policy passed 2-1 with Richard Smith opposed. Mayor pro-tem Tommy Taylor presided as Mayor Gerald Taylor could not attend the meeting.

Ranger begins Payne Springs
voter fraud investigation

By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer

PAYNE SPRINGS–Texas Ranger Trace McDonald has started a formal investigation into reports of voter fraud in Payne Springs city elections.
McDonald met with mayor J.T. Noble, acting police chief Shane Renberg, city secretary Shirley Leonard and election judge Lou Reimers at the city office Thursday afternoon to review a stack of documents, including at least five revision drafts of the city’s voter registration list.
Wednesday, Noble was putting together the paperwork in preparation for McDonald’s visit, and said the problem of voters saying they live inside the city – but do not – has been around for many years.
“It has been this way from day one,” Noble said. “The day I came into office, this stuff stopped.
“Now when somebody comes in, and says they’re in the city, I physically go out with a map and see if they’re actually in the city or not,” he added. “That’s the only way I figure we can do it, and keep this from happening.”
If five or six people register to vote each year, “and you multiply that by 25 years, you’ve got a real problem,” Noble pointed out.
“Within two months of taking office, I tackled this problem, and I’ve done more to correct it than anybody has done in the past 10 years,” he said. “I’m working on it, and that’s more than anyone else as mayor has attempted to do.
“At least I’ve got something to show I’m trying,” Noble added. “I’ve got a paper trail going back to when Noah built the ark.”
During the May 10 council and local liquor option election, a number of steps were taken to ascertain the legal status of voters showing up at the polls, Leonard said.
Numerous calls were made to the Henderson County voter registrar’s office, and a county employee was on hand to supervise the liquor option election, Leonard noted.
Noble began physically checking addresses of people listed on the voter registration list held by the county soon after taking office.
“Between the people who were on there, and weren’t supposed to be, and those who needed to be on there, and were not on it, we’re talking about 185 people,” he said. “Clearly, some of it looks intentional.”
For example, one voter on the city’s list used an address that would be smack in the middle of Noble’s hayfield, and another gave an address that is only an empty lot.
“That type of abuse would be hard to overlook,” Noble said.
“It has truly stirred up a bag of worms,” he added. “I have some neighbors who voted who are not in the city. I’m hoping it was an honest mistake.”
At their July 15 regular session, the Payne Springs City Council voted 3-2 to not pursue prosecution of 20 individuals who illegally voted in the May 10 election.
During the discussion, councilman Vic Brazzell pointed out that each voter who cast a ballot in the election was checked against the only list available.
Noble said he was not personally aware of any formal complaint being filed with the state, but added he wouldn’t be surprised if there had been a complaint.
“We had some upset citizens,” he said.
It doesn’t help that the city’s limits are extremely convoluted, following winding subdivision roads – and not all of them.
“It’s not as if we had a square or a rectangle to work with,” Noble said. “We have a spider web.”
As an example, Noble pointed to the folks living on Leisureland Road.
“All the even-numbered addresses are inside the city, while those with odd-numbered addresses are not in the city, even though they’re just across the street,” he said.
Noble pulled out one of the first drafts of the city’s voter list from the county, and said only 14 of 75 people listed were actually in the city.
“You can see that instantly it would have screwed the system up to throw those other 56 people in there,” he said.
The county has informed the city that the entire voter list revision will be referred to Southwest Data Company, which handles all the state-required information now included as part of the voter registration process.
Noble said the city will be cooperating fully with any investigation.
“This is not something new,” he added. “If this is such a problem, why hasn’t it been addressed before?”


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